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Leverkusen on FM11

mwichmann's continuation of Hibernian Hopes story
Started on 5 May 2012 by mwichmann
Latest Reply on 27 February 2013 by mwichmann
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June/July/August 2012

This story begins/resumes/changes in June of 2012. At this point I'm the manager of Scottish Premier side Hibernian, where we've just come off consecutive league winning seasons, only the second time in the club's history it had done that. The first season we appeared in the Euro Cup and did quite well, the second in the Champions Cup was not as fruitful but still some good results. Our improving financial situation and reputation had allowed us to make some interesting moves. One of those had been luring young midfielder Thiago Alcantara (usually known just as Thiago) from Barcelona on the expiration of his contract. This was a shock move, but there was a bit of mercenary instinct involved on both parties - I believe since we presented the unique situation of offering a starting role for a Champions Cup club, something that none of the contenders could exactly offer, was the tipping point. It was a two year deal, and the thinking was he could build a reputation and we could perhaps sell him on after the first year and he could make his move to the kind of club he saw as his future. However, after one year things weren't quite as they'd seemed: he was certainly a good player for us but hadn't developed to the point of being dominant, and he seemed to be enjoying life at the club, so a new contract was worked out which would tie him to the club for several years. It's not to say that life at Hibernian was all about this one player, by no means, but his situation is a sample of things that proved irritating... As will be seen, it, with other factors, brought an unexpected career change. See the "Hibernian Hopes" story in FM11 Manager Stories for the first two years of the career.

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To my irritation, Stade Rennais have offered above Thiago's release fee. Hopefully he'll turn them down, but I'm not holding my breath. And, indeed, after a couple of days, despite having recently signed a lucrative new deal and expressed his happiness at being at the club, he's gone. Several other players are receiving bids and are unsettled.

Well, here's a surprise... Bayer 04 Leverkusen, a club that has seen some of its greatest success just recently (a league/cup double in 2011, and 2nd place - heartrendingly only on goal difference to Bayern Munich - in 2012) has seen manager Jupp Heynckes retire and the open job is offered to me. I guess they feel like they know me pretty well after we (Hibernian) met in a pair of Euro Cup group stage matches in 2010 and a pair of Champions Cup group stage matches in 2011. The opportunity is too good, and I'm too frustrated just at the moment (the loss of Thiago after it seemed we'd sorted his situation for a longer stay, and the unsettling of O'Connor, Wotherspoon, Fanchone and Lo Monaco). The salary is six times the Hibernian salary, and this is a good club with good finances, and a youth club that has won the German U18 title the last two years. Traitorous I know... I've accepted the offer.

An irritating beginning is that some brainless twat has scheduled too many early friendlies - Batista 6 July, Chelsea 8 July, Chemnitz 10 July. And Batista turns out to be the first round of a "friendly cup" so there's another match on 7 July. Why four matches in five days so early in the pre-season? We're going to have a talk about that - as in "we are not doing this again". The purpose of the friendly season is preparation for the real season, this silly scheduling does the opposite. Unfortunately the deals are signed and there's no compelling reason to back out this year ("that's stupid" doesn't tend to work as a reason to break a football contract). And there are no late friendlies, we have a huge gap from the last one scheduled and the first league match, which will be preceded by a yet to be scheduled cup match, but it will still be a month, almost. How do I get match sharpness that way?

Anyway, this team has a ton of players, and some excellent quality, but also some holes. Central defense is not a strength, and I always like to build from there. At least it's not a radical view - the assistant immediately pops up with the same as a comment. Midfield has some questions too - if we play bunched in center (4-2-3-1, 4-3-1-2, something like that) we're a little short of depth after the aging Ballack plus Michael Bradley; should we play a 4-4-2 (flat or diamond) I'm not that convinced with the wide positions either, although time will tell - we do have some reasonable players here. We have a superb keeper in Adler, a very good backup in Giefer; and a top forward line with Kießling Kiessling and Derdiyok backed by Patrick Helmes and Junior Moraes (although the latter two will have to "prove themselves"). And we have a pair of attacking players in Andre Schurrle and Renato Augusto who are waiting to break out (to be fair, Augusto has been good already, we were afraid of him when Hibernian had to play Leverkusen).

The club already has one player I had my eye on from Hibs, young Moroccan central midfielder Salaheddine Naciri. As a UK club, we couldn't have gotten a work permit but Leverkusen as a German side didn't have that problem and snapped him up recently - for cheap. He's got great potential but isn't expected to be a major factor yet.

Elsewhere, there are more retirement driven managerial changes, Arsene Wenger hangs it up at Arsenal and is replaced by Roberto Mancini, and Roy Hodgson of Liverpool also retires, to be replaced by... Rafa Benitez! The two retirees won the last two league titles, Hodgson in 2011 and Wenger in 2012.

After a bit of delay, Hibernian hire Owen Coyle as manager, and I think this is a good deal. Hopefully he can take them on to further glory. Within a few days, Hibs have made a huge signing - 4.5m for James McCarthy. I'll admit I wouldn't have spent so much on him, but good on them for making a positive move in any case.

Then there's yet another high profile coaching change: Barca's Pep Guardiola has left to take over the Spain national team, and his assistant Tito Vilanova takes over.

Hibs were not able to hang on to Fanchone, but have signed Paul Dixon from Dundee to replace him at left back. A couple of days later, they go for a right back as well, Kyle Naughton. Naughton is a player who knows Scottish football well, Sheffield United loaned him to Gretna for 2007/08 (their last season in existence), and after signing for Spurs was loaned to Celtic last season. It wasn't a successful loan since he appeared only eight times in total, and apparently Spurs decided he wasn't part of their plans either. Were I there I'm not sure I'd be signing a player who couldn't get playing time for a league rival on loan.

I arrange a visit to Edinburgh to face my old club Hibernian to help with the fitness schedule, then a visit from Standard Liege (not that far away, less than 130 km on the motorways), and finally a fitness tuneup with Leverkusen II before we face a lower league club Weingarten in the opening round of the German Cup. It gets into rivalries quickly as the season gets going - here in the Rhein/Westfalia region, the closest neighbor is Koln (Cologne), but Dortmund and Gladbach are also rivals - as is Bayern, although that's not due to geography. Dortmund and Bayern will be the first two league matches.

We've pursued two center back signings and both work our, Spaniard Alberto Botía from Sporting de Gijón will be a starter if he plays well; Belgian Mitchell Winter from AZ Alkmaar is a youngster and will join the youth side for now.

As we reach the end of the friendly season, I'm not convinced we've got enough tough players in the middle of the park, as I said before. The feeling was growing anyway, Ballack is no spring chicken at 35, Bradley is good enough, and if we don't play with attacking midfielders it gets thin on the ground - Augusto, once he gets healthy (and apparently he's a bit injury prone) is the best attack-minded MC/AMC. Some action was prodded by two players being offered up whom I've got some admiration for - Jean II Makoun (by his club) and Miguel Veloso (by his agent). And about the same time Chelsea's Nemanja Matic is offered up as well. So we sit and discuss it, and decide there's a better player who's transfer listed (better than Matic and Makoun that is; Veloso's agent is just fishing, Parma want to keep him and he'd want way more salary than we can afford). The player is Tottenham Hotspur's Sandro. We work a deal for Sandro who our best talent evaluator thinks will be a star in the Bundesliga. Hope so! He's got determination, concentration (an attribute we're a little low on squad-wise, also something that helped sell us on Botia), decent pace and passing, and is a very solid defender.

I'm not going to make more incoming moves; the squad is already too big. I need to get to know the club, not entirely sure about the back line but I'm going to take time to get to know the players and the coaching staff better. Next year (possibly January if there's an emergency) is the time to make bigger changes, if they're needed. I'm not familiar with what level of skills are needed for Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal (German Cup) success; I do suspect that we have a squad which can get out of the Champions Cup group stage if we don't have bad luck. Two years ago, the Euro Cup run consisted of an 8-1-3 record, starting in the 4th Qual. Rnd., eventually knocked out by a familiar foe, Dortmund, in the 2nd knockout round - a tie which featured the "bad luck" element as Leverkusen lost the opener at home after having a player sent off early; then won the away leg but not by enough. That year the only loss prior to the knockout stage was to Hibernian :) Last year, as German champions, they went straight into the ECC Group play, where Hibernian arrived via playoffs. Here the record was 3-3-2, a draw and loss to Napoli in the first knockout round sealing the exit from the competition. Two years ago there was a German Cup win which included a win over rivals Dortmund, last year Dortmund knocked out Leverkusen in the 3rd rnd on penalties. So that rivalry is alive and kicking!

Goal scoring hasn't been a real strength, last year's 2nd placed finish can be blamed on that, as Bayern and Leverkusen shared the points with 72, but Bayern's 71 goals overcame Leverkusen's 52 (which was joint 6th in the 18-team league). A better defensive record could not pull back the goal difference (31 conceded, which led the league, vs. 42). Whether that's a problem of player quality or of playing style remains to be discovered.

Hopefully goals won't be a problem in the first-round Pokal match. Weingarten are a semi-pro team, home near Ravensburg and not too far from the Bodensee and the Swiss border. The Deutscher Fußball-Bund (DFB) decrees that lower-league clubs (below the top two leagues) always host their higher-league opponents in the Cup.

Match: SV Weingarten - Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 1st Rnd)
Score: 0-3 (Botia 13, Hegeler 37, Aksoy o.g. 45)
Summary: Things aren't quite working as well as they could; we're utterly in control for the first half hour, but only one goal - Botia has opened his account with the first official goal of the season for the club. Poor finishing prevents it from being 6-0 at this point. Two late first-half goals make it 3-0 at the break, and that's the final as well, with a late goal ruled out and lost of waste - 27 shots taken, with 15 off target, most flying over. 12 long shots taken, which I saw no need for. But the first one is in the bag. Other clubs were more clinical: Dortmund, Hamburg and Munich all put eight past their opponents. In the second round we'll face Ingolstadt.

Michael Bradley is still away with the USA at the London Olympics, where they're through to the semi final v. England - but he isn't playing at all. It gave a chance to a young midfielder Jens Hegeler, who's spent years out on loan (the last four!). He was transfer listed when I arrived but he looks a good player and certainly had a commanding match here against lesser opposition - I turned down the two low-ball bids we got based on the old listing. If he wants to go it's not essential we keep him, but I'd like better value.

Meanwhile, there's no end of odd transfer dealings - Man City's David Silva is in their reserves and is transfer listed, indeed they've offered him up for relative peanuts - ¿5.75m. The problem is, he's on a salary of ¿160k/wk, which we can't take on at this point, it's way out of our salary structure. Our total salary spend at the moment is ¿713k.

Bradley finally plays for USA as they lose to England, while the young guns of Belgium stun a Brazil team unfairly loaded with talent (Thiago Silva, Ganso, Ramires, Rafael, Pato, Neymar, Douglas Costa, Coutinho and others). Belgium eventually win the Olympic crown on penalties.

One player I can't seem to duck is Vladimir Weiss, after being on loan at Celtic both years I was at Hibernian, he's joined Dortmund for this season, another rival and our regular season opening opponent.

Bayern open the season hosting Aachen on the Friday, before everyone else, and win 3-0. Hope it's not going to be a season long chase of the Bavarian club, whom we meet in the second round of fixtures.

Our most promising youth player from the academy, Milovan Pekic, drew two pretty big offers, and we sit down to decide... we don't actually think he's going to be a top-flight player. We may be wrong, but he goes to Man United for 1.8m (he turned down a slightly smaller offer from Liverpool). I'll be looking at building the U19's in the future, but for now we had a ton of players, like we did at Hibernian so I've only made the one addition.

Match: Borussia Dortmund - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-1 (Derdiyok 15)
League Position: joint 5/6/7 (Hoffenheim, Shalke); behind Stuttgart, Bayern, Werder Bremen, Wolfsburg on g.d.
Summary: We have absolutely nothing going on early, if you based a match on 14 minutes you'd think Dortmund will destroy us, but fortunately football is 90 minutes... and a free kick is the key to unlocking their defense, Hegeler takes it to Ballack who puts Derdiyok through, that should never have happened but he'll happily take the goal he converts. Dortmund have broken us back down but a slightly shaky looking Adler is out to break it up as a foul is being called - and it's not on the fullback Castro but on the attacker Kevin Großkreutz. Kießling looks like he's scored on a play similar to Derdiyok's, but the shot clangs off the bar... and then we see the flag was up anyway. The referee is a fuss, and we've instructed the players to be much more cautious, but it doesn't help, Kadlec picks up his second yellow on 37 and we've got problems. That's the seventh yellow the man has shown in less than a half, in what's not at all a violent match, I'm not happy at all. Looks like it's taken only the following free kick to go level, but Barrios is offside. Sandro comes in for the ineffective Kießling as we drop to one forward, and nearly scores on his first touch, then we crack completely for one play and only Adler's heroics save us from being level. Another bullet dodged... can we keep it up? In the end, yes... we're outshot 17-5, but with a man down we reversed the early problem controlling the ball and that stat ended even. Adler saved us twice more even though he's still looking a little shaky, perhaps due to coming back from a pre season injury. It's a good job covering for Kadlec's carelessness.

So we've survived round one of our early season challenge. I guess it's foolish to suggest there's a key match in your first match of the season, but there was a chance here of being just that - facing the predominant club in Germany in the 2nd after losing the 1st to a a tough club and local rival would have had a chance of putting things in a difficult light for the season. Now there's not the same pressure for the Bayern Munich meeting. Which I intend for us to win, if that's at all possible! Table: joint 4th with Hoffenheim, behind Stuttgart, Bayern and Werder Bremen on goal difference. After Sunday's matches, Wolfsburg also join the group ahead and Schalke are level with us with another 1-0 line.

We're a #2 seed for the Champions Cup draw. This is how it plays out:
Group A - Liverpool, Porto, PSV, Steaua Bucharest
Group B - R. Madrid, Juventus, Man City, Sivasspor
Group C - Olympique Lyonnais, CSKA Moscow, Napoli, Hibernian
Group D - FC Bayern, Shakhtar, Anderlecht, Valladolid
Group E - At. Madrid, Tottenham, FC København, Catania
Group F - Barcelona, Benfica, Olympiakos, Rosenborg
Group G - A.C. Milan, Leverkusen, Paris Saint-Germain, Hapoel Tel-Aviv
Group H - Arsenal, Olympique Marseille, Celtic, Partizan

It's not an easy group necessarily... you'd guess we have to beat out PSG is the main issue, but the Isreaeli club means one very long trip is part of the picture too.

Last day of the month Hegeler decides I haven't promised enough, even though he's started both official matches, and he demands a transfer. Request granted, but nobody comes for him before the window closes.

Monthly Results
SV Weingarten 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 1st Rnd) (Botia 13, Hegeler 37, Aksoy o.g. 45)
Borussia Dortmund 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Derdiyok 15)

Table will be summarized at the end of next report, hardly seems worthwhile after just a single round of matches.
September 2012

The month begins with a big showdown, the visit of Fußball-Club Bayern München. Seems like I had one of these comments last season: it's not mandatory to get three points against a top rival in one of the first couple of matches of the season - it wouldn't mean the race is lost. Season success actually depends on not dropping points to teams you should be beating. We did what we needed to last week, so we come into this game level, meaning there's no result we can't survive. So I want to play down a bit the importance - playing the Bavarians, and our first of the season at BayArena will be enough motivation by itself, we see this as a rivalry (as, it seems, do most top German clubs, Bayern does not necessarily reciprocate or every match would be a rivalry game!). But it sure would be nice to get the win, wouldn't it?

I haven't really made any observations about the club yet. It's a bit odd, many of the bigger(*) clubs have a fairly distinct personality, yet Leverkusen are perceived not to, and to be somewhat "plastic" and without passionate fans. They're often considered just a creation of their corporate giant sponsors, the pharmaceutical giants Bayer. It's somewhat of a silly charge, as they certainly were created by Bayer, but that's over a century ago, and for reasons of promoting physical well-being, rather than as a sponsorship exercise (the difference is recognized by UEFA, who allow "Bayer" to be used in the club name in European competition, while the purely commercial tie of, for example, a recent naming like Red Bull Salzburg is not allowed to be used); and so are the other charges, as the fans are pretty committed. One period of misfortune in the late 90's/early 2Ks when the club were very good but couldn't quite win silverware have even led some to call them Neverkusen, which is rather cruel. Certainly the title two years ago cracks some of that, but once again coming so close and losing out last season (remember - lost the Bundesliga crown on goal difference) brought back a bit of the stigma again. There's a challenged here; can I help create a recognizable personality for the club? If so, what? Not by myself, of course, I hope the support of the board will be forthcoming in working to define a more visible image.

(*) "bigger": Leverkuen are #24 on the world rich list, which I think makes it a big club, it's #3 in Germany after Bayern and Dortmund. There's a group considered worth from 107m to 128m which also includes Palermo, Sporting (Lisbon), Athletic Bilbao, Ajax, Sevilla and PSG which we're in the middle of. Not the biggest, but still big.

Well, back to today... German clubs are madly playing the 4-2-3-1 now, and my coaches want to do that. It's not that I'm a conservative old "must be 4-4-2" guy, it's that I'm not convinced we're best at a 4-2-3-1 setup against good teams. I watched my Hibernian squad struggle to contain a forward pairing of Kießling and Derdiyok so I'm predisposed to want to see the two in the match together - they seemed to have a very good partnership and I've seen the same in training over these two months. For Bayern, the situation is they're a very dangerous club whom I'd rather match straight up in our first meeting, and they play 4-4-2 mostly.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - FC Bayern München
Score: 2-1 (Botia 25, Dante 47 - Andre 45)
League Position: 3rd (g.d. behind Stuttgart, Wolfsburg; ahead of Hoffenheim on total goals)
Summary: Bayern have a pretty good sequence where eventually Gomez receives at the 18 with his back to goal and feeds it right back out to Schweinsteiger, who has a pop - it's just over Adler but catches the bar. We've got our own chance in the 6th, Kiessling has put Derdiyok through with an audacious back-heel, but the Swiss player can't score. Eventually there's a goal in it, it comes as Castro takes a free kick from maybe 40 yards out, and Botia gets up to head it in a bit before the half hour. Kiessling's bending shot is just poked wide by the keeper. Botia has to come off injured just before the break, and immediately after Andre turns and scores for Bayern, so level at the break. However, we get the lead back right after, as Dante heads in a corner. We have a reasonable amount of ball control to keep Bayern from building too much, and after Adler saves a couple of dangerous situations late, we've got our win. Well... this is as good a result as one could imagine - we've got the full three points. It was not a game of flowing offenses, as each side largely neutralized the other's; all three goals were the result of set plays. Bayern had a couple more shots, but otherwise not much to pick between the two statistically.

International break now...

Match: Hamburger SV - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-3 (Kacar 81 - Helmes 73, Dante 84, Sam 90)
League Position: 2nd (g.d. behind Wolfsburg)
Summary: Frustration as we try a new lineup and an attacking viewpoint on the road to cross people up... and accomplish little. We had a good goal by Risse ruled out for a phantom foul about 12 minutes in - nobody thought he committed any kind of foul, he sliced through completely clean and headed in. After that, downhill. Maybe an advantage on 54 as a second yellow is shown to Hamburg's Besic. A goal comes on 73 after a nice sequence, Helmes (who was just about to become my third sub) firing one I thought he'd missed wide on, but there it is nestling in the twine after clipping the inside of the far post. The lead doesn't last long as Hamburg score off a corner. And then the level score doesn't last long either as Dante heads in a corner for us. And then Schurrle and Sam combine on a lovely play to make it 3-1 just before the 90 minutes. And there were two chances to make it four as Hamburg got ragged at the back, but we've got the win. Another "football is a funny game" story, no goals (except one incorrectly ruled out) for 72 minutes, then four and nearly more in 18. We've gotten the three points and maintained our perfect record without blowing all of our big guns in advance of hosting Milan in the ECC - Augusto didn't play the full match; Ballack, Kiessling, Derdiyok and Kadlec sat out entirely, Schurrle played only the last 25, Castro the last 16. With Bayern suffering a home draw Saturday, we've got five points on them, quite a contrast to the possible scenario of being six or more back that I was afraid could come to pass. Sometimes good starts matter, let's see if we can make it so here.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - AC Milan (ECC Group G)
Score: 3-0 (Sam 4, Derdiyok 20, Bradley 78)
Group Position: 1st (g.d. over PSG)
Summary: We came into this hopeful, and the very slightest of favorites, and with Milan missing some important pieces - Pato and Ronaldinho injured, Ibra and Flamini suspended. Perhaps that was enough to make the difference. Sidney Sam got the nod on the right over Augusto who hasn't quite found his form yet this year, and it's Sam scoring in the 4th minute, great start. I thought we were playing better than Milan despite a statistical evenness, then Derdiyok headed in a 20th minute corner. We're looking good, but did the 2nd come too early? Sometimes this early it leads to a swing in momentum as the opponent chase the game, and then it's hard to get back if they catch. There's no momentum swing the rest of the half though, and Derdiyok really should have had the third late in the period. The second it seems we were in lock-down mode, as nothing happened either way for a long stretch - we were really playing well, in a "control the match" sense. Derdiyok took off on a long run through an open left, put it in the box where Castro had matched the run coming from the fullback spot. His shot was blocked by the keeper, but another player who had made the effort to get in the box, Bradley, was there to put it in. Adler had to get in the act late, making a couple of excellent stops to keep the clean sheet, it's 3-0 over AC Milan, wow! Maybe it's not one of the greatest instances of AC Milan, but you savor wins over legendary European teams when you can get them!

It's our first busy period of the year; after the final tuneup which was an inter-squad match (that is, v. Leverkusen II), we played our first four matches over a period of 38 days (including the break after that "friendly"). The HSV match started a run of 7 matches in 21. We've got a run of three in the league now: Mainz, at Bochum and Augsburg; then we nip off to Paris to face PSG; then to Stuttgart before the next international break interrupts this run of games. These next three may define what kind of season it will be, if the bottom half teams will be hard for us to get up for, or if we can easily pick the points from those. Repeating my broken record, the key is collecting the points you should get, then it's okay to divide up the points with the top clubs without really losing anything. Media predictions, for whatever they're worth, have those three clubs picked for 10th, 15th, 13th; their current early placings are 12th, 14th, 15th, with Mainz the only one of the three to have a win yet. Media have us 3rd, if I haven't mentioned it.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FSV Mainz 05
Score: 2-1 (Allagui o.g. 29, Castro 42 - Allagui 45+2)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Sometimes the fates are against you... in the first 12 minutes our backup forwards, Helmes and Moraes, have each elegantly chipped a careless Mainz keeper Muller - and hit the bar. On the first there's a followup header, but it's collected in by the keeper. After the second, there's a corner which Dante heads... and it bounces to Muller. Should have been two goals. When the goal comes, after Helmes was replaced due to injury, it ends up an own-goal. Sheesh. I guess we'll take them any way we can. Then it goes weirder, Yahia (playing to give Botia a rest) makes a horrid error, Allagui is in, it's not scored, looks like a penalty (and he's writhing on the ground holding his leg) but the referee is not interested. Finally, Castro gives us our two-goal lead as he nails a long free kick near the end of the half. However, after Augusto misses a golden chance, it's all too easy for Mainz to get one back before the whistle has gone, 2-1 at the break. Their second should have come just after the restart, but Allagui puts this one wide. Burak Kaplan has made an impact since he's come on, three times he's gotten loose on the left and received for clear shots. Unfortunately, he's wasted all three chances, two wide and one off the post. It's a bit of a symbol for our performance. We had 10 shots on target, and four off the woodwork, yet we've scored only an own-goal and a free kick. And collected the three points, let's not forget. Need to get more clinical. Because it's an odd schedule week, Wolfsburg (who had Euro Cup action Thursday) don't play - they couldn't play Sunday as they're already scheduled for a Tuesday match. Thus, we've got the top of the table all to ourselves, albeit Wolfsburg have a game in hand.

Good heavens, Bayern have lost to Hoffenheim so they sit 9th, while it's Werder Bremen, Hoffenheim, Wolfsburg and Koln who are impressing. Hoffenheim were expected to contend (media pick 2nd), but they've done it with mirrors - fashioned a 3-1-0 record out of three total goals scored in the four matches. Werder Bremen look a lot more explosive, having done four goals three times (including a cup match), five goals, and a solitary 0-0 draw.

