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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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December 2014

So now it's time to start thinking contracts. Kiessling needs an extension, at 30 he has time left, but how long to offer, and how much? My only problem is he's streaky; he goes on scoring tears, but also has periods when he just can't put the ball in the net. He's only on €49,500, considerably less than his partner Derdiyok (€62k). Trochowski, for a non-contributor, is well overpaid at €37k, as is Risse at €30.5k. Helmes is in almost the same category, but forwards command a bit more, so his €32.5k isn't outrageous. For those three, I don't really want to pay more; there's a feeling I don't want to just let them leave for free either but right now we don't have an answer. Meanwhile, Vida, Pamic and Jorgensen are each on the fringe of being starters, and really need raises, the three together are only making €29k (all three are still on early contracts before they started establishing themselves). Kadlec is a solid starter at left back and making €39.5k. Sidney Sam the jury is still out on, again he's on an early deal and his €20k makes it possible we would retain, if he doesn't demand too much of a raise. He's nominally the starter, but there's a feeling he's holding the spot warm for something better, ever since Renato Augusto took the deal with Barcelona. And finally Anthar Yahia, a valuable backup, but not a terribly frequent player and at 32, what kind of deal would we want to offer? There's the collection of youngsters Winter and Melzer plus Dieye (stronger at DR, but still quite good at DC) who are ready to push for senior playing time.

Match: Werder Bremen - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-0
League Position: 1st
Summary: We've had some tough battles with Werder in the past, and this one is a defensive struggle, neither side really gets anything going in the first half. Not much in the 2nd, either.... long ball seems to put Sukuta-Pasu clear, but Wiese gets down to deflect his shot wide. Sukuta-Pasu puts Sandro clear late, but his shot is blocked by Wiese as well. We've not done enough to beat a good keeper. Horribly dreary match, and we've slipped to another away draw. Bayern don't do any better. While we're not scoring, Dortmund are on a tear (17 goals in the last three league matches) and have passed us for highest scoring club. Frankfurt's Sunday win over Schalke bring them back to seven points behind us.

Did the contract renewals for Kiessling and Pamic first, as they seemed most inclined to be reasonable in their demands, and we get both deals done quickly.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Napoli (ECC Group H)
Score: 2-0 (Pamic 13, Kiessling 90+3)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: We've gone at Napoli hard, and we get a goal inside a quarter hour, Fernandez challenges hard for a ball in the box and sees it squirt to Pamic who celebrates his new contract with a blast past the keeper. Fernandez feeds Pamic who's almost got a second. Napoli start to come back into the game. 40 minutes in, it's so close... Fernandez very nifty pick out of Kiessling whose quick flick catches woodwork. 45 minutes... we switch Troost, who's hobbling besides being ineffective, for Sukuta-Pasu. Goal!!!! Botia has clashed for a ball at the far post off a corner, and it falls within reach of Kiessling who bangs it in from three yards. Wait... it's waved off, I'm getting tired of this. The referee decided the clash with Botia was a foul by Botia. Can't they at least make the call promptly, so everyone isn't off celebrating already? We're okay so far, there's a goal to give, but nobody wants to give it. Fernandez almost puts in a free kick on 72, keeper pokes it wide where Kadlec isn't focused enough to get it back into the box before it's pinched. Cavani goes out injured, but in return Napoli bring on their leading scorer for the season, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. We make some defensive changes late, and then Kiessling seals it up even later, 90+3 it will go as, heading in a corner. This time it stands! We've won it, we're through topping the group, which maybe helps with the draw, and maybe not... Madrid trample Brondby so they're the other group qualifier.

Here are the group results, of course 1&2 to the next round, 3 to the Euro Cup:

A - Barca 15, Arsenal 13, Panathinaikos 7, Standard Liege 0
B - Juventus 14, CSKA Moscow 13, AZ Alkmaar 5, Djurgarden 1
C - Sevilla 15, Bayern 10, Bordeaux 8, Beskitas 1
D - OL 13, Roma 11, Hibernian 6, Dortmund 2
E - At.Madrid 14, Shakhtar 10, Porto 5, Rapid Wien 3
F - Man City 16, OM 11, Rubin Kazan 7, Slavia Prague 0
G - Inter 11, Chelsea 10, Galatasaray 6, Monaco 6
H - Leverkusen 13, R.Madrid 12, Napoli 10, Brondby 0

Poor Brondby overwhelmed by the talent in group H, not only the only team not to get a point, they didn't even net a goal. Monaco lost out on aggregate to Galatasaray, each won at home but the Turkish side won it 2-1 overall.

So there's that worry out of the way. The draw will be next Friday. Before the winter break, we've got left Frankfurt, then Stuttgart twice in four days - away in the league, then home for the Cup.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Eintracht Frankfurt
Score: 3-0 (Kiessling 20, 84, Sukuta-Pasu 88)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We're not really able to assert ourselves early, but then it's Kiessling again, firing in on about 20 minutes, he's really on a tear. But that's it; 1-0 at the break. Kiessling has a great chance which he puts wide. Frankfurt have made nothing; 70 minutes in shots are 15-0 (we've only had two of those 15 on target, so nothing for us to write home about). Maybe something a bit better in the final 20? Kiessling makes a wonderous move to get free, goes wide and loses the chance, then suddenly cuts in and is free again but shoots at the keeper. In a sub role, Pamic has had a real chance but the diving keeper just tips it wide. Despite what now looks like utter dominance, it's not salted away until Kiessling nods in a corner in the 84th minute. Sukuta-Pasu makes a nice bending move, comes clear, and whacks it in under the keeper. Often I think late goals distort the score, this one makes it more reflective: possession 60/40, passing 83% (to 64%), shots 23-0, and we finally got some on target, ending with 7 - that's five of the last eight after two of the first 15. Sandro and Jorgensen put on good shows, among others. Eight goals in the last seven for Kiessling.

Fernandez has been injured again, a knee problem in training that will keep him out 5-6 weeks. While he won't lose too much match time since the injury will span the winter break, it seems luck has deserted him, and this is looking like a lost season. Last year 37 appearances overall and 14 goals (half during our European campaign), plus 10 assists and an excellent rating; this year halfway through it's 9 total appearances, two goals, one assist, and an average rating 0.37 per game lower.

Draw for the Champions Cup... I guess our task is clear, we can't move on with our European lives until we can deal with Olympique de Marseille. Amazingly, we're paired with them the third year running. The first two we've lost out as they've gone on to be champions, so this will be no small task. It's not like they've been head and shoulders over us; a 2-1 win in the final two years ago, then a pair of 1-1 draws in the semi final last year with OM prevailing on penalties in the end. It's our turn now, right?

The full list of matchups:
Real Madrid v Juventus
Roma v Sevilla
Shakhtar Donetsk v Man City
FC Bayern v Olympique Lyonnais
Arsenal v Atletico Madrid
Chelsea v Barcelona
Olympique de Marseille v Bayer Leverkusen
CSKA Moscow v Inter Milan

Match: VfB Stuttgart - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-3 (Schürrle 27, Kiessling 61, Bradley 79)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Can we finish off 2014 well? It takes a bit, but we've grabbed the lead from Schürrle, a striker's goal really, he's just playing better and better. Slightly amusing incident, Gebhart is making like one of those really skilled players, juking back and forth, until he runs into Bender who tackles the ball away cleanly and since he wasn't faked out holds his ground; Gebhart bounces off the brick wall end ends up flat on the ground. Since there was a clean tackle the referee isn't interested,; then Gentner lofts in what looks like a cross but it almost goes in, catching the far side angle of the woodwork. We've lost some edge, but on the hour, no big surprise, Kiessling weighs in with a telling contribution as Stuttgart got caught with too high a line just once. Rocket from Bradley on 79 and it's completely salted away. Stuttgart sub Defederico looks like he's pulled one back late, but it's ruled out for offside - probably incorrectly. We've won cleanly, some good performances, Frankfurt resume winning, and Dortmund resume their scoring barrage - 6-0 over Cottbus. Gladbach sack their manager as they're still struggling, 16th.

So that wraps the first half of the league season, and we've got a comfy looking lead (see table below). We're 8-0-0 at home, 6-3-0 away - in the second half we even have the advantage of the odd game being at home (that is, 9 home, 8 away). Of the three closest competitors, we'll play Bayern at home in the second match after the break; the other two, Dortmund and Frankfurt, are away and near the end of the season. The Dortmund scoring rampage started the game after we beat them 3-1 - they beat Aachen 6-4, HSV 6-1, Bochum 5-0, forgot their scoring boots in a 0-0 draw with Kaiserslautern, them 6-0 over Cottbus. Meanwhile, after my worry over defensive quality, we finished the first half with nine clean sheets in twelve league matches; and four in a row in all comps.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - VfB Stuttgart (German Cup 3rd Rnd)
Score: 1-0 (Kiessling 9)
Summary: For the second Stuttgart match, since we're home we go a more attacking set, and with a long break till the next match, we have no doubts about running out a very good lineup in the round we crashed out last year. It's the return of Eren Derdiyok from injury. But it's Kiessling who begins the celebrations... yet another goal. Derdiyok lasts 15 minutes, then picks up a different injury. Pamic should have doubled the lead but put it just wide. We play very well the rest of the half but don't add to the lead. In the 2nd, Stuttgart have a lot more of the ball. And we're missing some shots really badly. I don't like how we're letting Stuttgart hang around, even though time is running down. It's very tense at the end but we've held on for an unconvincing but satisfying win.

This is a tricky job, it is. I keep complaining as we put on worrying displays here and there, yet we've gone through the slightly abbreviated December schedule unbeaten and unscored upon. For all competitions in the season we're 23-4-1, in excellent shape in the league and progressing in the cup and in the Champions Cup. How much can you complain? I'll be trying to reinforce the positives over the 3+ weeks of break, some of which we're going to try this time working in a camp away from the German winter blahs. For the season, disappointments have been Fernandez (whom I'm hoping the problem is down only to never getting really healthy), Bender (who I figured would slot right back in the club, but overall has performed no more than average and actually seems to be having a little trouble fitting back in - as the only signing I spent serious money on this is unfortunate), and Sukuta-Pasu (who was such a hot scorer the last two years, first on loan, then for us last year- he's still scoring a few goals but his overall level of play has been poor). Pleasant developments have been the play of Pamic and Jorgensen, the continued evolution of Schürrle and Sandro, and a high level of play from Botia, Kadlec and Walker (for Walker, we'd only seen him for a half season, but another half season has cemented what a good player he is for us and installed him pretty much as the first choice at right back. Whether we'll be able to hang on to him is another question).

The quarter final German Cup draw takes place with nine teams still in the running - a spread out 3rd round saw one match 16 Dec, six on 23 Dec and one still to play on 30 Dec. There's only one side left not from the top division, Hertha Berlin. The matchups are: Bayern v Gladbach; Hoffenheim or Schalke v Mainz; Leverkusen v Dortmund; Köln v Hertha Berlin. It could be noted we've won the last seven league meetings with Dortmund, last six overall following a penalty shootout loss in the German Cup 3rd Rnd in 2011 - which followed being eliminated by Dortmund in the Euro Cup 2nd Knockout Rnd in spring 2011. So it's a rivalry match, and with some negative results still to remember although those were over three years ago. Plenty of players here who were around then as well. Luckily we've drawn the home pitch for it.

Monthly Results
Werder Bremen 0-0 Bayer Leverkusen
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Napoli (ECC Group H) (Pamic 13, Kiessling 90+3)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 Eintracht Frankfurt (Kiessling 20, 84, Sukuta-Pasu 88)
VfB Stuttgart 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Schürrle 27, Kiessling 61, Bradley 79)
Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 VfB Stuttgart (German Cup 3rd Rnd) (Kiessling 9)

End of Year Table Summary (17 pld):
1. Leverkusen 45
2. Frankfurt 35
3. Dortmund 32
4. Bayern 31
5. Hoffenheim 27
6. Schalke 26 +7
7. Werder Bremen 26 +6
8. Wolfsburg 25
9. Cottbus 23
10. Stuttgart 20 -4
11. Köln 19 -6
12. 1860 Munchen 19 -9
13. HSV 18
14. Aachen 16
15. Mainz 15 -9
16. Gladbach 15 -10
17. Bochum 15 -14
18. Kaiserslautern

Turnover €6.58m, up from €5.16m; expenses €10.52m up from €10m, net loss €3.93m. That's okay, I guess... the board still thinks "extremely tight control of the payroll". January will not be great since it's such a "short month" in terms of matches.

A quick survey of some other leagues of interest at what is roughly the mid point of their seasons:
Scotland: Hibernian 42, Celtic 40, Hearts, Falkirk and Motherwell 33
Hibernian have scored wins over Rangers twice and Hearts in the last three of the calendar year to surge to the top, but Celtic have one in hand.
England: Man United and Liverpool 48, Arsenal 47, Man City 46
Spain: Barcelona 34, Sevilla 28, At.Madrid, Athletic and Getafe 27
Portugal: Benfica 31, Porto 28, Maritimo 27, Sporting 25
France: OL and Havre 43, PSG 39, Monaco and Grenoble 35
Italy: Napoli, Inter, Genoa and Roma 34, Juventus 33
January 2015

In addition to a bit of a training camp, we have to think about the transfer market. If things stood totally still, we'd be good to go for the rest of the season, but I have to consider two aspects: will someone come poach a player from us that we have to replace, and should we try get something now for four players who probably don't have a future at the club with expiring contracts: Yahia, Trochowski, Helmes and Risse. Talked about these earlier; Yahia is okay but as he's getting older and his role is declining he should perhaps get a chance at first-team football somewhere else to make sure his international career (89 caps) can continue. The other three have not performed to a level that will get them playing time.

Continuing on the contract front three players have now signed new deals: Kiessling, Kadlec and Pamic. Vida, Jorgensen and Sam do deserve new deals, but initial contacts from agents suggested prices that were not completely in line with our valuations. Ahem. Two players who have 18 months left ought to get raises now, Derdiyok and Botia - both are at risk for getting better offers from somewhere else and have played very well, although Derdiyok's year so far hasn't gone as well as he might have hoped.

When we do resume play it won't be easy: we've got in order Wolfsburg, Bayern, Dortmund, Schalke, all in the league's top eight.

With all the world wondering, it's Bayern who sign Neymar, paying an astonishing €27m for a player who will be out of contract in the summer. I'd expect he'll be a great player for them, and while we don't have any hole at the position, you'd want to consider it... but not at that price, it's Bayern who had the desperation.

Match: VfL Wolfsburg - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-4 (Kiessling 6, Derdiyok 16, 50, Pamic 45, Schürrle 77)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Opening play is good, it's only five minutes before Kiessling is through and scores, and 15 for Derdiyok to add to the tally. It could have been three but Kiessling broke the wrong way just as Derdiyok tried to feed him, then Derdiyok... cannons off the crossbar. That was a superb first 20 minutes, now let's keep the pressure up! Kiessling puts it in, but he was pretty clearly offside, no real protests there. Wolfsburg have had their own shot off the bar, but we answer back with some late pressure and Pamic scores on a superb shot after Derdiyok dumped it off to him. Been a long while since we had a big lead at the half! The disaster continues for Wolfsburg as Derdiyok has gotten behind and netted a second less than five minutes in. When Wolfsburg wake up, Adler virtually stands on his head to keep the ball out, at least four good stops in just a few minutes (they didn't all count as "saves" as one was him interfering with a cross that was sure to end up a goal). Superb work on the left side and sub Jorgensen feeds Schürrle who slides it through a small opening for the fifth goal. There's no more, but we certainly showed up ready for this one, I think maybe the camp worked out. There are only three matches on the calendar for Saturday, but they all have an effect on the race: Dortmund win to hop into second on goal difference (Frankfurt play tomorrow), and Bayern have lost at home to Schalke. We're 17 points clear of Bayern, surely they're completely out of the picture now?

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - FC Bayern München
Score: 1-0 (Vida 80)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We wanted to control the ball and for the first half we've done so, due to passing very well, but neither side has made a truly dangerous chance out of nine shots apiece. The second half isn't seeing much either, until the referee shows a very soft red card to Sandro. We've got problems, but they get a little better when Derdiyok heads in a corner... well it looked like he had, the referee has spotted a phantom foul, when there was actually no contact at all as Derdiyok was unmarked. Kiessling's got a break, he's running out of room so tries to loop it in, but it's just over. Bustos finds Kiessling when he has more room, great save. Now Vida has headed in, will this one count? Yesss!!!! Kiessling out in front, offside. Can't argue that one. Kiessling is clattered, but another phantom call - offside when he clearly wasn't - means there's no foul. Still, down to 10 men, we've barely let Bayern have a sniff of the ball the last 10 minutes plus the three of stoppage, and it's an excellent win!

The Dortmund scoring barrage goes on, six more goals are put in their last time out. They now lead the league scoring table over us by six goals. Excepting the ECC where they've found the going tougher, Dortmund have scored five or six goals in six of the last eight; in one of the other two they had four - 38 goals total. Can we slow them down? Sandro is suspended here for sure, and probably will get the additional two games.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Borussia Dortmund (German Cup Qtr Final)
Score: 3-1 (Kiessling 56, 90+3, Santana o.g. 76 - Schmelzer 32)
Summary: The timing of this match isn't great; I have to take it very seriously since the fans and board do, but coming on the heels of the big Bayern matchup, I've got players like Derdiyok, Schürrle, Walker and Kadlec more tired than I'd like, and of course Sandro out injured. Dortmund notorious for early goals, and they come at us hard despite supposedly preferring a defensive setup. We weather that storm, but then Schmelzer scores on the most perfectly placed shot you can imagine, a few inches one way and Adler's got it, no more than two inches the other way and it's not going in off the post in the upper right. Dortmund quickly surrender part of their advantage, Maicon picks up his second yellow on 34 minutes and is off. Bender has to go off injured, then there's a near disaster, Grosskreutz' long shot clanks off the bar and Guilherme finishes it off, but he's ruled offside... can't have been by much. In the second, we start well but then fade a bit, then a second surge... several near misses - shots, connections, etc. Finally Kiessling lofts in what's almost a chip. He's run down a ball over the top moments later but fired high when I was sure he'd put in a second. Ooof. More ooof... Risse was in at right wing for his defensive abilities, but hasn't played well; just seconds after Sam comes on for him, Pamic (who replaced Bender after injury) has to go out injured. It's Bustos on as the most natural replacement without rejiggering the alignment, but now we have no subs for the final 30, plus possible extra time. Really unlucky as a clever play has gotten Jorgensen a shot inside the box, it goes under the keeper but still clips woodwork. Sukuta-Pasu's perfect pass finds Kiessling, but his shot goes off woodwork too, but we've scored! Bustos chasing the rebound, I think it may have been an own-goal. One Dortmund defender clanged it off the other, but doing nothing would have meant Bustos scored anyway. Bustos now sets up Sukuta-Pasu, but as he goes across the goal he's just missed the far post by inches. Now he's got one off target, but the keeper, who's been really good, gets up to just tip it over. We're doing what we did to Bayern now, just completely controlling the ball at the end. With the game into its dying embers, Kiessling takes a ball away from a defender who had fielded an attempted through ball, and salts it away... ostensibly nine seconds left in stoppage. Of course the referee has to extend the time and that's enough for Dortmund to fire a desperation long shot off the bar. On to the semi final!!! Horror match for poor Felipe Santana who was charged with the own goal and was the player who had his pocket picked by Kiessling - but really, Maicon put Dortmund in a position where it looked like only a matter of time before they had to crack. I did have to yell a little at half-time, but overall I'm pleased. The goal conceded was the first after seven consecutive clean sheets, but we've held five-goal-a-game Dortmund to one, which shows our quality. In the other match of the day, Bayern beat Gladbach by 1-0.

Injury reports: Bender our four weeks, Pamic two. Things getting a little thin in the middle... Fernandez is back in training though.

The Wed. quarters are Hoffenheim 0-1 Mainz, Köln 1-0 Hertha Berlin. The draw for the semi final is Bayern v Leverkusen, Köln v Mainz. You'd think the winner of the first match would have an inside track in the final, but whoever knows. That one won't be easy for us. March 3 is the date. We're now 9-1-1 with Bayern in the last 11, and have in fact won the last nine meetings (which includes the 2013 Cup final).

Five days left in the transfer window, there's no real sign that we'll get anyone to come for the players going out of contract, and I expect to have to be doing some fending of of offers for younger players.

Schalke maybe aren't such an easy target, though. We've struggled more with them than most, 5-2-3 in the last 10; 1-1-2 at the VELTINS-Arena in Gelsenkirchen, and they've got a very good defense. With injuries and other absences, I'd expect to go for the 4-4-2, but this seems to be the formation they have most success against.

Match: FC Schalke 04 - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-0 (Nainggolan 7)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Schalke take the lead early, Uchida (whom the press had us constantly linked with) feeding new signing Nainggolan who scores. Derdiyok looks like he's breaking through, but his shot was never going to get around the keeper. Forward to Bustos, Derdiyok, and a head-in-hands miss... Can Kiessling stay ahead of the defense and score? Answer is yes, and no... Now a break's on, can we get it right? this time answer is straight no, Derdiyok does well, but Kiessling, while able to receive, didn't make a run that got him the right space. Easy catch for the keeper. These and others, there have been enough situations we should have at least one goal this half. The second half zooms by, we keep trying to tweak to find the answer and there's no answer. Just stoppage left... and it's all over.

As far as the league, it's hard to see how it could be much better overall. Odd to say after we just lost, but after Dortmund cooperate to lose Sunday, we're 13 points up on them, 14 on Frankfurt, with the others further back; Bayern 17 points behind - and there are only 14 to play. We're going to have to find our shooting boots again however, one goal in two games is not a positive trend.

Monthly Results
VfL Wolfsburg 0-4 Bayer Leverkusen (Kiessling 6, Derdiyok 16, 50, Pamic 45, Schürrle 77)
Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 FC Bayern München (Vida 80)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 Borussia Dortmund (German Cup Qtr Final) (Kiessling 56, 90+3, Santana o.g. 76 - Schmelzer 32)
FC Schalke 04 1-0 Bayer Leverkusen (Nainggolan 7)

End of Month Table Summary (20 pld):
1. Leverkusen 51
2. Dortmund 38
3. Frankfurt 37
4. Schalke 35
5. Bayern Munich 34
6. Werder Bremen 33
7. Hoffenheim 31
14. 1860 Munchen 20
15. Mainz 18
16. Kaiserslautern 17 -7
17. Aachen 17 -27
18. Bochum 16

Large-ish loss of €8.75m, run up by signing bonuses for the players we gave new contracts to. Turnover €5.26m down from €6.58m; expenses €14.01m up from €10.52m (December also had some re-signing bonuses). This is what you have to do, though... not a huge problem.
February 2015

Four big (greater than €15m) transfers worldwide in this window: Neymar to Bayern for €27m, the player known as apparently a random permutation of the three names "John" "Mikel" and "Obi" from Chelsea to Napoli for €26m, Daniel Osvaldo from Espanyol to Arsenal for €21.5m, and Georginio Wijnaldum from Shakhtar to Man City for €15.75m.

We need a response to the recent scoring drought, and need to get back to winning ways quickly. In theory it gets a little easier; next we've got #13 Gladbach, #17 Aachen and at #12 Hamburg before resuming European play. I have to think of getting us aligned for that matchup which sees a visit to the Stade Velodrome in Marseille on 24 Feb (Tues), then the return at Leverkusen Stadium on 17 March (also Tues). Between the two legs we have #18 Bochum, at #5 Bayern for the German Cup semifinal, at #16 Kaiserslautern and #10 Cottbus.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Borussia Mönchengladbach
Score: 4-0 (Sam 12, Kiessling 17, 64, Bustos 80)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Rotten playing conditions due to terrible weather. Trying to shake things up, we play a strange formation, an asymmetrical 4-2-3-1. Early on, the different angles seem to be working, we get a goal from Sam early then a second from Kiessling. Schürrle finds Kiessling for what should be the third, but Szczesny is excellent, also on a later corner. It's only 2-0 at the break though we've really dominate. As the second opens, Kiessling keeps missing. We're 14-0 up on shots, but only two on target - how can we be wasting such a performance? Kiessling finally gets another goal, heading in a corner. Sub Bustos hits an amazing long free kick, Szczesny had no chance with the power, even from 35 yards. Kiessling should have had a third, not sure how he's stopped, but it's a nice win. Botia will miss 2-3 weeks with a knock.