Match: Vfl Bochum - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-3 (Ballack pen 32, Kiessling 64, Domovchiyski 86)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Eh, so here's my answer to the question posed a week ago: looks like it's going to pretty much be a battle every time out. After repelling a danger from a free kick very early, we dominate for a bit, then newly promoted Bochum toughen up, start tackling hard, and make it difficult. Finally, Bradley has bought a penalty, and Ballack nails it, just past the half hour. It continues a tight battle, turning tactical after we quickened our passing and sort of evaded the physical stuff, but there's no breakthrough until Kiessling is through just past the hour, and he's gone past the keeper so now it's just a trivial tap-in. Good to get him off his duck. What a ball from Sam, but how Kiessling actually got through the keeper who seemed to have the path blocked I don't know. He looks ecstatic. Dante comes out injured a bit after, replaced by grumpy boy Hegeler, and then sub Domovchiyski, in for Derdiyok and making his first regular season appearance, heads in a corner to make it 3-0, the final score. Only problem is a worry about Dante, part of the favored center half pairing, who seemed to have hurt his knee. Fortunately, the physios say he's only twisted it, and will miss maybe two weeks.

Yet another stumble from Bayern, who are having a barren stretch, three times 0-0 in the last four (including to Shakhtar in the ECC) and the other a 0-1 loss to Hoffenheim.

The report from England comes in and is nothing new: "Chelsea boss needs a win". We've heard this so many times over the couple of years, now they're impatient with Capello, who's posted a 14-5-12 record in his first 31 league matches - hardly the stuff that Chelsea is going to care for, and just 1-3-1 this season.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - FC Augsburg
Score: 2-1 (Moraes 2, Botia 81 - Botia o.g. 34)
League Position: 1st
Summary: It's just two minutes before Augusto, maybe waking up to having lost his spot to Sidney Sam, makes hay down the right and cuts back for Junior Moraes' blooped finish - he didn't connect solidly, but it was enough to go in past the beaten keeper. Moraes loose two minutes later but as he tries to evade the keeper the shot is in the near-side netting. This is looking extremely lively, Augusto amazingly has a shot blocked. Risse's header is just saved. We've really got things rolling except for goals, then a fluke play nearly gets Augsburg back in it where a no-chance header clips the post, then the follow is just in the side netting. And with that play, the flow has gone out of our game. Some minutes later, a completely wild shot, so off-target nobody could have guessed where it's going, has hit Botia and glanced past Giefer, and the score is level. Bad luck that, it will be an own-goal, but an unfortunate one, no intent on his part to direct the ball and failing to do so, just one of those things. Now we've got work on, having let our edge slip after not cashing in sufficiently early when we had it. The second half continues our troubles despite a change. Domovchiyski tries a speculative shot which had little chance, but the keeper makes a meal of it as he drops it, Sam slices through, but just hits it right back at the keeper, what a waste. We're playing hard, the lads clearly are taking it seriously, and I know there's a goal for someone left in this game. It comes for Augusto, as one of the huge number of deflections in this match goes in our favor. Wait... there's an offside flag, claiming Moraes was off - what does it matter, he had nothing to do with it ???? What a joke. Sam fires one that grazes the wrong side of the post. Still 20 minutes to find a winner. Moraes is sure to score it as he's first to a long ball, but his shot is wide, for all the world looks like it was tipped wide, but no dice. Seems like in this one we have to overcome two opponents, with the refs making some strange calls. What's happened here? Domovchiyski has tried another impossible shot and it's clipped the post, but all sorts of players have their hands in the air. Sankoh has maybe bumped Moraes a little as he's trying to come in for the ball, but it's not much, and the ball was never heading his way anyway. The penalty is given and I must say it's really harsh on Augsburg. It's Augusto, but the penalty is just about saved. It rolls on the end line before a wild clearance gives us a corner, and Botia heads that one in emphatically, finally we've got the lead back in the 81st. Augsburg have had nothing for a long stretch, but Giefer has to make one excellent save late to preserve it. It's a win, should have been a much bigger win, and I may have to bite my tongue in the post-match press conference about the referees. We've missed a penalty, had a goal disallowed, lost our focus for a stretch... not sure quite how to evaluate.

Overall, though, I'm really liking this; an unbeaten start to life at a new club is of course wonderful, and we've been able to get a kind of rotation going where a lot of players have been involved and have made contributions. 12 players have accounted for the 17 goals we've scored (Augusto's disallowed goal or his saved penalty, either one, would have made it 13 different scorers), and the opposition have generously contributed another two :) Rotation isn't quite as big an issue in Germany compared to England or Scotland where a 38-match league season and two cup competitions face the top flight, of course complemented by whatever European matches a club makes it into - in Germany there are just 34 league matches and one cup competition. Still, we've got a big squad, and I want to keep everyone fit and involved because you never know when the injuries will hit. I'm not quite happy that we've not got that offensive flow going that has us scoring bunches from the run of play, and those being taken by the players who are expected to score, but if that's not going to happen, we better be getting goals other ways, and we are. Not sure I'm happy that our scoring charts are led by our new center half Alberto Botía with three. Still... when it comes down to it, we've opened with eight consecutive wins over the three competitions. What else actually ends up mattering? And turning around a club's scoring tendencies when the playing staff didn't really change may take a bit; we've gone from that poor 1.5/game record last year to 2.2/game early this year.

I don't know if we're ever going to get into these rarefied areas, but the table of average attendance is interesting:

1. Dortmund 79,190
2. FC Bayern 69,323
3. Schalke 59,330
4. Hamburg 56,161
5. Koln 49,781
6. Gladbach 49,607
...
14. Leverkusen 29,831

That's just under maximum capacity of 30,210 for the three home league games - two sellouts and one of 29,075, plus not counted in the average is 29,569 for the AC Milan Champions Cup game. However, here's some information about the BayArena:

The stadium was originally known as Ulrich-Haberland-Stadion, named after a former chairman of Bayer AG, the club's founders. Its original capacity was 20,000. In 1986, a rebuilding project began to convert it into a modern facility; the project continued intermittently over the following decade. The project was completed in 1997, making the stadium an ultramodern all-seater with a capacity of 22,500. The stadium was renamed BayArena in 1998.

In 1999, a hotel attached to the stadium was completed, with some rooms having a view of the pitch. The stadium complex also includes a high-class restaurant, which also overlooks the pitch, and conference facilities.

The city of Leverkusen originally bid to become a venue for the 2006 World Cup, with an expanded BayArena as the site. However, the city, Bayer Leverkusen, and the German organizing committee soon agreed that expanding BayArena to the FIFA-mandated minimum 40,000 capacity for World Cup matches would not be practical, and the city withdrew its bid. Instead, it was agreed that BayArena would be the main training facility for the German national team during the 2006 finals. Jürgen Klinsmann, former national coach, however decided against Leverkusen and opted for Berlin as the main training facility. BayArena will supposedly host two national matches as compensation, which were never played.

On March 30, 2007 Bayer AG agreed on the extension of the stadium to a capacity of over 30,000. Construction works began at the end of 2007 and were finished at the beginning of the 2009–10 season. BayArena was one of nine venues used during the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup housing three group and one quarterfinal match.

As the new stadium design was planned in the 80s, it was based on the design of the Rewirpowerstadium in Bochum. A steep single-tier football stadium without a running track with seating for 35,000 spectators. The stadium was intended to be constructed section by section over time in order to save costs and grow with the demands of the club. In the middle of the rebuild, the demands of modern football stadiums changed. Suites and VIP Areas became necessary, a family friendly section as well as design modification to all-seater following the Bundesliga riots of the 1990s. The south section was built as box suites, making the stadium unique in the Bundesliga with its South American style horseshoe design.

Unfortunately, this makes it sound quite unlikely that we can get a major expansion in the short term, since the 40k capacity was already turned down as impractical less than a decade ago, and an expansion to 30k was just completed. But giving up 40,000 seats per match to Bayern, and 50,000 to Stuttgart sounds eerily familiar to my situation in Scotland - can we generate enough cash to continue to compete with such a gate-receipts disadvantage?

And as for one of my two senior team signings Alberto Botia, it's early but he's looking like a bargain at €8.5m, the fans rate him off the charts as a signing and already love him. For Sandro, we'll see over time how it works.

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 FC Bayern München (Botia 25, Dante 47 - Andre 45)
Hamburger SV 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Kacar 81 - Helmes 73, Dante 84, Sam 90)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 AC Milan (ECC Group G) (Sam 4, Derdiyok 20, Bradley 78)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 1.FSV Mainz 05 (Allagui o.g. 29, Castro 42 - Allagui 45+2)
Vfl Bochum 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Ballack pen 32, Kiessling 64, Domovchiyski 86)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 FC Augsburg (Moraes 2, Botia 81 - Botia o.g. 34)

End of Month table Summary (6 pld):
1. Leverkusen 18
2. Werder Bremen 16
3. Wolfsburg 15 (5 pld)
4. Kaiserslautern 14
...
13-16. 4 pts (Bochum -4, Aachen -5, Mainz -7, HSV -8)
17. Nurnberg 3
18. Osnabruck 2
October 2012

A little trip to Paris isn't such a huge deal from Germany except that the logistics of moving a large organization is always a bit of a production. A win here will be difficult but would put us in a superb position in the group. Again it's important not to attach too much importance to it - we have the Israeli club and a home match to PSG to help pick up points enough to qualify, plus of course the difficult trip to Milan where we don't need to expect anything, but will certainly try for it. Possibly it's in our favor that PSG have not started well, three wins and four losses from seven and 14th place, already nine behind first-placed Lyon.

Match: Paris Saint-Germain - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group G)
Score: 1-3 (Hoarau 46 - Kiessling 7, Bradley 27, Derdiyok 90)
Group Position: 1st
Summary: Early on, it's a great ball to Kiessling from Ballack, and he scores. There are some positive signs for PSG, a couple of attacking forays, one of which sees the ball in the net but the assistant has his flag up on Sessegnon. Hmmm, at full speed there didn't look anything wrong. Really good stuff developing on our left side... and there's end product, as Kiessling starts to get his space closed he centers for Bradley who puts the shot in! That's nice stuff, but Bradley is not a goalscorer, where is this stuff coming from? Plenty of good stuff from PSG but we go to the break surprisingly leading 2-0. The lead only lasts 22 seconds with a little bad luck, Vida's tackle misses, the dangerous looking Kitambala tries his luck, Adler's deflected it but it's Hoarau who reacts and bangs it in to basically an empty net. Kiessling escapes, the ball's sent into the middle, Sam goes for the diving header... and it's off the far post. Some time passes, and Derdiyok picks out the greatest pass into space, Kiessling is there... and can't beat the keeper. What's the matter with this man who's considered such a scorer? Do I have to go after Dzeko to get a clinical goalscorer? Shhh.... I'm just frustrated. Kiessling out in front, and fails again. I've just about had enough. Yes he's scored a couple recently, but how many bloody times has he been sent through and not converted? PSG look really fluent for a sequence, and they get a good shot but we're lucky it's off the bar. It's getting a little wild late, and we get a lucky goal, Kiessling has decided to just dump it into the acres of space towards the left corner, which is a great place to put it for time wasting, Schurrle gets there first, drops it back for Kadlec who just sort of puts it in towards the goal where keeper Costil can't really make a play of it, just sort of flapping at it and tipping it a bit, and Derdiyok steaming in from the right finishes. It wasn't a hard cross or anything, just the old "put the ball in the box and see what happens", poor keeping for sure. Nice result, well played, and now we're in a pretty good position, six points, and knowing Milan and PSG who are both on three have to play each other twice. We're still on this great roll, which has to end at some point (probably soon), so trying to keep everyone from getting excessively pumped up by it. Kiessling... second goal, but last year he scored 19 from 34, this year two from seven and who knows how many times he's been through and not scored.

Match: VfB Stuttgart - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-4 (Ballack 3, Augusto 31, Yahia 42, Derdiyok 62)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We set up in a 4-5-1, it's a coin flip which forward since both have been missing chances - Kiessling gets the nod, and with Sam now off form we don't play the three forward midfielders, but rather one defensive. An early goal, cross by Augusto and Ballack gets there to head in. Besides that, Stuttgart have all of the ball for a bit - at one point the stat chart shows them with 71%. It's 2-0 on the half hour after Augusto fires a shot off the post but it comes back and he fires the second try home from about the penalty spot. Another one off the woodwork a bit later. There's a spot of bother as Stuttgart launch an aerial attack and we look unsteady, but then we've got a corner and Yahia heads in. First ever Leverkusen goal (we've had several of those this season), and I believe our 14th different goalscorer on the season. The second half is not completely devoid of interest as Stuttgart try to claw their way back in - sub Bikey has hit the woodwork with a header. Then it's set-play magic for us again, a crossing free kick is headed in far post by sub Derdiyok. Stuttgart show frustration, they looked to have their attack going dangerously, and we've pegged them back further. Time winds down as Stuttgart can't find the target - only two of their 13 attempts were on target. Believe it or not, Bayern stumble to yet another scoreless draw - they looked like they'd broken out of it with a pair of 3-0 wins, but there it is again. They've only scored seven league goals from seven, and are 12 points behind! Werder Bremen, Wolfsburg and Kaiserslautern remain unbeaten - Wolfsburg are also at 100% and play their game in hand this Wednesday.

International break. In the past I've dreaded these, not because of the chance of player injury or tiredness, but because it seems to be an opportunity to lose your sharpness if you're on a good run. Wolfsburg win their match 4-0, so they've gone top on goal difference. How many times do you see a team (us) 7-0-0 and not top the table??? Our next three are #17 Nurnberg, at #8 Koln, #10 Schalke; they have Schalke, at #11 Gladbach and #18 Osnabruck. So based on table position, we're a little more at risk for stumbling first. #3 Werder Bremen (only two points back) have Gladbach, at Osnabruck, and #4 Kaiserslautern. So who knows who will top the table after Nov. 4?

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FC Nürnberg
Score: 3-0 (Russ o.g. 21, Kiessling 53, Botia 90+2)
League Position: 1st
Summary: This is expected to be easy, but being football, it's not quite as easy as predicted. Nurnberg have a couple early opportunities, their failure to cash in probably reflects why they're at the bottom of the table, but we shouldn't be giving up those chances. Kiessling has an open shot 12 yards out, but he tries to sneak it in near post, and managed to hit said post. It's the usual story, if you go across you're maybe scoring, maybe giving a teammate a chance if the ball isn't caught cleanly, but you only have a split second to choose. A goal comes when Augusto charges for goal after we broke up a Nurnberg play... cuts right, shoots back for the left post. It's in after a deflection, I'd argue it was on target anyway but the decision in the end is we've scored, but Augusto doesn't get the goal on his record. 21 minutes in. Kiessling makes an excellent defensive header to prevent what looked like a scoring chance on a free kick near the end of the 1st, and on a similar looking play is the one who heads in a free kick for us early in the 2nd half. Nurnberg look to have pulled one back in 84 as Russ puts it in, but the referee has spotted a foul on someone else. At the very death there's a corner headed in by Botia, making the scoreline a bit flattering, 3-0. We've played decently offensively, although I got irritated at spurned chances again (we took 23 shots, and had 13 that flew off target, not great). We let Nurnberg control too much play, however, and we're lucky to keep the clean sheet. Wolfsburg's loss to Schalke puts us alone on top, and it's Werder Bremen who sit 2nd after "holding serve" (winning at home to Gladbach).

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Hapoel Tel-Aviv (ECC Group G)
Score: 2-0 (Yahia 45+2, Botia 72)
Group Position: 1st
Summary: In a match some think we're big favorites for, and others think will be very close, we open like we deserve the favorite tag - a statistical snapshot at 19 minutes claimed we'd had 89% of possession. No goals, though. After Bradley goes out injured, one comes on an injury-time corner, Anthar Yahia with the goal. What a kick in the gut for Tel-Aviv who had survived all that, only to go in the dressing room down a goal (shots at this point 12-0, possession a more modest 72%). It's a dull second half until Botia gets our second the same way. Schurrle heads on a deflected shot which would have been his first goal of the season, but there's no argument he was standing offside. Workmanlike win, even if it was really boring after the break. Bradley has broken ribs, we'll not see him for a month. There's a reason we put him on the team sheet in the important matches, but there's a collection of midfielders who want more chances - Vanden Borre, Sandro, Hegeler so in a problem comes opportunity, we're guessing there are 6-8 matches involved. Ballack is showing signs of needing a lot more rest than in the prime of his career as well.

I'm getting kind of bemused, to be honest; a 12-match winning run to open my period in the hot seat is well beyond expectations, and it probably sets some expectations in places they shouldn't be. I can't see we have to quality to go really far in the Champions Cup for example - a lucky draw could maybe sneak us into the final eight, now that appearance in the first knockout round looks ever more likely, but beyond that would be a real surprise to me. Klinsmann came to watch, he's now in his second spell with the German national side, and he was scouting Adler, Sam, Schurrle and Kiessling. He needn't bother since he can't have them (out of character: stupid FM contract problem means no real players appear in the senior German national team unless you hack the game, which of course I'd never do (ahem). Well, I had no idea this game would take me to Germany so I'd care, and if you do it, you have to do before the game starts). There's a useful side effect: my German players don't come back tired/injured from international breaks, only the non-German ones). Seriously, I'm not sure it would be a terrible thing for us to lose one to restore a little more fire in the belly, I'm worried about overconfidence. Not that I'm asking for a loss, mind you, but the upcoming match is a definite danger point if that overconfidence keeps growing.

One club that have no overconfidence problems - or shouldn't - are Bayern, who have opened 2-4-2 in the league, having fallen an astonishing 14 points behind after the first 8 matches - and 1-1-1 in the ECC to go with it, where they're at least in some danger of not qualifying although since it's a fairly weak looking group they should do it. Morale is low, and I'd guess manager Gregorio Manzano is under some pressure.

Match: 1.FC Köln - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-4 (Kiessling 22, 24, pen 47, Botia 54)
League Position: 1st
Summary: It's a Rhein Derby at Köln, the fans are excited. We open very brightly, then the home side's controlled style settles in. Augusto is looking livelier these days, and he's been involved in setting up our first goal, looping in a cross that Kiessling seems to hang in the air before heading in. If those two can play to their full capabilities regularly we'll be really well off. And moments later, what a ball from Derdiyok, Kiessling is behind and he bends it in, 2-0. Second half... Botia is just brimming with confidence, he strips a Koln attacker, now the ball's going the other way, Derdiyok makes up a ridiculous amount of ground to a ball he never should have won, and has got himself in position that he wins a penalty. Kiessling's got his hat trick! Then it's Botia again, he's headed a free kick, Kessler leaps but can't keep it out. This is not what I expected - 4-0 away in a rivalry match not even an hour in - but I'm thrilled. The frustration bubbles over and Mohamad, who also conceded the penalty, goes in on Kiessling with a nasty tackle which earns him red. Late scramble in the box, there's another penalty given as Kiessling's replacement Helmes is tripped. Trochowski misses, however. Werder Bremen keep pace with their own away win. Is there a Bayern recovery in the works? Stuttgart 0-6 FA Bayern!

We'll continue our tour of German auto capitals, besides Bayern (BMW), Stuttgart (Mercedes-Benz) and Wolfsburg (Volkswagen) from the league (two of whom we still have to visit), we'll now play a cup match in Ingolstadt (Audi). Ingolstadt are a young club, only founded in 2004, playing in the 2nd division. The have a new stadium, the Audi-Sportpark, capacity 15,000, only completed in 2010, and expectations are this will be the record attendance. Normally the fans in the area aren't terribly rabid, as they tend to be more interested in following FC Bayern.

The "new club" part comes with a qualifier: as with most newer clubs, it's not founded completely from scratch, but builds on the backs (or corpses, in some cases) of other clubs in the area.

ESV Ingolstadt (Eisenbahner-Sportverein Ingolstadt-Ringsee e.V.) was founded in 1919 as FC Viktoria. Two years later the football players of Turnverein 1861 Ingolstadt joined the club to form VfR Ingolstadt. A number of other clubs from the Ringsee district fused with this club, but to little effect. The club's achievement amounted to not more than a couple of seasons spent in the Gauliga Bayern in 1936–38. After World War II, the club was re-constituted as VfR Ingolstadt, changed its name to Erster Sportverein Ingolstadt (First Sports Club Ingolstadt) in 1951 and then changed it again to its latest form in 1953 when "E" came to stand for Eisenbahner to reflect its affiliation with the railway. ESV Ingolstadt joined the Regionalliga Süd (II) in 1963 when the Bundesliga – Germany's professional football league – was formed. After bouncing between tiers II and III, capped with two seasons spent in 2nd Bundesliga Süd from 1979–81, the club began a descent through tier III to Landesliga Bayern-Süd (IV), last playing in 1993–94. The sports club itself carried on until it went bankrupt in the summer of 2004 and those football players there were left to join FC Ingolstadt 04. ESV continues to operate today offering a number of other sports activities while acknowledging FC 04 on its website.

MTV Ingolstadt (Männer-Turn-Verein von 1881 Ingolstadt) is the city's largest sportsclub with 3,400 members and has an on-and-off relationship with its football side. The club was founded in 1881 and took up football in 1905. The footballers set up a separate club in 1924, but returned to the fold in 1933 at the direction of sports authorities in the Third Reich. After World War II occupying Allied authorities ordered the dissolution of all organizations in Germany, including sporting associations. The club was re-founded as Städtischer SV Ingolstadt 1881. Their original name was restored in 1948.

MTV spent two seasons in 2. Bundesliga Süd after Amateurliga Bayern champion 1. FC Haßfurt declined promotion in 1978. When ESV faced bankruptcy in 2004, MTV allowed its footballers to leave to help form FC Ingolstadt.

The eight Tuesday matches see the (mostly comfortable) progression of the seven D1 sides involved, and in the 8th match, our feeder club Dusseldorf beats Karlsruhe, the small city near the French border where I once had to summon my rather poor French to communicate with a cab driver who spoke worse German than I did, while English was right out :)

Hmmm, an interesting news tidbit, the PSG manager Antoine Kombouare has been sacked. I wouldn't otherwise comment on French sackings, but they're in our ECC group, we'll host them on 12 Dec presumably with a new man in charge, perhaps by then we won't care if they've managed a great turnaround :)

The Wednesday match lineup provides a little more challenge, as four of the eight matches are all-D1.

Match: FC Ingolstadt 04 - Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 2nd Rnd)
Score: 0-2 (Naciri 27, Helmes 54)
Summary: I can't help myself, we're doing a complete rotation of the side for this one. I even bring in Naciri from the Leverkusen II squad, and he's the player looking the most lively - and indeed he creates and scores the first goal, which took till the 27th minute. He's also set up both Helmes and Moraes with chances off good through balls, but neither score. The game is a lot more stretched in the 2nd, and 2-0 comes from Helmes with his partner Moraes getting him the ball. Several other chances spurned, the forwards still having trouble getting on target. And winger Jorgensen, on as a sub, gets four bites at the apple in one sequence, not one goes in! It wasn't a dominant performance by any means, but plenty good enough for a backup squad, augmented by 18-year old Naciri and 21-year old Jorgensen making their first performances of the season for the senior side - these are players I have to consider part of the plans for next season, and they both play in already crowded positions in the midfield. Naciri becomes our 15th different player to score.

Monthly Results
Paris Saint-Germain 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group G) (Hoarau 46 - Kiessling 7, Bradley 27, Derdiyok 90)
VfB Stuttgart 0-4 Bayer Leverkusen (Ballack 3, Augusto 31, Yahia 42, Derdiyok 62)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 1.FC Nürnberg (Russ o.g. 21, Kiessling 53, Botia 90+2)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Hapoel Tel-Aviv (ECC Group G) (Yahia 45+2, Botia 72)
1.FC Köln 0-4 Bayer Leverkusen (Kiessling 22, 24, pen 47, Botia 54)
FC Ingolstadt 04 - Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 2nd Rnd) (Naciri 27, Helmes 54)

End of Month table Summary (9 pld):
1. Leverkusen 27
2. Werder Bremen 25
3. Wolfsburg 21
4. Kaiserslautern 19
...
15. Aachen 6
16. HSV 6
17. Osnabruck 4
18. Nurnberg 3

Still 100% after 14 matches in charge.

One of the things we wanted to do this year was not risk another goal difference battle like was the case last year. So far so good: 2.66 goals/game, +20 difference. Last year, full season, 1.52 goals/game, +21. Compared to Bayern, who may or may not end up being the biggest rival for the title, we're 10 goals difference to the good.
November 2012

The month opens with the draw for the German Cup 3rd Rnd: Rostock v Mainz; Bayern v Wolfsburg; Frankfurt v Nurnberg; Koln v Dusseldorf; Hoffenheim v Dortmund; Furth v HSV Leverkusen v Werder Bremen; Stuttgart v Kaiserslautern. So not an easy draw, but at least at home - the cup tie comes only 18 days after our first league fixture with them, also at home. Possibly tempering that advantage is that Werder Bremen won at the BayArena 3-1 last season, and drew 1-1 the year before; they also won at the Weserstadion last year which Leverkusen eked out the win the year before. The trick is to use history only when it helps motivate, right? :) There's an argument that in a season where Leverkusen was 23-3-8 and lost the title on goal difference, that losing twice to 8th placed Werder Bremen (which was 11-11-10 in the 32 games that were not v. Leverkusen) was the deciding factor. One more bit of negative history, Werder Bremen won the German Cup over Leverkusen in 2009.

We've had a bit better luck recently against our next opponents, Schalke, with a 3-1-1 record the previous two seasons. Strangely, both sides won the away match last year.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - FC Schalke 04
Score: 2-0 (Ballack pen 2, Derdiyok 60)
League Position: Summary: Schalke have some recognizable names... most notably Klaas-Jan Huntelaar ("the hunter"), also Cristoph Metzelder, Manuel Neuer, Lars Bender (promising ex-Leverkusen midfielder sold before I got here, not sure it was a good idea), Jermain Jones (German-born US international), Henri Saivet (on loan from Girondins Bordeaux), and Lewis Holtby, a young German/English winger who's opted to play in and for Germany. They're a talented side that's stumbled a bit, a 3-3-3 record, a little weak on the goal scoring, which I hope they continue for at least one more match! Schalke breaks down fairly quickly, Kiessling winning a penalty o 41 seconds after the back line just completely lost him. Ballack drills it, and I hope it's a sign of a good run, not slipping into overconfidence since the first came so easy. Lovely sequence, Derdiyok to Augusto to Schurrle, how in the world did he get saved from so close in? Derdiyok been unlucky, his blast is tipped by Neuer, off underside of crossbar AND far post, comes down just outside the goal line. And here we are again, as the half winds on, we've controlled but not converted. 1-0 at the break, and we open the 2nd with Derdiyok doing great work, then a ridiculous miss - at this point, 14 shots, 3 on target (and that includes the penalty). And there it is - an actual good play, Kiessling closes down hard after a throw in deep in the Schalke end, wins the ball, fires it to Derdiyok standing right in front (but making sure the pass was backwards, so no possibility of offside), who volleys it home. 2-0 on the hour. Completely uncontested, poor Neuer was hung out to dry and had no chance as long as Derdiyok didn't mis-hit it (he didn't). Some of the edge is gone and Adler has to bring his magic gloves into action several times to preserve the clean sheet. Not the best defensive performance, Schalke got way too many chances, 15 shots, 9 on target is too many to be giving up at home. Werder Bremen v Kaiserslautern is a draw, and Bayern draw as well further down the table - much further, still only 8th. The Bayern draw, humiliatingly, was to #18 (bottom) side Nurnberg at home.

Match: Hapoel Tel-Aviv - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group G)
Score: 1-2 (Markosi 62 - Kiessling 45+2, 53)
Group Position: 1st
Summary: It's a frustrating beginning, we spend a lot of time in Tel-Aviv's box but we're not making much out of it, Schurrle and Augusto have failed to score on chances they probably should have scored, and Kiessling has put one in but ruled offside. And then we pull our trick we've done before, score at the very end, it's a corner, passed around, put into the box by Castro, and while the back and the keeper wait to deal with it, Kiessling has executed a "baseball slide" and poked it in - and the referee blows for half time, doesn't even let the kickoff happen. Kiessling gets #2 heading in a difficult ball because he's challenged by two and there's not much pace on the cross. He's suddenly caught fire, and looks more comfortable after we switched him and Derdiyok so the Swiss striker is in the "attacking forward" role and Kiessling in the "deeper lying forward" role. Tel-Aviv get one back on a very slick play, Ohana backheels to put Markoski through, and he beats Adler, it's been a long time since someone managed that particular feat - he's stopped an amazing number of 1v1 type breaks. We have somewhat less than our most composed finish, good work by Tel-Aviv to be honest to put us under pressure. Vanden Borre almost scored a wonder shot from distance in stoppage, but instead draws a wonder save. We're in superb shape in the group now - PSG (under a new manager) has returned the favor with a home win in the second half of the doubleheader, we we're on 12 points, +8 g.d., Milan and PSG 6 pts, +1 g.d. If both of them beat us, and beat Tel-Aviv, and do it by big scores, there's still a chance we could lose out.

Match: Borussia Mönchengladbach - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-1 (Bobadilla 9 - Ballack 35)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Well, here's the joy of our setup. 30% of the season done and Gladbach are going nowhere - 9th place, although only two points out of the nominal final European place. And they're expecting a sellout for our visit, over 54,000, which includes over 16,000 standing-room only (not possible in England, by the way, for safety reasons top clubs basically have to have all-seater stadia). That trumps our maximum by 24,000, and means about €670k extra revenue for them from this one match over what we could get at home. Fair? Well, I suppose we wouldn't draw 50k even if we could. We don't have to rest many since this time we have a week until the next match, but there are a couple of changes from mid-week in Israel - Hegeler for Vanden Borre in central mid and Vida for Castro at DR. Early indications are a physical battle, and Gladbach have had a shot clang off the bar in the 4th. Several things which usually work have not here, so early... a twinge of worry. The twinge grows, 9th minute and Adler has made a very good save but had no chance to hold the ball, and Bobadilla (the same who hit the shot off the bar) has put it in just over the prone Adler. We've had some really good play for half an hour, but are we going to be able to pull this one out of the fire? Well, there's a good start to the comeback when Ballack, with impeccable control, stabs one in on 35 to level. For him, it's #50 in the league for Leverkusen in a long-interrupted career... after coming up with Chemnitz he joined Kaiserslautern for two seasons, then Leverkusen for €3.9m in 1999, in three years, 27 league goals - the 17-goal season in 2001/2 got the attention of Bayern for 6m, four seasons and 44 league goals later (not bad for a midfielder) he's on to Chelsea on a free. That experience was good, but not as prolific on the goal charts (17 goal in four years), then back to Leverkusen on another free where he's just got his 23rd league goal of the second stint. Unfortunately, we can't muster anything more, an overall not very good performance, and the win streak comes to an end. Still... the string of green dots on the result sheet was 18 including friendlies, dating back, of all things, to that friendly draw at Hibernian. In all real competitions this season it was 16 wins in a row, 10 in the league, and although it has nothing to do with me, the last game of last season makes it 17/11 for the club. It's still an unbeaten streak, though :) Bayern lose and sack their manager. The dropped points don't hurt us at the moment; Sunday Werder Bremen lose and Wolfsburg draw, so we actually extended the lead by a further point, five over WB, 6 over Wolfsburg (and 17 over 10th placed defending champions Bayern!).

It's an odd round in the competition. Only three Saturday matches, with six on Sunday: one of the Saturday matchups is the "without question" top club (us) v. the "clear bottom" (Osanbruck); the second is the "two contenders", Werder Bremen v. Wolfsburg, and the third is the "not going to plan" pairing of Bayern (who sacked their manager and have just, in desperation, installed Steve McClaren) v. Schalke (who are considered likely to axe their manager if they don't get a result). Plus, Wolfsburg now have to deal with the manager problem: McClaren having left, the club get money (a lot: €2.4m) but need to deal with finding a top boss to preserve their position. In contrast, the Sunday six matches are rather plebeian! :)

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - VfL Osnabrück
Score: 4-2 (Derdiyok 23, 84, 89, Sam 33 - Adler 17, 39)
League Position: 1st
Summary: In a match where we're the clear favorites: 1st, best goals for, best goals against v. 18th (last), worst goals for, worst goals against, and playing at home - we don't start that well. It's attack, but not composed, then Osnabrück score first We've answered back from Derdiyok, but I expect a lot more. The lead comes on a stunning diving header from Sidney Sam, a throwin by Kadlec who got it back and sent it into the box, Sam snuck through to glance it in. But... there's another goal for Osnabrück as we've got a bit careless pushing forward, Adler scores his second, against Adler :) Although there were some dodgy performance, in the end it the Eren Derdiyok show as he scored in the 84th and 89th minutes to seal a 4-2 win. And with the Wolfsburg v Werder Bremen match ending up drawn, we're up seven points now!

Chelsea have sacked Fabio Capello and are looking for a new manager yet again. Suddenly, the press consider that I'm in the frame - Michael Laudrup considered the front runner (out of work since sacked by Cagliari less than a week ago); then a group that includes me, Gregorio Manzano (similarly unemployed for a week since Bayern cut him loose), and Jose Antonio Camacho, out of work for almost two years since being sacked by Osasuna. And as a recent spell of carnage has continued, Pellegrini does get the sack at Schalke. (Other clubs I recall seeing just this week include Osasusa, Stade Rennais, Torino and Deportivo).

Okay, this is a little odd, Laudrup states publicly that he would like the Chelsea job... and then he takes the Wolfsburg job. He must have gotten a hint he wasn't getting serious consideration for Chelsea? I hope they don't come after me actually, it's a job that on the surface I'd want, but I'm not leaving a club I haven't even been with a half season and where things are going so well, and it's a club that's made a bit of a mess of its playing staff. So I'd be turning it down, which I'd rather not do for a job I would like to take someday. One wonders if there's another Italian on the horizon. Can't be Zola, he took the Torino job. And it turns out to be... Gregorio Manzano, just sacked by Bayern - so it's Spanish they've turned to now. He's well traveled, it's his 16th club. I don't see this appointment making any sense; if Chelsea are looking for something new in what's been several seasons of, honestly, failure: dropping first to the Euro Cup, then after last season's 10th place completely out of Europe, and the current 11th doesn't offer much optimism for a return. You'd think they'd be looking for new ideas, not for a manager whose most recent experience was not successful at another of Europe's big clubs. Well, I'm not the owner.

Match: 1.FC Kaiserslautern - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-1 (Rivic 39 - Kaplan 64)
League Position: 1st
Summary: I've taken a gamble here, running out some lesser used players and hope that their enthusiasm to make an impression will be enough. The gamble's not looking good, we've not played well in the first half and Kaiserslautern put in two late in the half, although only one counts. After some subs for the poorest performing players, Burak Kaplan gets a goal as he works past the keeper and then can put it in easily, although I admit he looked offside at the start. So with a half hour to go we're level. The half has been a considerable improvement. Derdiyok has made a little space but puts it in the side netting. We've seen a very questionable penalty given against us, but Kaiserslautern can't score it. We try to push for a winner, but make too many mistakes and it ends a draw. So I've not come out ahead on the gamble, which was predicated on saving some players for the trip to Milano. But it doesn't hurt us in any major way - Werder Bremen won to come up to five points behind, while of the other near pursuers we of course held Kaiserslautern to a draw and Wolfsburg also drew. Burak Kaplan has become the 16th Leverkusen player to score this year.

Match: AC Milan - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group G)
Score: 0-2 (Augusto 41, Astori o.g. 53)
Group Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: This time around, Milan aren't missing a bunch of key players, but they're also having a Bayern-type season: 5-4-4 and distinctly middle of the pack in Serie A (9th, while Bayern are 4-5-4 and 9th) - maybe not such a good year for some traditional powers? Anyway, Milan looked a scary side coming in, with a front six of Pereira, Pirlo, Flamini, Sanchez, Robinho and Ibrahimovic. If there are any cracks it must be at the back end, but we have to take care not to leave the attackers openings. It's a close battle until we score after one of the best passes I've seen in a long time, it's a sequence that sees Derdiyok pass forward to Kiessling who just immediately sent it out wide right where it looked at first like nothing but it was perfectly weighted for Augusto... he still hard work to do but finished beautifully far post. We've played a pretty good first half, but there's also some accuracy missing that I'd like to see - we haven't passed as well as I'd like not shot as accurately. We talk about slowing the game down a bit, we don't need to push the tempo. A second gal comes fairly early in the second period, this one is on the old "put the ball in the box and good things may happen" adage, Derdiyok on the right under pressure just fires in with two players heading for goal but no clear path to them... but no matter, it deflects off Astori and goes past Abbiati and in the net. We have to withstand a period of pressure from Milan as they fight to get back in it, but then they seem to run out of gas and we've seen it out. A win at the San Siro? I know I pointed out Milan are not having a great season, but this one maybe hints that we have a powerhouse team after all. We're now officially sure we're through to the knockout rounds, and it's sure to be as the group winner.

Of course, nothing can ever go smoothly for a whole season, and so after Renato Augusto has an undoubtedly good match against Milan, his agent decides the time is right to push for an improved contract. It isn't; the player's problem is on some lever he probably deserves more from a club that except for paying Ballack a fortune, is quite frugal. The players that have really been standouts this season - the only one I have to go on personally except those four European matches v. Hibernian - has been the back line players Kadlec, Botia, Dante and Castro, plus keeper Adler. And not just defensively, Kadlec and Castro are also the top two assist makers and Botia is third in goals. These players are roughly in the same salary neighborhood - Augusto makes €41,500, Adler is deservedly top earner in the group-that-isn't-Ballack at €49,500, Dante makes €41,500, Kadlec €39,500, Castro €38,000, Botia €35,500. These are all more than the most noticeable players, like Kiessling making €34,500 and Derdiyok €32,500. So what's the point of listing all of this? It's to show that if we give Augusto a fat new contract - and his agent thinks he's worth the 100k Ballack makes - it will completely upset the salary structure as everyone will end up wanting the same. As a gross generalization, agents for Brazilian players are an utter pain to deal with. So I have to turn down the current request, which means Augusto is now unhappy. I tell him an improvement is in the pipeline, but don't know how long that stall will actually work. We've actually got somewhat of a financial problem... we made €25,7m last year whch is nice, and we ought to make some money this year, but this is due to prize money. On a month to month basis, we run €2m or so in the red every month - with considerable fluctuations based on home matches and prize money (we've been happy to take win bonuses in the Champions Cup all five times, plus collect for being in the group phase, and now for making the knockout phase), and still the money is leaking out on a monthly basis.

Edin Dzeko would be a nice player to have on the squad, but when Wolfsburg offer him up at what would normally be a bargain price (because he's he's going out of contract, presumably), the board decree there's no way we could afford him. The problem with this is, we could afford him if it's an end-of-contract deal in June, when we have new funding, but now he's been offered for sale, he'll probably end up at Barca or somewhere.

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 FC Schalke 04 (Ballack pen 2, Derdiyok 60)
Hapoel Tel-Aviv 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group G) (Markosi 62 - Kiessling 45+2, 53)
Borussia Mönchengladbach 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Bobadilla 9 - Ballack 35)
Bayer Leverkusen 4-2 VfL Osnabrück (Derdiyok 23, 84, 89, Sam 33 - Adler 17, 39)
1.FC Kaiserslautern 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Rivic 39 - Kaplan 64)
AC Milan 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen] (ECC Group G) (Augusto 41, Astori o.g. 53)

End of Month table Summary (13 pld):
1. Leverkusen 35
2. Werder Bremen 30
3. Wolfsburg 27
4. Kaiserslautern 25
5. Koln 24
...
16. Mainz 10
17. HSV 6
18. Osnabrück 4

Finances
Generally, see comment just above. We're doing great, but with too many first-team players and a small stadium, the cash just dribbles out; we'll make money in the end from bonuses from the league and from the Champions Cup but I'm not happy we're where we could be. This month's loss was €3.3m, last month's €2.5m and for the year we're now only up €5.7m. And we're going to see a round of new salary demands, for sure - Augusto's will just have been the first. We're now at the level of stature that we need to be able to pay important first-team players more than €30-45k but we can't afford to start a round of bumping that up. It means staff are going to have to work very very hard to identify players who can replace some of the current ones if they decide that greater riches elsewhere is something they can't resist. Still, let's talk positives: according to the charts I'm shown, at the end of April 2010 the club cash balance was -€20m, and now it's +€55m, and it ought to go higher since we've still got various bits of prize money coming.

Other
My previous club Hibernian is not doing very well under Owen Coyle. They're a plebeian 5-3-6 in the league, well off the pace (20 pts) of the soaring Celtic, and worse, well behind city rivals Hearts who are 2nd on 31 points. In the Champions Cup there have been two decent performances, and three embarrassing ones: 0-5 at Napoli, 1-5 at Olympique Lyonnais, and worst 1-9 thrashing at home to Napoli. There's no chance of 3rd in the group, so the lads are just going to fall right out of Europe here and for next year. I feel really bad; many key players are still around from the club that won two titles, although some have been supplanted by questionable signings. There's a lot of "very poor" in the morale. It doesn't help that important player Juhani Ojala hasn't played a minute yet as he suffered a broken leg before the regular season got under way, but there's no way his absence alone is enough to account for the drop off.
December 2012

We'll open the month with a big match - our first of two showdowns with #2 Werder Bremen (the other comes on 19 Dec in the Cup). We'll end it just before Christmas, at Hoffenheim on the 23rd, and then go into the winter break, not to resume play until 19 Jan.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Werder Bremen
Score: 4-0 (Naldo o.g. 43, Kiessling 57, 63, 75)
League Position: 1st
Summary: The match develops in an unsurprising fashion - being home we dictate a bit more of the tempo, but it's relatively even. Bradley's got a chance to make something on a break, but over-hits the cross. Shortly past the half hour each side as a good chance - first Marko Marin put through but he rolls the shot just wide, then Kiessling steps into space but fires over. A goal comes just before the break, it's Schurrle's work, but his shot catches the post, then glances in off a defender, so he doesn't get full credit. 1-0 at the break. I'm just thinking we somehow have to get Augusto involved more when he puts Kiessling wonderfully into space, only question is will he reach it before the keeper after his first touch is a bit heavy? He does and bangs home with authority. We've seemingly broken their backs with that one as Keissling is through once where we don't get a goal, then a second time when we do. Kiessling makes it a hat trick with a wonderfully places shot catching the upper right. I think now we've made a statement. Wolfsburg lost too, so we've got eight points on Werder Bremen, 11 on Wolfsburg and Koln.

Post-match we hear AC Milan have sacked Marco van Basten and the media seem to think I'm a candidate. The situation is a bit similar to the Bayern one (not the job rumor) in that a long-time "huge club" are struggling, they're middle-of-the-pack 12th with a 5-4-5 record. There's just a little similarity with when I was approached to manage Leverkusen, as we've just finished playing them twice in the Champions Cup. Milan are completely unbalanced - Ibra has 12 goals, nobody else more than two. Actually our next opponent Wolfsburg are a little like that too: Dzeko has 17, Rodionov 7 and everyone else is three or less.

Dzeko agrees terms with Lyon, unfortunately the transfer has to wait for the window to open so we still have to face him. If timing had been just a little better maybe we could have made a play. And Felix Magath takes the AC Milan hot seat - another well traveled man, he's managed most of the top German clubs it seems (Hamburg, Schalke, Wolfsburg, Bayern, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Werder Bremen, Nurnberg and he started out for real with Hamburg. Magath had only been out of work for two weeks...

Match: VfL Wolfsburg - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-0
League Position: 1st
Summary: This one is a tough battle. We have a couple of decent opportunities early but Benaglio in goal is up to the task, the Dzeko has a go with a cheeky chip but Adler's not that easy to beat. Neither side has shown any real signs of dominance and then... Sandro chips a little pass that's going to see Derdiyok in behind. Not sure if he's going to win the race to goal but Barzagli, trying to recover from behind tackles cynically. Calling is a last-man foul is dicey but perhaps the referee reacted more to the style of the tackle - in any case he's produced red on the half hour. Somehow, we're not able to take advantage, indeed Wolfsburg reduce our possession advantage as the second half gets underway and rolls on. Sub Moraes is offside as he puts a ball in the net in the 80th - is there a goal in this one? Schurrle hits the bar - the young man just can't find a goal. We've got a late crack, a shot tipped over gives us a final corner, but no dice. So... different ways to look at this one. If we draw away to our close competitors, with the lead we already had, that's advancing our cause. But you can also say we're winless in three straight away, which is not a good trend. It's the first time all year we haven't scored. I'd take this result on balance if we hadn't played a man up for 60 minutes, but as things stand I'm bothered. Even though Werder Bremen could only draw, so there was no table impact.

It's the final round of group matches in the Champions Cup. The four groups who finish Tuesday see the following qualifiers: PSV and Porto from A (Liverpool miss out), Real Madrid and Juventus from B (England leaders Man City miss out), Lyon and CSKA Moscow from C (Italy leaders Napoli miss out) and Bayern and Shakhtar Donetsk from D (Valladolid miss out by a single point in the closest group, the points were 10-10-0-6).

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Paris Saint-Germain (ECC Group G)
Score: 4-0 (Augusto 24, Armand o.g. 44, Castro 74, 77)
Group Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: Even though I've made some changes, we're playing well as the start, and Kiessling drops it off for Augusto who scores halfway through the first period. PSG haven't had much, but Lewandowski finally gets a shot, it passes Adler but doesn't escape the post. Trochowski does some good work, a ball in the box has seen Derdiyok go down as if tripped from behind, not sure if it would have been a penalty or not but it doesn't matter as Armand has managed to deflect it into his own net before it got through to where Derdiyok was going. Yet again we've scored just before the break. Lewandowski should have scored but he can't get a clean strike after getting through. We're not playing drastically well, but then this match is meaningless to us, but not at all to PSG. Sam looks like he's going through clean when he's tripped. It must have happened just outside the box because it's not a penalty, but Rajkovic has seen red for the professional foul. Seems like this is happening a lot to our opponents, perhaps it's a sign that we're doing a good job of carving people open. Castro will have a go, and it's in after taking a deflection, I think it was Dante who got a head to it. Well, I guess it was just a weird corkscrewing ball and it didn't deflect. Moments later he drills in a more conventional free kick, from distance. Castro was going to get a rest, came in when Yahia was injured, and has ended up scoring a brace. Derdiyok somehow misses a late chance. Milan only drew at Tel-Aviv, so PSG are through in the group despite the loss.

After Wednesday, the remaining qualifiers are: Atletico Madrid and Tottenham from E, Barcelona and Benfica from F, Leverkusen and PSG from G (AC Milan missing out) and OM and Arsenal from H.

It was a really impressive group stage campaign for us, with At. Madrid we were the only side to win all six, and we've scored 16 while shipping only two. Will we be able to advance further? It may well depend on what kind of draw we get - we'll have to wait nine days for that.

Meanwhile back to the league, where there's two left before the winter break. The 2nd through 5th placed teams all play away on Saturday, if we can take care of business vs 12th placed Aachen on Sunday we could further improve our position. Those results are draws for Koln, Wolfsburg and Kaiserslautern and a loss for #2 Werder Bremen at Bayern, who are working their way back into the equation now in 6th position.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - TSV Alemannia Aachen
Score: 4-1 (Kiessling 22, 36, Augusto 30, 90+1 - Gueye 41)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We're showing early control but haven't profited. Best chance - Kiessling puts it wide for Helmes whose touch is a little heavy so then he snatches at it and hits the bar. Muck in the back by Aachen, but we don't cash in as on the last bit Kiessling is caught offside, but then he scores following up his own shot moments later. Augusto is opportunistic on a ball that was whacked at by several players without a clearance, 2-0 just before the half hour. Kiessling with a near impossible shot, that one's got to be up for goal of the month! Maybe of the year... 3-0. And what's become ever more rare, we concede one, as there's some sort of missed communication at the back, I know the lads are used to Adler stopping everything he gets near, but a defender stopped and Adler couldn't get out quite in time. It's Dante for some reason who just stopped dead. Gueye the scorer, and Alder's scoreless streak, which had reached something like 450 minutes, is over. Kiessling just misses his third - twice. What an exciting first half! A little more clinical and it would be an utter rout. Kiessling again just misses. One counter for Aachen where we're in a bit of danger, but their third shot of the match goes well wide. Uh-oh... long header, Kiessling outruns the defender, and he misses again!!! off the post this time, that must be four clear chances to seal his hat trick. Then he turns and fires and skims the bar! Oczipka's all alone left for one blast, the keeper pushes it right back to him, a second blast is tipped wide. This is starting to get on my nerves... and finally Augusto slots one in in stoppage. It's an utterly dominant win but there should have been a lot more than 4-1, we've outshot Aachen 32-4. Kiessling got a brace, but he fired off 11 of our shots and only put three on target. So really the weekend was almost as perfect as it can get, we took points off all the contenders and lead by 11 points. Werder Bremen, who were almost as hot as we were, have had a puncture - only one win in the last seven, three draws and three losses, so that's 15 points dropped from those seven, after dropping only two in their first nine.