Okay, one central defender out is okay, now we've got two: Dante has a "sports hernia" and he'll be out four weeks. It's not the end of the world: Vida has pretty much worked his way in ahead of Dante in the regular rotation; Yahia is still around; and Mitchell Winter is starting to make some senior appearances.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - TSV Alemannia Aachen
Score: 2-0 (Kiessling 32, Bustos 84)
League Position: 1st
Summary: I'm a little irritated as we spurn the chances we do get, and generally seem a little arrogant for a half hour. Then Kiessling drilling in a goal, but shortly after, Fernandez misses when he's quite open. Then misses really badly. Fernandez to Sam and he unaccountably misses as well. That's four "clear cut chances" - in just a half. Not sure I've ever seen that on the statistics sheet. Things don't go that well for us in the second, and we're down to 10 men when Castro gets a second yellow. Fairly late, things break down, Fernandez has a go, and eventually it's come to Bustos who fires in a cannon shot. Somehow, of 18 shots we've taken, Fernandez has banged off seven of them, with none on target. Dunno what's going on.

More help as clubs below shake out; with 22 played, 12 remaining, we're 18 points over Dortmund, Schalke and Frankfurt, 20 over Bayern. Nobody's going to catch us.

In Scotland, Hibernian are still fighting on four fronts. They're level on points at the top of the league with Celtic, but have a game in hand. Next up is the Euro Cup 1st knockout rnd with Hapoel Tel-Aviv. A Scottish Cup Qtr Final is up on 7 March with Greenock Morton (away); and the League Cup final with Motherwell is set for 15 March. In between there will be a lot of moved league matches, so they'll be very very busy. Good luck!

ECC action resumes, we're not playing yet as we're the "second week". Tuesday it's Arsenal 1-0 At.Madrid; Real Madrid 2-0 Juventus. Wednesday Chelsea 0-1 Barcelona; Roma 1-1 Sevilla.

Match: Hamburger SV - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-4 (Herrmann 84 - Fernandez 6, Kiessling 17, 80, Schürrle 45+2)
League Position: 1st
Summary: After some mad passing around by both sides, Fernandez scores. Hamburg are completely dominating possession, but that lets us launch a counter which Kiessling scores. 17 minutes and the game looks over... and we look a lot sharer than last time. Late in the half, we've got a two-man break, and Kiessling runs it just right, drawing the defender at the end and feeding Schürrle for the easy goal. Kiessling gets a second on 80 minutes. We give up a late goal to lose the clean sheet.

Match: Olympique de Marseille - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC 1st knockout rnd, Leg 1)
Score: 0-0
Summary: It's not a vastly exciting match as we visit Marseille. Dzeko looks like he's about to get a dangerous shot but an excellent recovering tackle from Yahia cleans that out. Coming the other way through ball finds Kiessling but as defenders close he shoots and it's well over. Dzeko's header of a free kick flies over too. Montolivo draws the first big save from Adler past the half hour. Is Kiessling going to complete a break? No, Mbia recovers with a tackle. At the break the conclusion is the attacks haven't been especially creative, the defenses really on top of their game. In the 53rd, danger! Remy clear, Adler gets down to save it and it was okay anyway - the flag is up. Now it's Remy stealing and he's off to the races, Adler cuts down the angle and kicks the shot away, that was possibly the biggest danger of the match so far. More danger, this time Dezko as a sliding tackle by Walker has dispossessed his man but sent it to Dzeko. This chance isn't as open, Dzeko doesn't have an option but to shoot as he's being closed down and Adler has played it just right again. Less than 15 left. Remy fires another shot over and Kadlec firmly heads away a corner. In the dying moments it looks like we've got a break for sub Troost, but Mandanda cuts that down by coming out aggressively. Scoreless in the end; we only managed three shots on target (seven total), and my recollection is they were weak ones. Adler is a justified man of the match, because OM did shake things loose a few times, but couldn't overcome his excellent anticipation.

The other ECC matchup of the day is Shakhtar 1-1 Man City.

On Wednesday, there are some more definitive results, everything else has been extremely close: CSKA 0-4 Inter, Bayern 5-2 OL.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Vfl Bochum
Score: 2-0 (Sukuta-Pasu 12, Castro 36)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Still a little short of center halves here, Dante out, Vida suspended, Botia coming back from injury could play, but we'll pick youngster Winter - our best header of the ball - instead. As far as midfielders, Bender and Pamić not available yet after injury, Sandro and Fernandez tired. So we've got Bradley and Bustos in the middle, with Reale on the bench. The forwards, too, need a day off if they're going to face Bayern on Tuesday in the Cup. We've made a good start, Sukuta-Pasu following a saved shot from Jorgensen to score, his was the fourth shot of the opening 11 minutes, all on target. We lose the range for a while, only one of the next six shots is on target, and Bochum create some danger of their own. Then Castro slides in a shot to double the lead. He doesn't score much for us, and Walker has reduced his opportunities, but off that shot he should be getting more! We let Walter through - Winter didn't close the door on him when he had the chance, a matter of experience, but astonishingly he shoots well wide from eight yards. Second half... Good pass puts Troost through, he has his first shot blocked, it comes out long and the second is lovely, except it doesn't dip quite enough, glancing off the crossbar. Sukuta-Pasu I was going to say seems to have lost his burst that let him get around or through defenses, but he puts on a burst here and is tripped in the box for a clear penalty. Don't know what Bochum are complaining about. Sidney Sam has it saved. Not the most crushing of wins, but it counts just the same, and we had a lot of players in who'd be considered substitutes.

As we come to the end of February, the 2nd through 5th sides are separated by a single point, but all of it's 20 points behind us!!! Our month was good; 4-0-0 in the league (aggregate score 12-1). Our situation in the ECC is... we're still okay. We're 0-0 on aggregate so we can't survive a loss or a score draw, but we've taken away OM's home advantage so things should lean slightly in our favor. Not history, though; we haven't notched a win against OM in four tries.

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 Borussia Mönchengladbach (Sam 12, Kiessling 17, 64, Bustos 80)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 TSV Alemannia Aachen (Kiessling 32, Bustos 84)
Hamburger SV 1-4 Bayer Leverkusen (Herrmann 84 - Fernandez 6, Kiessling 17, 80, Schürrle 45+2)
Olympique de Marseille 0-0 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC 1st knockout rnd, Leg 1)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Vfl Bochum (Sukuta-Pasu 12, Castro 36)

End of Month Table Summary (24 pld):
1. Leverkusen 63
2. Bayern 43 +19
3. Schalke 43 +14
4. Frankfurt 43 +7
5. Dortmund 42
6. Hoffenheim 38
13. 1860 Munchen 25
14. Gladbach 24
15. Mainz 23
16. Bochum 20
17. Kaiserslautern 18
18. Aachen 17

Back to a more normal loss, €5.65. Turnover is €3.86m, down from €5.26m even though we played to three full houses at home. Expenses were a still high €9.52m, but without signing bonuses and agent fees, it came down from €14.01m.
March 2015

Monthly Results
FC Bayern München 1-2 (extra time) Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup Semi Final) (Schmidt 39 - Botia 50, Kiessling 111)
1.FC Kaiserslautern 0-0 Bayer Leverkusen
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 FC Energie Cottbus (Jorgensen 16, Yahia 73)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Olympique Marseille (Champions Cup First Knockout Rnd, Leg 2) (Fernandez 11, Schürrle 48 - Kabore 87) Leverkusen win 2-1 on aggregate
1.FSV Mainz 05 2-5 Bayer Leverkusen (El Ghanassy 8, Savio 89 - Botia 35, Derdiyok 38, 63, Fernandez 52, Koz o.g. 57)

With the season drawing into latter stages, we've got a bit of early "squeaky bum time" - facing the toughest remaining club in the German Cup in the semi-final, and away where most of the 70,000 will be against us, on the 3rd of March, then our bogey team Olympique de Marseille at home on 17th March, with a chance to fall out of both competitions before reaching the stage we're expected to - or to put it in "glass half full" terms, we have the chance to banish some demons and move that much closer to our goals in those competitions.

Incidentally, Silvio Berlusconi has pulled the trigger on Fatih Terim, and AC Milan are without a manager again. This time nobody is mentioning my name for the vacancy, which I would probably turn down anyway.

Match: FC Bayern München - Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup Semi Final)
Score: 1-2 extra time (Schmidt 39 - Botia 50, Kiessling 111)
Summary: All to play for here: for 15 times Cup winners Bayern, a chance to avenge their loss to us in the final two years ago, and to purge some of the frustrations that they'll finish behind us for the third year running in the league with a chance to win some silverware. And for us, we're after purging the memory of the too-early exit last season, and make our sixth final in club history, and fourth in seven years - making the final was a pre-season goal set by the board. We've managed to work things to have a first choice lineup here, Bayern have not been so fortunate - they've got Robben and Neymar injured, Schweinsteiger suspended, and important players Kroos, Babacar, Gomez and Cabaye too tired to go... and for less clear reasons they've chosen to sit Otamendi and Andre. These certainly have something to do with the non-EU players limit, but they're sitting joint 2nd leading scorer Andre, the player our scout said to watch for, in favor of youngster Klaus Schmidt (a young striker we took a bit of a look at a while back), who's made one senior sub appearance all year. There's not much happening, the first real chance to Bayern about 20 minutes, but a shot goes in the side netting. Time passes, we've got nothing going, and then the kid Schmidt pokes in a ball just short of 40. At the break, I'm... well, livid is too strong a word, but I've got a bit to say in the dressing room. We've had 55% of the ball and done nothing with that, a grand two (off-target) shots for the whole half. In the first five minutes of the second half, three shots, all on target, the third a header into the net from our frequent "big trouble rescuer" Alberto Botia. And served up inch-perfect by Fernandez from the corner spot. Derdiyok breaking through... but he has Pele poke it away. We sure are a lot more awake right now, Kadlec playing with urgency has gotten involved, and has put in a ball that Sam must score on if the defender doesn't get there to clear behind. Oooh, what a ball from Walker, cross-field heading for Kiessling, who in my opinion makes the wrong play, he heads it down back to Fernandez (who's really into this game and playing super, about time!), when he could have let it go over him and run onto it on a clear break. Well, my opinion from the touchline, and somebody needed to let him know there was acres of space behind. Oh, dear, we've worked one just right and Schurrle's got space in the middle but his first-time shot flies over. With just a quarter hour left, Bayern seem to be finding some rhythm again... and Adler has had to make a good save. Is this is? Ball looped over the top for Kiessling... but he's beaten for pace, for once, and Bayern rescue the situation. Bad clearance comes to Schmidt who fires. It's just over, but good play, maybe we should have swooped for him when we were looking? Regular time ends level. I don't want to go to penalties, our current lineup has five pretty good takers, and then it drops off quickly. Near the end of the first extra period, Walker is injured, and we don't really have a good lineup solution. Now probably we are hoping for penalties. Bayern try to take advantage right away. Second period.... Fernandez pokes away, and Kiessling is on his way... he's in, he scores!!!! With 10 minutes left. Now five... free kick, Botia heads, it just flies past the post. Adler with some magic to turn behind, three left. Two. It's in the Bayern end, Kiessling... not a clear shot, but anyway it goes wide. Kadlec clears out, why take a chance. One minute plus stoppage. Kiessling steals, and sends it down towards the offensive end. Only seconds now, Bayern try to build again, down their left, Sandro at fullback doesn't have the positioning right, but Botia sends the cross away. We're over the 120 now, will the corner be taken? Yes, but Adler snags it out of the air, and there it is!!!! That was as tough a win as I've ever seen, but we've done it in the end. Walker's pretty banged up (ribs), he'll be out four weeks or so. We'll use Babacar Dieye as the backup, not poor Sandro, who did his best but it's not a position he's at all trained for. We'll miss Walker in two weeks v. OM, but on the positive side it's a chance for Castro to state his case again. Bayern and boss Steve McClaren, meanwhile, are fuming at a penalty not given in the 41st minute, when Walker headed away from Schmidt in the box. Looked completely clean to me, but I have neither the best view nor the most unbiased opinion.

We'll meet Mainz, who beat out Köln 2-0. I don't want to say it will be easy; we're clearly better than Mainz over the course of a season, at the moment we're on 63 points, they're on 23 - but it's a one shot chance to salvage some pride for a club who are still in relegation danger, never count out the motivation of the cup, especially a cup final.

We actually have a little bit of recovery time, as the schedule is Tuesday-Sunday, the next match Saturday, then Tuesday comes the big second leg with OM.

Crazy schedules - we have nothing on Hibernian, who play Motherwell (3rd in the SPL) three times in a month, including the league cup final, and Dutch club NEC Nijmengen in the Euro Cup, having dispatched Hapoel Tel-Aviv on 2-1, 4-3 scores. Counting from a Feb 3 win over Aberdeen, they'll have played three in the league while seven in various cups until a March 21 date with Rangers. My former club are flying, again the later part of the season seeming to suit them; 15 wins from 16, only interrupted by a 2-4 loss at Celtic Park. That streak follows a much less impressive 8-9-3 run in all comps, although that stretch of 20 matches does include the six in the ECC, a competition still slightly over Hibernian's talent level (1-3-2 in those six). Hibs continue to have player turnover; Daniel Galbraith left in January for Fulham, for not nearly enough money in my opinion but good luck to him. They're already at the point that players brought in by Coyle are leaving, such as McCarthy and Watson. It's a very different club now, not quite three years on; of players I brought in, Boucher and O'Connor are start, McRobbie is rounding into a top level striker, Husband is still trying to break into the senior squad, and Swanson, whom I signed but who never played for me, hasn't made the impact I would have envisioned, just a bit player. Players left who were there when I arrived include Welsh, Brown, Hogg and Stevenson, none of whom are playing any kind of major role this season. Hogg I feel for, he's in his 11th season at Hibs but this year he's completely marginalized, at 29 he's still got something to offer and I hope he gets another deal.

We'll continue our run through the lower end of the table with a visit to Kaiserslautern. This is a club which had success in the 1950's, a little revival in the late 1970's to 1981, some really nice results in the 90's (league winner 91, 98 and runner up in 94 despite relegation in 1996 - then the stunning result of immediate promotion followed by a Bundesliga title the first year up under Otto Rehhagel), then a poor 2k's which brought huge financial problems and four season down in the 2.Bundesliga, and near relegation to the third tier. Promoted in 2010, things looked to be on the up: 15th, 11th, 10th, 9th, with an increase in points each season, but now sitting firmly in relegation spot, 17th. They're another club who've given us a fair bit of trouble - we won the first matchup this season 3-1, but the three seasons before that saw us only earn a 2-3-1 record against them - and only six goals scored in that set of six matches. So I want real focus, and no sympathy (not that I expect sympathy from the players, but the staff have been around football a lot longer and who knows...).

Match: 1.FC Kaiserslautern - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-0
League Position: 1st
Summary: We're insanely outplayed for about 20 minutes, and overall very poor for the first half, lucky to still be in a 0-0 game. Second half is better, but never close to a goal, especially Derdiyok wasteful of things that looked like chances. I wish I had last year's problem when Sukuta-Pasu, and to a lesser extent Troost, we're playing well when they got in, and challenging the top two for playing time if anyone was off form. This year, S-P isn't very good, and Troost has recently slipped off to much worse, and fifth guy Helmes continues to underwhelm if he gets in the game. Anyway, we do very little of value, and while it's a clean sheet, it's also a scoreless draw, yet more problems with Kaiserslautern. I guess things aren't dire enough when we're not scoring against FCK for Botia to pop up with a rescue goal!!! I've got to find something that helps with the complacency in matches against lesser sides. Sometimes it clicks and the goals go in, sometimes they just think it will and it doesn't; but the performance was nothing remotely resembling the epic match with Bayern a few days earlier.

Tuesday brings a really dull day in the ECC, two scoreless draws, which means the two sides who were home for the first leg, and won tight matches, go through: Arsenal, Real Madrid in; Atletico Madrid and Juventus out.

The U19's have their cup final v. Bochum, which I'll go watch to study and provide encouragement. It will be without super striker Sven Scheuer, who's got 12 goals in the U19's league, and 19 overall - he's out injured, out for the year with a torn calf in fact. But our third Argentine youngster, German Biglia is in action for us finally. Bochum aren't that good: 5-2-12 in group 2 (the other German U19 group, not the one we're in), but as I said just a bit ago, who knows when it comes to cup action? For those who are curious about possible future senior players, the starting lineup is: GK Papadopolous; DL Probst; DC Melzer, Christ; DR Glowacz; ML Biglia; MC Engin Arslan, Eberl; ML Ersin Terim; F Gutzeit, Demir. Besides Scheuer, the other regular player missing is ML Solmaz. The highest rated players in this squad for future potential are Biglia, Solmaz, Christ, Scheuer and Arslan. Far from the romp I'm sure the players expected, Bochum score first and we don't even have a shot until the 25th minute. Biglia levels. A snooze fest second half is scoreless, and we really didn't need extra time; with all four subs used, three players are sucking wind, Glowacz, Biglia and Terim, and a fourth, Arslan, is also quite tired. We need something special, I figure it's going to have to involve the exhausted Biglia, but it comes from a pair of players even worse off, both carrying knocks, Ersin Terim getting a centering ball in that Ullmann slides to poke in. Ersin Terim... he's twisted an ankle on the play to add to his trouble, and the poor lad can barely move. One last attack for Bochum, one tackle to poke the ball away and the referee blows for full time. U19's cup is ours, but it's a battle on the level of the Bayern match for the senior side (must be added, markedly lacking in the quality I am expecting from future senior players, as a very private aside I was not impressed at all with this performance, except of course the grit to grind out an extra-time win when not much was working).

A little more scoring in the second day of 2nd leg ECC matches, Barca win 2-0 to finish off Chelsea 3-0; Sevilla 2-0 over Roma to take them out 3-1 on agg. I don't really fancy a draw, if we survive, that's going to include Real and Barca. And, for that matter, Arsenal. With four clubs yet to be chosen to go through, but two pretty certain off first leg results - Inter and Bayern.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - FC Energie Cottbus
Score: 2-0 (Jorgensen 16, Yahia 73)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Okay, with Derdiyok playing badly and nobody else providing competition at the moment, we'll go back to our skewed 4-2-3-1. We're going to play it with a second-line group, with three exceptions, but if it works, we'll try the same with a rotated group on OM. Why do I think a lineup that will probably change eight of the XI will be representative? We need to shake something up for OM, and if it shows well here v. Cottbus, why not? It takes a bit to show effect, then Kiessling has a go that looks sure to score, but finds woodwork somehow. Another effort is saved off the line, then more Cottbus heroics, but then Jorgensen just drills in a shot so we lead after a quarter hour. The inexperienced Dieye dives in and misses way too far out from goal, then shows incredible hustle to come back and try another tackle that's perfect. Then Winter shows great pace and determination to get back and break up a play. And on the offensive end I really like what I see, we've got interesting angles everywhere. But need more goals! Early in the second Godee goes in with a clumsy tackle, but I really think the red card is harsh. Yahia finally heads in a second after we've been unimpressive since the sending off. Two subs in here. We continue to shoot poorly, 13 of 22 have been off target. It's a win, and an impressive show for Bustos, who's assisted both goals and passed very well. Yahia and Jorgensen - the goalscorers - also have to be considered top performers. So of the first team are rested, the subs did the job needed, hopefully we're all set for OM now.

I'm quite impressed, we were last year's top team for average attendance percentage by capacity, we have the new stadium which adds 10,000 seats approximately, and we're again the top team by percentage!!! We're at 97%, Dortmund 95%, Hoffenheim, Shalke and Wolfsburg 94%. What a great bunch of fans we're developing... Worst are 1860 Munchen, who share the Allianz Arena with Bayern, but only get 42% capacity (Bayern are at 93%). Sunday brings a derby in that stadium, with Bayern considered the home side. It's a 1-0 squeaker, which leaves Bayern alone in 2nd place, the only club inside 20 points behind us. We're on 67, they're on 49; with eight left, the maximum Bayern could reach is 73 points so seven points wins us the title; realistically six points - just two wins - does it since our goal difference is so far beyond everyone else's (+46, Dortmund are +26 and Bayern +21). With #15 Mainz and #13 1860, we could be pretty much settled by April 4! So honestly, all we can think about now is Marseille, the league is so close to locked up we don't need to worry about it.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Olympique Marseille (Champions Cup First Knockout Rnd, Leg 2)
Score: 2-1 (Fernandez 11, Schürrle 48 - Kabore 87) Leverkusen win 2-1 on aggregate
Summary: Do we have what it takes to finally crack this nut? OM are not on a good run, only won two of the last 10 in all comps. Snow is falling... Kiessling gets his head to a corner, but just wide. Now a ball's in the net, Fernandez has shot quickly, but had some luck, the shot looked to go wide but deflects on the way through, enough to take it in the far corner. Sam somehow finds Fernandez, he's got space to fire but not to beat Mandanda. It's not cleared fully out, Sam fires and hits the crossbar. I'm so tense it's ridiculous; hope the players are more relaxed and just letting the creativity flow. Dzeko has a half chance, but Adler never lets it be more than that, stones him completely. It's 1-0 at the break, which means we've got the edge, but just a single goal from disaster since OM would lead on away goals. Kiessling... Schürrle... it's nothing but a tap, but it's trickled in!!!! I see, it was heading for the far post, but a defender's deflection didn't change the course but took the sting out of it, still it was already past Mandanda so no chance to save! Now the story is different, we have to defend a two-goal lead, rather than a one-goal where going level would lose us the tie. How did Adler just make that save? Cross in, header in close, he's somehow beaten it away. Brilliant!!! I'm trying to get a battered Dante out, and the ref won't let us make the change. Finally. OM header on a corner... crossbar!!! Vida sends it a mile downfield, Kiessling tracks down, pulls it way back to Bradley who's shot from a different postal code almost goes, just skimming the bar. Honestly, I'd rather not take that shot, and keep control. Kiessling's header off a corner is just over. Subs for tired players... only 12 minutes left... 8... with four left in regulation, Kaboure is just in too close - 7 yards - when he receives, and his drilled shot couldn't have been saved by anyone. Back to the danger zone, a goal in these last minutes would see us out. We've got a mini-attack, OM are back at it again... and Adler snatches a ball that was going to go behind for a corner. 90 seconds of the 3 extra minutes gone... Adler to Castro to Trochowksi... long ball but he's put it out. Idiot! Can't do that... Taiwo, Turan, but Castro pinches it, and Turan fouls trying to get it back. Less than 30, take time... it's over!!!! City win the other tie decided today. The list of possible opponents for the next round is horrifying, but let's wait for the draw.

In the Euro Cup, Hibernian have won an exciting second leg 4-2 after the away leg was drawn 3-3, so they've eliminated NEC 7-5 on agg. Good they got Johnny Russell back, he'd missed five months with a broken leg, but with O'Connor unavailable due to tiredness, his two goals were crucial (he'd been the scorer of 23 goals in a year and a half with Hibs before this season). This was the Tuesday TV match, the other ties have to wait two more days to complete. On the other hand, they've lost the League Cup final to Motherwell.

Wednesday, Inter complete the knockout of CSKA Moscow even though losing at home 1-2; 5-2 on aggregate. Olympique Lyonnais come back from the dead, by winning 4-1 over Bayern the tie is 6-6 on agg, but OL win on away goals. I don't necessarily weep over losing a chance to face Bayern again, but it's to the benefit of German football to collect more points than France to improve the UEFA coefficient, and that chance has been missed.

The draw for the quarter final takes place, the matchups are Sevilla v Man City, Real Madrid v Barcelona, Leverkusen v Inter Milan, Arsenal v Olympique Marseille. Based only on current season performance, I'd probably take the matchup we've been given; in Italy's Serie A, Inter are 5th, 12-11-6 record. Behind the scenes I might admit I think possibly Sevilla are the easier touch, but this could have been harder, so let's take what we've got. R.Madrid v. Barcelona ought to be quite a shootout, they are such huge rivals and know each other so well. In the last five seasons they've already played other 19 times, with Barca holding a clear edge, 11-3-5, however Real have a 3-2-2 record in the last 7 matchups.

The Euro Cup is getting down to the late stages now too, the draw there sees Deportivo de la Coruna v Stade Malherbe Caen, Hibernian v Benfica, Napoli v Porto, Girondins Bordeaux v Sunderland. The semis will be in that order - matchup #1 v #2, and #3 v #4. Hibs face the #1 club in Portugal; should they survive that it drops off to the winner between the #12 club in Spain and the #10 club in France. Draws are funny things, aren't they?