Werder Bremem are who we play next, but it's in the cup. Werder have been formidable competitors in the DFB-Pokal in recent years, they won it for the first time in 1961, then from 1989 to present they've been either first or second nine times (five of those were wins). Nearly all of that success came under two managers, Otto Rehhagel who was there from 1981-1995 (which included two league wins, four seconds and two thirds) and then Thomas Schaaf who arrived in 1999 and stayed until 2011 when he left for Valencia, at which point Rehhagel was brought back for one more year before retiring. As I've noted before, our cup success has been modest, and all fairly recent: winners in 1993 and 2011 and runners up in 2002 and 2009. We've got somewhat modest expectations for the cup, it's to make the final four. That's two wins away so clearly this is an important point in terms of internal relations in a season that has been near perfect - we've hit one of our three goals (Champions Cup knockout round), we're well on the way to a second (league title) and this is the third one.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Werder Bremen (German Cup 3rd Rnd)
Score: 3-1 extra time (Sam 36, Derdiyok 102, 117 - Marin 34)
Summary: Kiessling is a player who is playing very well recently but also is plagued with bad luck has the run continue as he's hit yet another post. We've taken the game completely to Werder for 25 minutes, 10 shots taken, but can't convert, and then it's Marin through and scoring, and keeper Giefer is justifiably furious at the defensive lapse, it was horrid. We come back to level through Sam, however, a player I'm trying to work into the lineup enough to keep him rolling. After the break we're having some problems, seems a little careless here and there. I'm hoping some subs will freshen the side. It helps a little but not enough, and the match goes to extra time. Things are understandably a bit more cautious but we've got a goal in the 12th minute of the first extra period when a centering pass from Kaplan glances off Naldo awkwardly, and Derdiyok capitalizes (in the process, breaking a long scoring drought) as Mertesacker looks on helplessly. We've really controlled play in the second extra period and there's only been one Werder foray... and then Derdiyok, apparently with his confidence back, seals it with four minutes of time left with a nice left-footed bending shot. The win is in the bag.

We'll finish off the calendar year visiting Hoffenheim, who currently sit #8 with a 6-6-4 record - actually they're in a clump of three on 24 points, which is at this point way behind our 42 but in the midst of a group from 29 to 22 points that still can have some aspirations, like a European place. They're the second best defensive club in the sense of only 11 conceded, but their horrible 15 scored is joint 14th-16th in this 18-team league.

And now... the Champions Cup 1st knockout round draw... what do we get as an opponent? We're the last team drawn, and the opponent is Shakhtar Donetsk. The other matchups are PSG v Bayern, Spurs v. Marseille, Benfica v Lyon, Juventus v PSV, Porto v Real Madrid, CSKA Moscow v Atletico Madrid and Arsenal v Barcelona. So... that's certainly not the worst draw we could have had, we'll just have to see how we can do.

It's interesting, the league scoring table is topped by Lucas Barrios (16), then Fredy Montero, Edin Dzeko and Kevin Grosskreutz (13) followed by Richard Sukuta-Pasu and Hugo Almeida (11), then Kiessling and Adil Chihi (10). "Interesting" because Sukuta-Pasu is our player, but out on loan to Bochum. Where he's scored 11 of their 17 goals. And whom we don't really have room for when he's off the loan.

Match: TSG 1899 Hoffenheim - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-1 (Botia 69)
League Position: 1st
Summary: It takes a really long time for us to break through, finally it's our magical signing Botia, back from injury layoff, who gets a foot to a ball that comes down from a corner. 69th minute... is this enough? Turns out is is; not our best performance ever but how can you complain? We've only managed 5 shots, and yes it's still a struggle away (last four: 1-1, 1-1, 0-0, 1-0) but let's be fair - it's not unexpected, after our first away match was 1-0 at Dortmund, the next four were the aberration, 4-0-0 with a 14-1 scoreline. We're now halfway through the season, we're unbeaten - in all competitions - and have an 11 point lead.

So far this season has surprised me. I knew I was coming to a good squad, but the level of performance has been astonishing - we've won 88% of our 26 matches, and lost none: 23-3-0. Our back line - keeper Adler and the preferred back four - have been superb, and as a reward, all of the back four are now wanted by Spanish clubs, as are Augusto, Derdiyok, Kiessling and back-line backup Vida. Mostly by Valencia and Atletico Madrid it turns out. So it looks like my effort to escape having good players getting poached may be in vain! There are players I might consider selling on financial grounds, if big money is offered and I can see replacements. But it's far from an ideal situation as we go to the break - shouldn't I be able to keep a team that's played so well together through the end of the season at least? Bayern typically come out and declare there won't be any January sales, but we're not Bayern and don't have anywhere near their budget. Have I mentioned that stadium, nice as it may be, is too small? Oh, sorry, I guess I have.

There are more matches a week after ours, and the third round of the Cup is complete and the quarter final draw brings these matchups: Stuttgart v Frankfurt, Leverkusen v Mainz, Furth v Koln, Bayern v Hoffenheim. I'd say our chances of reaching the semi final are at least reasonable. So our non-league ties will be Mainz 29 Jan (German Cup); at Shakhtar Feb 27 (ECC leg 1); Shakhtar Mar 20 (ECC leg 2). We'll restart the season v. the same pair as we started - Dortmund, then Bayern.

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 Werder Bremen (Naldo o.g. 43, Kiessling 57, 63, 75)
VfL Wolfsburg 0-0 Bayer Leverkusen
Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 Paris Saint-Germain (ECC Group G) (Augusto 24, Armand o.g. 44, Castro 74, 77)
Bayer Leverkusen 4-1 TSV Alemannia Aachen (Kiessling 22, 36, Augusto 30, 90+1 - Gueye 41)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 Werder Bremen (German Cup 3rd Rnd) extra time (Sam 36, Derdiyok 102, 117 - Marin 34)
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Botia 69)

End of 2012 table Summary (17 pld):
1. Leverkusen 45
2. Koln 34
3. Werden Bremem 31
4. FA Bayern 29 +19
5. Wolfsburg 29 +12
6. Dortmund 27 +14
7. Kaiserslautern 27 +5
8. Schalke 27 +4
...
16. HSV 13
17. Augsburg 12
18. Osnabruck 4

Finances
Another leaky month... salaries exceeded turnover by €700k and overall we were €3.5m in the hole. And I have to deal with Augusto who still wants a much better contract. Sheesh, just want to go win the title and have to worry about this stuff...
January 2013

With the transfer window open, people are scrambling to strengthen. We make a reasonable-sized move: the Dutch striker Marijn Troost, who I brought to Hibernian, is about to get poached by a couple of clubs so I stick in an oar. After a half-season of experience with the club, we have a superb pairing in Kiessling and Derdiyok (and Derdiyok is a transfer target, at least in Spain), and then really nothing much... Helmes, Moraes, and Domovchiyski have not lived up to billing, and there's no youth quality at all coming along. Based on our scouting knowledge, Troost is the cheapest forward with potential to be a star in the league (of course, there's no way we know everyone in the world, but Germany has a limit on non-EU players in the starting lineup, at least in the Cup competition, so I spend less time covering Brazilians, Argentinians, etc. - we already have five contenders for those spots in Augusto, Dante and Sandro, and Moraes just makes a fourth Brazilian that's harder to work in, plus Bradley from USA and Yahia from Algeria. As long as they're letting me make this choice, there it is.

Contract renewals are another issue. We need to keep Augusto and so I make him an offer, and balance part of it by signing Ballack to an extra year - in the process lowering his salary a fair bit. However, the signing bonuses probably wipe out any gains in this area. Anthar Yahia gets new deal as well, good backup and team player, and leader (he's Algerian captain), and with me not entirely sure of Botia (I mean, about our ability to keep him longer term without getting poached by a bigger club, esp, back in Spain) I wanted to lock up some continuity.

I try to ditch some players not needed, and it's an utter failure: two of the three I try (Balitsch and Moraes) as well as one I didn't in Hegeler sign to leave - but they're end of contract deals, so we'll still be carrying their salaries. And the third I tried to ditch, Manuel Friedrich, draws no interest at all.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen (1st) - Dortmund (6th)
Score: 4-1 (Botia 22, Kiessling 44, 57, pen 86)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We've opened in a not unusual way, Botia heads in a corner. The man has attracted transfer interest (At. Madrid at least), and is flattered. Will he stay? We didn't start that well in this match but are gradually playing better, late in the half Augusto should have scored but is denied, then we pass well in a sequence to set up for Kiessling who does score. In the second, he adds to his tally, heading in another corner. Looks like however you slice it, we're a set-play team! We give up a set-play goal as well, Barrios slices in to head home a corner. Sub Trochowski wins a penalty late, giving Kiessling a chance at another hat trick, and he converts. It's a light day, resurgent Bayern win again to move 3rd for the moment, while Hoffenheim try to rebuild their faltering season with a win over 2nd placed Koln - which means we're now working with a 14 point lead! (with 16 matches to go). (Bayern drop back to 4th after Sunday results).

Our wonderful back line enhances their reputation a bit further. Of our top five average rating leaders (all comps), we have: Kadlec (DL) 7,64; Botia (DC) 7,53; Kiessling (ST) 7,52; Castro (DR) 7,45; Dante (DC) 7,37 - and Kiessling has the advantage of being the team's top goalscorer by a fair margin, which always bumps up the ratings. In other words, the back line are playing really well.

Match: FC Bayern München - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 2-4 (Muller 27, Robben 38 - Derdiyok 30, 45+1, Schurrle 42, Augusto 73)
League Position: 1st
Summary: To be honest, with Bayern in form, this is our best chance to date to lose. If you look at the Bayern lineup, they've got quality everywhere, with the back line looking weakest - so we're going to try an attacking approach even though we're away. Sadly, we're unable to convert a couple of early chances, and Thomas Muller has popped in a loose ball in the 27th to put us behind. Astonishing stuff from Derdiyok as he finds a way through defenders to score on a blast from outside the box, who says this team doesn't have heart and determination? Bayern score an astonishing goal from Robben, can't begrudge them that one, perhaps someone could have stayed goal-side of him a little more but if you score that play you deserve it. But the battle is truly engaged, and we've answered before the half it's Derdiyok seeing if he can break loose, then cutting back to Schurrle who finally scores one. And there's still more in the half, we have an attack, lose it, get it back and it's fed to Derdiyok who scores yet another astonishing shot! To be honest, he's a brilliant player, but we'd like to see more of him from plays that aren't of the spectacular variety too ... he hasn't been that clinical on chances that look "easy". The wonderfully entertaining football (except maybe if you're a coach and want to seem more control) continues into the 2nd. Olic wastes a chance on a corner, then Ribery misses a chance... we're dodging some bullets here. After some changes, Augusto scores on a second-chance - he's had the first saved but it comes right back to him and he puts it in. Almost time... and it's done. Well. It's a win in front of 63,349 in Munich, and there's no way they can catch us now, is there? We're 19 points up on them with only 15 matches remaining! Schurrle took a late knock which gave us some concern, but it turns out not to be serious, he'll only miss a few days.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FSV Mainz 05 (German Cup Qtr Final)
Score: 2-1 extra time (Kiessling 80, Troost 118 - Kirchhoff 31)
Summary: Maybe too many changes, but I thought we needed it. We've not exerted control, and Mainz have gone ahead to the shock of the fans, at about the half hour. It takes us a long time to get a leveler, then it's the two subs combining, Burak Kaplan getting in one of several dangerous crosses, this one Kiessling sliding in to poke home, 80th minute. Then Kiessling is behind, but the keeper wins the duel. Then Kiessling is about to break through again, and he's taken down, it's a red card for the defender! After our goal, and especially after the card, it's been all out pressure on the Mainz goal, but it still goes to extra time. Vanden Borre is gassed so after the 90 we have to make our final change... and it's a bit of a gamble, a third forward in Troost. Troost has two chances in extra time, then three forwards on a break is just too much for Mainz who are playing with only three real back liners, and Derdiyok picks the right pass, leaving Troost alone and he scores! 118th minute that was. Actually, I'm not sure the pass to the left wouldn't have sprung Kiessling the same way. It's enough for the win, not our best show certainly, a long time to get going and with a man advantage for the end.

In the draw for the semi-finals, we've avoided Bayern which I still think is a good thing - we get Koln, and Bayern get Stuttgart. Maybe this is no bargain, Koln are our fiercest rivals.

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 4-1 Dortmund (Botia 22, Kiessling 44, 57, pen 86)
FC Bayern München 2-4 Bayer Leverkusen (Muller 27, Robben 38 - Derdiyok 30, 45+1, Schurrle 42, Augusto 73)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 extra time 1.FSV Mainz 05 (German Cup Qtr Final) (Kiessling 80, Troost 118 - Kirchhoff 31)

End of Month Table Summary (19 pld):
1. Leverkusen 51
2. Wolfsburg 35
3. Werder Bremen 34 +11
4. Koln 34 +5
5. Bayern 32
6. Schalke 31
7. Dortmund 30 +14
8. Kaiserslautern 30 +8
9. Gladbach 29
...
14. Nurnberg 18
15. Aachen 17
16. HSV 16
17. Augsburg 15
18. Osnabruck 8

Things are tight for the European places, and for the relegation places, except first and last.

Finances
After buying Troost and not selling anyone, not too good. We'll leave the finances for another time. Let's just say a short month competition wise leaves little room to recover from having to spend on salaries.
February 2013

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Hamburger SV
Score: 4-0 (Derdiyok 5, 81, Castro 52, Trochowski 70)
League Position: 1st
Summary: I'm afraid we've made a mistake that will cost us early, but we recover from it and quickly score as Hamburg make a similar one. They're trying to play out of the back, there's nothing wrong with the first pass to Mathijsen, but he take too long to collect himself and turn and Bradley comes sliding in, and he's poked the ball straight to Derdiyok who has the proverbial acres of space. Still had work, it was a beautifully placed shot in off the far post. It's his 50th league goal for Leverkusen. HSV almost get it back as we're a little lax on a goal kick, then Alder's save deflects oddly and almost got inside the far post. Kiessling blows a chance, an absolutely astonishing long pass by Kadlec has sprung him, but the shot is over. Hamburg are doing a good job of finding space between the back line and midfield, I'm going to have to fiddle formations a little. Dropping Bradley deeper seems to have cleaned up that particular problem, but now we're giving up too much possession. At the half Hamburg have way outshot us, but they've been almost entirely off target so it hasn't hurt, they're potting from deep. Castro's free kick on 52 has somehow made it through the wall and in the net. Mistake there - someone jumped and it went underneath! Kiessling has another blast go over - referee thinks it took a deflection, but we don't score from the corner. We're having good luck with long balls picking out open players, not really our style in general but sometimes effective. Kiessling has been so picked out, and he times everything perfectly so that when he puts in a cross, sub Trochowski has an easy header to score. First goal of the year for Trochowski who's been overall disappointing - and that means now 19 different players have scored senior goals. Trochowski's ball into the middle is dangerous, Kiessling swats at it and whether intentionally it's at the feet of Derdiyok, who tries to take the roof off the net from three yards out, his second goal. Botia's very late injury is a bit of a concern, otherwise the 4-0 would be all smiles. The physios say five weeks, and with Yahia still away at the African Cup of Nations (it would be good if Algeria lost to South Africa tomorrow in the 1/4 final!!!), we'll have a little depth test in the back. Bayern have won, temporarily 2nd - Werder Bremen, Wolfsburg and Koln will try to move back ahead of them on Sunday. In the end, only Werder have done it (Wolfsburg's loss leave them with an identical record but behind on goal difference). So Bayern are gradually creeping back from their bad start, now up to 3rd, but we've got 19 points on them and 17 on Werder.

I've been noting the "team effort" in various subtle ways, one of them being we don't have dominant scorers (note the number of different players who have gotten a goal). Our big two have started to pick up the scoring after what I thought was an ineffective start, I still want, in the close season when we probably will make some coaching changes, to beef up the shooting training. Anyway, some of the players are starting to make appearances in the league tables - Kiessling is joint 4th in goals (13) with Almeida and Dzeko, the latter will get no more since he's playing in France now. 7th is Richard Sukuta-Pasu, who's a Leverkusen player but on loan at Bochum. 8th is Derdiyok with 10. August is joint 5th in assists, Ballack is 7th in passing, Kiessling is 3rd in Avg. Rating. Overall Kiessling has 17 goals, Derdiyok 13, and they're exchanging scoring days nicely, when one isn't scoring the other probably is - one of the two have scored in seven of the last 10 matches. Oddly, it's been 21 games since both scored in the same match, the first PSG tie, and that's the only time both have scored in a non-friendly.

Match: 1.FSV Mainz 05 - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 2-2 (Allagui 23, 51 - Augusto 20, Kiessling 42)
League Position: 1st
Summary: It's looking like there's going to be a battle, Allagui (who caused us some troubles in the first match) getting through despite us playing deep and drawing a spectacular tip save from Adler. But Augusto takes matters into his own hands and scores about 20 minutes in. Good feed from Castro. Good sequence passing through crowds and Allagui has indeed scored. We're looking in some trouble but we hit them on a bit of a break, and Derdiyok to Kiessling results in a successful finish. This is the kind of play by the two that terrified us when we were getting ready to face them at Hibernian. So we have an opportunistic lead at the break, I'm sure Mainz are a bit frustrated as on balance they played the more attacking football, and had lots of possession to work with. Schurrle's taken up an inside position and almost scored, then despite all the attention we've put on him, Allagui comes clear and heads in a corner to level. Nobody near him, doesn't anyone listen to the instructions? Derdiyok opportunistic on a misplayed ball, but his shot unluckily clips the bar. Just the right timing on another break and Kiessling has had it open for Derdiyok, but his early shot doesn't beat the keeper. We've really got the impetus late in the game, and Kiessling has just made a simple turn and he's clear, but his shot trickles just wide. Five minutes left, that might have been our chance... 4 minutes extra. Chance for Sidney Sam, but over - would have been tough to score that one if he kept it down. We've had some good play, but not 90 minutes of it, and we're punished by dropping two points. Maybe I guessed wrong on the replacement for Botia - Vida was fresh and Yahia just back from the ACN so I picked the former, and he had a bad game. Of course, who's to say Yahia wouldn't have had just as bad a time with Allagui, who seems a very dangerous player. Bayern and Werder both win (there were only three Saturday games but they involved the top three), so we've lost two points off our still comfortable lead. I guess we can identify Mainz as a club who give us trouble - we won the home fixture 2-1 with Allagui scoring twice - luckily once into his own goal, then barely won the cup tie at home two weeks ago on an extra time goal - when Allagui wasn't playing.

News from England is Chelsea have turned a corner and suddenly reeled off 12 wins in a row, two in the FA cup, two in the league cup semi to move to the final, and eight in the league to move them 5th (although Man United in 6th have a game in hand). In Scotland, Hibernian's disappointing season has improved a little with three league wins, but it's still only 6th place.

News comes we're leading the league in terms of average attendance by capacity at 98%, but we're only 13th in actual average attendance.

Mini-international break here. We've got five players affected who are regular or quasi-regular; four more who are in the senior team.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Vfl Bochum
Score: 2-0 (Kiessling 15, Schurrle 75)
League Position: 1st
Summary: In this one we'll host a side whom we don't have much history with, Bochum being promoted for this season, but who do feature our own player, Richard Sukuta-Pasu, who's been on a scoring tear, he's coming off a hat trick against Aachen and 11 goals in the last 12 league games, which puts him as joint 3rd highest scorer with 15; nobody else in the side has more than two! Although he's eligible to play against us, he's suspended for this one. We've started well, the first few minutes with all of the ball, then an attack where Augusto surges clear, puts the ball in the box, it's cleared out, it's off one Bochum defender, two, heading for a third but he's got his back turned, and Kiessling slips in and absolutely powers the ball in the net. There's a spell of just-about's but them Bochum stabilize, indeed they've created a danger. Schurrle starts a break, as Kiessling swoops in the situation is a classic own-goal deflection but the defender breathes a sigh of relief as it's just outside the post. We've made some changes to try to shake up a lethargic side, and in the 75th minute Schurrle has headed in a driven centering ball. It ends 2-0, not an inspired performance but gets the job done.

Matchday 1 of the ECC 1st Knockout Rnd sees PSG 2-5 Bayern, Porto 1-0 Real Madrid. Wed is matchday 2: CSKA 1-0 At. Madrid, Spurs 0-1 OM.

Match: FC Augsburg - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-4 (Biseswar pen 90+2 - Helmes 6, Troost 8, 57, Kaplan 30)
League Position: 1st
Summary: In preparation for our trip to Shakhtar, we're rotating significantly in this one. Kiessling has the flu, but we change jut about everyone else as well. Our subs start brightly, Sam almost gets a goal but Helmes scores from the ensuing corner. Then Marijn Troost really prettily turns his man and places a shot past the keeper, it's 2-0 inside 8 minutes. We lose focus for a while, but then Helmes works well to get to a ball over the top, has the shot blocked down, hustles to get it back, and finds Kaplan who scores with a rocket. Troost goes right through a gang of three defenders but the keeper pulls out a wonder save. With things going well again, the injury bug hits - first Kaplan goes out injured, then not much later his replacement Trochowski goes out injured as well. Rolling in the 2nd, we've started an counter, Troost makes an excellent pass to Helmes who's got space, and when his shot is blocked by the keeper, it's Troost who is the beneficiary for his 2nd goal. Vanden Borre and Sandro both have goes at getting on the scoresheet, then Helmes misses out on a good chance. Yahia's headed free kick looks a sure goal but is snared. Helmes misses yet another golden chance set up by Troost, how are we able to carve them up like this? Sandro is called for a handball on a corner right at the end of stoppage, so we lose the clean sheet on the penalty. Soaring Bayern are now alone in 2nd after winning at Mainz while Koln have beaten Werder. It must be galling to them to be on such a good run and not make up ground - in the league they've won nine of ten since Dec 1 - the loss coming at home, to us. That's 27 points out of a possible 30 (and an aggregate scoreline of 28-7), but in the same time we've taken 26 points out of a possible 30 (aggregate scoreline 29-7). Neither injury is terribly serious, Kaplan will miss two weeks, Trochowski just a couple of days.

The third of four ECC first leg days sees Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona; Benfica 1-2 Olympique Lyonnais, although we barely have time to think about those with our own preparations.

So we travel to Ukraine to visit Shakhtar. Donetsk is the 5th largest city in Ukraine, behind Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dinpropetrovsk, and just barely behind Odessa. Donetsk is a newish city, founded only about 150 years ago to exploit coal and steel possibilities (actually founded by a Welshman named Hughes). The Donbas (after Donets Basin, what the region is called) Arena is new and has a 51,500 seat capacity that we can look on with some envy; the club are managed by Carlos Alberto Perreira. They had a 3-2-1 record in group D, which included a draw and a loss to Bayern.

Match: Shakhtar Donetsk - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 1)
Score: 0-1 (Ballack pen 60)
Summary: Matchday arrives cold (-5c) and windy, could have been more pleasant. Shakhtar play a Brazilian-style box midfield (4-2-2-2) with Brazilians Alex Teixeira and Jadson, and with Brazilian-born Croatian Eduardo as one of the forwards and Brazilian Mario Fernandes at right back and Portuguese Rui Patricio in goal, so it's not an entirely Ukrainian feel to the club! It's a right battle, they're playing us about as tough as anyone has. Eduardo has put one in the net but he was well offside, nobody really objects at the call. We've got a chance as Kadlec floats in a cross, but Augusto can't keep the header down. Kiessling has somehow come away with a goal kick from Adler, but he can only put the shot in the side netting. Kadlec has a go as Castro drops off a free kick to him, but that's in the side netting as well. How we've failed to score in the 58th I don't understand, Bradley's created a bit of magic for Kiessling who shoots right at the keeper from in tight, I think he could have taken a touch to the right and ended up with a tap-in - Derdiyok follows and the net is open but he hits the post, and then Chygrynskyi clears before Kiessling can reach that rebound. Is that a costly miss? We have been looking more dangerous, and just moments later Augusto is clattered by Groznyi just outside the box - but Martin Atkinson sees it as inside - presumably with help from his assistant because he can have had no view of it. Ballack converts the penalty, 1-0 on the hour. A very close thing, the penalty aware, but we've got a lead, and and away goal. Jadson's no-chance shot has clipped the corner of the frame, and Adler is slow to recover but the rebound is headed well wide. Devic bundles in a cross, after bulling his way through, but the referee is not impressed is not impressed and waves it off, and he certainly did run right over Yahia. Adler snatches a late corner out of the air and we've got our win. A little shaky - remember we survived two Shakhtar balls in the net that were both waved off - but for the away half of a two-legged tie in such a tough place to play, it's certainly acceptable, though we still have plenty of work to do. Shots were even - and low - at 10 apiece, each side hit the woodwork. Possession as 53-47 in our favor, passing was even. Not much to choose between the two, it came down to refereeing decisions - which on replays ended up all looking correct, but leaving plenty of talking points on that front anyway, with of course Shakhtar fans the far unhappier.

The other result from the fourth leg 1 matchday is Juventus 1-1 PSV.

So at just past 2/3 of the season, the run for the league title looks like it should be fairly comfortable - surely we can hold a 17 point lead over 11 games? Attendance continues excellent, we've sold out the ground 9 of 11 league matches, and they've been treated to 11 wins (our four draws are all away).

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 Hamburger SV (Derdiyok 5, 81, Castro 52, Trochowski 70)
1.FSV Mainz 05 2-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Allagui 23, 51 - Augusto 20, Kiessling 42)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Vfl Bochum (Kiessling 15, Schurrle 75)
FC Augsburg 1-4 Bayer Leverkusen (Biseswar pen 90+2 - Helmes 6, Troost 8, 57, Kaplan 30)
Shakhtar Donetsk 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 1) (Ballack pen 60)

End of Month Table Summary (23 pld):
1. Leverkusen 61
2. Bayern 44
3. Werder Bremen 43
4. Koln 43
5. Wolfsburg 42
...
14. Nurnberg 20 -11
15. Aachen 20 -19
16. HSV 18
17. Augsburg 16
18. Osnabruck 12
(These last five are all in danger as the Bundesliga relegate the bottom two and 16th enters a playoff)

Finances
It was another leaky month financially, I have to figure out what to do about this (not much to be done this season). There's a risky area - this year we got €25m in "general sponsorship", but I've watched sponsorship deals like this fade away without getting renewed, we're as well off as we are because of that money this season, if it is not renewed, we'll have real issues next year. For the season, 15m in the hole, 5m this last month. The totals look like this: €2.68m turnover (previous €5.61m) main income €932k TV revenue, €7.76m expenditure (previous €17.81m, which included transfers), main expenditure €3.36m. Doesn't look very sustainable.

Three months left to pay for, a fair bit of prize money should come in (league 1st place is €28.6m and we've got Champions Cup money coming and at least something for the German cup, which I'm hoping we can get to the final of - semi final at Koln in five days). Hopefully we'll get some relief in the coming months by playing more at home - the short months of January (due to winter break) and February saw us with just two home games each, we have four on the schedule in March although for now it's back to just one in April, where we only have three matches on the schedule at the moment, just one of them at home. Progressing in the Champions Cup would bring two more matches (three if somehow we progressed another round), at least one at home. May sees 2/3 at home.
March 2013

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - VfB Stuttgart
Score: 0-0
League Position: 1st
Summary: The first half is the source of much frustration, as we've worked for at least five chances with our mostly backup lineup, none taken. By the hour, the stat line reads 16 shots take, 10 off target, four blocked. I've already made two changes, mainly because the two players were on knocks and struggling a bit. Troost is the third player to get the hook, he's been the biggest offender, excellent work to get free a number of times, but nothing to trouble the keeper. Disappointingly, we've dropped our first home points. The one bright light: Sandro completely owned the midfield, superb show. We did have a bit of a shout for a penalty late that was turned down, but it's a match we should have cashed in at least some chances and won easily. The Bayern train keeps rolling, so maybe the race isn't completely over, it's a 15 point lead with 10 to play; 16 points for us in those 10 would mean it doesn't matter what Bayern do, and you'd think that would be possible. Bayern 10 wins from 11, and rolling in the Champions Cup and German Cup as well... but since they don't play us in the league, they don't have a chance to directly take any points off us.

Next up, it's a pair of "Rhein Derby" matches with Köln in two of the next three - first in the Cup, then 10 days later in the league, with Nürnberg in between. We saved out first-teamers for the cup, although Augusto, Schurrle and Derdiyok ended up playing some anyway.

Still watching Chelsea and Hibernian results a bit. Chelsea have locked up a European spot by winning the league cup, but an away loss to Spurs make their chance to crack the top four less likely - and brings Spurs' title that much closer. After 29 rounds in England, 1. Spurs 67, 2. Man City 60, 3. Liverpool 58, 4. Everton 58, 5. Chelsea 53. Hibernian had the odd experience of laying Falkirk three times running, drawing 0-0 in Scottish Cup, drawing 1-1 in the league (both at Falkirk Stadium), then winning in extra time in the Cup replay - not much to choose between those two apparently. Although Hibernian's difficult win at Motherwell have moved them within a point of 5th placed Dundee United... in the yet again shocking SPL, which had Celtic leading comfortably but now after 28 rounds, 1. Hearts 65, 2. Celtic 63, 3. Rangers 50, 4. Aberdeen 46, 5. Dundee Utd. 41, 6. Hibernian 40. Hearts are somehow unbeaten in 15 (plus two Scottish Cup matches), they've somehow taken over the role that I had Hibernian in. Meanwhile Celtic were unbeaten in their first 20 in the league, but since have lost three of the last eight, at Motherwell, Hearts and Dundee Utd, as well as drawing with Kilmarnock and Rangers. Still favor Celtic for the title at this point.

Match: 1.FC Köln - Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup Semi Final)
Score: 0-2 (Ballack 38, Vida 45+1)
Summary: Snow falls at the start... Reflecting the importance of the cup to the club, and the fact that the opponent is our near neighbors (it's only a 20 minute drive - 13 miles) and biggest rivals, now that we've reached this late stage of the competition, we've got a full first choice lineup except Yahia in the back except for Botia, who's not quite back from his fractured ribs injury. Koln start with an attack Adler snuffs out and starts the counter, Kiessling loose on the right but his hurried shot is in the side netting. Montero has a go the requires a tough save, then Laing follows but it's deflected wide. Dante had to come off injured only 16 minutes in. After a continued spell of Koln pressure, we start to take control a quarter of the way in Kiessling's on another counter, and after that we had pretty much all the shooting chances. We we didn't have was a goal, although one was in the net in an incident involving Vida where he was penalized and the goal waved off. Derdiyok behind, but like two earlier chances for Kiessling, can't convert. However, the resulting corner was put in by Ballack after a scramble, and had a goal eight minutes before the break. Another came just in the dying moments of the half, Vida also from a corner. Derdiyok and Kiessling combine perfectly on a break on the hour mark, but Kiessling, who's having a poor game, shoots wide when bulging the net looked inevitable. Bradley nicely steps through but hits the crossbar. Laing has got one off the underside and the bar and in on the stroke of the 90, but he's ruled to have pushed to get the space, so it's waved off, to Koln's fury. This should have been more than 2-0, but some missed chances and some very good 1v1 goalkeeping by Thomas Kessler held us back. We've had a 21-9 shots advantage, and it seemed about half of Koln's shots came in the first 20 or so minutes.

We're now dealing with another back line injury, Dante will miss a couple of weeks.

Match: 1.FC Nürnberg - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-1 (Bunjaku 34 - Troost 84)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Frustration grows quickly in this one, as we have what look like four sure chances, two off woodwork, one as I write this I'm sitting here watching the keeper lying inside the goal holding a ball that's clearly entirely beyond the line. We've lost our second player of the match (first Bradley, then Kadlec) to injury by 27 minutes. Utterly crappy defense leads to a Nurnberg goal less than 10 minutes later. We're showing no signs at all of getting back into it - until we do, a mini-break just be Kiessling, he fires a long shot that's parried (foolishly, based on the result) by keeper Shafer, and sub Troost coming through the middle is the one who gets to the ball and puts it in the empty net. 84th minute, that's not quite miracle level, but getting there. So one more away draw. Yes, we've lost more ground to FA Bayern, but the lead is now 13 pts with 9 left. We didn't cash in or our early effort to go at them, after reports they conceded a lot of goals in the first 15, then we needed a comeback to even get a draw. Neither injury is especially serious, but we do have some back line challenges with player availability... fortunately, we now have the whole week until we play next.

It's back to ECC action... second leg of the first knockout round, again split over four matchdays. Bayern 0-0 PSG (5-2 agg), Real Madrid 2-2 Porto (2-3 agg) - for the second year in a row, the defending champions (Madrid) go out early.

The U19's lose their cup final to Hamburg after extra time.

The second day of ECC action sees Atletico Madrid 3-0 CSKA Moscow (3-1 agg), OM 0-0 Spurs (1-0 agg).

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FC Köln
Score: 2-2 (Troost 7, Kiessling 43 - Freis 14, Ishaiku 59)
League Position: 1st
Summary: For third placed Köln this is a six-pointer if they're to have any chance at all. Kiessling has found youngster Troost after winning a midfield clash, and he scores. In the 7th. The lead lasts only six minutes, Freis heading in a free kick. After that we do a good job of keeping the ball way from normally ball-controlling Köln, although it takes until the 43rd for a goal to come, Kiessling heading from a corner. However, the second half brings no joy, only disappointment as Ishiaku heads in from a corner to earn a draw. We let them answer fairly quickly both times after scoring, disappointing - but we get help, Bayern draw Stuttgart.

Day three of ECC second legs... Barcelona 2-2 Arsenal (3-4 on agg), OL 4-0 Benfica (6-1 on agg). Spain have only Ateltico Madrid, England have only Arsenal left. Can we make it two for Germany to join the two for France in the final eight? (Portugal and Netherlands or Italy will be the other two leagues represented).

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Shakhtar Donetsk (ECC 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 2)
Score: 0-0 (Leverkusen win 1-0 on aggregate)
Summary: In one of our most important matches of the year we do a good job as far as retaining possession but it's not bearing fruit, scoreless first half. I think there's an opening for Derdiyok on 52, but he fires wastefully high, at this point we've not yet put a shot on frame (of seven). Nor, for that matter, have Shakhtar. In the end, it's a scoreless draw, enough to send us through, Shakhtar never looking likely to score the two needed to get the win, although one goal to send it to extra time was possible. PSV knock out Juventus on the same basis, 0-0 home draw to take a 1-0 aggregate win.

The quarter final draw is: Leverkusen v Atletico Madrid, Arsenal v FC Bayern, Olympique Lyonnais v Porto, PSV v Olympique Marseille.

In the Euro Cup, it's Mallorca v Dynamo Kyiv, Palermo v Zaragoza, Schalke v Roma, Liverpool v Man United. The order reflects the semifinal draw as well - the winners of the first two pairings will play, as will the winners of the second two.

Thomas Schaaf is the the new Man United manager, after Quique Flores got the chop; United sit 8th in the table. Elsewhere in the EPL, Spurs look like they're on the way to the title, 10 point lead at the top with 73 from 31; City with 63 and Everton with 61 follow although both have a game in hand.

We came into the Sunday match knowing Bayern had dropped points again, this time a draw at Nurnberg. Bradley's back in training after a couple of weeks out injured - weeks which improved my opinion of his impact, as we seemed to have more troubles than I expected. He's replaced on the injury list by Marijn Troost, not at an ideal time since Derdiyok has been off form.

Match: FC Schalke 04 - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 2-0 (Jendrisek 18, Saivet 60)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We switch to a 4-2-3-1 for this one, I figured we need a bit of shaking up, especially as we're on the road. We had to make some lineup changes anyway after our ECC exertions. The early minutes are promising, we've got good angles on everything; then Schalke cause trouble, Holtby (whom I've cast some covetous eyes on) finding Bender (former Leverkusen man) open, but he puts it wide. 18 minutes in, Schalke have the lead from Jendrisek, a deflected shot that gave Adler no chance. On the hour, Saivet is way out in front - and looked yards offside - and eventually scores. How is that not offside????? We don't really do anything well all match, and lose disappointingly. No undefeated season this time, not that I was expecting one. The lead is 12 clear points with seven matches to go, but we're definitely in a down period - we've seen our lead over Bayern drop from 19 at the end of January, to 17 at the end of Feb and with us only taking three points from our last four, it could be less than 12 if Bayern hadn't helped by drawing their last two. The European places clump is close now - Wolfsburg two behind Bayern, then Werder Bremen and Koln another point back.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Borussia Mönchengladbach
Score: 2-1 (Derdiyok 56, 58 - Enoh 15)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Although I thought we were starting well, it's Gladbach who score from Enoh's blast. We just dodge another goal as it goes off the post. After a bit of a reaming at the break, we've started okay, and suddenly we've got a 2v1 break going. Helmes executes the ball-handler role just right, dribbles until he draws the defender, then feeds Derdiyok who has no trouble beating Szczensy. Derdiyok gets a second two minutes later, a tricky shot off the inside of the far post, across but in. Somehow Gladbach are not responding well, we've got another break going but it falls apart and Bradley has to snatch at a shot that he doesn't get cleanly. Vida's about to escape at the left edge of the box so Enoh fouls before it gets more dangerous. Right after I make the third sub for a tired Schurrle to make sure we can stay solid on defense... Bradley has to come off injured. Still, we manage a third goal as Augusto sneaks through Derdiyok who gets his third. No wait... the referee has waved it off, even though Derdiok was clearly being played onside by a deep defender. Only Bayern of the pursuers manage the three points.

Not a superb month... we've gone 2-4-1, although as usual it's a little hard to separate out a result from half of a two-legged tie (draw in second leg in one of those). Seven goals for, six against - scoreless in three, after scoreless only once in the previous 34. And Bradley is done for the year with a calf tear. Our central midfield story hasn't been great without him, as clearly Ballack is declining a bit, at least he runs out of gas too quickly now and usually needs to be subbed when playing. Sandro has been on and off - he's played a lot, but makes more impact when in a holding role, so we may need to play a bit of a different formation.

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 0-0 VfB Stuttgart 0-0
1.FC Köln 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup Semi Final) (Ballack 38, Vida 45+1)
1.FC Nürnberg 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Bunjaku 34 - Troost 84)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-2 1.FC Köln (Troost 7, Kiessling 43 - Freis 14, Ishaiku 59)
Bayer Leverkusen 0-0 Shakhtar Donetsk (ECC 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 2) Leverkusen win 1-0 on aggregate
FC Schalke 04 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen (Jendrisek 18, Saivet 60)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach (Derdiyok 56, 58 - Enoh 15)


End of Month Table Summary (28 pld):
1. Leverkusen 67
2. Bayern 55
3. Wolfsburg 51
4. Werder Bremen 49 +15
5. Koln 49 +9
6. Gladbach 46 +14
7. Schalke 46 +8
...
15. Nurnberg 24 -13
16. Aachen 24 -23
17. Augsburg 16
18. Osnabruck 12

Finances
A bit of an improvement, caused by collecting €4.78m in prize money - turnover up to €9.99m from €2.68m in February with that addition and having four home matches at home. But expenses were still high, €9.64m up from €7.76m in Feb. We end up playing quite a bit of tax, €1.3m this month, over €12m for the year (roughly consistent with last year's €14.3m). Tax is our third largest expense after player salaries and transfer fees.
April 2013

April will be a fairly light month in terms of matches, but we have to play for a heavy stretch since they come in a clump - starting the 6th we play Sat - Wed - Sat - Tue - Sat 20th, then not again for the rest of the month (unless we got through to the Champions Cup semi final, in which case we'd play the 30th). So it's not really ideal for planning.

Match: VfL Osnabrück - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-2 (Ballack 39, Helmes 90+1)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Osnabrück are bottom of the table and start out looking that way, with no confidence. We've had another goal from Derdiyok ruled out, this one seemed more clear. Kiessling's deadly turn-and-go draws a red card on Zoro, and now we've got a big advantage, more than 80 minutes to go. Kiessling puts one in the side netting he should have scored. After the early surge though, we stop making the progress we should, and it's Osnabrück with the best scoring chance, a shot coming off the crossbar. Finally a goal comes in the 39th, a free kick from Ballack. Whatever it takes... We actually play better the last few minutes after Vanden Borre gets out of control trying to slide in to poke in a loose ball and takes out a man instead, shown red... and Helmes has scored a late goal, just into stoppage. Dante took a knock, but he'll only miss a couple of days. The win and other results guarantee we'll finish no lower than 2nd, and thus qualify for ECC group play again.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Atletico Madrid (ECC Qtr Final Leg 1)
Score: 2-2 (Botia 11, Augusto pen 34 - Aguero 32, Godin 59)
Summary: Back to the big time, Atleti come to visit with some of their big names like Aguero and De Gea; Forlan and Milito on the bench. It's Botia renewing his familiarity with Spanish football by scoring an 11th minute header off a corner. He's not looked that comfortable since coming back from injury, several week games to go with some good ones. Let this be one of the good ones! Aguero eats up our defenders but Adler just manages to tip his shot aside - not sure it wasn't going a bit wide anyway. Sam almost gets a goal but is denied by the woodwork, the bouncing ball doesn't give Derdiyok enough power to help is header and De Gea recovers to snare it. This time we can't recover from Aguero and the score is level on 32. Godin catches Kiessling and it's a penalty... no Ballack today, so it's Augusto's take, and he makes no mistake with it. Adler stones Diego Costa, who'd made a superb play to sneak through. Exciting first half, after the dullness of the Shakhtar matches. To start the second, Derdiyok, and then Schurrle, start to exert themselves, this is what I want from our big players. We let Diego Godin sneak in to head home a corner near the hour, and we're in trouble in this tie - it's level, and Atleti have two away goals in the bank now. Our chance to answer on a corner is headed over, then a second is better, but De Gea is somehow able to tip it over. Augusto's got a great chance, but no power in his shot. Ruben Perez bangs Kadlec - not much in it, but the referee has seen enough on aggregate and it's a second yellow for him, probably a bit harsh. In the end, 2-2 draw; marvelous entertainment for neutrals, but not that much for us to be happy about. The recipe: simple - we need to win in Madrid in a week, and where the form's coming from, I don't know. Post-match there's some fuss about the penalty, but it's pretty clear Kiessling was tripped. Maybe he didn't make the world's greatest effort to stay upright, but you know there's a difference between diving and letting the referee see you were fouled. The post-match summary suggests we'll be the happier side, but why? We're in a fairly poor position going into the second leg; we couldn't make enough of our home advantage, nor of having man advantage for the last 19 minutes + stoppage. We've been outshot 14-17 at home. You can say Spain have a bigger league than Germany, but it's not by a massive margin at least according to UEFA; and Atleti are only 6th in that league while we're cruising to a probably win (Spain is the story it often is, after 31 of 38 rounds, Real have 72, Barca 68 and the next side in the table is 16 points further back. At.Madrid trail R.Madrid by 24. We should be able to beat them, except why are they still in the ECC with the top two crashed out... who can understand the whims of the football gods?

The other first legs are Arsenal 4-0 Bayern, OL 2-0 Porto, PSV 1-1 OM.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FC Kaiserslautern
Score: 2-0 (Sippel o.g. 30, Sam 89)
League Position: 1st
Summary: This is the first day when we could officially win the title. A win by itself is not technically enough, but assures we can't lose the title on points. Last season the club lost on goal difference; at the start of the day with five matches to go we're +9 on Bayern, although a much bigger advantage has evaporated recently as we've hit tougher times. We're playing well, with a number of players who aren't the absolute first choice, but it takes a while before something good happens... It's hard to see quite what happened, Ballack's free kick deflects off something off the post, Helmes is there, I think he's poked it in but officially it's an own-goal on the Kaiserslautern keeper. We're doing just enough to not deserve a draw until rather late, Sidney Sam, who's honestly been a season-long disappointment, bends in an opportunistic long shot. We've won this one, but to be honest, it's only because of some astonishing stuff from Adler. Bayern hang on for a win, but all it takes to be sure now is a point from the four remaining: at #4 Werder Bremen, #3 Wolfsburg, at #16 Augsburg, #9 Hoffenheim; or a point lost by FC Bayern, at 18 Osnabrück, #10 Kaiserslautern, at #4 Werder Bremen, and #3 Wolfsburg. There's got to be one point in our favor in that batch of 8 matches! Even if not, the goal difference to overcome is now +10. I wasn't thrilled with this performance, to be honest, but we escaped with a win and saved some people for the return leg at Madrid.

Match: Atletico Madrid - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Qtr Final Leg 2)
Score: 0-1 (Castro 3-1) Leverkusen win 3-2 on aggregate
Summary: The battle is rejoined right away, and it's great watching again. We've got some ball control advantages while Atleti have a bit more attack, and yeah, Aguero is in the middle of it. We've score first, right on the half hour, Castor's free kick, it looks like a jumping Dreyer has it but somehow it's in the net anyway. Honestly, that should not have gone in, but we'll sure take it. We've got a 1-0 lead at the half... we either need to hold that, or score a second and keep them to two, or... well... score a whole bunch, which would be great. Time's moving on, we've defended well, now Kiessling sends Derdiyok on, well, not really a break since it's contested, and he ends up shooting high and wide, a bit of a waste, preferred he'd held it up and waited for help. A good sequence for us... how has Kiessling not scored? Time running down now, Forlan is giving us some trouble... but we've held it off, and Vida is very smart in the attacking end, he holds, waits until he can play it off a defender for a corner, we can delay some more, and it's over. We're through!

Elsewhere, Bayern 0-0 Arsenal (0-4 on agg), OM 2-1 PSV (3-2 on agg), Porto 1-3 OL (1-5 on agg). The semi final draw is: Olympique Lyonnais v Leverkusen, Arsenal v Olympique Marseille. If we were going to draw one of the French sides, we got the tougher one, OL are first on 76 points, and an almost certain winner; OM are 4th on 56 points. The fourth semi-finalist Arsenal have dropped to 8th in England and have virtually no chance of making the top four.

We've got the late match Saturday, it's possible if Bayern don't get the full three points at Osnabrück that we'll go in knowing we're champions.

Match: Werder Bremen - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 2-3 (Borowski 7, 18 - Dante 44, Derdiyok 54, Ballack pen 61)
League Position: 1st (Winner)
Summary: We need a point here... and have Bradley (injury) and Botia and Vanden Borre (suspension) out, but don't play again for 10 days so we can go all out without trying to save players. Tim Borowski puts us behind with a superb shot from distance. Troost is clear, he's got a sure goal, the shot is excellent... but clips the inside of the far post and doesn't go in. Miracle work from Adler to save from Marin, but then a bit later Marin dumps to Borowski and he's blasted in a second, looks like this isn't the game we'll get a point from. Adler saves from Marin again, we're getting destroyed here. Finally, something good... Dante nods in a corner. Troost makes one for Derdiyok, who has scored a difficult goal on 54, and it's level... All of a sudden, we've got real momentum and we're close a couple of times, most notably Schurrle's shot off the bar, a play which leads to a penalty... Derdiyok is chasing while Naldo clear, the referee thinks Derdiyok was impeded. Honestly, that's a dubious one. Ballack drills the penalty. 30 minutes from the title, with a goal to give... Adler's been great, and it's a win, the title is ours! That rates up there with impressive comebacks I've seen, from two goals down to a quality opponent on the road to end up winning and locking up the league crown!

Monthly Results
VfL Osnabrück 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Ballack 39, Helmes 90+1)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-2 Atletico Madrid (ECC Qtr Final Leg 1) (Botia 11, Augusto pen 34 - Aguero 32, Godin 59)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 1.FC Kaiserslautern (Sippel o.g. 30, Sam 89)
Atletico Madrid 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Qtr Final Leg 2) (Castro 3-1) Leverkusen win 3-2 on aggregate
Werder Bremen 2-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Borowski 7, 18 - Dante 44, Derdiyok 54, Ballack pen 61)

End of Month Table Summary (31 pld):
1. Leverkusen 76 (winner)
2. Bayern 64
3. Wolfsburg 58
4. Koln 54
5. Gladbach 52 +17
6. Werder Bremem 52 +13
7. Schalke 50
8. Hoffenheim 49
...
16. Aachen 24
17. Augsburg 17 (relegated)
18. Osnabruck 12 (relegated)

Finances
The break at the end of the month pushed the otherwise favorable results 1m into the red. Turnover was €6.48m, down from €9.99m even though augmented by €3.3m in prize money. Expenses were €7.57m, down from €9.63m, taxes providing the #2 item, and for the year there's not much difference between tax and dividends, both around €14.5m, for #3 spot. Season loss is €16m, but big payouts coming - we already know we're due €28.6m for 1st place in the Bundesliga, and another big payout for ECC TV money.
And to wrap the first season in Germany...