Match: 1.FSV Mainz 05 - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 2-5 (El Ghanassy 8, Savio 89 - Botia 35, Derdiyok 38, 63, Fernandez 52, Koz o.g. 57)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Poor beginning. We've got a nice little setup in the first minute for Fernandez who angles his shot and gets it well wrong. Fernandez has another go, this shot isn't very hard although well-placed, and Al Habsi is able to get up to tip it over easily. By the 8th minute, El Ghanassy got behind on the left very easily to score. He's there again 5 minutes later, though not as open, his shot is heading for the lower left but Adler gets down to stop it. Sloppy work in the back, Szalai has gotten the ball after a tackle and is clear eight yards out on the left, the shot is well wide though. With almost no signs of life on our side we suddenly get some, Botia gets up to head in a Fernandez free kick! Derdiyok makes a break but has his shot stopped, then the next sequence when Koz unadvisedly steps up Derdiyok is clear again and this time he scores... we've hit them quickly for two. Mainz have worked a forward sequence well enough to score, but Szalai fires right at Adler. In the opening minute of the 2nd, disaster nearly strikes Mainz, a tackle has put a ball into the path of Kiessling, but a last-gasp tackle pokes that away before he can shoot. Then they do break down, Jorgensen has put Fernandez in and he scores. Then Kiessling squares one that glances 90 degrees off Koz for an own-goal. Then Castro to Sam who's put Derdiyok through and he scores. We looked nearly dead for a half hour, and just past the hour mark it's 5-1, some turnaround! Derdiyok's got a chance at his hat trick three minutes later but shoots it over. Kiessling has blasted but hit woodwork. Mainz get a consolation goal very late, I'm unhappy we conceded, it's pretty much the play El Ghanassy scored on so long ago, but this time Savio coming in from the left. Our scoring came in two bursts - two goals in three minutes in the first half, three goals in an 11 minute span in the 2nd. We've not really dominated statistically, but what does it matter when you put in five?

Bayern have won theirs, they're alone in second. It's an 18 point lead now with seven left; Bayern could reach 73 with a 100% finish, and we're already on 70. This will be over soon, but not in March since there's an international break now and we don't play again until April!

Back to the evolving Hibernian story, a win over Rangers, and Celtic draw at Hearts: Celtic lead by a point, but Hibs have three matches in hand. Problem is, that disparity has to be resolved not by the end of the season, but by the date of the split: Celtic play April 5th (Rangers) and 11th (at St Mirren); Hibs play Mar 24 (Hearts), then Apr 1st (Motherwell), 4th (St Mirren), 9th (Hamilton) and 11th (at Motherwell) plus in there they also have to squeeze in a Euro Cup match (Apr 7) - there's 5 matches in 11 days at one point, do they have the depth to come through that? Then there are two more big matches - the second leg at Benfica and the Scottish Cup semi final with Celtic, and some of the Championship Group matches will begin to slot in there. The March 24 match was a win for Hibs, they go top - even though a lot of players had already left for their international sides.

In England, the top five have completely distanced themselves from the pack: Arsenal 71, City 66, Liverpool 66, United 64, Spurs 60. Next are Chelsea at 44 points.

The month has ended early due to the international break.

The U19 squad has had a rampaging season... besides winning the cup, they've already locked up the title in U19's Group 2, 21 out of 26 played, and so far a record of 20-0-1. The only blemish in the entire season has been a 1-0 loss at Köln, who are the 2nd best side in the group, but already 23 points behind. I actually didn't think they'd be so good, I moved a few of the best players up, and the Argentinian wonder German Biglia has only played five times after coming back from his broken leg - I wouldn't have kept him in the squad all that long but as it turns out, he hasn't been a player that's driven them on - that's come to a large extent from Scheuer, Eberl and Solmaz.

End of Month Table Summary (27 pld):
1. Leverkusen 70
2. Bayern 52
3. Hoffenheim 49
4. Schalke 47
5. Frankfurt 44
6. Dortmund 43
7. Wolfsburg 41
12. 1860 Munchen 29
13. Gladbach 28 -13
14. Cottbus 28 -17
15. Mainz 26 -18
16. Bochum 26 -21
17. Kaiserslautern 22
18. Aachen 18

Pretty good, we only lose about 1/2m this month. Turnover is €10.4m up from €3.87m, most of the change coming from prize money, €4.78m. Expenses were €10.95m up from €9.52m. The final monthly number was <€548k>. We're sitting at world #12 in terms of rich clubs, and #9 is not out of reach if we continue to do well - although #9 Benfica and #10 Napoli are leading their leagues, so they'll also get decent payouts at the end of the year; #11 OM we've knocked out of the ECC and they're not going to win the league in France either, currently 5th.

Not a financial matter, but we're still moving up in the UEFA club rankings, which determines positions for draws in competitions. We're certain to be a pot 1 side next year in the ECC, which we've already qualified for - I noted we were just behind the two Madrid clubs in the rankings for next season, and now we've edged ahead of Atletico, who are out of Europe and can't get any more points; we're sitting as the #5 club now behind OL, Barca, OM (who are also out, but we're not going to pas them) and Real Madrid. The next three behind us after Atleti are Palermo, Juventus and Man United who are also all done in Europe for this year. Old club Hibernian are looking at being 37th, after 59th for this season, and they're still alive in the Euro Cup.
April 2015

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 TSV 1860 München (Biglia 13, Sukuta-Pasu 21, 37, Winter 74)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 FC Internatzionale Milan (ECC Qtr Final Leg 1) (Botia 76, Risse 80)
Borussia Dortmund 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Troost 46, 48)
FC Internatzionale Milan 1-4 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Qtr Final Leg 2) (Destro 32 - Schürrle 6, Derdiyok 10, Kiessling 76, Hangeland o.g. 79) Leverkusen win 6-1 on aggregate
Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 1.FC Köln (Sandro 32)
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Yarmolenko 35 - Troost 1, Sukuta-Pasu 38)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 Olympique Lyonnais (Champions Cup Semi Final Leg 1) (Kiessling 9, Fernandez 38, Derdiyok 81)

I feel a little sad, of the rather massive 29 players who were pushed out of the club over the summer, only seven have gotten new contracts... but so it is, it's a cut-throat business is football, and there are always new young players coming along with "prospects" that causes others to be deemed to have not succeeded. We've got a considerably tighter group now, but there will still be some further cleaning in the coming summer. Mainly I'm thinking about younger players, but there are of course still the four senior players (Yahia, Trochowski, Helmes and Risse) who don't have contracts beyond this year. I'm unlikely to keep any, although Risse remains a possibility - if we can moderate his salary demands. What we need for the future is mainly a dynamic winger, and I'm not sure if Biglia is going to be ready to fill that role yet next year - and if not, do we spend big money on someone? Expecting that in some time later, unless he flames out, Biglia will be such a player? Of course there's also the issue of players who will be in their last contract year next year, which group includes Dante, Bradley, Sandro, Sukuta-Pasu, Derdiyok and Schürrle. There are intriguing questions about that group; why are Derdiyok and Sukuta-Pasu so far off their forms of the previous couple of years; is Dante too old for a large contract, esp with the presence of Walker, whom we may or may not be able to hold on to for the longer term; is Sandro worth what he'll undoubtedly ask given the kinds of agents the Brazilian players all have? Is Bradley a part of the long term future, or should we let him move somewhere else? That last question would have a clearer answer if Bender had come back to the club and torn the place up with superior performances, which has not been the case. And the elephant in the room is whether I'll be around for all of this...

Fitness wise, Walker is coming back now, while Trochowski and Schürrle are still out.

Wow, Rangers are sitting 7th with only two matches to go before the split, three points behind Aberdeen. Will they somehow miss getting into the Championship Group? For a club like Rangers, you'd think that would be the end for the manager, Ally McCoist currently holds that uncomfortable seat.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - TSV 1860 München
Score: 4-0 (Biglia 13, Sukuta-Pasu 21, 37, Winter 74)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Big-time rotation here, with Inter coming up in a few days. Four kids playing, and it's Biglia in his debut who blows his first chance but his hot shot from in close can't be controlled by the keeper and he puts it in off the block. The hard work was done by Troost on the left, he could have tried to score but put it through instead. Two more chances in short order, should have been 3-0 by 17 minutes, instead it's 2-0 on 21 as Sukuta-Pasu rockets one in. The subs seem really motivated for this one! Sukuta-Pasu gets a second, love to see him off his funk... Jorgensen comes out to save him - he's the left wing with Schürrle out; and Dieye because of a knock. Fernandez replacing Jorgensen comes in, takes a free kick, and Winter has headed in for the 4th goal. Nice intro! Very happy with this performance, and result... though Bayern win by the same 4-0 score, it's all over now but one last bit of math: we're 18 points up with six to go, and have a massive goal difference advantage, +53 to +27. That can't be caught, but let's wait for one more point gained for us or dropped for Bayern to declare it officially won. Nowak showing signs of being a very good keeper; Biglia scores on his debut; Winter gets a goal and is very solid in central defense; and Dieye plays a good 70 minutes until subbed as the right back. And Troost and Sukuta-Pasu finally both put in good shows up top. How can you ask for more?

Oh, weird timing here... Inter have sacked Juan Carlos Garrido, who has been there almost exactly two years, just days before our matchup in the ECC - and the press have decided I could be tempted into the job! I'm not going to feed the troll; no comments from me on speculation.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - FC Internatzionale Milan (ECC Qtr Final Leg 1)
Score: 2-0 (Botia 76, Risse 80)
Summary: Inter bring what ought to be a pretty good lineup to Germany... the interesting choice is former Grenoble keeper Brice Maubleu (also spent one year at Sunderland, without ever playing); he's only appeared once as a starter and once as a sub, but as timing would have it, Julio Cesar is not quite back from injury (he's on the bench, but not really fit) and backup Tommaso Berni is out for sure injured. Besides that, the back line of Maicon, Kjaer, Hangeland and Fabio; midfield of Pandev, Coutinho, Defour and Vukcevic (all players we've had at least a look at) and forwards Eto'o and Hulk, are plenty to strike fear into an opponent. We've made a very bright start, but when we might have scored Botia's header clips the bar and Inter barely clear. Kiessling stoned by the inexperienced keeper, but the flag was up anyway. Our play is absolutely superb for the first 25, and I'm terrified it will cost us because we've not cashed it in. Things are starting to go not quite as well... It's 0-0 at the break. The second half we've having a go again. One golden chance goes awry, Kiessling has gotten around and from the left he's got an empty net to shoot at, but the angle is too tough for him, it hits the side netting. That one needed to go in... Some subs... Kiessling out for S-P, then tired Jorgensen is out, Fernandez moves left and Pamić is in. Botia!!!! Out of nowhere, we've got one, a Fernandez free kick sneaks in to find Alberto charging for the far post and he directs it past the keeper. Oh, my!!! We've been a bit short for the bench, Schürrle and Trochowski are injured, new guy Biglia is completely gassed after his week-end performance... and in this one, Sam got too tired. And rare choice Risse has come on and scored!!!! Sandro to Sukuta-Pasu, he sneaks through and should have scored, but just wide on the shot. Defour's wild shot means we'll keep the clean sheet. This is a good result, but the deal's not sealed; we're up 2-0 on aggregate, and Inter have no away goals. But 80,000 at Guiseppe Meazza is never easy, and Inter may well have a manager by then, who knows how that will motivate them - they didn't look too sharp today. We did leave this one late. The other match of the day is Arsenal 0-2 Olympique Lyonnais. Still the French are battling, two time winner OM are out, but OL are looking very tough.

Wednesday, it's yet-another-Clasico, R.Madrid 0-1 Barca, and in the other match, Sevilla 2-1 Man City.

There's always a surge from Bayern, this one has come too late; it's seven wins in a row, but a point for us in the next one and it's all over (or draw or loss for Bayern). The next opponent are Dortmund who had the greatest surge in goal scoring terms - but it's run out of fuel now. They're dropped to sixth with only five points from the last nine matches, and only six goals in that time - we seem to have knocked the stuffing out of them, because the match just before that run began was our 3-1 defeat of them in the German Cup.

Sheesh, here it is, Inter have come with a job offer. It's for five years, €76,000/week (Leverkusen are paying €39,000/week); transfer budget of €40m (Leverkusen €32.4m), payroll budget €2.5m/week, €1.46m used (Leverkusen €1.445m, €1.097 used). Now what do I do? It's a good offer certainly; basically doubles the salary from 2m to 4m/year but I'm not blown away by the resources the club are making available compared to here. The nice part is there's a lot of salary room available. I ask for some time to think about it, there's really an uncomfortable conflict of interest as there's a job offer in hand from the team we have to play in a few days.

Match: Borussia Dortmund - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-2 (Troost 46, 48)
League Position: 1st (Winner!)
Summary: Dortmund isn't ever the easiest place to visit, with 80,000 screaming fans usually there. We've almost made a great start, Troost cuts in and bends a shot that's heading for the corner at 3 minutes, Weidenfeller just gets up to tip it over. Things seem to be open - there's lots of space on the pitch somehow, and Dortmund have worked for a score, it's Grosskreutz. We're let off the hook by the assistant who flags for offside - I didn't see anything wrong, but he's got a line to look down and we don't from the bench. We have a very similar setup, but Dante's header goes over. Grosskreutz with another header - no question of offside this time, but also the ball doesn't come close. We've finally had a pair of chances in the 44th after really having trouble making headway - first Troost sneaks through but he his shot pushed away, then Reale follows with a blast which is saved. The momentum continues, though, Troost comes around the right of his defender and drills in an angled shot in the first minute of the 2nd period. And it doesn't take long to add to the lead, Winter steps into a passing lane, starts a break our way, Sukuta-Pasu is going wide right; Felipe Santana has it well covered as the pass can't get through to Troost, but he doesn't control either, and Troost loops around him to get the loose ball and ram it in. Feeling the job's done we go back to sleep. Well, that's an unfair generalization, we actually continue to defend very well, we just don't make many more big chances. A counterattack led by Troost is almost his third, but the passing shot goes just a bit wide. Grosskreutz is in on Adler by himself, but it's hard to beat Adler and he rushes in his effort to do so and fires over. We've held the home side to seven shot attempts, only two on target, you have to say a deserved win. And, with only a point needed, the three points are plenty to wrap up our third title in a row!!!

Other two ECC pairs go first this time... Barca 1-0 Real Madrid, so 2-0 on aggregate; and Man City 3-0 Sevilla, which makes it 4-2 on aggregate.

Match: FC Internatzionale Milan - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Qtr Final Leg 2)
Score: 1-4 (Destro 32 - Schürrle 6, Derdiyok 10, Kiessling 76, Hangeland o.g. 79) Leverkusen win 6-1 on aggregate
Summary: We've made a sharp start, and an absolutely glorious cross by Sam is headed home with emphasis at the far post by Schürrle - Sam has the quality at times, if he could just bring it out a bit more; Schürrle's as I've gushed before has gotten there this year. So we're +3, and have the away goals advantage. Beautiful sliding tackle by Sandro launches the break, Sam sends Derdiyok clear through and he nails the long shot (if it's me I'd go closer but he took it and took it well)... up 2-0 only 9:09 in. Good call by the staff: scouting said to tackle Coutinho aggressively and that's who Sandro has picked clean. Some good defending and some good luck in our end: Hulk's bursting through and Walker recovers out of nowhere to tackle him at the edge of the box, it squirts to his strike partner Reus who puts it off the post, then Walker airmails it into the seats ("row Z", as they say). Sam's set up what should be the third goal but Kiessling slide-pokes it and that means not quite enough power to beat Julio Cesar. And Hangeland takes his turn to send it to row Z! Kiessling goes, he's gotten past Hangeland too easily (things to keep in mind if I take the job), but sends the shot over. So much action, not even at the half hour yet! The mark is reached with an injury to Botia... Yahia comes in, and we've quickly given up a goal, it's not much anyone's fault as a bit of luck for Inter, Defour's shot or cross from the left comes weirdly off the inside of the upper far corner, nobody could work that bounce but it happens to be in Destro's reach. Footrace, Hulk wins it but Adler wins the resulting 1v1. Good pick by Fernandez, here's Derdiyok trying to break, he gets two cracks at it but no joy. Second-half time seems to pass much quicker. Kiessling has a couple of goes,both off target. But then he sneaks into the box, receives, and on a very difficult shot rockets it in upper left. Tie over!!! Jorgensen has two acres of space on the left, then when Maicon comes out to cover he absolutely schools him and the feed inside sees Pamić get the better position than Hangeland and dribble it in. Contribution for the two "fresh legs" subs! Well, Pamić has been robbed of credit, they're calling it Hangeland's own-goal. 10 minutes... gets a little sloppy late but it's done, and we're through, rather convincingly... let's keep this form going, shall we? OL lose the home leg 1-2 to Arsenal but still prevail 3-2 on aggregate. Botia will miss maybe three weeks, we would have him back for any possible cup finals, but not for the ECC semi final (finals dates are 23 May for the German Cup, 30 May for the Champions Cup).

The draw for the semifinal is OL v Leverkusen, Man City v Barcelona. What can you say; it's France #1 v. Germany #1; England #2 v Spain #1. Pretty good representation for the semi finals. Our pair will be 28 April (Tues.) and 6 May (Wed.).

In Scotland, the Split has been reached, 33 played, and the first six are: 1. Hibernian 70, 2. Celtic 68, 3. Motherwell 57, 4. Falkirk 55, 5. Hearts 51, 6. Aberdeen 57. That's right! Rangers have missed making the Championship Group and won't finish higher than 7th!! There will be a price to pay, I'm sure, very hard to see how McCoist can survive. Two-team race for the title. Hibernian continue a dream season... somehow they've pulled a miracle escape against Benfica in the Euro Cup, after losing the home leg 0-1 they win 2-1 in Portugal 2-1 to advance on away goals to face Stade Malherbe Caen in one semifinal; they're still in the Scottish cup (that thing they haven't won forever) although the semi final with Celtic will be tough. They did fail to win the league cup, losing in the final to Motherwell. The league will probably go down to the final day when they host Celtic. Good stuff, even if there aren't very many of my old players I can point at. But it seems the club passed some sort of tipping point where it can support itself and continue to get decent players when some of the ones they have leave - I remember that first year when we were scraping to get any kind of bodies at all in to strengthen, with no transfer budget and heavy debt.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FC Köln
Score: 1-0 (Sandro 32)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: A bit of a tricky one, league's wrapped up and we've got our home derby with our neighbors - even though I'm not going to run out our top lineup after the trip to Milan, we'll be expected to win, hope the rivalry provides enough motivation. The initial parts of the game are good, but we don't score. As the shot passing game stopped working we go more direct, but it's not really that that leads to a goal on the half hour, just a spectacular shot from Sandro. We almost get a second late in the half when keeper Kessler comes out and deflects wide a shot that was going wide anyway, giving us a corner - which Vida heads on target, but it clips the bar. Technically, only three of 11 shots have been on target. In the second another headed corner just misses, Winter this time. Sandro works inside (what are these attacking skills suddenly?) blasts and beats the keeper, but not the woodwork. Almost disaster inside the final 10 minutes as Vida makes a superb interception, diving with the head, to break up what was going to become an open shot, but it flies right to Schwegler who blasts. Giefer makes a good save on that. Break on, the correct cross from sub Kiessling will find sub Sukuta-Pasu, but he doesn't pick it, waits way too long. Here we are again, this time he picks the right time but floats it, and Kessler times it right and grabs it out of the air. The fresh legs up front causing Köln some trouble, but they haven't been burned by it yet. Contento breaking the other way - no way should that be happening with us nursing a one goal lead in stoppage - and Giefer comes up with a great save. Break for us, Kiessling has a chance, puts it wide. Referee thinks he saw a touch by the keeper, if so it didn't seem to change the path of the ball at all... we'll take the corner though! Only moments left... it's a win, one we should have won by more than 1-0, I'm rather disappointed. : Players who made real impacts on this one were Sandro of course, but also Giefer and Winter.

Giefer is not happy now; he wanted to play more anyway, but the story at Leverkusen is simple: if Adler is healthy and not completely out of form (the latter has basically never happened), he's playing except for an occasional rotation. Adler is approaching career 300 league appearances, the unquestioned #1 since 2007. At 30 and as a goalkeeper you'd figure he's got at least five more good seasons in him, perhaps many more if he chooses to go on. I think Giefer understands this dilemma, but because of the structure of German football there's another problem: once he wasn't able to play for the U23's, which are the replacement for but not the equivalent to reserves in some other places, we can't provide a string of regular matches, even if they're at a lower level, to keep the player sharp. This is why we went out to get Nowak - to eventually have a #2 keeper who can still be slotted in to U23 matches as needed for match fitness. The problem now being that staff already consider Nowak at 19 the superior keeper to Giefer at 24. So Giefer should be offered out for transfer as the season ends. This isn't a surprise, I've talked about it before, but for a "slightly concerned" player he certainly put in a top class performance in this one. Won't hurt his marketability any!!! Of course it's not all simple; Nowak currently appears to have the potential quality to be a Bundesliga #1 - for a top club even - and might not want to wait until Adler is done - or maybe he will turn out so good he takes the top job before then. We only got him out of Bayern at a somewhat reasonable price ("concerning" some of the fans in the process - silly, you think we can't hire a youth player from Bayern if he would fit our club well?) because they have another young goalkeeper whom they fancied more, in Mutala Sidibe. So they were going to have the same problem but worse, Yohann Pele (32) as the #1, Thomas Kraft (26) as the #2, and Sidibe (20) as the #3 in their squad right now - one more kid waiting in the wings wouldn't really help them.

Always nice to see the evolution of youngsters, with match congestion and some injuries Mitchell Winter has played three times for the senior side in April, and has recorded an average rating of 7.8 in those. Such ratings are an aberration but three very good league appearances in a row is certainly a sign of something good. Even more trouble for the gradually displaced Dante, I guess. Well, this is stuff we all get to just evolve.

Other club musings... it's helpful that Fernandez has come on strong in the later part of the season after a rough, and injury plagued beginning - because Pamić, who was trying to make us forget Fernandez was a key player in the beginning, has tailed off. It's hard to say if it was a good run sort of sliding away, if it was running out of gas in his first season with a key role, or if he tailed off when he saw he was getting less time as Fernandez came back into form. I suppose the "true life" explanation is some of all of those.

Match: TSG 1899 Hoffenheim - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-2 (Yarmolenko 35 - Troost 1, Sukuta-Pasu 38)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: Our next opponent, Hoffenheim, are doing well, trying to establish themselves into 3rd, which would be good for an ECC qualifying spot. Only got two points on Schalke, though, so this matters to them. They've had a rough go against us, we're 7-3-0 in the last 10. Playing in their park, and having the big match with OL in three days, it's not going to be the "attacking XI", we'll use the flat 4-4-2, Fernandez and Sandro to be saved. Oooh, nice, lazy Hoffenheim back line, knowing they score most early we sat back to counter, and a long ball just wasn't dealt with, Troost through to score, it's on 32 seconds in!!! Horrid stuff really, keeper Starke was out to field after the back line botch, and it looks to have gone through his legs, with Troost happy to collect on the other side. Wow! This one looks wild, we almost score, then Hoffenheim have gone off post, then we've had a break but Troost loses control, then we blow another chance, then Hoffenheim can't get a good shot out of a great chance, Giefer (couldn't keep him out after an 8.X performance last time) catching happily. All in 10 minutes. Castro's free kick whizzes inches over. We get careless and Yarmolenko puts it in, a shot of excellent quality. That's followed by a cross of pure brilliance by Sam, leaving Sukuta-Pasu to tap in at the far post when only the inch perfect ball could have gotten to him. Schürrle for Sam is a planned replacement at the break, we want both next time out. We have an astonishing attack around 72 minutes, several chances and the most astonishing bit is it doesn't go in. Very nearly a fluke goal, a cross from wide left, considering the angle maybe 45 yards, has come in, beaten Giefer, but clipped the bar. A couple more Hoffenheim tries are agonizingly close, we're having to hang on for dear life here... and we've hung on. It's a tough away win, with some good performances and some disappointing ones, not going to say too much but congratulations, and we'll get back together soon to put the finishing touches on preparing for OL.

Due to the schedule - we have a morning film session and tactical discussion, but no physical training - I'm able to hop over to Scotland and see an amazing Scottish Cup semifinal between two apparently utterly evenly matched clubs, Hibernian and Celtic. 1-0 to Hibs, they're in the final, which if won would cement Owen Coyle's status as a Hibernian icon as manager. As I noted back in the reports from when I was there, only two Scottish Cup wins, 1887 and 1902. There have been eight unsuccessful final appearances since that last win, the last in 2001. The opponent will be Aberdeen (penalty shootout winner over Hearts) who are not starving the same way, although silverware has been elusive since the departure of Alex Ferguson, now Sir Alex, of Manchester United fame.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Olympique Lyonnais (Champions Cup Semi Final Leg 1)
Score: 3-0 (Kiessling 9, Fernandez 38, Derdiyok 81)
Summary: And here we go... one more tie to win to return to the final. Adler as to save an Eriksen free kick early. Then on a corner, Tafer wins a battle, turns, and finds himself wide open; this shot is saved as well. Then we've lit it up to score, a counterattack where Derdiyok weaves his way through two and blasts. Lloris is up to stopping it, but Kiessling flies through to be first to the ball and blasts it in, 9th minute. Kiessling should have scored on an individual effort, 29th, but in the end the shot has nowhere near enough power to trouble Lloris. We have a burst in the few minutes continuing this, then Adler has to rescue a shot by Tafer. A shout out to Schürrle, it's a small thing but Kadlec has slipped, his man goes by him, and is cleaned of the ball by Schürrle making a run back from his wing position when he saw the problem. Wonderful bit of covering! Fernandez is way out in front and scores, not sure how he's not offside. All started from that play by Schürrle. After the break, we're mostly defending, looking for chances to counter. We've got one just past the hour, Fernandez has put Derdiyok through, don't know how Lloris managed to stop that shot. Suarez has made a long run down the right and crossed, it's heading for Motta who's made the far post run, but Adler gets up to tip it over his head. Good use of angles gets Derdiyok space for a shot in the 82nd and he buries it, so we'll take a commanding lead to Lyon for the second leg. I'm happy enough: we weren't really at our best, the French clubs do give us a hard time. We've been pretty clinical: outshot 16-13 (at home, remember), we score three of the seven on target, could have had a couple more; Lyon have missed the net 10 times. They've had the better of possession, 55/45, and we passed pretty poorly (72% is poor for us), while OL were better at 83%. So as I said, pleased to come away with 3-0 from that performance.