May 2013

The first leg Arsenal - OM finishes 0-0, not what Arsenal would have wanted, and leaving OM without an away goal either, so it's all to play for in the second leg in a week.

Resurgent Hibernian help Owen Coyle win manager of the month, five of six league matches were wins, and overall, 11-1-1 in the last 13 in the league has bumped them up to 3rd at the moment, but with no chance of going higher there will be no ECC football next year. With three left, there's still a battle for some kind of European spot.

Match: Olympique Lyonnais - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Qtr Final Leg 1)
Score: 2-1 (Guerrero 13, Fernandinho 58 - Derdiyok 5)
Summary: Wow, Sandro almost gets lucky early, looping shot if off post, keeper, but not in. Derdiyok, however, drills in the following corner with the head, it's an early (5th minute) lead. There's considerable celebration, but 175 minutes left to play in the tie. It doesn't take too long for the score to go level, Guerrero ramming in one I didn't expect to score given how superb Adler is. It's completely OM's match for 20 minutes until we start to find our legs again. Late in the period Ballack's hit the bar, our second shot off the woodwork. Bad defending on Briand lets him cut inside to leave two behind and find Fernandinho, who slots in a long shot. Briand finishes a late deflection, but the assistant had the flag up, so we're not completely cooked yet. We have a very late chance, but Derdiyok's header off a free kick is weak. It's disappointing to have given away a leading position after just five minutes, and I didn't really like too much about how we played. Big job ahead in 8 days.

Our scout in South America has discovered three superb Argentine prospects, Ivan Bustos (AMC), German Biglia (ML, AMRL), Nestor Vasquez (DM/MC). There's a fourth one that's got a little less talent, Simon Kabha; and of course there's the one I recruited to Hibernian (who isn't playing him yet), Hernan Lo Monaco. I could probably get all of the first four for under 10m. But should I try? It's a little tricky because of non-European player limits; they wouldn't be a factor for a few years I guess but we already have a collection of such players.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - VfL Wolfsburg
Score: 3-2 (Troost 36, 86, Jorgensen 59 - Diego 31, Jo 89)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: With a lot of sub players in, we're not putting in a composed performance - we made several chances but players like Kaplan and Jorgensen miss badly. Diego fires in the opening score on the half hour - a shot I think Giefer should have stopped. Benaglio drops Yahia's shot from a corner, and Troost is there to ram it in. The post denies Troost a second early after the restart. Then he misses again - the first was tricky and blocked by the keeper but the follow should not have gone wide. I don't need strikers losing their confidence, Kiessling is already in a hole (and knows it) from this. There's a lot of spillage in front of the Wolfsburg net, but except for Troost's one, we haven't been there. Finally we are, Sam's blast from an angle right being deflected 90 degrees out to Jorgensen on the left and he follows it in, his first senior goal for Leverkusen. Troost finally gets his second late in the match, as sub Domovchiyski feeds him in behind. Jo heads in a corner just moments later, not over quite yet... It's a nervous three minutes of stoppage, but we see out the win.

Celtic lock up the title in Scotland, one which looked like it was going to Hearts but a slide was kicked off when surging Hibernian beat them on 23 March, starting a run of four losses in five, then two wins, then another loss to Hibernian just now. Hibs are clinging to third just ahead of Rangers, both have now clinched Euro Cup spots.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Olympique Lyonnais (ECC Qtr Final Leg 2)
Score: 2-0 (Castro 25, Kiessling 87) Leverkusen win 3-2 on aggregate.
Summary: Another monumental battle, neither side able to make much in the early going although OL look a little more comfortable on the ball. We've got a goal from a Castro free kick in the 25th, and as things stand now, we lead the tie on away goals. It nicked off someone in the wall and the superb Lloris couldn't change direction quite quickly enough, hands to it, but not enough to keep it out. Kiessling goes right through a pack of defenders but can't score, Augusto follows but that's pushed behind. Lopez and Suarez have missed contested tries. Dante's headed corner floats just a little, over the left corner of the goal. As the second half gets underway, we're trying to find ways to extend our advantage so all we do isn't just defending. Ballack (!!) has got a mini-break, he chips the keeper but it floats just wide. We're still defending for all we're worth, not able to make offensive progress.... there's only five minutes of regular time left. A great corner for OL, it's headed on leaving Suarez fairly clear, but he has to lunge forward to reach it, no power and Adler collects. Kiessling is way out in front after OL botched a play, Kiessling received with back to goal, heads it back to Derdiyok, and OL fell to sleep on Kiessling. He must score this one, and he does! Just minutes now to go through... Adler catches a deflected long ball which had the sting take out of it, and it's over! WOW! We're through to the Champions Cup final!!!!!

The opponent will be Marseille, who beat Arsenal 1-0 at home after the first leg was 0-0.

The strange problem I have now is this is a magical season almost beyond any possible dreams... maybe it can be topped if we lose the two cup finals and come back some other year and win them, but it's hard to see how a season could really be better.

Match: TSV Alemannia Aachen - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-3 (Auer 56 - Vida 42, Derdiyok 45+1, 61)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: Early on we're carving apart a hapless Aachen back line, Troost getting two excellent chances in three minutes, he misses both (one did go for a corner). We've had a lot of attack but it takes until our 17th shot, late in the half, before Vida bangs in one. A second comes moment later from Derdiyok. Aachen get one back on a knock-down and sliding poke in, but then Derdiyok gets a very easy one to restore the two-goal lead. I'm pleased we pushed through for the win even with nothing to play for; Bayern couldn't do the same losing to Werder. If we can keep a clean sheet in the season ender we're sure finish with the stingiest goal defense in the league, although some recent careless concessions have left us only a goal ahead of Bayern. Vida had a really good game in midfield, I've primarily used him as Castro's backup at right back, and sometimes at central defense which is considered his strongest position. Hmmm.

Old side Hibernian went to Celtic park and won in the 37th round of matches, so they have indeed secured 3rd place, a placing that high looked out of reach after early season failures. In England, Spurs' position at the top is no longer totally secure, the lead over Liverpool has shrunk to four points after 36 rounds, but they have two easy matches to finish.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
Score: 2-0 (Botia 8, 42)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: Trochowski, who's probably on the way out in the summer, gets a go, and he floats in a lovely corner Botia heads in, 8th minute lead. Botia sneaks in for a second corner late in the half. We cruise to an easy win to finish off a superb league season, 26 wins, seven draws, one loss. Trochowski confused our plans with that performance, he was in the middle of everything good!

We've extended offers to two of the Argentine kids, and they've accepted - Vazquez and Bustos. It will take at a year of football at a level below senior to start getting used to football in Germany, but I have high hopes for these two. The hard part is we're really going to have trim the squad over the summer.

In Scotland, the SPL finishes as
1. Celtic 85 (ECC)
2. Hearts 75 (ECC)
3. Hibernian 67 (EC)
4. Rangers 61 (EC)
5. Aberdeen 60 (EC)
Relegated: Hamilton 25

Hibernian under Owen Coyle finished brilliantly, winning 14 of the last 16 in the league (one draw to Falkirk, one loss to Celtic), and swept all five championship group matches. That's 43 points from the last 16, after just 24 points from the first 22 matches.

Match: FC Bayern München - Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup Final - Olympiastadion, Berlin)
Bayern Lineup GK Pele, DL Alex Sandro, DCL Badstuber, DCR Breno, DR Otamendi, ML Ribery, MCL Kroos, MCR Schewinsteiger, MR Robben, STL Gomez, STR Andre
Bayern Subs Muller 45 (for Andre), Olic 56 (for Gomez), Altintop 59 (for Ribery)
Leverkusen Lineup: GK Adler, DL Kadlec, DCL Dante, DCR Botia, DR Castro, ML Schurrle, MCL Ballack, MCR Vanden Borre, MR Augusto, STL Derdiyok, STR Kiessling
Leverkusen Subs Sandro 68 (for Ballack), Trochowski 74 (for Scurrle), Troost 84 (for Derdiyok)
Score: 0-4 (Derdiyok 10, 13, 21, Dante 34)
Summary: Derdiyok opens the scoring on a long ball over the top which he reaches first, that pace is a killer. Kiessling to Derdiyok and it's 2-0 just 13 minutes in - Badstuber was off receiving treatment, I'm sure that didn't help Bayern. Derdiyok breaks through again, this time he tries to loop it over Pele but fails to do so. Now it's Kiessling behind, at the end of the play he unselfishly lays it off to Derdiyok who has a tap-in, his hat trick on 21 minutes! Dante's headed corner makes it 4-0, which is the score at the break. Oh, my, Augusto has laid it on a plate for Derdiyok but he's fired well wide. In the end, there's no more scoring, but it's a brilliant win.

In an interesting little side stat, for the past three seasons we've drawn the highest attendance in the cup - third round sellouts at Dortmund in 2010 and 2011 (well, they do have the biggest stadium around at 80,708), and the final this year at 74,220.

In England, Chelsea went on an even more astonishing run, 24-1-1 in all competitions (loss at league champion Spurs, draw to Leeds), until finishing the league season with a draw at Arsenal. The surge had taken them to 3rd in the table but Man City passed them on the final day again. Nonetheless, that's a great recovery from a lost season, and they're back in Europe where the boss wants them. Chelsea still have a chance to add silverware, they're the League Cup winner and are in the FA Cup final.

In Spain, Real Madrid have won the title by seven points over Barcelona, where an 80-point season wasn't enough to keep Tito Vilanova his job.

In Italy, it's Napoli by five points over Juventus.

The French winners are Lyon (OL) by 9 points over Bordeaux, our ECC Final opponents OM were 4th.

In Portugal, Villas-Boas has won his second title in a row with Porto, after finishing second in his first season.

Kiessling is the German player of the year, followed by Augusto and Derdiyok, so a sweep of the top three. Barrios was the top scorer with 25, followed by Sukuta-Pasu with 18 - he'll be coming back into the squad next season, which will make for some interesting selection problems. Adler is keeper of the year, Botia defender of the year with Castro second. Adler, Castro, Botia, Augusto and Kiessling are in the team of the year.

Barcelona hire Rijkaard away from Sevilla.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Olympique Marseille (Champions Cup Final - Estadio de Dragao, Porto)
Score: 1-2 (Derdiyok 13, Gignac 70, 89)
Summary: We've made another good start, and when a goal comes it's Derdiyok again, heads one down that Mandanda just keeps out, but Derdiyok is able to finish the loose ball. We've absolutely dominated the first half, but unlike a week ago in Berlin, we haven't salted it away with a boatload of goals. Kiessling's chip is just off the corner. Now OM have gone close, Mbia heads a corner that looks like it's going over, but it drops down and clangs off the bar. It's a corner that brings the score level, Gignac heading in a corner. Derdiyok nearly gets us the lead back with a quick shot that clangs off the woodwork. And then we lose it after a dodgy refereeing decision from Martin Atkinson, Castro coming forward out of the back is blatantly tripped by Arda Turan, but the referee waves play on and it's become a corner for OM after Adler has to fly to poke his shot behind, which they score from, Gignac again, and it's too late to mount a response. I've got to take some blame for the disappointing loss, Deschamps made some good adjustments at the break, OM switching to a rugged style we didn't respond well to, in the end they committed 27 fouls to our 9. So while we ended up with 60% of the ball, we couldn't make enough of it, and our pre-match focus on defensive positioning should maybe have been spend on defending set plays instead, as we conceded both that way, and nearly a third.

Monthly Results
Olympique Lyonnais 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Qtr Final Leg 1) (Guerrero 13, Fernandinho 58 - Derdiyok 5)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 VfL Wolfsburg (Troost 36, 86, Jorgensen 59 - Diego 31, Jo 89)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Olympique Lyonnais (ECC Qtr Final Leg 2) (Castro 25, Kiessling 87) Leverkusen win 3-2 on aggregate.
TSV Alemannia Aachen 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Auer 56 - Vida 42, Derdiyok 45+1, 61)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (Botia 8, 42)
FC Bayern München 0-4 Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup Final - Olympiastadion, Berlin) (Derdiyok 10, 13, 21, Dante 34)
Bayer Leverkusen 1-2 Olympique Marseille (Champions Cup Final - Estadio de Dragao, Porto) (Derdiyok 13, Gignac 70, 89)

Final Table (34 pld):
Pos Inf   Team            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst   GF   GA   GD   Pts
1   ECC | Leverkusen     | 34 | 26 |  7 |  1 | 81 | 26 | +55 | 85
2   ECC | FC Bayern      | 34 | 21 |  7 |  6 | 70 | 27 | +43 | 70
3   ECC | Gladbach       | 34 | 17 | 10 |  7 | 57 | 37 | +20 | 61
4   EC  | Wolfsburg      | 34 | 16 | 11 |  7 | 55 | 34 | +21 | 59
5   EC  | Köln           | 34 | 17 |  7 | 10 | 54 | 43 | +11 | 58
6   EC  | Werder Bremen  | 34 | 17 |  5 | 12 | 60 | 47 | +13 | 56
7       | Hoffenheim     | 34 | 15 | 10 |  9 | 48 | 32 | +16 | 55
8       | Schalke        | 34 | 16 |  7 | 11 | 44 | 31 | +13 | 55
9       | Dortmund       | 34 | 14 | 12 |  8 | 68 | 42 | +26 | 54
10      | Kaiserslautern | 34 | 12 | 13 |  9 | 38 | 29 |  +9 | 49
11      | Stuttgart      | 34 | 10 |  9 | 15 | 32 | 56 | -24 | 39
12      | Bochum         | 34 |  8 | 13 | 13 | 38 | 48 | -10 | 37
13      | Nürnberg       | 34 |  8 | 11 | 15 | 38 | 49 | -11 | 35
14      | Mainz          | 34 |  7 | 11 | 16 | 40 | 56 | -16 | 32
15      | HSV            | 34 |  7 | 11 | 16 | 37 | 57 | -20 | 32
16      | Aachen         | 34 |  6 |  6 | 22 | 35 | 72 | -37 | 24
17  R   | Augsburg       | 34 |  4 |  8 | 22 | 33 | 77 | -44 | 20
18  R   | Osnabrück      | 34 |  3 |  6 | 25 | 20 | 85 | -65 | 15

(sorry for the formatting, the place I was running this story before, and to which I'd written additional content, had bbcode tags for "don't format this chunk", doesn't seem to work on this board)

We've collected 47 of 51 points at home, a record of 15-2-0 seven more than Bayern and eight more than Gladbach - who also did not lose at home (Bayern lost to us). We also had the best away record, a record of 11-5-1, that's five points better than Wolfsburg and eight more than Bayern.

League stats:
As can be seen above, we led in scoring by quite a bit, and barely won the goals-against title.

Avg Attendance: Leverkusen 98%, Wolfsburg 97%, Bochum 96%, Koln 96%
Ave Attendance: Dortmund 72.176, Bayern 67,165... 13. Leverkusen 29,708
Set play goals: Leverkusen 33 (7p, 15c, 8i, 3d), Dortmund 26 (5p, 15c, 3i, 3d), Gladbach 25 (3p, 14c, 8i, 0d)
Yellow cards: 1. Dortmund 66, 2. Hoffenheim 60; 16. Kaiserslautern 41; 17. Wolfsburg 28; 18. Leverkusen 25

Goals: Barrios (Dort.) 25, Sukuta-Pasu (Boch) 18, Almeida (Werder) 17, Grosskreutz (Dort.) 17, Freis (Koln) 17
Assists: Diego (Wolf.) 14, Stindl (Gladbach) 13, Kroos (Bay.) 11, Cabaye (Bay.) 10
Rating: Stindl 7.54, Barrios 7.46, Otamendi (Bay.) 7.41


Finances
At the summer "break", all of a month with the late end to the season, the prize money has taken us out of our hole and into a very profitable year, €35.8m - that's compared to last year's also very good €25.7, but the gap will close a little since we still have expenses to pay with minimal or no income until the next fiscal year begins. Turnover up from €126m to €163.6m, expenses up from €101.5m to €110.5m. I now have to take a look at the salary load, which, with some well deserved renewals for players who made significant contributions, we're now well over this year's salary budget. Update: the profit was about 30m in the end.

Four departing players when the window opens will bring that down to about level, and we'll probably be granted some more salary room, but still... part of the problem is just too big a playing staff: right now, 30 players listed on the senior squad, 22 in the Leverkusen II (reserve/U23), and 29 in the youth side. To be honest, the 20 in the II side that are with the club now are all dispensable; the value has been in just three players, Jorgensen (ended season in senior side), and Naciri and Sukuta-Pasu, who are out on loan until June 30. The U19's have one excellent prospect (Winter, my only youth purchase), and five who seem to have the potential to become bit-part senior players. Seven are "dump now" quality, and the remaining 15 could spend a year or two in the U23s and see what happens with them after they're done with U19 duty.

Around Europe
Some other league results...
The Euro Cup is won by Man United on penalties over Palermo (0-0 extra time)

English Premier:
ECC: 1. Spurs 84, 2. Liverpool 80, 3. Man City 77, 4. Chelsea 76
EC: 5. Everton 71, 6. Man United 65 +20, 7. Sunderland 65 +19
Rel: Hull City, Coventry, Leeds
Prom: Bristol City, West Brom, Sheff United
Top Scorers: Torres 33, Tevez 25, Bent 22, Feltcher 22

Spanish Liga:
ECC: 1. Real Madrid 87, 2. Barcelona 80, 3. Mallorca 65, 4. Valladolid 64
EC: 5. At.Madrid 61, 6. Athletic 61, 7. Sevilla 58
Rel: Hercules, Osasuna, Betis
Prom: Sporting, Levante, Celta
Top Scorers: Llorente 25, Ronaldo 24, Villa 24

Italy Serie A:
ECC: 1. Napoli 84, Juventus 79, 3. Palermo 64, 4. Roma 63
EC: 5. C Milan 62, Parma 60
Rel: Livorno, Bolgona, Bari
Prom: Sassuolo, Chievo, Lazio
Top Scorers: Cavani 26, Ibrahimobvic 18, Vucinic 18

France:
ECC: 1. OL 85, 2. Bordeaux 74, 3. Lille 64
EC: 4. OM 63, 5. Monaco 62, 6. Auxerre 61
Top scorers: Suarez 23, Lopez 19, Jelen, Le Tallec, Kardec, Riviere, Maiga, El Arabi all 17

Portugal:
ECC: 1. Porto 74, 2. Benfica 67
EC: 3. Sporting 60, 4. Braga 57, 5. Maritimo 49, 6. Vit.Guimaraes 43

Scotland:
ECC: 1. Celtic 85, 2. Hearts 75
EC: 3. Hibernian 67, 4. Rangers 61, 5. Aberdeen 60
mwichmann's avatar Group mwichmann
8 yearsEdited
Due to some foolishness on my part, the log of events in the off season and the first few matches - June/July/August 2013 - has been lost, and I'm not going to reproduce it all, just a shorter set of notes.

The main non-playing events are these:

1. I'm conflicted in my feelings, and the squad evaluation, resulting from the defeat in the ECC finale. We had an excellent European season, and that's to be savored, but we had a bite at an apple that may not come again, because I don't feel like we're quite at the top level of European club football yet - finances, reputation, stadium capacity, sponsorship revenue, all that stuff - where we can really expect to challenge for the title year in and year out. The draw favored us this time, and we took the chances given us to make it all the way to the final. Will we be able to get there again? What can we do to improve our playing prospects? My inclination is to hope that a fairly young squad (for a while we were being told we were the youngest in the Bundesliga) can keep together enough to do well this next year as well, and I should focus on youth prospects.

2. The Board have decided to build a new stadium. Frankly, I'm a little surprised, it's not that we don't need more capacity, we had the highest percentage attendance in Germany, and could have seated more than 30,000 a number of times. But as noted at the start of last year, money was JUST spent on modernization. Still, the deal is done, and I didn't have to ask for it. The new stadium, capacity 41,262, will open in time for next season, and various deals have been made to pay for it, so it doesn't appear it's going to hit our general financial situation.

3. Transfers. We send out two on loan, Salaheddine Naciri, who's at Braga where the 19 year old can hopefully gain experience; and Valeri Domovchiyski at Werder Bremen, who I hope will pay the rest of the money to keep him. We had, as previously noted, four senior players leaving on end of contract, Junior Moraes to Hercules (I get kudos from the fans for getting rid of him, he wasn't that bad!!!), Jens Hegeler at Bielefeld, Hanno Balitsch at Koblenz and Manuel Friedrich, who eventually signed for St Gallen in Switzerland. Six younger players who've gotten no mention in this narrative also went.

We made one "big" signing, Matias Fernandez from Sporting CP, who was available on a free and I couldn't resist bidding for him, he chose us over several bidders. We also add a midfield player from OL in France, Enzo Reale, a young defender Babacar Dieye from Frejus in France, a youth striker Sven Scheuer from Energie Cottbus, and three Argentinian prospects who are arriving in stages - an attacking midfielder Nestor Vasquez who arrives now from Colon, a midfielder Ivan Bustos who arrives in January from Independiente, and a winger German Biglia who arrives next July from Newell's Old Boys - each available to move only as they turn 18. Everything else is building for the future, knowing we'll lose players now and then, but Fernandez is a good midfielder with excellent set-play skills, something I like to have in the team, and the status of Trochowski is uncertain still. Trochowski has good "numbers" for free kicks, penalties but staff don't like him taking them, believing the mental aspects don't match up to the technical skills.

4. Returning players: Richard Sukuta-Pasu and Zvonko Pamic come back after a year out on loan. I don't know much about either, but Sukuta-Pasu had an excellent season as the 2nd leading scorer in the Bundesliga while on loan at Bochum (18 goals in 28 games).

Working mainly on match fitness and some attacking movements - the intention is to use more of a 4-1-2-1 (or 4-4-2 diamond if you prefer) approach this year than a flat 4-4-2 - the friendly season goes smoothly. With no emphasis on winning, we're nonetheless 100% in the six, with an aggregate score of 20-0. As usual, we've got some injuries to work through.

The hope for the early part of the season is that the winger play will come good - the starters Augusto and Schurrle and whomever emerges as the backups from among Sam, Trochowski, Kaplan, Risse and Jorgensen; and that we've got a settled central midfield of Fernandez and Sandro when playing the diamond, Bradley and Ballack or one of Pamic, Vanden Borre, Vida when playing flat. It would seem we're well settled at the back five and plenty to choose from up top.

Match: SVW Mannheim - Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 1st Rnd)
Score: 0-3 (Troost 5, Jorgensen 45+1, Sukuta-Pasu 53)
Summary: Straightforward win, we've outshot our hosts 26-2 and had 64% of the ball. We went with a largely backup lineup except the central defenders and midfielders. Troost with a good start, but he lasts only 36 minutes before taking a knock that will cost him six weeks on the sidelines.

Match: Borussia Dortmund - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-1 (Botia 88)
League Position: 1st (eventually joint 1st on points, 3rd on g.d.)
Summary: We get the season-opening match on Friday before the other clubs. It's in front of nearly 81,000 at Dortmund, and is no cakewalk, very even match. We edge the shot 17-15 and possession 52/48, but it looked like a scoreless draw until Botia heads in a corner in the 88th minute. It's not a huge "statement" to the rest of the league, but good to get a win in a tough location to open up. Bayern weren't able to get the same result at Kaiserslautern (2-2); Bochum the only side to win by more than one clear goal and Wolfsburg's 2-1 win also put them a whisker above us in the table.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FC Kaiserslautern
Score: 1-0 (Botia 55)
League Position: 1st
Summary: In the home opener, it's a good solid match (21-6 shots, 55/45% possession), but not a clinical one: we only put four of those shots on frame, and Botia's goal from a corner again was the only marker. We're already clear of the pack, the three sides who shared 100% records with us from the first round all lost.

Match: VfL Bochum - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-4 (Bradley 4, Derdiyok 10, Botia 63)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Bochum overall play pretty well against us, but the early goal by Bradley after a throw in, then a second from Derdiyok when he wasn't closed down aggressively enough and ended up taking on four players to score, coming so early in the match, doomed any real chance they had. Botia added a capper in the second half, he's not exactly expected to be our overall scoring leader but that's three in three games.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Hamburger SV
Score: 3-2 (Fernandez 9, Derdiyok 13, Sukuta-Pasu 27 - Heung-Min 65, Privat 74)
League Position: 1st
Summary: After another quick start, two goals inside 13 minutes, it should have been a cruise, and we added a third before the half hour, but allowed a comeback to make a tense second half. We only managed 11 shots, low for a home fixture, seemingly a combination of good defensive play from Hamburg and us switching off a bit. Still, we'll go into the international break at 100% and with a nice healthy lead for this time of the season. Those were our first two conceded in any competition, including the friendlies.

We've gotten a good start in terms of record, but some question marks. The early season objective I talked about with wing play is far from settled: Augusto hasn't played a minute since suffering an injury in mid-July, but he's just getting back to fitness soon and should feature after the break. Sam has not set the world on fire as the (interim?) first choice on the right; Schurrle has been similarly "adequate" on the left, and the backup choices of Jorgensen, Trochowski, Risse and Kaplan have failed to stake any real kind of claim - Risse showed well in his one appearance and Jorgensen has been the only one of the wide bunch to pot a goal. Kiessling has had a slow start, Sukuta-Pasu pushing for selection.

Biggest money transfer in Germany was Bayern's acquisition of striker Khouma Babacar from Fiorentina for €23m. We were aware of and interested in this player, but felt we had enough striking strength with our five that a fee in that range wasn't warranted. The next three largest were outgoing, as three of the "second tier" group were weakened by the losses, Lucas Barrios going from Dortmund to Barcelona for €20m, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar from Schalke to Liverpool for €19m and Zdrakvo Kuzmanovic from Stuttgart to AC Milan for €17.5m. Bayern bought several players, in addition to Khouma they also added Borja Valero, Sergio Tejera and Daryl Janmaat, a spend of €45m. Makes sense, they will not have been happy at losing the top spot, patience for other than #1 is not high at Bayern.

Monthly Results
SVW Mannheim 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 1st Rnd) (Troost 5, Jorgensen 45+1, Sukuta-Pasu 53)
Borussia Dortmund 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Botia 88)
Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 1.FC Kaiserslautern (Botia 55)
VfL Bochum 0-4 Bayer Leverkusen (Bradley 4, Derdiyok 10, Botia 63)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 Hamburger SV (Fernandez 9, Derdiyok 13, Sukuta-Pasu 27 - Heung-Min 65, Privat 74)

End of Month Table Summary (4 pld):
1. Leverkusen 12
2. Mainz 8
3. Schalke 7 +3
4. Bayern 7 +2
5. Dortmund 7 +1
6. Aachen 6
...
15. Koln 3 -1
16. Nurnberg 3 -2
17. Duisburg 3 -6
18. Bielefeld 1

[i1Finances
We spent only €5.25m on incoming transfers, although another €5m is committed for the two other Argentinian youngsters, and took in €300k in fees on two loans, so it's a quiet situation on that front.
September 2013

The month opens slowly... we don't play until the 14th due to international break. We've certainly got a number of players away, but also plenty still around to work on things. If we don't have injuries from internationals or in training, we'll be pretty healthy, and it means some selection headaches. Now rather than the earlier worry of too few midfielders, we have too many, of both varieties. I'm still not getting great winger play, although I've only got a sample of five matches to look at. I'm happy to have Augusto back, and hope he sets a new standard; I'm less certain what's going on on the left.

On a whim, we set up a match for the remaining senior team members, who will be joined by newcomers Reale and Dieye, v. the U23 squad. I try to paint it as a fun match, but it's very competitive early. It's a lot of fun nonetheless for the seniors, strikers Helmes (3 goals) and Sukuta Pasu (5) have a party, Reale totally bosses the midfield, and the finale is 10-1. I had to play a couple of defenders I didn't want to, Castro and Dante, because there weren't enough guys left who weren't out on international duty. Trochowski and Risse got the starts in the wide positions and did well; Sam and Schürrle got some tuneup minutes and came out of the match grumpy - well, I wasn't throwing them in since is was a way to get backups playing time, but maybe it's a message too... I'm afraid I've given poor Patrick Helmes short shrift, he's a decent striker who had a superb season when he first arrived at Leverkusen, 2008/09 when he got 21 league goals in an effective partnership with Kiessling. My keeping an eye on the future meant I brought in Troost, and Sukuta-Pasu came back from loan - a loan spell where he was on fire and he looks just as effective back with us - essentially relegating Helmes to 5th striker when everybody is healthy.

ECC odds have us at 14-1 to win, Barca are 3-1, Real Madrid 5-1, Bayern 10-1, Juventus and Liverpool 11-1 and OL 12-1. So we're expected to sort of be in the mix. I know we got kind of a lucky ride last year, I said so, expecting to get back to the final is something I don't want to talk about. But I think we're establishing ourselves as a top club, and not getting out of the group would be a big disappointment. Liverpool will be a challenge, but what matters is to grab as many points as possible of the 12 available off the other two.

Match: TSG 1899 Hoffenheim - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 2-2 (Salihovic pen 55, Dzudzsak 87 - Sukuta-Pasu 21, Kiessling 52)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We play a really good early game and I think it's not going to be rewarded after a "how could you miiisss???" moment from Kiessling, but we keep at it and Sukuta-Pasu scores in the 21st. Kiessling is going to have to battle for his spot... he's been disappointing, Sukuta-Pasu hasn't been, and Troost is back from injury, just not completely fit (Kiessling over Derdiyok as the latter is tired after an international stint). And yes, he's not hopeless - it's Kiessling's assist to spring Sukuta-Pasu for the goal. That's all for the first half, but Kiessling does get a poacher goal in the 2nd, as a ball has deflected after Kiessling dropped a ball to Fernandez for a try, and it dribbles to where Stefan can bang it home. There's really not a lot wrong with this team, but there can still be some tense moments, a dive over Oczipka fools the ref and Hoffenheim win a penalty, which is scored. It's very tense after that, and we can't keep up the effort, Hoffenheim score a late one and threaten to win it even later. I'm not too happy with this show. Our lead is two points over Mainz, three over Stuttgart and Schalke. It's hard, though, not to think Bayern are the competition to worry about and they've drawn at Werder, so it's a five point lead over them. Of the three closest pursuers, only Schalke ought to be any kind of threat.

The Champions Cup is underway!!! Day one sees a few interesting results, O.Marseille 2-0 Tottenham (English champions); Man City 0-1 Girondins Bordeaux; Bayern 1-1 Porto.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - R.C.D Mallorca S.A.D. (ECC Group F)
Score: 4-0 (Fernandez pen 8, 56, Derdiyok 20, 90+1)
Group Position: 1st (g.d. over Liverpool)
Summary: After some good early play on either side, Derdiyok draws a foul in the box. Mallorca are furious, but what do you expect with the stakes so high? Looked like he was fouled to me. Fernandez, whose dead ball skills are a chunk of the reason he's here, nets the penalty and we're up on 8 minutes. It's nearly a second two minutes later as Fernandez sends a long free kick in the direction of Derdiyok, who just nods it over. Derdiyok makes a break out of a long ball, and scores a super shot just inside 20 minutes. Drilled off the underside of the bar. Kiessling sets him loose again, but this one is blocked by Aouate. The concern here is we've had trouble dealing with the mental aspect of getting a two-goal lead. Kiessling's gone oh so close to the third. 2-0 at the break. I remind the club that while everyone looks at the group standings, the competition is really about three pairs of two-legged ties; if the race is close and two sides end up similar on points, this is how the deadlock is broken, so we need to beat Mallorca and Kobenhavn over those ties to make sure we progress. Free header for Michel early, but Adler snares. The other way, Derdiyok has two tries, corner, spell of pressure, eventually we have a weird sequence where two players, one from either side, are tripped but the referee lets play go on and Fernandez cannons in the ball which had come loose... Botia looked like he'd fouled Nsue from behind, but came forward with the ball, then Larsen leveled him, then Derdiyok tapped it away from Crespi and there's Fernandez to cash in. 3-0 now and I'm more confident. The performance has been something special, especially for Fernandez, the instant fan favorite, who earns a standing ovation when he comes off late. And there's just a little more glamour late as Derdiyok scores his second just into stoppage to make the final 4-0. What I don't understand is why this glorious day wasn't a complete sellout, 29.103 came which means 2000 seats went unsold.

One more first-round surprise, Barcelona 1-2 Napoli.

It's actually not that easy a run of matches we've got on the schedule, we had #3-picked Hoffenheim, an ECC match v. Mallorca of La Liga, then we get #5-picked Werder Bremen, and "easy" Cup match, #4-picked Wolfsburg, and an ECC match v. Liverpool.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - - Werder Bremen
Score: 2-1 (Derdiyok 20, Fernandez 52 - Denis 81)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We begin our day in 3rd (on goal difference), behind Stuttgart and Schalke, who have won on Saturday. We've tried another tweak, a narrow diamond rather than a wide one - with Bradley and Zvonko Pamic in the middle instead of Schürrle or someone and Augusto or Sam wide. It's looking like it's going to be one of those when nobody gets a clear look, but then Pamic, with no space visible, slots through an amazing pass to find Derdiyok who scores in the 20th. It was to a spot, not to feet, and the vision that Derdiyok would be first there was special (and of course Derdiyok's ability to get there, and then finish, was special too). It was a half I liked, but some missed changes, and that continues into the first five minutes of the second when Fernandez hits the crossbar and Derdiyok's chip just floats wide. Then Derdiyok fails to beat the keeper, but Fernandez follows and it's 2-0 on 52. Our attack keeps flowing, though we have to sub Derdiyok who's struggling a bit with a knock, and as we pass the hour I'm wondering why we haven't scored five. Werder have their first real chance in the 71st, a close-range header that Adler is superb to snag. We can't quite salt it away completely though, Botia makes a mistake at the back, picks off a pass just in front of his goal but loses control trying to clear and Denis bangs it in. Argh... Werder almost score on a free kick redirection two minutes later, but then we seize back control and just miss scoring several times very late, including an Augusto shot off the bar. I've got a growing frustration we can't put the league matches away completely after getting what should be a killer lead at 2-0, but we've dropped only two points from six matches - that is, we've paid for that only once, so can't complain too loudly.

Match: Rot Weiss Ahlen - Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 2nd Rnd)
Score: 0-4 (Sukuta-Pasu 17, 45, Augusto pen 31, Yahia 81)
Summary: There's a period early where it looks like an active Ahlen are going to really give as good as they get, but it's Sukuta-Pasu who nabs the first goal. 20 minutes in, it's the Ahlen keeper keeping things close, we could already have four. Augusto's spot kick makes it 2. Ahlen won't sit back and they're making it a very enjoyable and entertaining match, but Sukuta-Pasu nails another at the very end to leave it a comfortable 3-0 at the break. The possible hat trick for Sukuta-Pasu less than 30 seconds in is waved off. We're still blowing chances as time passes. Bertram's holding of Helmes is judged a last-man foul, and earns him a sending off, 80th minute. Moments later, Yahia has scored from a corner. The chances keep coming, and then blowing away in the wind, 28 shots... the deal is done. We've drawn Hannover in the next round - one of four remaining non-division-one teams. But we're away, so less of an advantage. The clubs mt twice in 2010/11 when Hannover were still in the top flight; both wins for Leverkusen.

Match: VfL Wolfsburg - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-1 (Kolarov 30 - Sukuta-Pasu 25)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Wolfsburg look good early, but we start to match, then exceed, then Sukuta-Pasu is found behind with a long ball and he goes in to score. Wolfsburg answer immediately, an Alexandr Kolarov free kick. I think we've been the better side but then Bradley stupidly slides in two-footed and sees red, and our position here will be under threat the whole second half. And it's a real battle too keep the score level, all we had were a couple of breaks by Sukuta-Pasu who couldn't convert, at least one I consider a blown chance. Another away draw... We stay top, only a point clear of Schalke; Stuttgart have obligingly lost.

Some troubling signs, if you're looking for trends. Two away draws, which isn't ideal if you're trying to stay ahead of a club like Bayern, and a failure to stay focused. The club may be becoming a bit accustomed to success, but what can you do to constantly motivate, you can't expect a top performance mentally from every player 50 times a year, humans just aren't wired that way. Keep rotating, I guess, in the hopes that keeps people more mentally sharp as well as physically.

Monthly Results
Hoffenheim 2-2 Leverkusen (Salihovic pen 55, Dzudzsak 87 - Sukuta-Pasu 21, Kiessling 52)
Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 R.C.D Mallorca S.A.D. (ECC Group F) (Fernandez pen 8, 56, Derdiyok 20, 90+1)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Werder Bremen (Derdiyok 20, Fernandez 52 - Denis 81)
Rot Weiss Ahlen 0-4 Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 2nd Rnd) (Sukuta-Pasu 17, 45, Augusto pen 31, Yahia 81)
VfL Wolfsburg 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Kolarov 30 - Sukuta-Pasu 25)

End of Month Table Summary (7 pld):
1. Leverkusen 17
2. Schalke 16
3. Bayern 14
4. Stuttgart 13
...
16. Werder Bremen 5
17. Kaiserslautern 4
18. Bielefeld 1

Clearly two of the bottom three are not clubs you'd think belong down there.

[i1Finances
Glug...glug...glug... €4.4m out last month. September is always a month where at least one possible match is missed due to international break, likewise next month. Turnover went from €10m to €4.44m; expenditures stable.
mwichmann's avatar Group mwichmann
8 yearsEdited
October 2013

Match: Liverpool - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group F)
Score: 1-4 (Gerrard 54 - Fernandez 1, Kadlec 11, Derdiyok 79, Sukuta-Pasu 82)
Group Position: 1st
Summary: Instead of the normal utmost caution, I decide on some attack, and stunningly, there's a first-minute goal - first Kiessling blasts, then Derdiyok should have followed it in, but somehow it ends up with Fernandez who puts in a 30-yarder. More surprisingly, Kadlec has snuck in to head in a corner 10 minutes later. I'm happy to take the two fairly lucky events, because Liverpool look better than us, they're winning challenges, getting in the way of our passes, and so on. Third bit of luck, Torres pounces on a loose ball and bangs it into the net, but the referee has spotted a foul, can't say I saw that one! Maybe he tugged on Vida a bit earlier, trying to get into the play. Two great saves at the very death, first Adler to tip around the post, then Botia clearing off the line on the corner. Fernandez should twice have scored, once late in the first half when he made a nice move to get clear, then the first minute of the 2nd when 'Pool forgot to defend him. A little belief shows up though, we're starting to go in even on the challenges; one of them Torres comes off worse on and has to come out, although the replacement Huntelaar is no slouch either. A Kuyt back-heel leaves Gerrard free and he scores. We lose Augusto to injury. Then of all people it's Castro on a solo break after a Liverpool set play, not surprisingly he ends up firing wildly over. Derdiyok almost makes something out of a long ball as he deflects away from Reina with the head, but the defense covers it; but then he heads in the corner, restoring a two-goal lead with a dozen minutes regular time to go. Oh, my, sub Sukuta-Pasu looks like he's going to try his blazing pace down the channel, but he cuts inside and chips Reina - and it's in!!! Now he's done the pace thing, and almost scores again. Kiessling is going to have to work hard to get his form back to stay in the lineup. Oh, dear, Sukuta-Pasu has missed again. Well, despite the misses, there's a lot of luck in this one, we've not outplayed Liverpool, shots about even and they had most of the ball and better passing... at most you'd call it nearly even, a 4-1 win is a big surprise.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FSV Mainz 05
Score: 4-1 (Sam 19, Trochowski 58, Sukuta-Pasu 77, Reale 89 - Stokkelien 51)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Mainz are a club that seem to give us a bit of a headache, and I've decided to keep players sharp by giving some backups playing time ahead of the international break. It takes a while until we unlock them, then it's Sidney Sam finally converting a goal. Still, we've competed poorly and while we lead at the break, it doesn't last much longer, Stokkelein slides to poke in a cross for 1-1 51 minutes in. The strikers haven't done much, until Troost goes wide and turns provider, crossing in for recent sub Troost to tap in. Eventually we score on one of our long-ball plays, Sukuta-Pasu beats the keeper to the ball, having already left the back line behind, and puts it in for 3-1. He's hit woodwork on a long shot a while later. Newcomer Enzo Reale gets a poacher's goal near the end. We had a much more involved 2nd half, but still really a 4-1 doesn't seem deserved, just like in England. And of course we'll happily take it!

Bradley missed this game for the automatic suspension for his sending off last time, against Wolfsburg, and now we hear he's been handed an additional two matches. Sadly for him, this is the kind of situation that may lose him his spot, as other players appear happy to step in (notably Pamic and Reale). We'll see. Bradley and Ballack were my plan for when we play a straight 4-4-2, eschewing an attacking midfielder for a "tougher" centre. But.. Ballack seems really to have faded now and Bradley's managing not to make his case.

We're off for the international break now, and I may schedule another match with the U23s for the remaining players - not decided yet. We'll come back to visit our local rivals Koln, then head to Denmark for the third ECC Group F match, then come home to face Schalke who are currently right on our heels - although as they face Bayern in their intervening match, we'll see if that's still the case on 26 Oct. Bayern could have used that match to vault themselves into 2nd, but they struggled to a scoreless draw hosting Koln on the Sunday and are now four behind Schalke, five behind us.

Always a risk of injury from internationals, Derdiyok comes back with a twisted ankle. Maybe three weeks out, that's a bit of a pain since we've got a very busy stretch, mid-week games the next three weeks. Well, it's why you build a deep squad. However, that leaves a little dilemma, with the emotional derby match, then ECC action mid-week, then the aforementioned Schalke showdown, I can't expect to play the same lineup in all three. For once, I think it means rotating for Kobenhavn, although we normally try to run out our strongest for the European matches.

Match: 1.FC Köln - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 4-5 (Montero 36, 60, Freis 69, Tzavelas 83 - Sukuta-Pasu 38, 45+1, Nkoulou o.g. 53, Fernandez 77, Helmes 80)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We've made a poor start to this one, without suffering the ultimate punishment, then improve a bit. However, failure to defend tight inside the box lets Koln break the deadlock past the half hour, Fredy Montero with the goal. I'm sending a message that I hope won't backfire long-term, a yet again ineffective Kiessling is subbed at this point. Sukuta-Pasu pulls us level just two minutes after the Koln goal. He somehow rises about everyone else in a crowd to head in a stoppage-time corner, and we go to the break up one. It's a two-goal lead not too long after the restart, a free kick has ended up ponging about and has finally gone in off a Koln player. Sukuta-Pasu just misses a hat trick as he's clear but puts it inches wide. Montero's wonder-shot on the hour reduces the lead again. Fries scores on 70, and our defense has let us down in this one. Within three minutes Koln have had two great chances to take the lead, but both go wide. And shortly after, a ball has fallen to Fernandez in a crowd and his first-timer is in the back of the net! Sukuta-Pasu amazing run down the left, but when he sees he's not going to get a shot, he puts it in the box and Helmes slides to poke it in. 10 minutes to resist, but it's not over yer... Tzavelas has put in a left-footed shot where there seemed to be no opening, after Montero gave it up. Montero has had a monster game, although he also provided the "assist" on the Fernandez goal as it was his tackle that poked the ball in Matias' direction. Augusto almost scores, then there's a clash at midfield as bodies tumble, and suddenly Sukuta-Pasu is clear... Kessler makes a wonder save on the shot though, not for the first time. We've got a corner, and I want time taken. We almost score from it, but it's enough anyway. What a game... I'm completely drained. Schalke lose to Bayern, so it's a big comeback for us. The four goals conceded push us to 9th in terms of goals allowed... but we're now well out in front in goals scored. I expect better defending, and I'm sure we'll get it over the course of the whole season.

I was quite prepared to ride the scoring contributions of our two big forwards, but so far Derdiyok has scored only 3 in 9 league matches (6 overall) while Kiessling has one (one overall). Big contributions picking up the slack have come from Sukuta-Pasu with 6 (10 overall), Fernandez 3 (6 overall), Botia 3 (3 overall).

Match: FC Kobenhavn - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group F)
Score: 0-2 (Kiessling 74, Trochowski 87)
Group Position: 1st
Summary: We start playing in a very careless manner, but fairly quickly start getting it together. Troost has put a nice chip in, but he was called offside, then we have multiple cracks at a loose ball in the box, but eventually a shot comes clear and goes wide. We're still making some ill-considered passes, and one telling statistic: FCK have won 93% of their challenges, we're at 50%. Scoreless at the break, we've had most of the possession and shots, but no really serious chance. The frustration continues, but there's got to be a goal coming, right? Yes, there is finally, Kiessling, whom I resisted substituting, has won a challenge and gone in on goal, no defender ever quite closed so he's ended 1v1 on the keeper and put it in, 74th minute. Kaplan is behind, perhaps offside, there's no flag but he's put his passing shot wide. With Kobenhavn pushing hard we get a late break where it seems our players were coming from everywhere... Trochowski is the wide open man who ends up taking the shot, it whistles in from long range. Two players who really needed goals, Kiessling and Trochowski, perhaps this will help them shake loose. With the bottom two clubs in the group unable to do much of anything, each losing to Liverpool and ourselves and drawing between themselves, we're on the edge of qualifying already. A win at home v. Kobenhavn in the return match would do it.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Schalke 04
Score: 0-0
League Position: 1st
Summary: It's a disappointing performance at the start, and Schalke are a match for us. We lose Sukuta-Pasu to injury early. Scoreless at the half, Schalke have been a bit the better side on aggregate and we've done nothing that's going to beat Neuer in goal. In the second half we lost Augusto to injury, and Botia is carrying a knock too but doesn't want to come out. Kiessling is looking the most likely to make something happen for us, but isn't producing the quality to go with the enthusiasm. Lucky as Sandro over-commits, missing a tackle and Riviere shoots from the space thus created... glances back off the post, and indeed we had a break the other way, which fizzled. Kiessling with a point-blank header from a corner, but that doesn't beat Neuer either. We've had some opportunities late, but Schalke are too good - Neuer stops the shot, and when in most games we get someone a chance to follow, Schalke have cleared every one. It's a scoreless draw. Not too bad a one to take, but prefer the three points at home, I'd be happier if that had been an away match. Bayern's win move them into second spot. Sukuta-Pasu is not seriously hurt, 2-3 weeks. But we'll be a bit thin up top for a little bit, anyway.

Woeful Werder Bremen continue to disappoint - a Euro Cup competitor off last season's performance, and doing okay in group stage play, they're 2-2-6 and in a relegation place, 17th. The latest loss got their coach the sack.

Match: Hannover 96 - Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 3rd Rnd)
Score: 3(7)-3(6) (Abdellauoe 8, 30, 61 - Vida 38, Trochowski 41, Schultz o.f. 47). Hannover win on Penalties.
Penalty Shootout: H Clark, L Ballack, H Schulz - miss right, L Trochowski - save right, H Abdellaoue, L Pamic - save center, H Bellard , L Sam , H Beasley - save left, L Helmes, H Amofa , L Kiessling, H Boskovic , L Dante, H Livramento, L Yahia, H Kim Dong-Jin, L Vida - save center
Summary: We've started decently, but a little nervously, and make a coverage error to allow Hannover's only real scorer, Abdellaoue, to pot a goal in the 8th minute. Not quite the plan! Abdellaoue gets a second, we're facing a disaster here. In the 38th, Vida gets on the scoreboard banging in a corner. Kiessling comes down the left, goes right past a defender, and cuts back to Trochowski who drills it in, after two horrid misses earlier. Another score-fest? We've taken the lead as Kiessling pokes a deflected shot goalwards, it's got no pace on it, but the keeper can't keep it out; it's called an own-goal as he sort-of knocked it in - that is, he tried to fall on it and did touch it, but it went in anyway. But Hannover come right back, horrible error at the back by Vanden Borre and Abdellaoue scores from a very tight angle, quite a shot must be said. Helmes scores on a header, but it's waved off. Then Kiessling, he's offside too. Trochowski hits the bar. Kiessling is behind, but a horrid first touch takes it out of danger. No scoring the rest of the way, and no scoring in extra time. Odd contrast, six goals in the first 60, none (that counted) in the final 60. Sub Dante went very close in the second extra period, as did Oczipka, both from headers. It's an exhausted bunch. It's on to penalty kicks. The first rounders score, the second rounders both fail to. Pamic in the third round has it saved, and it looks bleak until Giefer saves from USA international DaMarcus Beasley. The fifth - eighth takers all score, then we lose it when our #9 Vida puts it down the center and the keeper didn't go anywhere. There's not a lot of joy back home over this result, means we have to suck it up and try hard for the other two competitions - not that we wouldn't anyway. I should have found a way to get us past the 3rd round, but I don't see it as the end of the world overall that we didn't win the competition. We picked up four bookings as well, just not a particularly good showing.