Quite a month, 7-0-0, although the superb performance of the first four matches - 12-1 aggregate stood out over the final three matches.

Because the competition for Europe leaves a lot of teams still in play, and because the third-bottom "relegation playoff" spot is also very close, the whole table is shown this time: with three matches left, there are only two clubs who don't seem to be in either equation, #10 Werder and #11 Köln.

End of Month Table (31 pld):
1. Leverkusen 82 (Winner)
2. Bayern 62 (ECC)
3. Hoffenheim 53
4. Schalke 52
5. Stuttgart 49
6. Wolfsburg 46
7. Frankfurt 45
8. Dortmund 44 +20
9. HSV 44 -5
10. Werder Bremen 39
11. Köln 38
12. Gladbach 34 -13
13. Bochum 34 -18
14. 1860 Munchen 33
15. Mainz 31 -18
16. Cottbus 31 -20
17. Kaiserslautern 27
18. Aachen 21 (Relegated)

Overall a small loss for the month at €603k, turnover is €9.6m down from €10.4m, with price money really helping things out. Expenses are €10.21m down from €10.95m. We've actually gone into the red for the year, knowing the May prize money is coming, a win in the OL tie where we have a nice lead will bring two pots of money - for winning the tie, and then for appearing in the final, win or lose (bigger of course with a win), plus the ECC TV money, plus the league win. We'll see next month how that all adds up. Not sure it will meet the €42.4m net profit of last year. The board seem happy, we have after all hit all three targets (league win, German Cup final, Champions Cup 1/4 final) and can still surpass two of them; on net transfer spend we had €32.4m and after our rather limited dealings we have €34.3 left! On salaries, we did go up but we're still spending just €1.1m of the €1.45m allocated.
May 2015

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 5-1 Werder Bremen (Troost 16, 36, 83, Jorgensen 43, Derdiyok 57 - Salamon 64)
Olympique Lyonnais 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen (Champions Cup Semi Final Leg 2) (Briand 50, Tafer 58) Leverkusen win 3-2 on aggregate
Eintracht Frankfurt 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Rosenthal 81 - Jorgensen 35, Troost 55)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 VfB Stuttgart (Botia 36, Troost 41)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 1.FSV Mainz 05 (German Cup Final) (Botia 22, Trochowski 51)
Manchester City 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen (European Champions Cup Final - Amsterdam ArenA) (Tevez 26 - Kiessling 28, Derdiyok 80)

So we're into the final month of the season; and possibly the final month of my tenure at Leverkusen. It's a bit early to do a "post mortem" but I can't leave thinking about the Inter offer entirely to the end - nor a not-entirely-impossible Chelsea offer, as the manager Manzano is supposed to be in trouble there again. It's been a unique situation, not one too many managers are lucky enough to slot into; usually a job opens because the previous manager has been sacked, and that indicates some level of under-performance with respect to expectations by the team. I came in on the heels of what was essentially two title-winning seasons (as has been noted several times before, the second of those Leverkusen ended up second to Bayern only on goal difference, level for the top on points), then the manager retired. So I got a club that was not under-performing in any real sense, nor was it an aging club at the end of a good run, so my job has been to keep the performance up and improve as much as possible on it, and to manage the gradual transition from a few older player to new, sort contract situations, etc. At this point in the season - just a few matches to go - we've had 22 players appear 15 or more times for the senior side. It's reflective of how solid the group I inherited was that there are so few newcomers in that 22... one of my first signings, defensive stalwart Alberto Botia is there, as are fellow first-XI choices Sandro, Kyle Walker and Matias Fernandez. So it seems a bigger change than I'm making out that four starters are my acquisitions, but only Botia was an immediate "we need to upgrade here" buy, and there's no regrets at all buying him but if Domagoj Vida was two years further along in his development at the time, I might not even have looked for a starter in that spot. For the other three, they were somewhat opportunistic buys - Fernandez was free, but I wasn't sure he'd just take over as a first choice central midfielder - I was only asking for "strengthen the position", and Sandro and Walker were plucked out of Tottenham Hotspur, where they were under appreciated, for about the same price (€3.4m and €3.5m) and just forced their way in as starters, even though for both I was thinking backup/strengthen. The other newcomers in that group of 22 are Bender (who of course is a returnee), Troost, and Ivan Bustos. The second most keeper appearances, although not hitting my 15 match cutoff, is Giefer, who is also an incumbent from before I arrived.

So... what does this mean? I've been comfortable at the club, there have been no tensions with board or fans, only with a few players who find themselves out of the rotation, whom I've been able to move out of the club with no lasting repercussions (sometimes the players' buddies do get offended but it's been manageable). I could easily stay, so maybe it's a question of ambition. And a question of family. Without being offensive, it's neighboring Cologne that was appealing to the family at first, it's a beautiful city, but to be honest they don't seem as happy here as when we first arrived. It's possible to argue that Leverkusen aren't the biggest club, but we've moved them onto the forefront of the European, and to some extent world, stage (there's really no worldwide marketing effort like you'd see from a club like a Manchester United, but we're certainly known due to several years in the Champions Cup, including a final two years ago. The fun part has been there's not much pressure: what's happened has been really over performing on a club-historical basis, although last year's early departure from the German Cup brought some flames. Will this pressure get worse a club that now has more resources, more fans, and now much higher expectations, tries to progress? That is, have I pushed the bar too high to keep having fun?

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Werder Bremen
Score: 5-1 (Troost 16, 36, 83, Jorgensen 43, Derdiyok 57 - Salamon 64)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: Can we find the motivation in this one, where the league is done and dusted? Vida is there to head Castro's free kick, but over. Werder have a good rush but we clean it out, then we have a spell of considerable dominance. Jorgensen lays of to Troost who has to rush his effort. Troost is coming down the left looking for a cross... beats his man, all of a sudden he's got space, the next man has tracked back look for runners in the box, and the keeper is playing for a centered ball, he's able to put it in near side. Wow, what a goal! Troost is causing Werder all kinds of trouble, and collects a long diagonal ball and goes in to score a 2nd. Jorgensen is there to tap in a diagonal cross... Castro left him with very little to do, only a decent first touch. In the second, Adler has to make a glorious save in the midst of some close-in play, then coming the other way, Castro crosses for Jorgensen again, he's there but heads over. Long ball, footraces, Derdiyok wins - and bangs it in the back of the net. Back heel from Beausejour, blast by Salamon, it's caught the upper left, 4-1. Even though it's against us, have to say that was a pretty goal. If the front two work this one right it should be the 5th... they do, but Wiese comes up with a great save on Derdiyok. Troost with a nice little move, he's half-clear but puts it wide. Troost takes it away and he's in, and there's the hat trick! Mertesacker picked clean, although to be fair the back pass put him in a tough position. It's a really nice win in a situation where I wasn't sure we'd find enough motivation.

In what to me is a real stunner, Gaby Agbonlahor gets a late goal for Man City to level their match with Barca, and they win the tie 2-1 on aggregate. Barca were dominant for huge stretches of the match but could only get the one goal. So City are into the Champions Cup final to face us. It's not like you want to fail to respect Manchester City, but it's got to be a better chance for us than Barcelona. If we can take care of the rest of the business and get to the final ourselves.

Match: Olympique Lyonnais - Bayer Leverkusen (Champions Cup Semi Final Leg 2)
Score: 2-0 (Briand 50, Tafer 58) Leverkusen win 3-2 on aggregate
Summary: It's a madcap first half with end to end action. We're not playing the best we've ever played. We've had our chances, OL have had a few more, but both keepers are good and the teams are not really on target much. When Adler is beaten on a corner, Kadlec saves the day. 25 total shots in the first half! OL score early in the 2nd, on a pretty dubious play, Briand puts in a cross, looked well offside. We're getting picked to pieces now, and inside the hour it's only a one-goal aggregate difference as Tafer puts one in. In my opinion, Fernandez has been absolutely superb, but whatever he makes on the offensive end (and he's defending well too), nobody can convert. Sub Troost has missed one now. And another. Indeed a miserable performance winds down, but it's still enough to advance in the tie. I'm quite unhappy with this show, but all I can do is congratulate the guys on advancing, and say we're going to have to be better in the final.

The battle in Spain is insane, apropos nothing... four clubs at the top within a point of each other at the top (Sevilla, At.Madrid, Barcelona and Getafe). R.Madrid are only five points off the top, with four left they're not completely out of it either.

Our next opponents, for the penultimate game of the league season, are Frankfurt. They started their promotion season superbly, 9-1-1 from the first 11 and only four goals conceded in that time - through 8 Nov. They started to leak goals at that point, but were good enough to still be second in the table at the turn of the year. Then a little bit of righting of the ship after a bad run of seven, as they conceded only four in five games - but drew all five; then after one win the wheels came off completely, no wins with six losses in the last eight, and the once high fliers find themselves 9th and - and are now 11th in terms of fewest conceded, from being the top defensive club for a while. So it goes when you're new to the division I guess - you can surprise people for a while, but a season is long.

Match: Eintracht Frankfurt - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-2 (Rosenthal 81 - Jorgensen 35, Troost 55)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: Against an evidently very motivated Frankfurt in their final home game of the season, and in the pouring rain, we're playing very poorly. Mostly we've held them in check until on the half hour El Kabir is wide open in front after a lovely entry pass... eight yards out, a touch to six, and he amazingly shanks it wide! What a let-off. We're not good on attack; there's always set plays, right? Castro almost scores off a free kick, but in what I assume is shades of Frankfurt's early season success, Fahrmann gets across with an amazing tip out. This is the key to a spell of pressure, though, and we've scored from it, some lax defending let us make several passes inside the box, Jorgensen eventually taking it off Daiku's foot and poking it in. To open the second, Fahrmann makes a great save from Bustos. A second goal is set up by Jorgensen, but needed to glance off a defender before it came clear to Troost. A goal's been coming for a while for Frankfurt, though and it's in from a corner, Rosenthal beating sub Vida. Nearly a second, then troublemaker Jorgensen comes close to setting up one for us in stoppage time. We're rumbling along picking up a record number of points, now up to 88.

Although they couldn't survive to make the final in the Euro Cup, Hibernian have retained the Scottish Premier League title in advance of the expected final-day decider v. Celtic when Celtic stumbled at Aberdeen and Hibs got past Falkirk in the 37th round. There are battles elsewhere that are even closer: in England Arsenal lead Man United by one point with two left; in Spain four sides are within three points, At.Madrid and Getafe sharing the top, with two left.

We've been remarkably clear of really serious injuries, we get one at the very end, backup left back Bastian Oczipka breaks a leg in training, will miss 5-6 months, and to his disappointment, the two finals. This isn't crippling for us, but may accelerate the need to make sure we've got a future left back solution - Oczipka is still young enough at 26 but doesn't really seem to be a candidate to be the starter, although his tendency has been to finish seasons strongly; incumbent Kadlec is 30, so it doesn't seem we have a looming problems here, but other folks who can play the positions - Vida, Dieye and Dante - aren't natural at it, and youngster Glowacz is probably not more than a future backup if we're to continue playing at the level we're at now.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - VfB Stuttgart
Score: 2-0 (Botia 36, Troost 41)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: The final regular season match sees largely our first choice XI with the fans coming out to party - the two finals won't be held at home. Stuttgart look very sharp off the kickoff, but we soon get things going, and Troost should have done better in the 9th minute. Botia heads over son after, then Schürrle misses a turning shot. Kiessling nearly, good save... surely the goal is coming soon now? Troost has one saved, then Vida heads over. What a barrage... A pair of corners past the half hour and on the second finally the goal comes, Botia with the header with Schürrle receiving short and putting it up. Stuttgart nearly answer back with a corner of their own, Kranjcar blasting, but a deflection took a bit of the sting off and Nowak just barely grabs it in time. Fernandez feeds Troost and he attacks the end line, then cuts in and slips it past the keeper, 2-0. That seems to largely spend our burst and there's not much of great note the rest of the way: Kiessling draws one good save, the rest of our efforts - not too frequent - are off target. In the end we've controlled proceedings during the 40+ minutes when the match hung in the balance, then let of once the two-goal lead was secured, so the scoreboard is not as impressive as it could have been. However...

We've wrapped up the season with a crushing margin of victory, 23 points over Bayern. We're the top points team ever with 91, and top the league in most goals at 80 (which is well off the record) and fewest conceded at 16 - 11 and 10 goals clear of the nearest competitor, respectively. It adds up to an impressive season, it's hard to say why I had nervous moments many times while it was going on.

Two matches left, both for silverware... are these the last two in my Leverkusen career? I still don't know. Wins in both would certainly leave a "nothing left to achieve" scenario, but building a long-term power might still be appealing.

It's an interesting job on the mental side for the DFK Pokal (German Cup) final... of course it's a huge deal in Germany to win the cup, something Leverkusen have done only three times, but with wins in 2011 and 2013 there's recent good history. The opponent are a Mainz squad we know pretty well, and one we've beaten nine of the last 11 meetings, the exceptions being a 2-2 away draw in Feb 2013, and a 2-3 away loss in April 2012 - the last four have been wins with an aggregate score of 15-3. They've only managed 13th in the 18-team Bundesliga, and were only three points clear of playoff sufferer Kaiserslautern (with Gladbach and 1860 Munchen in between). Mainz as a club have pretty much no top-level honors; they've won some lower divisions seven times but no cups and nothing of note in the Bundesliga. So despite the cup prestige, complacency is more than possible.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FSV Mainz 05 (German Cup Final)
Score: 2-0 (Botia 22, Trochowski 51)
Summary: I've decided on a lineup not too dissimilar to what we played in a number of other cup matches, what many would call a backup lineup. There's a European Final coming, and a number of players who won't start there seem to deserve their own chance to win silverware. We have problems early but the side gradually find their feet, and it's one of the normal first XI, Botia, who opens the scoring from a corner. That's all there is for the half. I give the lads a suggestion to be a little more aggressive defensively - and it almost pays off right away, rarely used Trochowski slides in with a tackle, goes to get the ball, and loops in a lovely cross that Jorgensen just can't quite get on target. There's an element of Cup-caution in the play, nobody wants to make a mistake, but that notwithstanding Trochowski puts in an absolutely wonderful goal where he took a long shot while nothing good would open up in front of him. First goal of the season; the man has had a few chances - not of course nearly as many as he'd like - and done nothing with them so far, but what a moment! Many more chances have come and gone through the first hour, we haven't made those hard enough for Al-Habsi. Reale snaps off a shot and is unlucky, it's going in but doesn't quite dip enough to beat the bar, the keeper was nowhere. Going into the 73rd now, surely can't give up the lead. A couple of midfield changes for fresh legs, then Dante impossibly misses a close in chance. Mainz having some good play in the final 10 now... and they're equally unlucky to see a headed corner go off the bar. Lovely bending shot from Troost, just draws a last-ditch save from Al-Habsi. We don't mind too much we can't score, continued pressure has kept Mainz from building anything, and it's a win in the German Cup! I should be vastly more excited than I am; a little jaded maybe with the successes. Really good show from the back four - Babacar Dieye getting a look at left back, and the other three being key starters from not long ago, Botia Dante and Castro, though now only Botia's a regular first XI, playing because after his injury we're making sure he's as match fit for the ECC Final as possible.

Someone reports a ridiculous stat, and it's that Leverkusen haven't lost for 24 matches in a row in the German Cup. It's not at all true, I guess you could argue it in kind of a twisted way: six wins in a run to the cup in 10/11 with the last two going to extra time; two wins and a penalty shootout loss to Dortmund in 2011; an excellent cup run with six wins and only two goals conceded in 12/13 - but still two went to extra time in earlier rounds; two wins and a penalty shootout loss to Hannover in 2013, and the six wins this year - one more in extra time. So no losses from field play in 24, but two losses in penalty shootouts - and those are still losses in the Cup record.

Hibernian have done it! They've won the Scottish Cup, I'm sad I couldn't be there to see it, and disappointed I'm not the manager who got them over that incredible block. The Hibernian Scottish Cup winner's record now looks like: 1887, 1902, 2015 !!!!!!! Rangers of Glasgow are in search of a new coach, not really a surprise. They've finished 7th, as high as they could get after failing to make the Championship Group after the split, they're 26 points total off the lead of Hibernian, who lost their now-meaningless final game against Celtic. Someone will get to do a complete rebuild job, only 16 senior and reserve players are under contract going to next season.

In the second leg of the German relegation playoff, Kaiserslautern survive: their home leg ended 0-0 but going away to Union Berlin, facing a fight for their top division lives, they come up big with a 6-2 win!!!

The club that have a job offer out to me, Inter Milan, have won a very poor match v. bottom side Bari, but somehow it gives them 4th and a Champions Cup qualifier (I don't get the math here, they're behind #5 Genoa on goal difference, the Italian rules must include head-to-head I guess since that advantage goes to Inter). Inter had a horrid streak in the league in 2012 - starting 18 Jan, five draws, two losses, two more draws, another loss, a draw, a loss... brief respite with a win, then two more losses. That's 12 winless, and only 11 points from 15. No wonder they sacked the manager. No club in the world deserves to get a Champions Cup spot off that performance!

We've been snubbed in post-season Bundesliga awards again: Gylfi Sigurdsson is footballer of the year and we have nobody in the top three; Yohann Pele is goalkeeper of the year and Adler is not in the top three; no mention in the top three strikers; we have two wingers in midfielder of the year, won by Jorgensen ahead of Schürrle (!!!), and Vida second for defender of the year with Botia not even mentioned. I've lost out for manager of the year to Frankfurt's Thomas Niendorf. The first XI includes, oddly, just Vida and Jorgensen, who both played vary well but wouldn't be our own club-internal choices for best players. ????

Inter irritate me... they've come back for an answer, they promised to wait for the end of the season and we still have the championship of European club football to go, the season isn't over. Moratti wants an answer, we won't let me wait until after the final - only four more days it would have taken for goodness sake. I can't leave my club having brought them to this point, so I decline the offer. This is silly; nobody should be that unreasonable, maybe I shouldn't be working for Italians anyway if it's going to be like this. I was 80% sure I would take the offer if we won the title.

Match: Manchester City - Bayer Leverkusen (European Champions Cup Final - Amsterdam ArenA)
Manchester City: Gk Joe Hart, DL Davide Santon, DC Neven Subotic, Ryan Sahwcross, DR Bacary Sagna, MC Moussa Sissoko, Andea Poli, AML Diego Perotti, AMC Yaya Toure, AMR Pedro Leon, F Carlos Tevez
Subs: Bryan Ruiz (81 for Yaya Toure)
Bayer Leverkusen: GK Rene Adler, DL Michal Kadlec, DC Dante, Alberto Botia, DR Gonalo Castro, DMC Domagoj Vida, ML Andre Schürrle, MR Sandro, AMC Matias Fernandez, F Stefan Kiessling, Eren Derdiyok
Subs: Sidney Sam (45 for Domagoj Vida), Kyle Walker (60 for Gonzalo Castro), Ivan Bustos (88 for Sandro)
Score: 1-2 (Tevez 26 - Kiessling 28, Derdiyok 80)
Summary: City have the first couple of rushes, then there's some room for Kiessling, he gets his shot past the keeper but it's just barely wide of the post. Derdiyok looks sure to score but the flag is up, then Kiessling puts one into the side netting. We partly clear out a corner but Perotti has picked it up, made his way through a couple of defenders and put a pinpoint ball across the box where Tevez bangs it home. City have taken the lead! The answer is immediate, in a sequence right off the kickoff, it ends with Derdiyok returning a pass to Kiessling who places it perfectly in the lower left corner. We're almost at the half hour, nothing to choose between the two yet. Sissoko has put one just wide. Kiessling almost puts us ahead late in the half, he takes a long bending shot that's past the keeper but can't avoid the crossbar. We make a change at the break - Vida not looking effective at DMC so Sandro drops back there and Sam comes in on the right side. The early part of the 2nd half sees few clear openings, finally Sam seems to have one but Hart makes the save, poking the shot wide. Adler has to save from Perotti on the other end. Very dangerous in the 78th, a tackle pokes the ball away from Perotti but it's popped up and is right in the path of the charging - and open - Pedro Leon coming in from the right flank. Adler cuts down the angle and stones his effort. That opens the door for our next corner to be decisive: Derdiyok heads home in the 80th to put us ahead for the first time. It's getting late, Ruiz jukes his was into a yellow card on Sandro where he appeared to be looking to fall down and we saw no contact at all. We clear the free kick though... and a few minutes later it's almost sealed, Sam has found Derdiyok who crushes it, but right at Hart unfortunately. 88th minute corner. A deflected shot bounces into the path of Tevez, but he has to volley it, and Adler stands his ground, then cleanly catches the following corner. One minute of stoppage gone. Perotti offside, that. Could be fatal... Derdiyok's clear! Hart from the goal and Subotic recovering on defense close, and the ball goes over. Looks like it was deflected to me, but referee says goal kick. Time runs out before City can launch a real attack though, and we've won the European Champions Cup!!!! Very even contest; possession was 50/50, shots were 18-17 (in favor of City), passing is 79/76. Free kicks, throws, corners were all close. Where we did show an edge was in tackling and heading proficiency.

Inter don't waste any time, they swoop for Chelsea's manager Gregorio Manzano, who pretty likely would have been sacked anyway, and he takes the job quickly. Chelsea fill their vacancy rapidly by hiring Alex McLeish away from Sunderland, which I don't think is the kind of manager they need. What do I know.

The Leverkusen Board go a bit nuts; they seem to be as happy with me as possible, and the day after the final, announce plans to expand the brand new stadium, just a year after opening, by another 16,000 seats. We've been at 41,262. Until 9 December 2012 the capacity will be reduced by 2475 seats to 38787, as one stand is rebuilt; when complete we should be at 57,200 which would put the club in line, if they can keep filling the ground, to have as much as the 4th highest attendance figure, and we'll have (by a small margin) the largest seated capacity in the Bundesliga (Dortmund, Bayern and Schalke all will have bigger capacities, but based on standing room capacity as well). I think they wanted to jump on the chance while we had money; May prize money brought us to over 50m euros for the month and year, and they've spent about half of it to pay for the expansion. And they'll probably spend the rest of it in declaring a shareholder dividend, if they're smart they'll declare that on profit-after-stadium-spend, but I'm not holding my breath.

The press latches on to the idea that we're after Miralem Pjanic, and the fans get really excited by the idea. The problem is while I like him, he's already a very established player, and the scout who checked him out most recently said "would probably ask for a salary between €155,000 and €205,000" (in addition, of course, to a hefty transfer fee). Rene Adler is our top wage earner at the moment at €69,000. Yes, this is small for a European champion, I know. We were not building from the base of being a rich club, we're a lot better off now, but I can't bring in a new player at more than double the high wage at the club.

Anyway... however you slice it it's been another superb year. If you add in even the friendlies (seven of them), Leverkusen players have pulled on the shirt for a match 54 times, and come away winners 45 of those times. The nine non-winning appearances have been away draws to Gladbach, 1860 Munchen, Werder Bremen and Kaiserslautern and a loss to Schalke in the league; an away draw to Napoli and loss to Real Madrid in Champions Cup Group play; an away knockout round draw to Olympique de Marseille; and an away semifinal loss to Olympique Lyonnais, which was nonetheless enough to secure our progression to the final. Wins on all three fronts.

Season Statistics
Rating: Kiessling 7.49, Botia 7.43, Kadlec 7.34, Jorgensen 7.25, Walker 723, Sandro 7.22, Adler 7.21
Goals: Kiessling 28 Derdiyok 14, Troost 10, Botia 10, Schürrle 9, Sukuta-Pasu 9
Assists: Pami? 11, Jorgensen 10, Derdiyok 9, Bustos - Sam - Kiessling - Kadlec 8, Fernandez 7
Appearances (starts): Vida 40 (35), Kiessling 39 (36), Schürrle 39 (33), Adler 37, Sam 37 (26), Jorgensen 37 (20), Botia 35, Sandro 35 (2), Bradley 35 (18)
Passing: Troost 82, Bradley 82, Bustos 82, Sandro 81, Fernandez 81

Or pictorially:

On the team front, we've ended the league with the top scoring mark (80, 11 ahead of Bayern) and defensive mark (16 conceded, ahead of Schalke's 26). See table below for more. We have the best disciplinary mark, 22 yellow cards, Werder Bremen 17th with 28, Stuttgart 16th with 38; Gladbach had the most with 59. We did have two red cards, Wolfsburg only 1 and Mainz 0.

I'm used to having the most proficient set-piece club, but this time we share the honors with Bayern, 25 goals apiece. Strangely, we scored only one penalty in the league season (Dortmund and Stuttgart 6); 14 from corners was the highest (Gladbach and Werder had 11), and 10 from indirect + direct free kicks - Bayern had 13. Our set-piece goals are down from 29 last year, 33 the year before. Hmmm.

In terms of Average Attendance by Capacity, we were at 97% topping the league, five other clubs were at 95% (for Dortmund of the huge capacity, this meant 77,704 per match; Bayern saw 66,755).

Final Table

I thought we had a good financial result anyway :) Okay, much of the money has been spent, but that's not my problem. At this stage, we're + €26m for the month, +€24 for the year, which is down from €42.4m last year - the drop largely due to the stadium expansion. My guess is we'll be only a few - less than €10m - positive by the end of the year after shareholder payout is done and other expenses are taken care of. Nobody is worried about this though; in April of 2011, the club were hovering under €10m in funds on hand, now it's nearly €150m. Success breeds success, it seems, and spending some of it to try to breed more (bigger stadium capacity to get more match day revenues) while we have the cash is at least somewhat of a sane idea, although it presupposes we'll remain at the level of quality that can take advantage of the extra seating.

League Summary
Winner Leverkusen
ECC Leverkusen, Bayern, Schalke
Euro Cup Hoffenheim (4Q), Dortmund (4Q), Wolfsburg (4Q), Mainz (3Q via German CUp runners up since Leverkusen won and otherwise qualified)
Relegated: Cottbus, Aachen
Promoted: Bielefeld, Hertha BSC
Top Scorer 17 Babacar (Bayern)
Assists: 20 Kroos (Bayern)
Rating: 7.53 Diego (Wolfsburg)

There's a little confusion, Hoffenheim are also listed in the ECC best placed playoff; we're supposed to be 3+3, of course we're guaranteed a spot as ECC champions, but I didn't think that moved the bar down one level. Have to wait and see how this works out when they set the schedules.

Around Europe
English Premier
ECC: 1. Arsenal 88, 2. Man United 82, 3. Spurs 80, 4. Man City 77
Euro: 5. Liverpool 72, 6. Chelsea 57, Everton (FA Cup 2nd, lge 8th), Sunderland (FA Cup winner but Qual. as Euro Cup winner, lge 9th)
Rel: Bristol City, West Ham, West Brom
Prom: Fulham, Burnley, Leeds
Top Scorers: Rooney 35, Tevez 27, Adebayor (Blackb.) 18, Gyan (Sund.) 18

Spanish Liga:
ECC: 1. Getafe 76, 2. At.Madrid 75 +42, 3. Barcelona 75 +33, 4. Sevilla 74
EC: 5. R.Madrid 72, 6. Valencia 63, Osasuna (Cup winner, 16th lge)
Rel: Mallorca, Almeria, Rayo Vallecano
Prom: Celta, Tenerife, Gimnastic
Top Scorers: Thiago Alves 24, Pato 20, Llorente 20, Lekic 19

Italy Serie A:
ECC: Napoli 81, 2. Roma 70, 3. Juventus 66, 4. Inter 60
EC: 5. Genoa 60, 6. Udiense 59
Rel: Ascoli, Cesena, Bari
Prom: Lazio, Padova, Vicenza
Top Scorers: Vucinic 22, Aquafresca 19, Vossen 19, Henrique 17, Hlousek 17, Stuani 17

ECC: 1. O.Lyonnais 83, 2. G.Bordeaux 75, 3. Havre 67 +14, 59gf
EC: 4. PSG 67 +14, 56gf, 5. Monaco 65, Lille (Coupe winner, 12th lge)
Top Scorers: Suarez 19, Carlao 19, Dzeko 16, Nimani 16, Kardec 16
Rel: Bastia, Toulouse, Vaelnciennes
Prom: Sedan Ardennes, USBCO, Chateauroux

ECC: 1. Benfica 69, 2. Porto 63, 3. Maritimo 57 +22
EC: 4. Braga 57 +20, 5. Sporting 56, 6. Vit.Guimaraes 52
Rel: Santa Clara, Rio Ave
Prom: Naval, Boavista
Top Scorers: F.Jara 25, Gogoladze 16, Michel 14

ECC: 1. Hibernian 79, 2. Celtic 76
EC: 3. Falkirk 63, 4. Aberdeen 60, 5. Motherwell 58
Rel: Hamilton
Prom: Partick Thistle
Top Scorers: Griffiths 23, Goodwillie 22, Megginson 22, O'Connor 18
June/July/August 2015

Results for Period
VfL Osnabrück 3-5 Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 1st Rnd) (Alushi 38, 62, Moukandjo 69 - Jorgensen 9, Sukuta-Pasu 17, 78, Winter 43, Troost 58)
DSC Arminia Bielefeld 1-4 Bayer Leverkusen (Adamov 11 - Sam 25, Bradley 52, Derdiyok 72, Jorgensen 88)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 FC Bayern München (Sam 5, Schürrle 77 - Kroos 63)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (Schürrle 14, Kiessling 73, Botia 80 - Salihovic 22)
Sunderland 1-2 extra time Bayer Leverkusen (Euro Super Cup - Stade Louis II, Monaco) 1-2 (Klavan 16 - Botia 90+3, Schürrle 106)

Wouldn't it be nice to just sit back and savor a successful season? Never seems to work that way for managers...

So it's time for one of the usual between-season reflections. Where are we in terms of the club? It's hard to find much fault with a team that soared to a triple, which is the best you can do in German football with only a single cup competition at the top level on offer during the present hiatus of the German Super Cup. We're champions of Europe, do we need to improve? And where am I? On some level, I've got nothing more to accomplish here, but the move to Inter Milan didn't work out when I wouldn't give in to their impatience, and the resulting vacated Chelsea job wasn't offered either, so it looks like I'll be staying here. On the playing side, the potential issue is motivation: we cannot do better (that is, there aren't more season accomplishments to strive for, individual and match results can always get better), and we can easily do worse - and likely I won't be able to avoid inflated expectations on the back of that triple. That's on the playing side; I'd like to think as the manager and part of a good staff that on our side complacency won't become a factor. Is that true?

There's no problem identifying my best XI: GK Adler, DL Kadlec, DC Botia and Vida, DR Walker, DMC Sandro, ML Schürrle, MR Sam, AMC Fernandez and F Kiessling and Derdiyok. Some of the positions have challenges: Vida hasn't run away and completely surpassed Dante, nor has Walker totally taken Castro out of the picture; for me Sam is still not an automatic pick on the right. We have riches in midfield: Bradley and Bender, especially if we play a flat 4-4-2, Bustos and Pamić as well, and Jorgensen wide. We've got two loanees coming back, AMC Naciri and DMC Vazquez. Neither had a spectacular loan year, I'm hoping they play more to what we expect of them when they're back - but we don't have proof that will happen, and even if they do, where do they go? The youngster Biglia had a disappointing year; he missed half of it with a broken leg, and then didn't really come back to the form we think he's capable of. Possibly, Biglia should go out on loan. And there's Enzo Reale, a player I bought when I thought we were in danger of running short of midfield players, but who now is going to really struggle to find playing time. Unless I have a late change of heart, Trochowski and Risse will be allowed to leave on the expiration of their contracts. At forward we're overloaded; the two starters, then Troost (still just 20) who is still improving and could become the best forward we have, and Sukuta-Pasu who had an off year compared to the previous two but we think can still grow better; and the two youngsters I added, Pool (who also is expected to become an extremely good player) and Petr Mares. Three of our wingers can play up top if needed in Schürrle, Jorgensen and Sam - two of those showed some excellent flashes in stints playing forward roles (Sam never got such an assignment). Despite my gushing here, my assistant believes midfield is a weak spot; for a diamond 4-4-2 he doesn't think Fernandez is quite good enough (Giuliano, Gourcuff and Edgar Ivan Pacheco suggested as replacements) and for a flat 4-4-2 he thinks we should also beef up (Pjanic, Fellaini and Huddlestone listed). I don't want Fellaini or Huddlestone, so I'll just quietly let that slide away: Fellaini's personality has never worked for me, and I don't think Huddlestone is tough enough. Pjanic we talked about before... would I bring in a high priced player when we have good attacking mids and the prospect of having better very soon as the three Argentinians and Pamić, and maybe Naciri continue to grow? I'd say I'm on the fence about it, but I'm actually leaning more towards letting what we have show their worth. There's always January if something's seriously deficient.

After the shareholder payout, we were left with €4.7m retained profit for the season. Well, this part isn't my job, we did way better than that off club results/earnings; if they want to spend it, that's their job (see earlier rationale). What they don't seem to have in their hearts, the board that is, is to pay me more: I'm offered a new contract, but it's the same as the old one, which to me doesn't seem quite appreciative enough for having helped to take the club to never-before heights. There's the whole season left on the contract, so I don't have to be in a rush, this offer is rejected.

"Best of" stuff from last season... Kiessling is fan's player of the year, the XI matches mine except Schürrle loses out to Jorgensen in the fans voting: Adler, Kadlec, Vida, Botia, Walker, Sandro, Jorgensen, Sam, Fernandez, Derdiyok, Kiessling, Giefer, Yahia, Schürrle, Pamić, Troost, Oczipka, Sukuta-Pasu. Overall Best XI adds Fernandez, Jorgensen and Sandro.

We'll have an interesting pre-season, the club have decided to send us to Mexico for a brief tour. Not sure why you'd only schedule two friendlies if you go all that way, but whatever. It's an early start to "matches that count" since the German Cup opener falls on the last day of July, then the league opens on 8 August. The friendlies will be a visit to Lille, then newly promoted Sedan Ardennes come to visit us; Irapuato and Pumas will be the two opponents in Mexico, then we come back to host Arsenal, then we visit Spain to play Montaneros who are a low-league club. During the season we'll have some extra bits - we'll face Euro Cup winner Sunderland in the European Super Cup, and we'll have a visit to the Club World Cup.

We've gotten our new youth players, and after not getting anyone with huge potential, we snapped up two out-of-contract players from France, Esteban Cardon and Sebastien Vernay, both fairly highly rated midfielders. Cardon, who arrives immediately and is able to work out for staff, is rated with the potential to be one of the best players at the club, but we have to help bring that to fruition. At the same time, we're losing staff I wanted to keep to other job offers, and other staff that I don't want to keep to contract expiration. So we know we'll need to add a second goalkeeping coach, a physio, a fitness coach and probably one or two field coaches.

The other early transfer activity is I've, as I promised him, put Fabian Giefer up for sale, and he gets only one offer, which I think is badly undervaluing him. It comes from Mainz, and after first expressing some disappointment, he decides he wants the real chance to be a Bundesliga starter, he'll go on July 1. This note is written as June is coming to an end, I'd be surprised if there were not offers for some of our players as the transfer windows open around Europe. If we can't keep all of them, it might, as usual, mean we have to think about whether we have the right kind of coverage at all positions. Right now we're a little heavy in some areas. Before we get to that July 1 date which is magical in most places, we get a second inquiry about Gonzalo Castro, this time from Olympique Lyonnais. The little man is still an excellent player, caught in a bit of a trap: Walker seems to have surpassed him at fullback; he's also a good midfielder, but would he get enough playing time with all the other midfielders we have if we started to shift him more to that focus? Some of the coaches think he'll come very good, better than at fullback, while my main talent consultant, assistant Peter Hermann, is not so convinced. So should we let him go, with no really clear first-team spot? I'm going to chew on it for a little before responding to the inquiry.

In the financial table, we're now considered the 10th richest club, similar to Chelsea who are just ahead of us. Barca and Real Madrid are the top two, Atletico Madrid are 4th, and Arsenal slot in between at 3rd - well ahead of Atleti and well behind the top two. Bayern are next, then Man United, Tottenham and Napoli.

In the UEFA club coefficients we'll occupy the #3 position for the year, behind Barca and OL, ahead of OM, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. In the preliminary rankings for the next year, with no European points at all given away this season, we're top: we have the smallest point total that will fall off the charts.Z

We've drawn Osnabrück for the first round of the German Cup.

The friendly season has been okay; I have to keep telling myself it's about preparation, not about results. The first friendly was quite a match with French side Lille... they fought back from deficits twice, but we answered twice to win 4-3. Three lesser sides resulted in clean sheet wins, then a hard fought 1-1 draw with Arsenal, finished up by a 4-0 win over Spanish side Montaneros. Nothing really to conclude from this. Hoping to see Derdiyok regain form he seemed to be missing last year, and there were some signs he might be doing so.

The plan over the three years here, now beginning the 4th, has been to strengthen and refresh without excessive disruption - it was a good side to begin with. I'm happy with the progress on that front, although we've let go some players that were popular with various segments in the process. Age remains not a big problem - Kiessling and Dante are 31, Kadlec 30; keeper Adler is 30 too, but for a keeper that's nowhere near the dropping off point. As of now, here are German natives in the squad, three Argentinians, two each Brazilians, Croatians and Dutchmen, and ten players each of different nationalities in the approximate senior-team 28 - approximate because not all will play much for the senior side.

Match: VfL Osnabrück - Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 1st Rnd)
Score: 3-5 (Alushi 38, 62, Moukandjo 69 - Jorgensen 9, Sukuta-Pasu 17, 78, Winter 43, Troost 58)
Summary: In a match we're playing what is clearly a 2nd string group, it's a fairly early goal for Jorgensen. The standard has been set during the Friday matches, for a good team, 7-0 should be possible, can we get there? Sukuta-Pasu's tap-in in the 18th makes it seem at least possible. Unlucky not to get his second four minutes later as a lovely opportunistic shot just clips the post. We're clearly way better than this side who were in the top flight not so long ago, but they've scored an opportunistic goal from Alushi in the 38th minute, their first official shot of the game, and again it's not going to be as easy as it could be. Winter finally shows his heading quality with a difficult goal from a corner just before the half. Troost knocks in a corner just before the hour mark, to make it start to look better, but shoddy defending lets Alushi get a second for Osnabrück moments later. Moukandjo, whom we've had trouble defending all match, scores another in the 69th to make it a one-goal game, we've been horribly sloppy here. Shots are 18-6, but score 4-3... not good. Magical volley for Sukuta-Pasu makes it a little more respectable, 5-3 in the 78th minute. He should have collected his hat-trick, but missed horribly after collecting his own saved shot with all kinds of space. Troost has missed several good chances, too.

We'll get Hoffenheim in the second round. That's a tough draw for such an early round, but it's a home match - something that couldn't have happened if we drew a low league team.

We've still got too many players available for the first team. Yes, we'll play a bit extra this season - as many as three more matches due to the Euro Super Cup and World Club Championship, due to winning the ECC title last season, but it's not extra unless we make it to the final of both the German and Champions cups, and that's not enough to keep a huge extra squad. Enzo Reale goes out on loan to Deportivo la Cornuna in Spain where he's been before (been in Spain that is, he had a loan spell at Valladolid when he was still an OL player).

Match: DSC Arminia Bielefeld - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-4 (Adamov 11 - Sam 25, Bradley 52, Derdiyok 72, Jorgensen 88)
League Position: 1st
Summary: As champions, we get the traditional Friday season opener; it's away to newly promoted Bielefeld whom we whomped twice when they were last in the top division (2013/14: those scores were 6-1 and 4-0). It's a reunion of sorts with Jens Hegeler who returns to play us a couple of years after departing. A bad start; we've been broken down on defense and conceded in the 11th minute. We've got a goodly amount of the play in spite of that breakdown, and Sam has gone close on one sequence, then in the 25th minute he does score. Vida hits a crossbar, then we lose our edge a bit and the half ends level. A little tactical switch where Bradley and Bender swap roles, and Bradley scores early in the 2nd. We're not dominating the half, but remaining patient and eventually Derdiyok is sprung behind and scores. Suddenly it's flowing again, Bielefeld have run out of answers in the last 20 and sub Jorgensen has scored after Schürrle earlier failed to cash in a golden chance.

So that's a good opening to the season. After the weekend is done, we're joint top with Dortmund, who also scored a 4-1 away win, while Bayern drew 3-3 at home to Hoffenheim. We'll dive right into it the meat of the competition as second up - after a mid-week international friendly - we host FC Bayern. Mainz, Schalke, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg have also opened with a win.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - FC Bayern München
Score: 2-1 (Sam 5, Schürrle 77 - Kroos 63)
League Position: 1st (g.d. over Stuttgart with Dortmund, Mainz, Wolfsburg yet to play)
Summary: The stadium is absolutely rocking for this early season showdown. Neymar immediately shows he's going to be a problem, using his pace to get off a shot that clips the woodwork. It's Sidney Sam who gets the early goal however, putting us on top in the 5th minute, a shot through traffic that looks like it took deflections. A corner is almost the second, the ball's actually lying on the line before a defender clears it, never went across. Both sides have played very well through the first half hour, Neymar has gotten off seven shots all by himself. We play very well to open the second half, small adjustments leading to us controlling the ball, we're a little unlucky not to score. A Toni Kroos diving header turns it all around however, Bayern have leveled on 63. Kiessling has had a poor match, but he's been left too much space to make a run down the left, and his cross is headed in beautifully by Sidney Sam - what on earth has gotten into Sam? Unfortunately, the goal is ruled out for a phantom foul. A few minutes later, a pinpoint pass springs Derdiyok, and when a host of Bayern defenders scramble to converge, he lays it of to Schürrle who scores. After a several pass interchange between Fernandez and Derdiyok, Derdiyok scoots right through the defense but puts what would have been the clinching goal just wide. Some good play at the end to keep the ball and spend time, until Castro gets a little too fancy and is picked clean with nobody behind, however the defense recovers... and we've seen out a vital win! Exciting stuff for the fans, we've taken 21 shots to Bayern's 18, and in the end we've had 57% of the ball and passed at an 86% success rate - nicely done. It's our 11th win in a row over Bayern, who must be wondering what they have to do to get a result. The last three have been hard-fought one-goal victories, though, so the gap isn't that big.

After the Sunday matches, we sit in a group of four at 100% records, Dortmund on top on goal difference, then us, then Mainz and Stuttgart.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
Score: 3-1 (Schürrle 14, Kiessling 73, Botia 80 - Salihovic 22)
League Position: 1st (g.d. over Stuttgart with Dortmund, Mainz yet to play)
Summary: It's the first of two home meetings with Hoffenheim in a month, the other being the same date (22nd) in September in the German Cup. We look a little off at the start, but start to get it clicking pretty soon. Walker has bent in a pretty cross that Schürrle heads home; I've in the past talked about getting more production from the wingers, and our two main ones have really started off the season in fine form - Schürrle and Sam - and the two backups, Jorgensen and Biglia, have been very good when we got them in as well. Hoffenheim are playing quite narrow, and this play we made them pay. Sam has picked up a loose ball, but put it in the side netting. Tricky shot, but he might have done a bit more. And right after that, Salihovic ha scored an almost impossible free kick, that's got to be a goal of the month candidate. So no clean sheet again. Kadlec also hits the side netting, then Fernandez picks out Derdiyok but the shot sails over. Level at the break - not really deservedly, but we're going to have to keep working hard for this one. You can see the squad just expect to score more, but we don't cash in for the first 15, most notably Derdiyok comes open but again misses. Derdiyok and Sam combine, Schurrle's been found, but under pressure he fires off target. Now it's the turn of Yarmolenko to miss two for Hoffenheim. Oh, horrors for Hoffenheim, a ball is placed behind the defense, who had crept up to too high a line, and the keeper, who's not going to beat Kiessling to it. Caught in no-man's land, he's chipped and has no chance, it's all down to whether the chip is accurate, and it is! Moments later, it's Botia clear at the far post to head in a free kick. 3-1 it ends. Not a spectacular performance, but one where we kept at it until the breaks finally fell our way late.

"And then there were two": Sunday Bayern host high-scoring Dortmund, the final 1-1, so both have dropped points. Bayern have started with a dismal two points from three and trail us by seven. Mainz are also held to a draw, so there's just us and Stuttgart left with 100% records.

I'm having a bit of a tough time here, while I expressed my happiness at the wide midfielders, I haven't seen a Take Charge performance yet from the central guys. Well, to be a little more realistic, Sandro, who just made his season debut (combination of internationals and an injury having kept him out) was very good, and Bradley's been good. The combination of Fernandez, Pamić, Bender, Vazquez and Bustos (although he gets no blame as he hasn't played yet) have not put a stake in the ground that says "you have to play me". I have this temptation to make a big surprise move and bring in a big name but I have no idea how I'd balance out the club if I do. Vazquez plays a superb game for the II (U23) squad to perhaps begin to make his case. I change my mind every year about who the most dynamic midfielders available are, this year the scouts and staff think it's the Dutch player Wijnaldum, who's unfortunately under contract to Manchester City, a club that does not give up players easily or cheaply.

The U19's kick off their campaign with something special - a cup match with neighbors Köln. It's a penalty campaign - regular plus extra time is 1-1 with either side scoring a penalty; our lads win the PK shootout 5-4. Hopefully, things will get easier from there!

We've got a special match now, the European Super Cup v. Sunderland, the match pitting the winner of the two European competitions from last season. The board expect nothing less than a win here, while I want to use it to keep rotating the squad and trying to bring out some performances - I want to know who's ready to play this year. It will be a bit of a juggle. An excuse for me to rotate is that our weekend match with Dortmund is pushed out to Tuesday, so we've got a Friday/Tuesday schedule just before the international break and of course the latter clash has far more overall significance. We're the sixth German club to reach this final, none has ever won: Bayern in 2001, 1976 and 1975; Hamburg in 1977; Werder Bremen in 1992; Dortmund in 1997 - all have gone down to defeat.

Before we go, though, the field of 32 is now complete for the ECC, and so the draw can be held. We're in the top pot, and get a reasonable draw in terms of UEFA ratings but some tough trips - Rubin Kazan and Shakhtar Donetsk, with Salzburg filling out the group. I took Hibernian to Kazan in a Euro Cup knockout tie in 2012 (we lost the match and the tie) and Leverkusen to Donetsk in a Champions Cup knockout in 2013 (we won the match 1-0 and the tie by the same score). My sides played well in both, but I certainly know how tough it is to get a result in either location. Former club Hibernian has improved enough to make the third pot now, but you still don't expect them to have much chance to advance unless they get a very favorable draw. As it falls, it's a fairly difficult one for them with At.Madrid and Arsenal, but a decent chance to finish third as the pot 4 side PAOK is comparatively weak. OL seem to have been given a stroll in the park to the knockout stages, as each of their three opponents were ranked near the bottom of their pots.

A - Roma, Man City, Galatasaray, Feyenoord
B - Leverkusen, Rubin Kazan, Shakhtar Donetsk, Salzburg
C - At.Madrid, Arsenal, Hibernian, PAOK Salonika
D - Olympique Lyonnais, Porto, Getafe, Club Brugge
E - Juventus, Benfica, Tottenham, Hapoel Tel-Aviv
F - Barcelona, Napoli, Girondins Bordeaux, Partizan Belgrade
G - Man United, Sevilla, Schalke, Kobenhaven
H - Bayern, CSKA Moscow, Besiktas, Metalist Kharkiv

Match: Sunderland - Bayer Leverkusen (Euro Super Cup - Stade Louis II, Monaco)
Score: 1-2 (Klavan 16 - Botia 90+3, Schurrle's 106)
Summary: We've thought about it, and want a win here, despite the proximity of the league match in a few days. We've started really poorly, and it's punished as Klavan heads in a corner at the 1/4 hour. Derdiyok is breaking clear, but shoots nowhere near the target. He's got another go, things look promising, then there's a dubious foul called on Fernandez. Moments later another on Sam, this draws a card. We're really struggling. Derdiyok's good touch gets him a bit of a break, but when he shoots it's right at Craig Gordon. The second half doesn't bring much more, Gyan has poked a ball that's off both posts but not quite in, nice letoff for us. We've had some chances, but nothing is working quite right. Three minutes of stoppage time... and with 92:46 showing unofficially on the clock, Botia has gotten a head on a corner and it's in!!!! It's into extra time, not really what I wanted. We've had two good early chances, the second a shot by Bradley that clips high off the woodwork. Kiessling hits woodwork too, although a little help from Gordon to barely turn it that way. It's on to the second period, which opens with Schurrle's doing some astonishing work and eventually score. What a goal! 39 seconds in. We've working hard to keep the ball, and time passes... almost done now, Kiessling has broken barely clear, but he opts to shoot instead of holding the ball, and it's caromed far off the bar, and eventually out on the far side. Still seconds to go for Sunderland, he could have killed it off there... But Sunderland botch their attack and the ball goes out, and the match is over. Not sure what to read into this one, we battled hard, could have gotten blown out early, hung on and won it off one great individual effort by Schurrle's. And some amazing determination - fighting to get the equalizer just seconds from the end of regular time. Not entirely thrilled with the performance before that.