A sample of highs and lows - a superb win at Liverpool to open, and crashing out of the German Cup to end, just after we've dropped points at home to Schalke, and in the middle we've had an unexpected goal-fest where we just barely edge our local derby with Cologne 5-4. Still not completely sure who we are this year...

Monthly Results
Liverpool 1-4 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group F) (Gerrard 54 - Fernandez 1, Kadlec 11, Derdiyok 79, Sukuta-Pasu 82)
Bayer Leverkusen 4-1 1.FSV Mainz (Sam 19, Trochowski 58, Sukuta-Pasu 77, Reale 89 - Stokkelien 51)
1.FC Köln 4-5 Bayer Leverkusen (Montero 36, 60, Freis 69, Tzavelas 83 - Sukuta-Pasu 38, 45+1, Nkoulou o.g. 53, Fernandez 77, Helmes 80)
FC Kobenhavn 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group F) (Kiessling 74, Trochowski 87)
Bayer Leverkusen 0-0 Schalke 04
Hannover 96 3(7)-3(6) Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 3rd Rnd) (Abdellauoe 8, 30, 61 - Vida 38, Trochowski 41, Schultz o.f. 47) Hannover win on penalties

End of Month Table Summary (10 pld):
1. Leverkusen 24
2. Bayern 21
3. Schalke 20
4. Dortmund 17 +3
5. HSV 17 +2
five teams follow at 16-14 points
13. Kaiserslautern 10 +1
14. Gladbach 10 -3
15. Nurnberg 10 -4
16. Duisburg 10 -10
17. Werder Bremen 8
18. Bielefeld 6

Finances
Loss of €2.3m, leaves us + €27m for the season, which is okay.
November 2013

Match: MSV Duisburg - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-3 (Fernandez 15, Bregerie o.g. 43, Sam 88)
League Position: 1st
Summary: I hope for a reaction, and we're not messing about saving players for the European match. The start is what I would have wanted, we have to work at it, but Fernandez bangs in a shot from distance on 15 to get the lead. Possibly the keeper should have gotten it. We're not making too many chances after this, none converted. Kiessling sneaks through the middle, but he's caught, something that never used to happen. What's up with the man? At 29 I don't expect him to be fading... Late, Botia off the bar, then the ball's come out and gone back in the net... own goal it looks like they're ruling, should have been Botia's goal as he was there in the mix on the follow. In the second, Augusto hits the bar. We don't play very well in the half - on attack - but Duisburg never come close to scoring so it's a win. I'm about to get ready a complaint about how wasteful we are - only three of 20 shots on target - until sub Sidney Sam blasts in the fourth on-target shot and third goal. And we get a favor - Bayern have a match like we've had a few of recently, and draw 3-3 at Gladbach. Five point lead now...

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - FC Kobenhavn (ECC Group F)
Score: 4-3 (Augusto 7, 45+1, Fernandez pen 55, 68 - Barre 5, Vingaard 48, Nordstrand 90+2)
Group Position: 1st (qualified for knockout round)
Summary: We've let in an early goal from a corner, 5 minutes, some work to be done in this one. Good quick passing though and Renato Augusto is wide open and scores in the 7th, quick answer. FCK aren't going to go quietly into the night though, and we're inaccurate again, only 2/9 over the first half hour on target. It's actually FCK who go closest next, Vingaard cannons one off the crossbar. Augusto finally gets the second (and his second) in stoppage time. Vingaard levels with a pretty free kick soon after the restart. Fernandez nets, but Kiessling, who dropped it back to him, was ruled offside. Bradley is through, goes down... penalty appeal... given! Kobenhavn appeal, but it does no good, indeed Larsson is shown read for denying a goal scoring opportunity. Disaster for FCK, and Fernandez makes no mistake converting. Fernandez nets a lovely free kick in the 68th, and the lead should be safe now. Very similar shot to Vingaard's. Derdiyok, subbing in on his return from injury, should probably have scored. Blunders in the back - missed communication it looked like - Dante got in the way of Adler and Nordstand heads in. I don't like how many goals we've leaked recently, but it's a win that assures out progression. Liverpool's draw means we're very close to locking up the top spot - a point will probably do it after our heavy defeat of Liverpool. Botia took a knock, knee problem, and will miss 5-6 weeks, that's rather a blow to us, we're not as deep in the back as we were last year.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Borussia Mönchengladbach
Score: 4-0 (Bruma o.g. 14, Augusto 21, Kiessling 42, 66)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Gladbach arrive motivated and we don't look that ready, but we've got a goal on a corner, Derdiyok tries to poke at it, but it's Bruma who has the touch, own-goal. Second match in a row we're facing a former Chelsea fullback youngster who didn't get a chance at the Bridge (Patrick van Aanholt was the other). That should not have been an own-goal, the poke was on target already. Kiessling draws defenders and cuts in to Augusto for the finish, Augusto seems to be having the kind of solid year I'm expecting this time, after being a little spotty last year. Nearly a second for him moments later. A little worrying as Fernandez has taken a knock and has to come off. Kiessling trying to break behind, again he's caught. But he gets the goal on a headed corner. Not much to change at the break. Kiessling, growing in confidence that's been missing most of the year, nets but it's waved off. I'm getting irritated at the number of goals we're having taken back off the board this season. We need to make them count. In general, while we're up 3-0 so it doesn't matter, we're making mistakes that keep us from finishing chances - and as I write that, Kiessling rifles in a left-footed shot in the 66th. Schurrle's header on a free kick just drifts over. Kiessling as a go from a corner, but heads wide. Useful win, this. There was caution over Derdiyok due to his recent injury, but he seems to be okay.

The +4 result leaves us ahead of Bayern on goal difference, but only by two. You'll recall that's how Leverkusen lost the title two years ago, last year it wasn't a problem but I want to keep it at least a bit in mind. We've conceded 11 from 12, which is a bit more than I'd like, and we have both matchups with Bayern still to play. Bayern had a horrid start last year (helped along when we beat them in the second game of the season) and couldn't recover because we never let them, but they've started much more strongly this season.

International break again, the most significant activity is the playoffs for the World Cup Finals. In Europe, Russia v Switzerland, Boznia & Herz. v Sweden, Romania v Italy, Poland v Serbia; in the Americas Honduras v Colombia. Qualifiers are England, Spain, Croatia, Slovakia, France, Portugal, Turkey, Scotland, Germany; Australia, South Korea, Bahrain, Japan, Saudi Arabia; Mexico, Canada, USA; Egypt, Ghana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, South Africa; Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile; and hosts Brazil. So the playoffs affect Switzerland's Derdiyok, everyone else just has friendlies.

Even without looking at the results, you can make some playoff guesses by the job postings: Russia, Sweden, Italy have sacked their coaches, as have some others who didn't even make the playoffs. Switzerland, B&H, Romania and Poland go through - the aggregate in the Poland-Serbia tie was 9-7, must have been quite a watch. Colombia took the last World Cup Finals spot by eliminating Honduras. Derdiyok potted a hat trick in the second leg for the Swiss. The Swiss had a great 2013, winning 10 of their 11 outings (including two friendlies), and the only goals they conceded the whole year were the two in a 0-2 loss to France, the group 5 winner (the same score as the first meeting... France were 10-0-0, 35gf, 1ga for 30 pts; Switzerland 8-0-2, 23gf, 2ga for 24 pts in the group).

Over in Scotland, my former club Hibernian aren't doing that badly, but their schedule has meant a lot of missed matches, so they're way down the table. In the league, 4-3-1 but 8th place as with 8 played they have four in hand on some, five on others. Where they really stand depends on those make-up games. In the Euro Cup they've drawn with Saturn away, lost to Koln, and drawn Chelsea at home before losing 0-1 away. They're in the league cup semi finals. Things are poised to either be considered a good or bad season.

Our next opponent, Aachen, have made some improvement. Newly promoted last year they were 16th, well behind full safety in 15th, and had to survive a relegation/promotion playoff against Ingolstadt to stay up. This year they're sitting 9th with a respectable 3-6-3 record (last year's was 6-6-22). Our eight coming days are at Aachen, at Mallorca, and Bielefeld as I try to decide on lineups... I think all the first choices are ready to go here except Derdiyok and Kadlec need a bit more time off.

Match: TSV Alemannia Aachen - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-1 (Tsoumou 14 - Sukuta-Pasu 7)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Each side should have scored in the opening six minutes, but the man who missed for us, Sukuta-Pasu, scores in the 7th - apparently his touch didn't desert him during his injury layoff. I'm a little surprised at the two good chances, Aachen's trademark this year has been a very solid defense, if only they'd been scoring more they'd be higher in the table. And belying that, they look very composed putting together a scoring sequence where Tsoumou has put it in. Our defending continues a little shaky - I'd say we were missing Botia, but we were having some troubles before he went out too. Really, Aachen have given us a bit of a footballing lesson in the first half, where a couple of tweaks didn't help. I make some bigger tweaks - two subs at the break. There's not really any sign of a breakthrough... Fernandez has a header on 85, but it's not his forte. It's a draw, not happy with that one. Bayern win at our next opponent, Bielefeld, so it's a three point margin. Signs point to the Dec 14 fixture at the BayArena as being an important one, and probably the return in the next-to-last match at the Allianz Arena in Munich... actually, I hope that one is NOT important and we've got things locked up by then! We and Bayern are identical at home, 5-1-0; away we're 4-3-0 and they're 3-3-1 so the difference between us two is the August loss at Hamburg they suffered.

Match: R.C.D. Mallorca S.A.D. - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group F)
Score: 0-2 (Derdiyok 29, 34)
Group Position: 1st (winner, qualified)
Summary: We look lively against Mallorca, several attacks starting but eventually fizzling until a lovely long ball finds Derdiyok who scores. Derdiyok is through again, and scores again!!! Kiessling was with him, could have picked out his partner for maybe an even easier score, but he had the confidence he could take this one himself and was right. It's 2-0 at the break, and I think we're playing a really solid second half, Mallorca have one chance which is a free kick off the post, otherwise they're chasing us and fouling - Crespi's trip of Derdiyok on 79 is his second card (earning a red), and Mallorca's 7th. Derdiyok, looking for a hat trick, wants it himself and just barely misses outside the post. It's a solid win, if there's a complaint it's that only three of the 18 shots were on target, we need to be more accurate than that. Despite Liverpool's romp over Kobenahvn, we're sure to be the group winner. In the bottom half of the setup, seven of the eight teams to go through are settled - Napoli, Leverkusen, Liverpool, Benfica, OL, Roma, CSKA Moscow. Only the Group E spot between Barcelona and Fenerbahce is up for grabs - and it's Barcelona v Fenerbahce in the final group match, with Barca on a big advantage, they've won 2-0 in Turkey already.

On Wednesday, the top half of the draw completes their 5th round. It's a lot less clear in these four groups; Palermo are trough with OM and Spurs even on points in 2nd; Bordeaux and Real Madrid through with Man City losing out (but sure of 3rd, so they'll drop into the Euro Cup); Rubin Kazan, Juventus and Panathinaikos struggling for the three Group C spots; Porto through with Bayern two points ahead of Celtic and Galatasaray in Group D. The two crazy groups finish with Juventus v Red Star Belgrade, Rubin Kazan v Panthinaikos in C, and Celtic v Porto, Bayern v Galatasaray in D. Group A has OM v Groningen, Palermo v Spurs.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - DSC Arminia Bielefeld
Score: 6-1 (Sukuta-Pasu 13, 32, pen 48, Dante 81, Stoppelkamp o.g. 88, Trochowski 90+2 - Fort 6)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Aargh, we start almost asleep, and woeful Bielefeld have scored first - only their 6th goal in their promotion season, we certainly shouldn't be conceding at home to them. Sukuta-Pasu gets us level with a Bielefeld player off receiving treatment. #2 for him a moment later... wait, a very dubious offside rules it out. He does get one a fair bit later, this young man apparently needs to be in the lineup all the time. That capped a spell of great dominance, can we keep the pressure going? 2-1 at the break. Corner early in the 2nd... lots of pushing, and it's a penalty, unusual, usually the offensive player is called on those. It's Sukuta-Pasu who wants it, normally Fernandez would take but the youngster is on a hat trick... and he nets! We're picking them apart, but we're inaccurate again... 4/17 on target so far. Time rolls on, we continue to control - 60% of the ball - but not any more scoring until Dante scores a corner, almost following it into the net. Unusually I haven't made my three subs early, so I can bring Sukuta-Pasu off to get him a standing ovation from the fans. Schürrle has a bit too sharp an angle to score so he cuts it back, and it's in the net off Stoppelkamp for our 5th of the night. Trochowski bangs one in in stoppage time to complete the rout. 6-1 is not quite reflective of the relative strengths of the side, but we were certainly the better side by a fair piece. Bayern roll too, a 4-1 win over Stuttgart, so we didn't make that much progress.

As we move to December, Sukuta-Pasu is upsetting the established order by having 14 goals in 15 games (10 starts, 5 subs); Fernandez is 2nd with 9; Derdiyok has 8 and Kiessling, Trochowski and Augusto have four. How can I possibly sit Sukuta-Pasu while he's smoking like this?

You have to call it a good month; we won twice in the ECC, scored 3, 4, 4 and 6... and yet, there's that stumble at Aachen, one of the bottom clubs, where we should be winning if we pay attention properly.

Monthly Results
MSV Duisburg 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Fernandez 15, Bregerie o.g. 43, Sam 88)
Bayer Leverkusen 4-3 FC Kobenhavn (ECC Group F) (Augusto 7, 45+1, Fernandez pen 55, 68 - Barre 5, Vingaard 48, Nordstrand 90+2)
Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 Borussia Moenchengladbach (Bruma o.g. 14, Augusto 21, Kiessling 42, 66)
TSV Alemannia Aachen 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Tsoumou 14, Sukuta-Pasu 7)
R.C.D. Mallorca S.A.D. 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group F) (Derdiyok 29, 34)
Bayer Leverkusen 6-1 DSC Arminia Bielefeld (Sukuta-Pasu 13, 32, pen 48, Dante 81, Stoppelkamp o.g. 88, Trochowski 90+2 - Fort 6)

End of Month Table Summary (14 pld):
1. Leverkusen 34
2. Bayern 31
3. Dortmund 25
4. Schalke 24
5. Hoffenheim 23 +9
6. Stuttgart 23 +6
...
15. Gladbach 12
16. Nurnberg 11 -8
17. Duisburg 11 -18
18. Bielefeld 9

Finances
More leakage, but not too serious... we're still +22.3m for the season.
We're still running at 99% capacity, will be interesting to see what we
get next season with the new stadium.
December 2013

Match: VfB Stuttgart - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-3 (Celozzi 29 - Derdiyok 5, Ballack 11, Bradley 64)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Derdiyok scores early, but he's deemed to have fouled in winning the ball, so it's waved off. He puts in a free kick minutes later. Ballack gets a goal as he's left alone in the far post position on a free kick. Stuttgart fightback begins, and we're not doing much to prevent it, bits of standing around, producing no attack of our own, etc. A goal come from Celozzi just before the half hour. Tomacek misses basically a sitter, a play on which I thought he was yards offside, so perhaps justice was done. After the break, we've got a corner chance that's cleared, and Kadlec runs in from his deep position to blast it - the very long shot is completely on target, but unfortunately Ulreich can bat it away. Derdiyok dumps out off to Bradley who scores a bit past the hour, very important goal, an a chance to make substitutions for two tired players as well. Two midfielders who are gradually falling out of the picture make their mark in this one. We do see it out in what was really quite an even game, maybe even edged to Stuttgart after that early 10 minute burst. Bayern, meanwhile, are on a roll and beat Nurnberg 7-0, so the goal difference equation tilts their way now (+28 v +25). If they beat us next match, Bayern will be in the lead, and with only one more match to go, would likely hold it through the Winter break.

This is a little strange... we are playing Liverpool at home in the Champions Cup, but can't consider it an important match. We have the aforementioned crucial match hosting Bayern Munich days after, and we've secured our first-place finish in the group already, so we just can't afford a full-out top lineup, despite the importance the fans place on European competition around here.

Match: Bayern Leverkusen - Liverpool (ECC Group F)
Score: 0-1 (Gerrard 42)
Group Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: We've been the better side throughout the first half, Liverpool don't even get a shot for a half hour, but they're who score first, a long shot by Gerrard that doesn't look like it should have gone in. We've played a dismal match, there's a chance about 72 minutes in on a corner that's gone off the bar, then nothing until we get a really good chance which Fernandez blows by shooting off the post. Fernandez has one more chance late, and we've gone down to a home defeat. I guess we were set up for this, partly the "nothing to play for" effect, partly that we didn't play our best lineup.

So here are the ECC qualifiers:
Group A - Palermo, Olympique Marseille (Spurs miss out though level pts with OM)
Group B - Real Madrid, Girondins Bordeaux (Man City miss out)
Group C - Rubin Kazan, Juventus
Group D - Porto, Bayern
Group E - Napoli, Barcelona
Group F - Leverkusen, Liverpool
Group G - Olympique Lyonnais, Benfica
Group H - CSKA Moscow, Roma

Now we've got our biggest league match of the season so far... Bayern are in reach, a win will leave them 1st on goal difference. We need to protect our home field at least with a draw. We perhaps have a bit of a break as Bayern are missing a bunch of players - Kroos, Robben, Vrsaljko, Babacar and Altintop.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - FC Bayern München
Score: 2-1 (Derdiyok 23, 64 - Cabaye 70)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Both sides have shaky first defensive sequences, then we have a good spell, then Bayern do better. For 20 minutes they've looked slightly more dangerous. We score first, 23rd minute, Augusto's feed into the middle sees a problem - Derdiyok and Sukuta-Pasu are in the same place and both going for the ball, but Derdiyok finishes brilliantly anyway. On the very next sequence, Bayern look a little confused, and a throw-in deep in the zone is given, from which Fernandez almost scores. We've had a nice spell of pressure for the second half of the period until Dante makes a huge mistake and goes in studs up at mid field and is shown the red card. Now we've got troubles... Half-time adjustment, after which Cabaye just misses a long bending shot. The next few chances are ours, all long, all missed. A stupid play by Bayern is all to our benefit, an attempted back-heel with Augusto defending is off Augusto, and he's off to the races on a break, centres for Derdiyok who drills in a long shot!!! 35 minutes to hold out now... Cabaye cuts it to one goal not much later, this time his long shot goes in. Now 10 minutes regular time... 3 minutes extra... Bayern corner, but it's gone out off the foot of Muller. We're able to see out the win, and a big one it is!

Only two important events remaining in the calendar year... a match with relegation-threatened Nurnberg and the draw for the first knockout round of the Champions Cup. The interesting aspect of the draw is we have a chance of getting Marseille, who beat us in the final last season. We also have a chance of getting Barcelona... who are after Renato Augusto big-time. I don't think we can keep him, but they better offer a boatload of cash if they're taking him in January.

Rotten piece of luck, but could have been worse... Dante's suspended for one game at least after the red card, will probably end up three. Botia was going to be back from injury, but he's tweaked an ankle as he gets back to training, another three weeks out. With the break, it's just one game, but highlights that I don't quite have the depth here (central defense) that I'd like.

And here's that draw for the Champions Cup: Girondins Bordeaux v Palermo, FC Bayern v Olympique Lyonnais, Olympique Marseille v Napoli, Juventus v Porto, Roma v Leverkusen, Benfica v Real Madrid, Barcelona v CSKA Moscow, Liverpool v Rubin Kazan. Our opponent Roma are currently 3rd in the Italian Serie A (10-2-4) with a game in hand on #2 Catania, they're having a good season. The two leading scorers are Mirko Vucinic (14) and Jeremy Menez (10) while John Arne Riise, Yoann Gourcuff, Daniele De Rossi and Miralem Pjanic are all having good seasons in largely non-scoring roles.

Match: 1.FC Nürnberg - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-3 (Derdiyok 7, 40, Fernandez 55)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We get a goal inside 10 minutes when Augusto gets space on the right, Schafer manages to stop his shot, but the on-fire Derdiyok comes in to finish. We look a little less than completely sharp after that, Derdiyok has missed two chances but nothing else happens until Kiessling is making a run, and Wolf decides he may get beat so takes him down just outside the box. Cynical, but just a yellow and a free kick. Derdiyok looks like he's headed the ensuing corner in, but it's rescued by a defender behind the keeper. Zuiverloon's caught the attention of the referee too, but this free kick doesn't get converted either as Derdiyok is there but ruled to have committed a foul of some sort. Frustrated he fouls again and sees yellow. Seconds later he sees a pass from Fernandez and fires a rocket that goes in. Then it's Derdiyok again, this time off the bar. His sudden burst is seven goals in his last 3.5 games. In he 2nd, Fernandez decides he wants to get in on the act and slots in a nice shot. Now it's mostly a question of a clean sheet, and with some difficulty, we keep it.

We're off until 18 Jan, when we resume action hosting Dortmund. Well, for playing staff there's some time with less pressure; it doesn't seem like the backroom staff ever get any time off and we have to worry about the transfer window - we're not in the market for anyone for January on the surface of it, but we've got players who are hot targets, André Schürrle, Eren Derdiyok and Renato Augusto in particular. We have the Schürrle playing at left wing which may or may not be his best position, and Derdiyok is one of our key forwards, while Augusto is having a good year now he's settled as being the permanent right wing (he shuttled around a bit last year, but with the arrival of Fernandez at AMC Augusto's position is now more clear). At 23, 25 and 25 they're still rounding in to their footballing primes and we've heard rumblings from big clubs, e.g. Inter Milan are very eager to make a deal for Derdiyok and Barca are after Augusto. If we have to give in and sell someone, then of course we're in the market for a replacement, so just ignoring the player availability situation would be foolish. The second of our Argentinian youth contingent, Ivan Bustos, arrives January 1, as does another young midfielder, Engin Arslan (German/Turkish) - this was a case of a hot prospect who was going to leave Bielefeld anyway and we made an offer, which the club and player accepted. I've been worrying about the more holding oriented central midfielders, where we have Sandro who is living up to promises this season, the fading Ballack, Bradley who's not managed to establish much this season and I'm thinking of letting go in the summer, and the clearly backup-only Vanden Borre and Vida. Youngsters are on the horizon with Reale and Vasquez but I am still keeping an eye out here for next season, with former Leverkusen player Lars Bender a possibility if we could pry him back out of Schalke (he was sold a year before I arrived before fully establishing himself as a first-teamer).

Checking back in Scotland again, Hibernian have been playing well, they currently sit 4th on 33 points, but have three games in hand on the three teams ahead of them, who are Celtic (42), Rangers (39), Aberdeen (36). Five league wins in a row. Two of the matches in hand come soon, a pair with St Mirren on 29 Dec and 1 Jan - who, on paper at least, are a fortunate opponent as they're dead last and on a 17-match league winless run (all this season as they finished last season with a win in the relegation group. They're not a relegation cert, since in those 17, the record is 0-9-8, and Dundee are only a point ahead). Hibs finished 1-3-2 in Euro Cup Group I, and did not advance from the group, although they got some positive result against each of the other teams.

Ballack decides he's going to retire at the end of the season, which saves uncomfortable situations.

The month was good enough: three league wins, including a crucial six-pointer over Bayern; we've lost to Liverpool, disappointing but an utterly meaningless match for us so no harm done.

Monthly Results
VfB Stuttgart 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Celozzi 29 - Derdiyok 5, Ballack 11, Bradley 64)
Bayern Leverkusen 0-1 Liverpool (ECC Group F) (Gerrard 42)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 FC Bayern München (Derdiyok 23, 64 - Cabaye 70)
1.FC Nürnberg 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Derdiyok 7, 40, Fernandez 55)

End of 2013 Table (17 pld):
1. Leverkusen 43
2. Bayern 37
3. Dortmund 28
4. Hamburg 27 +8
5. Schalke 27 +4
6. Stuttgart 26 +4
7. Wolfsburg 26 +1
8. Hoffenheim 25
9. Kaiserslautern 24 +4
10. Mainz 24 -9
11. Werder Bremen 21
12. Bochum 20
13. Koln 19 -1
14. Gladbach 19 -4
15. Aachen 16
16. Nurnberg 14
17. Bielefeld 13
18. Duisburg 12

Finances
Since the month is short, but salaries still have to be paid we leak a bit more than most months, as we will in January. Still, we've got almost €100m in cash and we're +€18.6m for the season. Nothing to worry about at the moment.

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