We didn't have much transfer activity: some senior players went out of contract, they could still have contributed some but we were overcrowded and they would have gotten virtually no playing time. And we sold Giefer. Not everyone (fans, board) is happy with all of these moves, but we have to continue to evolve and some decisions are painful. For example, Yahia would have been probably 9th or 10th choice for the back four, but still we'll miss his solid leadership. Helmes certainly had the skills to still play for us, but where I would put him with four other strikers, two up and comers who should get some looks, and two wingers who play very well up top as well?

In the rest of the Bundesliga, the only two really big money transfers were outgoing, continuing a depressing trend overall (only Bayern have really bucked the trend, making a pair of big signings the previous two years, Neymar last year and Babacar the year before). Marko Marin is lured from Werder Bremen to Barcelona for €21m, and Xherdan Shaqiri goes from Wolfsburg to Juventus for €14.5m. Werder Bremen got Timo Gebhart for €8m and Konstantin Rausch for €6.5m, both from Stuttgart. Stuttgart, meanwhile, plucked Elliot Grandin from Middlesbrough for €7.25m. Son Heung-Min left Hamburg for Genoa for €7m... Giefer's deal to Mainz was also worth €6.5m, and that's it for deals of that size: only one player comes in to Germany from elsewhere for €6.5m or above. I'm not sure this speaks to strengthening of the league in the very competitive European scene, and maybe it's reflective of our dipping country ranking, which has slid to 5th, dropping another spot behind rising Russia would be a bad thing. As a contrast, Spain had 13 transfers of 6.5m or above, 1 in-country, 10 coming in, 2 going out. England had 26 of that size, with 9 coming in to the country, 9 going out - but of the nine largest transfers, none were incoming players (Javier Hernandez, Mauro Zarate, Nikolai Kivisild, Adil Rami, Pedro Leon and Salomon Kalou all going out for 14m or above).

End of Month Table (4 pld)
1. Mainz 10 +6
2. Stuttgart 10 +4
3. Leverkusen 9 +6 (3 pld)
4. Schalke 9 +3
5. Dortmund 7 +6
6. HSV 7 +2
15. Hoffenheim 2
16. Bochum 1 -3
17. Frankfurt 1 -8
18. Bielefeld 0

We made a profit of €5.51m on "prize money", mainly - largely the fee for being in the ECC group stage; turnover was €15.15m, up from €12.45m; expenses were €9.63m, about even with last month's €9.68m.
September 2015

Monthly Results
Borussia Dortmund 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Kiessling 13, Derdiyok 19)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Werder Bremen (Schürrle 11, Troost 34)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 Rubin Kazan (ECC Group B ) (Kiessling 27, Vida 58, Sandro 81)
1.FSV Mainz 05 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Fernandez pen 66, Bender 68)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (German Cup 2nd Rnd) (Sukuta-Pasu 43, Sandro 45, Troost 77)
Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 1.FC Kaiserslautern (Kiessling 21)
Shakhtar Donetsk 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group B ) (Kiessling pen 31, Fernandez pen 83, Jorgensen 90)

The Super Cup didn't go exactly as I'd hoped; we scraped a win, but at the cost of wearing down players I would have liked to have for the Dortmund fixture, so now we'll see if the choice to play a top lineup comes back to haunt us. We're only two points ahead of Dortmund, so with a win they would pass us at the point of the first international break - indeed they'd go top and we'd be 4th, rather not see that happen! And you know they'll have something near a full house, the Signal Iduna Park can hold over 80,000. On the good side, we've done nearly as well as v. Bayern as we seem able to rise for the big clubs; we've won the last eight meetings, and 11 of 15 (with two draws). The two losses were 45 days apart back in early 2011, both at Leverkusen in fact (Bundesliga, then Euro Cup knockout leg). They haven't scored on us in their home park in the last three, in fact; I'd love to keep that streak going but that will be tough, they're quite an explosive club these days. We'll see what kind of condition the tired players are in by Wednesday - if the match doesn't get bumped again, as we're already into the international break.

Match: Borussia Dortmund - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-2 (Kiessling 13, Derdiyok 19)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Dortmund just have a lot of dangerous players, and it shows when Blaszczykowski centers for Sigurdsson's shot, which is almost in, just clipping the woodwork, then tapped in by Guilherme. Luckily Guilherme was in an offside position from when Sigurdsson took the shot so it doesn't count. In addition to those three, they've got Grosskreutz and Nuri Sahin (the captain), as well as Gojko Kacar - really they bring six attacking players to the party and Vladimir Weiss on the bench, when they're all healthy it's no wonder they can put up a lot of goals when playing well. For 11 minutes it's looked like all Dortmund, but we hit them on the counter, the impressive Hurler starting it with a steal, getting it back later and feeding Kiessling inside where he powers it home. A bit of horror defending to be honest as the central defender ended up with his back turned and nobody else around. We've got our second chance as Kiessling receives behind, but he can't beat keeper Weidenfeller with everybody racing to get back. Corner from that, then a second, and on that one Derdiyok leaves no doubt at all as he absolutely powers home a header. The lads have found something yet again, now we need to close this one out. Schürrle is playing the best football of his career, or at least of the three season plus a bit I've seen him, and launches a break off an anticipation steal, giving Derdiyok two cracks at it, one knocked down by the keeper, the follow just inches wide. It's 2-0 at the break. Derdiyok is suffering a bit with a knock he took earlier, so the prudent thing is to replace him. We err right off the kickoff, Sigurdsson ends up through in the middle, but youngster Nowak is up to the task when he can't place his shot. Dortmund pressure is very high early, but their second chance also goes when Sahin shoots over, the Odjidja similarly fires high. Now Guilhereme is behind, but Botia just nips back and takes it off his foot as he's winding up. As we try to establish some control in the game again, first Bradley and then Sam are flattened, but the referee shows no interest. So it's going to be that way? It looks like maybe we've weathered the initial storm, and there's a free kick Schürrle heads, it's just wide of the far post, too bad, he's at the point of deserving a goal. Past the hour. Disaster for Christian Trasch, he falls asleep to let Kiessling loop around him and pick up a ball, then as Stefan drives into the box with it, Trasch recovers to clip him, penalty! Kiessling wants it himself... but it's saved! He gets to the ball first, is clipped again, but this time the referee isn't interested. Twice we've given up the chance to seal it. However, time is winding down. Sigurdsson, who's been very dangerous, beats Nowak but not the post. The rush comes the other way, we're looking to get a chance, but instead Dortmund attack again, this time Botia has over-committed and it should be a 2v1 behind him, but they push it too slowly and everybody recovers. We've held on for the clean sheet, and a second key win.

So although delayed by a couple of days, we finish the 4th round top of the table, 100% record, joint top in goals scored and fewest conceded. And quietly, since it spans seasons, we're 13 league wins in a row. We'll come back from the break to host Werder Bremen, then Rubin Kazan in our ECC opener, before we go visit this year's surprise club so far, Mainz. They finished 13th last season and were picked 14th this year but something is different with them: entered into the Euro Cup as Germany's Cup participant (we were already in a higher competition for other reasons, so as the losing finalist they got the spot), they've swept through the two qualifying rounds, aided somewhat by what I think are two VERY favorable draws, on an aggregate 8-0 and into the group stage, and they sit second in the Bundesliga table. What's the difference? Who knows; undoubtedly part of the equation is our former backup keeper Fabian Giefer who's been in the nets for all nine matches that count, a run troubled only by a 2-2 away draw to Frankfurt. Good for him; he wanted a chance as a #1 keeper, there was some disappointment we let him go but I wanted to let him have the chance, he didn't get the bids he deserved but the one he got he took and has really seized the moment. For us, he was a really good backup but was never ever going to challenge Adler for the top spot, and I certainly don't want to keep my players from accomplishing what they're capable of just because they're behind a way better player at this club - as long as we have a transition path. Our youngster Nowak has just recorded the first clean sheet of the season in a tough appearance away to Dortmund; and the even younger Juan Carlos Marino, the one of the three youth keepers we kept, is looking decent as the reserve/3rd choice keeper. We're really a little exposed here in theory, we have only the one experienced keeper in Adler but I have to have faith in the kids, especially Nowak, whom we're going to make Bayern regret letting us pinch a year ago! (He was named last season's U19 player of the year in Germany).

We've had some players really impress in internationals, the two that jumped out were our young Dutch striker Marijn Troost who scored both goals for the senior side in a Euro qualifiers, and his countryman Jordy Pool who potted a pair in a U19 win over France. And youngster Nestor Vazquez picked up his first senior cap, against Tunisia, and sends some plaudits my way for helping him grow in skills and confidence.

World Soccer Magazine publishes European Champions Cup odds, those are Barca 3-1, Leverkusen 10-1, At.Madrid 10-1, Man United 11-1, Bayern 11-1, OL 11-1.

Mainz will have to battle to stay near the top before our clash in a week, as they have to visit Munich this week for FC Bayern. They could do us a favor with a great performance, of course.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Werder Bremen
Score: 2-0 (Schürrle 11, Troost 34)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We've started this match controlling possession, but with some odd problems. In the 12th minute, though, Schürrle gets in to head home a cross from his compatriot on the other side, Sidney Sam. Something really special, or perhaps just luck, but we'll take it. Troost scores off Castro's corner just past the half hour, it's looking promising so far. Troost comes close to a second, he evaded the keeper but went wide enough the shot was too hard. Side netting. Then a chance out front, way wide. Then Sam misses. 2-0 at the break, you could say "what if..." but hopefully we can still close it out. And, we do, but the end of the game wasn't very good; at one point shots had gone to 18-6 in our favor, but as Werder pushed to get some kind of result, it swung, and eventually shots are 19-14. And we only put 3 of those 18 on frame, while Adler got a lot of work late, Werder having 7 of 14 on target.

Mainz don't win at Bayern, that would have been something special, but they have secured a draw. It's Schalke who ease into 2nd, having won at under-performing Gladbach; Mainz and Stuttgart are a point back.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Rubin Kazan (ECC Group B )
Score: 3-0 (Kiessling 27, Vida 58, Sandro 81)
Group Position: 1st (g.d. over Shakhtar)
Summary: A player reunion here: the young French goalkeeper Zacharie Boucher, whom I lured to Hibernian and who appeared almost 200 times for them, has this summer moved on to Rubin. Early, Kiessling is behind and fails to score, that matters only to his confidence as he was flagged offside anyway. We've gotten a couple of chances off of wide play, it seems Rubin's wingers aren't much interested in defending! but we've wasted them, Boucher has in fact watched our first five efforts sail harmlessly high, then he has to make a save on Kiessling who's put through and should have done better. But then in the hardest chance of all, Kiessling bends one in as he's turning. There's nothing more before the break. We've got one off a corner just before the hour mark, Vida capitalizes when Ljajic gets a head to it, but no clearance, just falls down near Vida's feet, and pokes it in. We look like we've got another one, as we've got all kinds of players in attack on the counter, the assistant thinks Sandro was offside before putting it in. Lovely pass springs Kiessling, but he misses. I'm getting frustrated with this! By the final quarter hour, we have it all to ourselves, and Sandro does head in a cross for the final goal.

Bayern are still struggling, another draw on Saturday, and Schalke (2nd) and Stuttgart (joint 3rd) share the spoils as well - we've got the other joint 3rd in Mainz so a win would make it another good week for us, and not getting maximum points doesn't hurt us. I prefer the former!!!

Match: 1.FSV Mainz 05 - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-2 (Fernandez pen 66, Bender 68)
League Position: 1st
Summary: As the game opens, some good heading is about to get Troost a chance, but he chooses to head instead of bring the ball down, and it's weak and easily picked up on the bounce by Giefer. We continue a trend of having good situations, but not executing them quite well enough. Scoreless first half in spite of 16 shots. Bender sends in a long one, catches the post. After some substitutions we grow in danger, with Fernandez in taking set pieces. On the second, we've won a penalty, Szalai judged to have pushed Bender in the box. Fernandez drills in the spot kick, he's almost made more impact in this one brief stint since he came on than in all of his three starts. I wonder if this is the way he should be used now, as an impact sub? Bender becomes the second player to net his first of the season, in this span of three minutes. Two players who've needed to do something good with the intense competition for places. We've really got the pressure on, and Derdiyok is about to break through when he's tripped, the referee rather harshly shows Moti red for a "last man" foul - it's outside the box, though. Bender had an excellent match, but goes off injured in the final seconds.

German Cup 2nd round is next, with 16 matches split into four chunks: four early and four late games Tuesday, then the same Wednesday. Our tie with Hoffenheim is in the late group Wednesday. For the four top division clubs playing Tuesday, Bielefeld lose on penalties to Dusseldorf, while Schalke, Bayern and HSV win (Bayern unconvincingly at home to Union Berlin after going behind in the first minute, Bayern, who are way too talented for this, are really having a tough time - again!).

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (German Cup 2nd Rnd)
Score: 3-0 (Sukuta-Pasu 43, Sandro 45, Troost 77)
Summary: You always prefer not to run into better teams in the early rounds of a cup, but we should have some confidence having secured a 3-1 win over Hoffenheim a month ago; we're also on a run of four clean sheets in all comps. We're using half a backup lineup: we've got new faces in the midfield and attacking roles, plus Sandro, and a regular back line and goalkeeper. It doesn't take long to see Hoffenheim will give us trouble. Yarmolenko is working hard on the right, then on the quarter hour Dzsudzsak blasts one that clears Adler's hands but caroms off the bar. Kadlec goes close on a free kick, our first serious threat. Sandro puts a ball in the box, it's fallen for Troost but he snatches at it, wide. A goal comes later, a throwin finds Troost down on the baseline and he chips in a cross that finds Sukuta-Pasu charging clear for the uncontested header from just a couple of yards. Jorgensen's good work lays it up for Sandro to head in just on the stroke of 45. So from possibly going in level at the break, we've instead broken the game wide open just before. In the 2nd, Troost slips around his man for a free header, but wide again. Dzsudzsak and Yarmolenko combine, the latter should probably have scored, but Adler is never easy to beat. We're having a lot more of the ball in the second half, though. Nice buildup gets our third goal, including a cross-field switch to Walker who picks out Troost, he turns around his man and scores a difficult shot into the lower far corner. Really good game by Jorgensen, to be honest, he's gotten involved lots, even set Sam up for what looked like the fourth goal late, the referee waved it off though. We haven't exactly dominated, shots nearly even. We did produce one of those daggers to the heart which we're rather prone to do - the two late first half goals so close to one another.

We've drawn Kaiserslautern away for the 3rd round, Bayern have to visit Shalke, Dortmund get a nice draw home to Aachen, last year's runners up Mainz visit Aahlen. Stuttgart are already out. We've had comparatively a harder time with Kaiserslautern than some of the top clubs in the league, indeed in their park we've not won since 24 Oct 2010, a loss and four draws since then. That match is not until end of October, but we get a chance to become familiar with them in just a few days as they're the next league opponent.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FC Kaiserslautern
Score: 1-0 (Kiessling 21)
League Position: 1st
Summary: This is a game where we've got a chance to set the all-time consecutive wins record for the Bundesliga - we now share it with the Bayern Munich club which went 15 games from 3.19.2005 to 9.20.2005. Early on it's a game of near misses amidst high quality play on our part. It needs a little break to score, we get it as Castro's attempted cross takes a bit of a deflection, and it's Kiessling who reads the changed direction best, sneaking in position to ram it home. The tension remains on as we never get any more, although seeming fairly dominant throughout. Narrow win, but it's just the same three points.

Match: Shakhtar Donetsk - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group B )
Score: 0-3 (Kiessling pen 31, Fernandez pen 83, Jorgensen 90)
Group Position: 1st
Summary: Shakhtar have had a good run so far in the ECC (had to come through two qualifying rounds, and as a result are 5-0-0 in the competition), and are slight favorites at home, so we set up carefully. We're completely dominating play with this approach, though Shakhtar have had the only dangerous situation. Then a set play we're taking in the attacking end appears to have fizzled, but the referee is blowing his whistle and pointing to the spot! There's usually a lot of shoving on such plays, I guess he feels the actions against Troost were excessive. As usual, since there's always shoving and it's so rarely called a penalty, I have to admit it's a bit harsh, it's not like the player flying through the box falling after a trip, where the referee has no real choice - either a penalty or a dive. Kiessling sends the keeper the wrong way and we've got the lead, just on the half hour. Adler saves us as Shakhtar run a good play that's releasing Luiz Adriano, he has to shoot right away though or the advantage will vanish, and Adler stands his ground. It's not been the most visually exciting match, and as we approach the hour mark, we're up 9-4 in shots, 60-40% in possession. I'd like a little more offensive push to trouble them more and prevent them from starting to attack, but it feels a little early yet. We've changed the tired wingers, then Kiessling who's on a bit of a knock, and in the 82nd minute sub Jorgensen's looped a ball in for sub Derdiyok who's falling header is weak... but the referee decides it's due to too much contact from Esteban Granero - another penalty! The third sub, Fernandez, pots the spot kick and you'd think that would be enough. Just at the end of the 90, wonder-shot from Jorgensen, Ospina tips it but it still goes in the net. So to those "most people" who thought Shakhtar were the favorites v. the defending champions of Europe, take that! Yes, I'm a little defiant here, and yes I took the opportunity to build up a little us-vs-them thing, and a huge pat on the back post-match for the crushing win... I'm nervous about us keeping our edge (see end-of-month summary statements later in this report) and we need some things. Yeah, I know Shakhtar will have some complaints as the game was put out of reach on two penalty awards, and the last goal was "meaningless", but it's hard to find anyone who'd say we didn't deserve the win, 59% of the ball, 18-6 shots, much better passing accuracy, they committed 17 fouls to our 6 trying to catch up to us. A more obscure stat says their player average rating was 6.04, ours 7.36. We've now taken the group by the scruff the the neck, with a pair of matches against apparent group minnows Salzburg coming up.

End of Month Table (7 pld)
1. Leverkusen 21
2. Schalke 16
3. Wolfsburg 13 +6
4. Stuttgart 13 +4
5. Mainz 12
12. HSV 7 -1
13. Kaiserslautern 7 -4
14. Gladbach 6 -4
15. Hoffenheim 6 -5
16. Hertha Berlin 6 -6
17. Bochum 5
18. Bielefeld 3

Gladbach, amid rumors of a takeover bid which may have collapsed, then restarted, are having a horrid start, as are Hoffenheim whom the media picked as high as 3rd in the league. Bayern are 11 points behind us this early. Obviously, if we keep winning it will be very hard for anyone, but I'm not sure a bit of competition during the season isn't healthier for our overall mental state - don't want it to seem too easy and breed too much overconfidence, that will end up hurting us when it's Squeaky Bum Time - a point in the season where we have some truly crucial match that's win-or-out, and maybe we're not able to muster the focus to get it right. We've started the season with 12 wins in a row (ignoring friendlies where we did have a 1-1 draw with Arsenal), and ended last season with 16 in a row, complacency has to be somewhere in the cloud. Manager's lot to forever worry, I guess.

I guess I'd be remiss if I didn't say something positive rather than all the worrying: we HAVE run up wins in all 12 matches, and yes the effect of defense taking a bit to gel but then coming good seems to have happened very early this year: we gave up goals in each of the first five, with three in the first against the weakest side of all we've faced, and now we're on a run of seven clean sheets in a row (all comps). Can't expect those runs to go on forever, and I'll always say so if asked in a press conference, but an acknowledgment of the team's good play is also called for, and there has been a team aspect here, as we've had good play spread around, there is not, for example, a dominant scorer. If you look at today's league stats - 7 games in - we have only a few places where our players are in the top, Kadlec is joint 4th in assists, Bender is 2nd in passing %, Schürrle is 2nd in Avg. Rating. Yet this early we're already looking like runaway leaders. And yes, there's that caution part lurking, things won't go this well all year.

There's going to come a day, maybe for a future manager, when some bigger changes have to be made. Right now the statistic is, we were given a transfer budget of €40,850,000 and now show a remaining budget of €43,704,738. And we have a number of promising young players from age 15 up to age 20, who will be trying to work their way into the senior team: I think the club is well set up for a long run, if they follow the policies I've set (which as I noted last time, are not universally popular when it comes down to individual details: in refusing to let us "grow old" I also have to bring some younger players along quickly so they don't get frustrated and leave, and it's led to players leaving who are popular and could still contribute. With all the good stuff, we've on paper lost money for the month: €1.89m. Turnover is €8m, down from 15.15; expenses are €9.89m, up from €9.63m. Even though we played four times at home. Strangely, for the season, even with the somewhat reduced stadium capacity while the new construction is underway, we're listed as 7th in average attendance by capacity - 96% but behind all of Hoffenheim, Bayern, Bochum, Hamburg, Köln and Mainz. I expect that will improve over the next 2.5 months, but we'll see what happens in December after the expansion opens up.
mwichmann's avatar Group mwichmann
8 yearsEdited
October 2015

Monthly Results
Hamburger SV 3-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Alves 25, Hermann 59, Westermann 66 - Kiessling 77, Derdiyok 79)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-2 VfL Bochum (Troost 23, Sam 90 - Ca 54, Quansah 75)
Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 FC Red Bull Salzburg (ECC Group B ) (Kiessling 20)
1860 Munchen 1-5 Bayer Leverkusen (0tten 63 - Mares 10, 53, Troost 60, Sam 73, Kuszczak 89 o.g.)
1.FC Kaiserslautern 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 3rd Rnd) (Kiessling 64, 81)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 1.FC Köln (Botia 48, Vida 75)

Match: Hamburger SV - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 3-2 (Alves 25, Hermann 59, Westermann 66 - Kiessling 77, Derdiyok 79)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We've started out with play that's not very useful, and just gets worse... at first we have all of the ball and no progress, then less of the ball, and finally, on 25 minutes, Alves has poked in a loose ball after a corner and we're behind. At the break we're down 1-0 on the scoreboard, 14-1 on shots, and Hamburg have had the ball 57%. Unfortunately, I can't switch a whole team of players!!! Then we get caught on a break, despite instructions to watch out for that situation and not push too hard, Herrmann putting in a very accurate shot, 2-0 just before the hour. Nowak does a superb job to keep it 2-0 but the reprieve lasts only moments as Westermann pokes in the following corner. We've finally got some impetus, but going down three in an away match is leaving it way too late... after a couple of tries, Kiessling ends up poking one in. Sandro's battling on the right lets him get in a cross which Derdiyok bangs in, we've got two goals in a few minutes and both were some impressive plays by what should be our two best forwards, although they haven't really completely stated that case so far. The door is open, but we can't walk through it, it's a loss, and a very poor performance overall, despite the hint at a comeback.

There's always some risk from internationals, and Derdiyok has been injured in the first round of matches. Not really serious, but he'll probably be out three weeks. Most of the first week taken up by the rest of the break...

This batch of matches do bring the end of a bunch of qualifying campaigns, and as a result, many national team coaches have lost their jobs, I receive notices of 18 different job openings, notable are Portugal and my native country Finland. I'm not going to apply, but maybe if one of those two came for me, I might think about it....

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - VfL Bochum
Score: 2-2 (Troost 23, Sam 90 - Ca 54, Quansah 75)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Of course the pressure is on for a good response, the problem with winning so much is that somebody's always got a story of doom even with just one setback. At home against a bottom club it's supposed to be easy, but I decide to take things at least a little cautiously at the start. I like the way the side is going after opportunities, Kadlec has been bright and Sam a troublemaker. It takes a bit, but eventually Sam picks the right pass after a long Kadlec free kick put him in a dangerous spot, Troost with the goal. Still it's a close enough battle, and just 1-0 at the break. Bochum start brightly in the 2nd. After some attacks we blunt, they score off a free kick when Silvio has too much room in the box and heads it down/back to a wide open Ca who rifles in a long shot. Shoddy defending on another free kick lets Quansah score from about six yards out and we're facing a second consecutive loss! After we rejigger the setup we immediately get a chance, but sub Fernandez puts it off the post when he looked sure to score. To his credit, Fernandez keeps after it and wins a corner, leading to a shot for ...Fernandez... which this time is just wide of the post, hitting the netting just beyond it. At least he's working hard! The fates seem to be against us at the moment, but we score an equalizer in the 90th, we've launched a counter, Kadlec gets it in to sub Biglia, he's in behind Silvio but sees a better option, he squares it across and it's going to be a goal if Sam gets to it first. He almost doesn't, he has to stop and clutch and it ended up a tough goal rather than a tap-in, but a goal it is, to spare us the worst blushes. We've almost made something special out of this, an interception and some calm passing as the clock ticks away, and Fernandez gets a shot but puts it over. Three key chances he can't convert on... the Matigol of two seasons ago is only a distant memory now, I'm afraid. The good news: we built up enough of a lead in the first seven that this stumble still leaves us in the lead by three points, and the #2 of two rounds ago, Schalke, had exactly the same stumble, although in the other order: home draw, then away loss. The bad news is Stuttgart and Bayern took full advantage with a pair of wins these last two, and Bayern showed some real signs of life winning 3-1 away and 6-0 at home, and almost erasing our goal difference advantage in the process.

Our performance fizzled, and I was disappointed at our inability to control the center of the park against weaker opposition. Bradley has faltered to 6.78 over the last five, and 6.97 overall - he had a good stretch where he was involved a lot, then seemed to lose the plot; Bender has some good performances in his back pocket so a better pair of ratings, but was as weak as Bradley in this one. The two subs Pamić and Fernandez didn't get us much either: Fernandez has had some good sub appearances as I search for the right role for him but today he muffed his lines although at least getting in good situations; Pamić was largely invisible and I can't keep him in top form without more match time, which he's not making a case for. We'll continue to monitor this situation, but a midfield of Sandro and nobody else is not going to work for us - and I'm going to have to stop leaving Sandro out when we don't play with a true DMC.

Croatia have offered me the job as coach. It's really hard to do club and a national team at the same time, but this is a strangely optimistic setup - Croatia have qualified first in their group for Euro 2016, and are ranked FIFA #9 in the world, #7 in Europe. Slaven Bilić has left, reasons not disclosed publicly, after securing qualification. They've finished one point clear of Holland, who are also through.

I guess it's worth a detour to list the qualifiers: Italy and Wales; Portugal and Scotland; Slovakia and Turkey; Romania and England; Germany and Sweden; Denmark and Switzerland; Croatia and Holland; Spain and Russia; Ukraine and Bosnia/Herzegovina; Belgium and Austria. The playoff, yet to come, pits Serbia v Norway; Montenegro v Hungary; N.Ireland v Ireland. The hosts France are in of course. This is the first 24-team field for the Euros.

So what to do? They want an immediate answer. Croatia look to be a side in good shape, and two of the players (Vida and Pamić) are already playing for me. Eventually I figure it's a chance to broaden my horizons a little, after the summer job change I'd been 2/3 expecting never came through. Not sure I'll take it beyond the Euros, but we'll see. Accepted.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - FC Red Bull Salzburg (ECC Group B )
Score: 1-0 (Kiessling 20)
Group Position: 1st
Summary: We've started pretty well, but there are also some ominous signs, some bad plays in various places that indicate a lack of confidence. However, a good sequence finds Kiessling in space to score in the 20th. Fernandez has made a superb long free kick around the half hour, but is denied by the post. We've continues to play fairly well through the half, but not producing results. The second half shows some really dominant play, and in three minutes we've got Kiessling in good positions three times, but no end product (two were fairly tough chances). There's really no sign of danger from Salzburg the rest of the way, overall we've held them to three shots. Kiessling has more chances, he scores one late but it's waved off. So in the end it's the win everyone expected, but nowhere near the margin anyone expected. Rubin and Shakhtar cancel each other out, so we've got a hefty five-point lead halfway through the group.

Match: 1860 München - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-5 (0tten 63 - Mares 10, 53, Troost 60, Sam 73, Kuszczak 89 o.g.)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Two great plays to set up first Sukuta-Pasu, then Sam, in the first nine minutes, but both shots are botched. Then a glorious chance for Sukuta-Pasu which he fails at. The malaise is sitting deep, even though we're dominating so far. Peter Mares it is who puts it in, 10th minute. Now... keep going! The play is really good, even though only the one goal. Mares is about to be sprung when tripped from behind by Filipetto. The referee is not amused, red card. Not sure he was really last man, but whatever the thinking, he's off. Sukuta-Pasu puts one in the net, but 1860 stepped up well, offside. As the 2nd gets underway, Mares scores a second. Sub Troost receives in a little bit of space, then works beautifully to protect his advantage and score. I think we've got 1860 completely closed down, but a fortuitous deflecting gives it to Otten who fires from a vast distance out... and beats Nowak, only the 3rd shot of the game for them. Sub Jorgensen harries on the left, it's into the middle for Troost who has it saved, but a sliding poke by Sam puts it home. Schultz clatters Mares some distance out, and gets a card for it... Mares wants to take the free kick himself and sneaks it in, lovely hat trick for the newcomer! Aargh... they've decided it's an own-goal on Tomas Kusczczczczczczcak, that's really unfair on Mares, he did all the work! Super performance, guess which lineup is (mostly) going to get a go again in the next game, which is a cup match? I'll have to make a few changes.

Luck of the draw stuff: the Tuesday German Cup matches see seven of the eight teams in the top division, the Wednesday matches just three of eight... there could be some lower division teams left in the final eight, and is sure to be at least one.

Match: 1.FC Kaiserslautern - Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 3rd Rnd)
Score: 0-2 (Kiessling 64, 81)
Summary: After resisting an early surge, we've put Troost through, but he can't score, putting it just wide. Then he goes right around defenders and gets another shot, this is just off the upper left corner. Then Mares has two goes and can't score. There's no more fun, and it's a scoreless first half, one we certainly didn't dominate after we failed to cash in on that one surge of early chances. Two subs at the break, and one of them Kiessling, comes even closer in a few minutes, clanging a shot off the bar. Looks like another unholy mess of a cup match. Kiessling scores just past the hour, but there's still a lot of work to be done. Fernandez is in, a bit of a lineup shuffle, the ineffective Dante comes out as he's also on a card, we can't afford both the poor play and the risk of a second yellow. Fernandez soon gets into things but his bad luck goes on, he's cannoned one off the crossbar as well. It's absolutely impossible we've failed to score again in the 71st, but so it is, Jorgensen's shot is deflected and there's no way Troost can avoid finishing it, but the keeper again somehow denies us. Jorgensen heads Fernandez' long free kick wide. Troost centers, it's not cleared by anyone and Kiessling steps around to score his 2nd. Troost beautifully puts Kiessling through, but this time it's his turn to waste the chance. 2-0 it ends, we should have scored six or so, but it's a win. Cup matches are always tough in Germany, it seems.

The one D2 team playing Tuesday survive, Karlsruhe winning at Hamburg, which must count as a surprise. Bayern beat Shalke in extra time, and Bochum take penalties to knock out Wolfsburg - all four were incredibly tough. The top flight teams all prevail on Wed: Dortmund over Aachen on penalties, Werder Bremen over Ingolstadt, Mainz over Ahlen. The sole D2 v D2 match was the one of the round that wasn't incredibly close: Nurnberg 6-0 Dusseldorf.

4th rnd matchups: Nurnberg v Dortmund, Karlsruhe v Bayern, Leverkusen v Mainz, Bochum v Werder Bremen. So for us it's a rematch of last year's (winning) final.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FC Köln
Score: 2-0 (Botia 48, Vida 75)
League Position: 1st
Summary: It's an uneventful first half hour, excepting Sam's injury, which forces him out. Bender has gotten an absolute sitter in the 37th, but puts it right in the keeper's hands from about three yards. It's not until Botia gets up to head in a corner in the 48th that we've broken through. Typical wakeup though, for 52 minutes Köln have only one shot, but Montero fires off a difficult one from an angle, Adler can't get it, and luckily it catches the bar. With a quarter hour left, Vida heads in on a corner, quite a difficult header at that. Adler has to work wonders to take a goal away from Montero late and preserve the clean sheet. A defensive game in the local derby, neither side took even 10 shots (9-7, 5-1 on target). Bayern's win over Schalke move them 2nd for the moment, pending Stuttgart's clash tomorrow.

Sam's injured wrist turns out to have a fracture, he'll be out 5-6 weeks. That presents some problems/opportunities. I end up liking Sam more than my coaches do, they think his position on the right is a weak area (or rather, after suggesting putting Schürrle on the right, they think the wide left position is weak). We've got Jorgensen and Biglia who play wide normally; Biglia seems to still need some development and hasn't been that impressive after one great game. There's backup in Bradley (who can move over to ML) and Sandro (who can move to MR). So, either someone gets to step up, or it gives me a chance to think about whether I want to go spend big in the transfer window to permanently upgrade here. I'm itchy as I wonder if a freshening might not provide just that little spark for a team where it's often come a bit too easy, or whether we'd be upsetting a delicate balance.

End of Month Table (11 pld, incl. 2 matches from Sun 1 Nov)
1. Leverkusen 28
2. Stuttgart 23
3. Bayern 22 +14
4. Schalke 22 +5
5. Mainz 18
6. Werder Bremen 17
13. Frankfurt 12
14. Kaiserslautern 11
15. Hertha Berlin 10 -10
16. 1860 Munchen 10 -12
17. Bochum 9
18. Bielefeld 5

We've lost €2.08m, which is actually pretty good for a non-prize-winning month (well, we had money from an ECC Group stage win, and a German Cup win, but those are fairly small). Turnover was €6.91m, down from €8m; expenses were €8.99m down from €9.89m.
November 2015

Monthly Results
FC Red Bull Salzburg 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group B ) (Dante 24, Derdiyok 33)
FC Schalke 04 1-4 Bayer Leverkusen (Riviere 17 - Sandro 22, Troost 49, 89, Winter 70)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach (Kiessling 33, Schürrle 37 - Fellah 50)
Rubin Kazan 1-4 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group B ) (Martins 36 - Winter 6, Derdiyok 14, 20, Bender 43)
VfB Stuttgart 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Gentner 87 - Derdiyok 20, Kiessling pen 34, Sukuta-Pasu 49)

Match: FC Red Bull Salzburg - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group B )
Score: 0-2 (Dante 24, Derdiyok 33)
Group Position: 1st
Summary: It's not a terribly long trip for us, after all Salzburg is only 90 miles from Munich where we go quite often. Beautiful city. Snow is just starting to fall at match time, but it's gentle. We've set out to be patient in this one. We're playing with four central midfielders in a narrow diamond. A goal comes from a set piece, a corner in the 24th minute, Dante with the finish. Derdiyok makes a mockery of the defense, on a long ball he completely outruns the fullback, squares for his shot before the centerbacks can take a position, and blasts a shot that beats the keeper - all three defensive players made to look a bit lacking on a single play. We almost give one back as two players go for tackles on Gomez and miss leaving space for a centering pass Balde can't finish off Vazquez emulates the first part of Derdiyok's play but instead of shooting or going to goal he dumps to Derdiyok - he's ahead of the defenders but behind Vazquez so not offside. The shot whizzes just wide, too bad. In the second, we've got some more changes. Kiessling is allowed to work in to goal around the left as nobody quite shuts him down, the eventual shot clangs off woodwork. Not sure how Derdiyok's failed to score another chance, good goalkeeping did contribute. Adler's got a bit of work to do late as Salzburg step it up, but it's another win. We could have scored more, but didn't need to. Shakhtar and Rubin battle to another draw in the other group match, so our lead is seven points with two left to play. That means we've already qualified, and in fact have won the group.

The good ECC season for Germany continues, Schalke and Bayern both win. Bayern are 1st in group H, 3-1-0 and qualified. Schalke are 3-0-1 and five points clear of 3rd placed Sevilla. Three clubs through to the last 16 would do our country ranking no harm at all. On the other hand my old club Hibernian have failed to find form this year. They've only won one of the last eight overall; 8th in the league with a 4-2-5 record, out of the league cup, out of the ECC (although they may well finish 3rd and continue into the Euro Cup).

Next up are Schalke. They've been tough on us; we're 5-2-4 in the last 11 meetings, and since I've been at the club, it's a losing record, 2-1-3. They've won the last three at VELTINS-Arena, conceding only once in the process. That provides some interesting planning challenges - and sitting 4th with a quite respectable 20 pts from 11, they're also having a good season.

Match: FC Schalke 04 - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-4 (Riviere 17 - Sandro 22, Troost 49, 89, Winter 70)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Mad stuff in front of the Schalke goal right away, but the best part of it denied by a header off woodwork. We don't look anywhere near as composed as I'd like, and we've botched defending a counter to let Riviere get free and score. Troost solves the problem of a crowded area by simply running forward with the ball, which thins it out, wide to Schürrle, crosses in where Sandro's able to head home. Didn't take too long to level, only our second goal in four matches here, onward and upwards? Botia has gone out injured late in the half. Adler has saved our bacon several times in both halves, leaving in meaningful when Troost makes a nice move, break clear, and scores a very impressive placed shot. Riviere's had a couple of chances that he's not been able to put on target. Castro in for Bender, and almost immediately gets a chance to take a free kick, which Botia's replacement Winter heads in, so combination by the two subs. Neuer is furious at his defenders. A corner in the 80th is headed vigorously by Derdiyok, but this time Neuer musters everything he has to get a block on it. Neuer rescues another, a far-post header from Schürrle. This could have been a rout, but like us Schalke have a superb keeper. And another rescue, this time from Vida. Still, we're countering superbly and when Bustos threads the needle with his pass, Troost is through to score our 4th of the match. Superb result, very happy with the overall performance, we had to battle a very tough side, great keeper, and one that knows us well. Botia's not too badly hurt, the physios think 2-3 weeks. Stuttgart and Bayern struggle but win - they'll play each other next round (after the international break).

International Friendly: Croatia - Romania
Score: 2-0 (Kranjčar 27, Kalinić 37)
Summary: Based on what I see of the roster, not yet knowing them well, I opt for an attack minded 4-2-3-1. It's a friendly, so I want to push through with the experiment even if they don't look comfortable at first. Romania are a good side, they also finished first in their qualifying group. We start okay, then get a little sharper. Still, there's not much sign of a scoring chance except some off-target Modrić shots. Finally he tries one that's partially blocked and has glanced to Kranjčar, who blasts it home. Kalinić heads in a corner for 2-0. Romania don't get a shot until 40 minutes, just the one for the half, which looks very promising and dominant. Vukušić could have made it 3-0 in stoppage but misses - twice. Well done - 57% of the ball, 17-3 shots.

We couldn't get availability for a second friendly, so that's it until the spring. Lots to think about.

While I'm thus occupied, Marijn Troost is off with the Holland squad and has taken an injury which will keep him out probably a month.

Montenegro, N.Ireland and Serbia are the final three qualifiers for Euro 2016.

Stuttgart have gone well through the first 1/3 of the season, sitting second in the table and the only unbeaten team in the league, 7-5-0. Their mettle will really be tested now, as they visit Bayern this weekend and host us the following. Their defensive record is the best (9 goals conceded in 12, just one better than us) but they don't score a lot, they're the lowest-scoring team in the top half of the table with only 17 goals scored. Meanwhile, our concern this week is Gladbach. They've only had one good year in the last six, finishing 3rd in 2013, otherwise bottom half, as they are this year.

On Saturday, Stuttgart play Bayern to a 1-1 standstill, a good accomplishment in Munich, where they perhaps even had a bit more of the game. And the result is to our benefit if we win...

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Borussia Mönchengladbach
Score: 2-1 (Kiessling 33, Schürrle 37 - Fellah 50)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We have a couple of very close calls in the first two minutes, then it becomes harder. A goal by Kiessling is ruled out for offside, a very tight call. He gets one eventually - having his first saved but retrieving, going around a defender and sliding it in from a sharp left angle. Moments after Schürrle converts coming in from the wing. Fernandez, who's have an overall poor game, with the perfect setup pass. We give up a goal early in the 2nd, though, Fellah sneaking through. Vida got schooled. Castro's free kick finds the head of Derdiyok breaking clear, but he can't keep it down. A half devoid of much action comes to a close, we've secured the three points.

Match: Rubin Kazan - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group B )
Score: 1-4 (Martins 36 - Winter 6, Derdiyok 14, 20, Bender 43)
Group Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: We've scored early off an excellent header from Winter, Derdiyok's free kick the setup. Both sides look very sharp early, but we seize a big advantage on another set play, Derdiyok heading in a corner, while Adler has kept Rubin out twice in the first quarter hour. Utterly superb effort from Kiessling, who has no chance to get to a long ball but harries the defender into a poor clearance, hunts it down, and loops in goalwards for his strike partner Derdiyok who heads in his second. The first half scoring continues when Martins bends in a long left footed shot, 3-1. Decently defended too, just a moment of high quality. Bender produces one as well - he hunts down a blocked shot and fires on the turn, rocketing it in off the underside of the crossbar from the right. He's nearly got a second, set up by Kiessling. Offense from Bender? Finally? We start the second half slowly, then Walker has set up Derdiyok for what should be his hat trick, but he shoots wildly. Bustos is through but offside, he hit the post anyway. Very later, Winter gets up for a corner, but his header is off the bar. The second half certainly didn't live up to the explosive first half, but it's a comfortable win in any case.

Match: VfB Stuttgart - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-3 (Gentner 87 - Derdiyok 20, Kiessling pen 34, Sukuta-Pasu 49)
League Position: 1st
Summary: With just a few changes from the Rubin lineup (Bradley for Bender, Castro for Walker to freshen up spots with tired players) we start brightly the first few minutes. We've scored on 20 minutes, a promising attack leads to Sandro with some space on the right (he's been covering the right midfield position with Sam out), trying to center the ball, having it deflected but it's come to Derdiyok who powers it in. Kadlec's cross is finding Sandro but he fires wildly over on the volley. He had more time than he thought. Fabricio flattens Derdiyok on a corner try, that one it's hard to argue with the referee pointing to the spot. Kiessling scores the penalty. With the match fairly comfortable, we're able to replace Derdiyok at the half, he's suddenly looking very tired. Winter opens the 2nd heading in a corner. Well... seems like the goal is given to Sukuta-Pasu. We continue very sharp. Sub Jorgensen hits a post, then shoots one just over. The defense gets beaten on a scramble play, fed out to Kranjčar, who crosses in, and Gentner got just enough space behind to head in. I think we could have earned the clean sheet here, but it's still a decisive win away at the #2 club, one which has opened the space for surging Bayern (6-1 winners in Berlin over Hertha) to take over 2nd.

So we'll enter December with an overall lead of eight points. The Bayern surge has left them uneaten in 19 in all competitions, and since collecting only two points from their opening three in the league, they're 8-3-0 for 27 points from 11, while we have 28 in that span (9-1-1). The importance of a good start! The 23 Jan match - the second back after the winter break - is looking pretty important. We had a really good month, going 5-0-0 when four of the matches were away.

End of Month Table (14 pld)
1. Leverkusen 37
2. Bayern 29
3. Stuttgart 27
4. Schalke 26
5. Hoffenheim 24
6. Werder Bremen 23
12. Kaiserslautern 15 -4
13. Gladbach 15 -5
14. Bochum 14 -2
15. Hertha Berlin 14 -14
16. Frankfurt 13
17. 1860 Munchen 10
18. Bielefeld 7

It's tight at the bottom - two clubs are clear bottom in the automatic relegation places, but five clubs are within two points of the playoff spot, and another three (Köln, Wolfsburg and Hamburg) have not really distanced themselves from that fray either.

Since we only played at home once, match day revenues were way down, and it led to a monthly loss of €3.9m. Turnover €5.25 down from €6.91m, expenses €9.15m up from €8.99m.
December 2015

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Hertha BSC Berlin (Raitala o.g. 63, Mares pen 75)
Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 Shakhtar Donetsk (ECC Group B) (Derdiyok 18, Fernandez 44, Kiessling 74, 80)
VfL Wolfsburg 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Sandro 18, Derdiyok 25, 84)
Gamba Osaka 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Club World Championship Semi - Stade Léopold Sédar Senghor, Dakar, Senegal) (Walker 83)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Club Deportivo Guadalajara (Chivas) (Club World Championship Final - Stade Léopold Sédar Senghor, Dakar, Senegal) (Sandro 33, Kiessling 56 - Christian Vela 83)
Bayer Leverkusen 4-1 Eintracht Frankfurt (Kiessling 36. 51, Derdiyok 58, Naciri 89 - Penalba 62)

As December begins, I get notice that Owen Coyle has won SPL manager of the month, and a quick look shows Hibernian won all three league matches, as well as the Oct 31 match at St Mirren, and they're back - maybe not in the title hunt, but at least to respectability, 4th in the SPL table.

Interesting month for us, we'll be home Hertha and then to Shakhtar (final ECC group B match), then to Wolfsburg, then off to Senegal for the Club World Championship, the first time in Leverkusen's history. While we're away on the extended road-trip, the stadium expansion will be completed, and our delayed final game of the calendar year, 23 December, will open the expanded stadium hosting Frankfurt.

During this month we also have to finalise decisions on the relatively large number of players who are in the final year of their contracts. I want to extend all of them, but realistically, they're not all going to be here next year, so part of the picture becomes: let expire and leave, or sign-and-sell? The latter has a chance of making us some money, but it can certainly be irritating to a player to be signed to a contract indicating we're committing to each other for a long time, and then we turn around and transfer list.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Hertha BSC Berlin
Score: 2-0 (Raitala o.g. 63, Mares pen 75)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We're run out a lineup with several backup players, not that we want to show disrespect to Hertha, but some folks need playing time, and given the importance fans attach to European competitions, want to have a top lineup ready for Shakhtar, since it's a Tuesday draw, not Wednesday. We've got Sukuta-Pasu and Mares up top, Biglia, Bender, Naciri and Jorgensen in the midfield, Oczipka and Winter included in the back line, and Nowak in goal. Hertha work a couple of early chances for Ramos which go wide, and to be honest there was never much more for them after than. Jorgensen has missed on an early header, then a long shot, then a close in shot from a tough angle. We're winning some corners, but this has the effect of slowing down the flow of the game. Some good desperation defending as Sukuta-Pasu is clear but stoned by Fulop who gets down at his feet, then when the carom is about to become a clear shot, a sliding tackle by Polyanski rescues that. Sukuta-Pasu is going to break open right down the throat of the defense, but a bad first touch kills the chance. Scoreless at the break, not quite sure how, especially after a late free kick is headed on towards the goal but just catches the bar. The second half sees more chances. A goal finally comes when Hurler takes an accurate long shot - good idea, Hertha have been packing it in the box and cutting off all the close-quarters play. Fulop snares the shot, but Hertha are slow to play it out of the back, Jorgensen has come back to pinch it off the fullback and he's played a teasing ball into the middle for Schurrle's run; Raitala struggles to get in front of his and the slide tackle pokes it into his own net! Hertha respond by working their best sequence and Thygesen gets a clear shot well inside the box, it's wildly over however. The second goal comes not directly from a corner, but still attributed to it - Botia is breaking free to try to head in, and Raitala hauls him down for a penalty. Horror game for poor Raitala. It's Mares to take, and there's no question about it, scored cleanly into the corner. We continue to threaten but there's no more, though Mares did have one ball in the net (offside). In the end it's an odd win: while on some fronts we were dominant, Hertha were pretty good at deflecting the worst dangers, and we left some chances on the table; we've managed 20 shots to their 7, and 61% possession, but they blocked a lot of those shots, and defended rather well on our 18 corners, corners have more than once propelled us to several goals in the past, and with 18 of them, we should have converted a few. Fulop was quite excellent in the Hertha goal.

Bayern, consistent with their recent form, win big (5-0). They've now clearly taken over as the top-scoring club in the league, and are within one of us on goal difference. We're still quite sensitive to that subject, and I'd like to see an increased offensive intensity to avoid any chance of an end-of-season disaster like the season before I arrived.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Shakhtar Donetsk (ECC Group B)
Score: 4-0 (Derdiyok 18, Fernandez 44, Kiessling 74, 80)
Group Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: We've had a number of goes at the Shakhtar goal in the opening part of the match, goal doesn't come until the 18th when Sandro heads off the bar, looks like maybe a bit of help from the keeper Ospina, and Derdiyok heads in the carom. Kiessling scores but is somewhat dubiously ruled offside. Finally Fernandez scores, he's taken a corner, it ends up fed back to him and he blasts - the keeper can't hold it. I've seen less dubious goals called own-goals and this one counts, who can figure. Derdiyok is inches from a third goal in stoppage. We've spurned a lot of chances in the second half, but Kiessling finally puts in the clincher in the 74th. Kiessling eases his way through traffic and eases the ball over and past the keeper for a second, he sure made that look effortless, for all there was great skill and experience involved. Good solid show, the fans loved the attacking display, and Fernandez has popped up with one of his periodic excellent performances.

Hibernian's win over PAOK means they stay alive in Europe, though dropping to the Euro Cup.

With the group stage complete, the following clubs go on: Roma and Man City, Leverkusen and Rubin Kazan, Arsenal and Atletico Madrid, Olympique Lyonnais and Getafe, Tottenham and Juventus, Napoli and Girondins Bordeaux, Schalke and Man United, Bayern and Besiktas. Surprises were not too many - the huge one was in Group F where Napoli won on 12 pts, GB had 10 and edged out Barcelona having beaten them 2-0 on aggregate in the head-to-head (win-draw). Three for Germany in the final 16.

The stadium expansion is now done: we're a 57,262 all-seater; as noted it's the largest seated capacity in Germany although a ways from the largest overall capacity.

We've been so free of troubling injury news, when we get some it's a shock but not nearly as bad as it could be: Rene Adler will be out for four weeks, but there's only two league matches in that time, the rest is the Club World Championship and the winter break. Bradley will also miss some time

Two draws are up, one now: the Euro 2016 draw (Croatia are in pot 2, pot 1 being England, Germany, Portugal, France, Italy and Spain). Next week, the ECC 1st knockout round draw.

For the Euros, it's a Balkan group, indeed a "former Yugoslavia" group... just waiting to see who the pot 1 participant will be. It's Spain. Croatia-Serbia will be something special, possibly even a security problem. So we have:

A - Portugal, Slovakia, Holland, Austria
B - France, Belgium, Romania, Russia
C - Italy, Turkey, Sweden, N.Ireland
D - Germany, Ukraine, Switzerland, Montenegro
E - England, Scotland, Denmark, Wales
F - Spain, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia

Another local draw - three UK teams in Group E, interesting!

Match: VfL Wolfsburg - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-3 (Sandro 18, Derdiyok 25, 84)
League Position: 1st
Summary: With light snow falling, We've had an excellent start but without end product, Benaglio denying us in a couple of rushes, and the defense stepping in in others. We don't cash in those first 10 minutes, but in the 18th a diving header from Sandro just sneaks in, deflected off the keeper but not enough to keep it out. The second goal comes from Derdiyok, heading in a corner, he's had a number of chances and finally cashes one in. Right in front of goal, Benaglio should have challenged, instead he backed away. Schurrle's been set up twice in the second half, the first he heads too weakly, the second off the crossbar. Wolfsburg are getting frustrated, getting fouls called on them, not on us; one of their players even booked for diving (in the middle of the park, even, not in on goal!). Sub Pamić hits woodwork. Kadlec crashes into Dejagah, but it's only a foul. Great cross from Kiessling, but Derdiyok heads wide. When Benaglio can't hold Schurrle's cross, we win a corner, and Derdiyok heads that one in too. The win helps put some pressure on Bayern, who need to win tomorrow to keep pace.

The U19's seem to have figured out their play, which is what we want to see - progress. They opened the season with a penalty shootout win in the 1st rnd cup match, then a loss, then draws in four of five group matches. The progress began with a 4-0 2nd rnd cup win before the last of those draws, then has continues with six consecutive wins: five group and one cup. This has shot them up to the top of the group table from bottom half.

As we head for Africa and the CWC, the selected squad is short due to injuries. Not sure why we're not allowed any replacements, that seems kind of odd - just reduces the quality of competition by penalising the sides. We left Troost off the squad as he wouldn't be ready although he's close to a return now; Adler, Bradley and now Dieye are injured.

Match: Gamba Osaka - Bayer Leverkusen (Club World Championship Semi - Stade Léopold Sédar Senghor, Dakar, Senegal)
Score: 0-1 (Walker 83)
Summary: We're clearly the dominant team here, even experimenting with an unfamiliar 4-3-3 due to personnel available. But there's no end product; Nine of 15 first-half shots are off target, some of which should certainly have been finished. The futility comes to a peak early in the 2nd when Pool makes a steal and immediately is behind, 1v1 with the keeper, and misses badly. The goal finally comes on our 24th shot, Walker heading a deep cross and sending it in on a bounce, don't think that should have ever scored. A bouncing header from 12 yards? His first goal of the season. It's a date with Chivas in the final, and we're going to have to produce something better than that.

Here's the ECC draw, with the field dominated by the top nations in UEFA coefficient rankings: #1 Spain 2 clubs, #2 Italy 3, #3 England 4, #4 France 2, #5 Germany 3, and filled out by one from #6 Russia and one from #11 Turkey. Man City v Schalke, Man United v Napoli, Juventus v Leverkusen, Girondins Bordeaux v Arsenal, Rubin Kazan v Tottenham, Atletico Madrid v Olympique Lyonnais, Besiktas v Roma, Getafe v FC Bayern. Juventus are 7th in a tight Serie A race - only six points separate #1 and #9; we have not played in recent years.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Club Deportivo Guadalajara (Chivas) (Club World Championship Final - Stade Léopold Sédar Senghor, Dakar, Senegal)
Score: 2-1 (Sandro 33, Kiessling 56 - Christian Vela 83)
Summary: We've come to Dakar in excellent form, but here it just won't click. After an early spell of complete dominance, things even out a bit; after Sandro picks up a silly yellow card he redeems by slicing through to head in a corner, it took 33 minutes to break through - at least earlier than v. Gamba. Derdiyok is denied twice in rapid succession by the Chivas keeper at the end of the half. Schürrle blasts over to open the 2nd. The miss by Derdiyok a bit later is astounding, Fernandez finds him in good position, defender Rojas gambles and misses, and Derdiyok is alone, but the shot isn't even close. Kiessling finally receives a ball from Sam and doesn't waste the chance. Fernandez almost scores a free kick, then sub Sukuta-Pasu isn't awake enough to do anything with the spill. Vela is left space and drills in a shot from distance. Guevara doesn't miss by much as stoppage begins, then a free kick is deflected over and Vela heads the following corner just over. Very close in the end.

We're the champions, but we could have done better in light of the importance the board we placing on this, and the fans of course. It wasn't the top of my personal list of priorities. In the two matches we took 44 shots, with 15 on target, 16 off target, 13 blocked. That's only 34% on target, the first match was especially frustrating with only 26% on target.

Since we last played, Bayern have won twice more, that's 10 of 11 in the league.

Gergorio Manzano, who took the Inter job when my offer fell apart, has been sacked, so he lasted only a half season.

This is touted as being likely a record attendance game for us, since the stadium expansion is now open. The listed capacity is 57,262; reports are predicting 52,000, which would ironically at the same time be a record and damage our now league-leading attendance by capacity of 98%.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Eintracht Frankfurt
Score: 4-1 (Kiessling 36. 51, Derdiyok 58, Naciri 89 - Penalba 62)
League Position: 1st
Summary: The pattern looks familiar, Frankfurt are "timely" rather than great with their defending, and we've got things going but not in any major danger of end product, as the half hour mark approaches. A bit after that point, Kiessling scores on something special. Entry ball from Biglia is decent, Kiessling out-muscles Franz to win it and an opening, and cannons it left-footed past the keeper and in at the far post, sharp left angle. Kiessling is often not the most delicate of shooters, and so here. It's been an odd first-half performance; shots are 18-0 but we're not otherwise that dominant, Frankfurt are tackling well and as noted, defending pretty effectively. Second half, we start with a good attack, Biglia rescues a ball that was going behind and it keeps going, but fizzles. Then trouble, that in-between ball again and Kiessling has it all to himself to score. Again Sandro with a quality header, how you set up a breakaway goal with a header from behind the center line... but he does it. The attacks keep coming, and Derdiyok is allowed to turn onto his right foot and blast, Fahrmann in goal has no chance. Again, we've given up a goal on a long shot, shooter not well closed down, it's Penalba. El Kabir has space late but side netting. For the second time in a row we've let things get a little more interesting late than we should... until sub Salaheddine Naciri fires in a rocket from distance for our fourth. 30-shot game, and held Frankfurt to five. The attendance turned out to be 52,935... not sure where all these people are coming from!!!!

So we've ended the calendar year, the greatest in Leverkusen's history, with an excellent streak, 15 wins in a row, threatening the club record of 17, which was set in 2012 over the end of one season and the beginning of the next (the record of 40 unbeaten is not under any imminent threat, we're on 18 now). In 2015, we've won the Bundesliga, then the German Cup (DFK-Pokal), then the European Champions Cup. After coming back from the summer break, we've won the European Super Cup, then the Club World Championship. It's not possible at the moment to win more than five titles in a calendar year for a German club... The U19 squad won their two competitions as well. We could well end the 2015/16 season as the top ranked club in UEFA coefficient, only OL is a challenger; the outcome depends on the rest of the ECC campaign, which we're both still in.

End of Month/Year Table (17 pld - mid-point of season)
1. Leverkusen 46
2. Bayern 38
3. Schalke 33
4. Stuttgart 31
5. Hoffenheim 30
6. Dortmund 29
7. Werder Bremen 27
8. Hamburg 24 +2
9. Gladbach 24 -1
10. Mainz 22
11. Bochum 21
12. Kaiserslautern 18
13. Wolfsburg 17
14. Köln 16
15. Hertha Berlin 14
16. Frankfurt 13
17. 1860 Munchen 11
18. Bielefeld 10

A set of contract signing bonuses (see below) pushed the monthly total into the red by €1.91m - with turnover at €11.06m (up from €5.25m), swelled by prize money; expenses €13.04m (up from €9.15m), as noted swelled by bonuses. We're at +€39.3m for the year, and salaries are now at €1.09m/wk, which is still only about 2/3 of the allowance.

Looking first at Scotland, my prior club Hibernian, who looked dead as a [whatever] in the title race, have surged into contention... after the surge already reported, on 19 Dec they edged bottom club Partick Thistle 2-1 away knowing Rangers-Celtic was up Sunday. Celtic won that one 0-4. But Tuesday it's Hibs 3-1 Rangers followed by Celtic 0-1 Hearts on Wed. So a game short of the halfway mark, the two Edinburgh clubs Hibernian and Hearts were five points back of Celtic. On 27 Dec, Hibs won at Hearts 1-0 on an 83rd minute own goal, talk about an escape. Celtic continue to slump, scoreless draw at Dundee. So:

Scotland (19/38 pld): 1. Celtic 41, 2. Hibernian 38, 3. Heats 35

England (21/38 pld): 1. Spurs 50, 2. Chelsea 46, 3. Aston Villa 44

Spain (15/38 pld): 1. Valencia 35, 2. R.Madrid 32, 3. Sevilla, Barca, At.Madrid 30

Italy (18/38 pld): 1. Napoli (17 pld), Palermo 38, 3. Genoa 35 (17 pld)

France (20/38 pld): 1. PSG 41 (18 pld), 2. OM 39, 3. Bordeaux, Lorient 36 (Bordeaux 19 pld)

With all the good stuff that's happened here, it's easy to suggest we just "stay the course", but it's rather more complicated than that. For all that we've improved ourselves over these 3.5 years - and really 5.5 years thinking back to the successes the two years before I arrived, which brought European football, then a title, and European Champions Cup football, we're still seen as somewhat of a small (well, let's say "not at the top tier") club. Before I arrived, we'd lost Barnetta to Arsenal, Vidal to Zenit, Rolfes to OL, then the following year Reinartz to Valencia, Bender to Shalke (later brought back), Schwaab to Valencia. That's a pretty fair group to have gone on to "bigger" clubs. Players like Vidal, Rolfes, Schwaab could be important participants here in a championship club. Since I've been here, we lost Augusto to Barcelona; now I have to face questions of how to keep Sandro, Castro, Walker, Kiessling and Derdiyok. Probably for the other players whose contracts are ending the question lies with us rather than with them, but that group constitutes some important players. We haven't really solved the attack-minded MC question; Fernandez doesn't seem to be the answer any longer, he doesn't have the consistency and really doesn't disrupt opposing defenses enough, Pamić hasn't done enough to state his case since he had a good start early last year; Naciri and Bustos haven't advanced their games to "every day senior players". On one level, we could wait for the three to develop and one to make a case, but on another I probably ought to find a big cog from outside, on the theory you have to keep freshening. Wings still show some issues, again a young Argentine hasn't yet stepped up (Biglia), Schurrle's is a lock; Sam is still a bit of a question, and Jorgensen is inconsistent. At a more defensively oriented MC role we're good today, but if Sandro becomes a problem, and we don't retain Bradley, there are again some questions... of the three Argentine players, Vazquez has seemed the most ready to contribute regularly, and he fits into this role.

I'm going to have to do a round of contract talks with agents now and see where we stand, and whether it's time to look at the shortlists. The problem is, we've gotten away with a low wage structure as long as I've been here, and players who could seriously step in and improve us are above to vastly above what we've been paying. There's salary room, but have to see how to apportion it.

We do some of this before the year ends. Staff works with Sandro (who's expiring) and Walker (who has 18 months left) and offer them poor deals, which they reject. Means more work for me on those. We secure long term renewals for Winter, Dieye, Biglia and Derdiyok - and happily, Derdiyok doesn't demand a fortune; and shorter term for Kiessling, who is 31 after all (he only wanted an extension by a year anyway). That leaves the very impressive Sandro who's going to cost a fortune and wants key-player status - which I might have a hard time denying. He's emerged into a true world-class player at age 26, based on the first half of this year: 2010/11 Spurs 4 apps, 6.77; 2011/12 Spurs 5 apps, 7.67 (only 6.20 in 2 league apps, both sub); 2012/13 Leverkusen 39 apps, 6.94 (15/12 league, 6.93); 2013/14 Leverkusen 31 apps, 7.11 (21/2 league, 7.14); 2014/15 Leverkusen 35 apps 7.22 (17/3 league, 7.32); this year 18 apps 7.46 (10/0 league, 7.46) - and 5 goals, 5 assists, 84% passing, number surpassing anything before. So the question is, do we truly think this is not just a spike, but an evolution that's near its peak now, and will stay for a number of years more? If so, he's worth a big deal, or maybe worth a big deal and a move to another club if he demands it.

I sit down and have a talk and it turns out Sandro doesn't actually want the moon, although it does take the club's second-highest salary to get him to sign - but it's not a huge raise over what he was making and now he's under contract for 3.5 more years, Leverkusen's interests are protected.

So that leaves, in the senior side, the €84,000 combined for Dante (32) and Sukuta-Pasu (25), who don't quite seem to be at our level any longer, and the very reasonable salary we pay Bradley (28), only €22.5k which certainly won't be enough to keep him, just on comparative he deserves at least double... and maybe he's not quite good enough going forward either? Dante is too old for a big contract now that he's no more than 4th in the DMC pecking order (with the development of first Vida, now Winter). Last year I reluctantly let Yahia go, and got some criticism for it, so there's some thought to be applied here. Sukuta-Pasu I'd love to be able to sell to another Bundesliga club, but we have to think a bit about homegrown players too (less a problem as Troost and Biglia will both be considered homegrown at club during next season). Bradley... he's been a good player at times, almost a great player at times, and sometimes disappointingly vanishes. As the month ended, we offered him a new deal as well, so he's extended by an extra season - again, interests protected.
January 2016

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 8-0 DSC Arminia Bielefeld (Kiessling 12, 17, 24, Derdiyok 40. 69, Fernandez pen 43, 83, Botia 53)
FC Bayern München 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Kiessling 7, Sandro 30, Derdiyok 42 - Andre 76)
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Dzsudzsak 62 - Derdiyok 20, Sandro 90+2)

The idea of making a move for a central midfield player, especially an attacking one, is still stewing. But I've worried about the financial side of it, and our highest rated candidate, Roma's Bosnian midfielder Miralem Pjanic, has just had an offer of €52.5m made by Arsenal, that's quite a number, although it's not a record number, the biggest transfer I've seen is the €71m Cesc Fabregas drew in moving from Arsenal to Barcelona. So Pjanic is out of our thoughts... even the €44m staff believed it would take to get him was too big a number by a good stretch. Eden Hazard has drawn an offer of €44m from Barcelona, who don't seem to need any more midfielders.

Some others we've looked at in this space have similarly unpromising prospects, but why not: great players should be highly regarded by their clubs. Toni Kroos is simply not available from rival Bayern, nor is his teammate Neymar. Inter's Coutinho could maybe be had for €35m and a huge salary. Palermo's Javier Pastore, and two-time player of the year Paulo Henrique of Napoli are in the €50m and up transfer range. Dutchman Georginio Wijnaldum would perhaps be the best bet, but he's stuck in the pit that is Man City, and they're not even playing him; not sure we can justify a big fee for a player who isn't being given playing time at his club. And there's Montenegin Stevan Jovetic, whom I've had an eye on for a long time.

We've gotten an offer for Kyle Walker from big-spending Arsenal, who have apparently decided to splash the cash on a big upgrade. After some stalling, I counter with a bigger offer, I don't exactly want to lose Walker, but Gonzalo Castro is more than capable of manning the right-back position on a more regular basis, and I have a player in mind as an additional backup for both right and left back. I can't see where Arsenal have cash... they've just closed the €52m deal for Pjanic, whom they'll also pay €185k/week in salary. Simply, he got too well recognized for us. Walker has been so good for us he may be going that way, although there's 18 months left on his contract.

As per normal, Arsenal withdraw their interest in Walker. They seem to have scheme of taking a poke to see if they can get a good player on the cheap, less than they're worth. We'll see if they come back, that's happened more than once before. Meanwhile, I had to put in a bid for the young possible replacement player because a couple of other decent clubs came for him - and he quickly accepts our offer, which is good for the long term but may create a lot of crowding rigt now. The player is another Agentine youngster, Andres Traverso, aged 19. He's been toiling for CFR Cluj for a couple of seasons, although in calendar terms it's only been about one year. They've run him into the ground, he arrives to us needing a rest.

The resumption of play after the break sees three Saturday matches, including #2 Bayern and the #5, #6 and #7 clubs. We'll play Sunday as part of a six-match schedule, I hope we've not lost our edge with the time... well, not off exactly, but not playing matches. Bayern resume play by putting some pressure on, a 2-0 away win at Hoffenhiem.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - DSC Arminia Bielefeld
Score: 8-0 (Kiessling 12, 17, 24, Derdiyok 40. 69, Fernandez pen 43, 83, Botia 53)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We're going very aggressive for the Bielefeld fixture, a 4-1-3-2; Sandro joining the defenders with three AMCs and two forwards. In the match, we lose Walker very early, Castro coming on. Kiessling scores on an excellent long ball on 12, not quite what you'd call a chip, but taking advantage of the keeper a bit too far out and looping it over him. And another five minutes late coming from the left and firing it in. A third is almost there four minutes later, but the keeper is able to beat it away. Less than a minute on, it's there, though - what in Ice Hockey they'd call a "natural hat trick", three in a row by the same player. However you slice it, great show. I don't want us to humiliate a lower side necessarily, but goal difference matters as this club knows only too well, and we came into the match with a g.d. difference of only one over Bayern. Derdiyok gets in on the act before the break and it's 4-0. The attack continue, and Pamić has won a penalty. Fernandez drills that in, quite a first half. We've got a chance or two early in the 2nd, then Botia heads in a corner, and we're an amazing 6-0 up. We've changed two players after this, and a bit later there's a strange counter, it's 2v4 with Kiessling and Fernandez, but other players follow and Fernandez has set up Derdiyok for a header and he's scored! Fernandez adds to the carnage with a long free kick. Quite a show, in front of almost 53,000 ecstatic fans (well, maybe 53k weren't ecstatic, surely there are Bielefeld supporters in the crowd). Kyle Walker's injury is moderately serious; he's out 5-6 weeks with a knee problem, which means no transfer followup is likely to take place. We've improved the attendance mark by a whole 22 patrons...

So after that performance, we're back at the top of every main category: the 49 points have us 8 ahead of Bayern; 53 scored is five ahead of Bayern; 13 conceded is four ahead of Bayern and Hoffenheim; and the goal difference of +40 is 9 ahead of Bayern. One loss after 18 played is level with Bayern, but they have five draws to our single one to account for that 8 point difference. And what this all leads up to is a visit to FC Bayern in six days. Win and you'd think the title is sorted; lose and Bayern are back in it. No pressure or anything!!! But we're in a good place; a win would be very decisive, but a loss doesn't really hurt us except in the sense of bringing a very good run to a halt and maybe tweaking confidence a little.

There's a draw for the European World Cup Qualifying. It's an odd draw for me if I'm still with Croatia - they've drawn group C with two nations I have strong ties to, Scotland (where I had my first managerial stint) and Finland (my native country).

Group 1: France, Turkey, Montenegro, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia
Group 2: Italy, Belgium, Austria, Israel, Albania, Azerbaijan
Group 3: Croatia, Scotland, Finland, Georgia, Moldova, Luxembourg
Group 4: England, Switzerland, Poland, Bulgaria, Belarus, Faroe Islands
Group 5: Spain, Romania, Norway, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, San Marino
Group 6: Germany, Denmark, Ireland, Slovenia, FRY Macedonia, Andorra
Group 7: Portugal, Bosnia&Herzegovina, Wales, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Malta
Group 8: Slovakia, Holland, Serbia, Greece, Armenia
Group 9: Ukraine, Sweden, N.Ireland, Cyprus, Lithuania

Match: FC Bayern München - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-3 (Kiessling 7, Sandro 30, Derdiyok 42 - Andre 76)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Big-time match, and not surprisingly, the players look really up for this one. Derdiyok and Kiessling start out working hard up top, and it's only the 7th minute when Kiessling loops in a long shot, taking advantage of the keeper having come out. Bayern are playing really well though, and it takes wonderful work from Adler to save a goal, he bats away a difficult shot from Babacar, then recovers to snare the follow from Vrsaljko. As the rain starts to come down harder, Sandro scores a wonderful rocket of a long shot, 2-0 just short of the half hour. Left alone to receive a throw-in, he had a go, and it paid off. Suddenly Bayern are on the back foot and chances come... Pele just snares a shot from Bender. Lovely bit of passing and Derdiyok has an opening, and scores!!! Well into the second half, we get a little sloppy and Andre sneaks in to score. But that's all, and we've secured a vital win. Our mastery of Bayern continues, although to be fair at the moment we seem to have a mastery of almost everyone in the league. Oddly for Bayern, who usually make the Arena a fortress, they are 5-4-1 at home while 7-1-1 away.

I get a note that Hibernian have set an new SPL record with 12 wins in a row. That's some turnaround, they started 3-2-5, then 12-0-0. Still in 2nd place, though.

Match: TSG 1899 Hoffenheim - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-2 (Dzsudzsak 62 - Derdiyok 20, Sandro 90+2)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We've nearly scored one in the first minute, denied by a great save, then Schürrle puts it in but is flagged offside. Our dominance of the match only grows, however, and Derdiyok scores in the 20th. However, that marks the end of the dominance (possession had been 60/40 to this point), and we're struggling to contain Hoffenheim the rest of the half. At the break, Kiessling and Schürrle both come out - both are struggling a bit with knocks /and/ playing poorly. Schurrle's sub Biglia gets a chance on a cross but he heads just wide. After Vazquez takes a foolish foul, Dzsudzsak make us pay bending in his left-footed free kick. It looks like what's ended up being a spotty performance is going to cost us two points, but then with only eight second remaining of the posted 2 minutes extra Biglia breaks Hoffenheim's hearts on the break with a superb cross that Sandro reaches to head in. The referee lets play restart, and Hoffenheim immediately have a chance, Gehzzal coming from the right blasts but Adler tips it wide. It's all hands on deck for a corner that probably shouldn't have been taken, but we clear it out for the win. And that win sets a club record, it's our 18th in a row. Could have played a lot better, but it's clear we can't be "up" for every match and this wasn't one of them, after the emotional win at Bayern the week before.

Hibernian's run of wins, meanwhile, ends with a draw at Dundee, but they still pick up a point on Celtic who lost at Motherwell. That table is now Celtic 51 points from 24, Hibs 48 from 23. Hearts are pretty much the only other contender, third on 45 points from 24.

So we end the month with a 100% record, for the third month in a row. The first two were very impressive, the third one a bit less so.

Derdiyok has been tempted by interest from Barcelona, but nothing materialized in this window. The Walker interest was not pursued after he was injured. We rejected offers for Vazquez and Biglia and added another Argentinian of our own in Traverso - partly against the possibility of not keeping Walker. We lost our main U19 coach, so hired in two replacements, and added two more scouts as well, since we seemed light in both departments.

End of Month Table Summary (20 pld)
1. Leverkusen 55
2. Bayern 44
3. Schalke 35 +8
4. Stuttgart 35 +6
5. Dortmund 33
6. Werder Bremen 32
15. 1860 Munchen 18
16. Hertha BSC 15
17. Frankfurt 13
18. Bielefeld 12

January's never very good what with few matches played (we had only one at home) and usually some transfers and/or contract renewals. We only bought the one player for €4.2m, but ended up with a loss for the month of €10.5m. Turnover was €5.71m, down from €11.06m; expenses €16.16m, up from €13.04m. Both those will go down as almost everyone is now under contract past this year.
February 2016

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Borussia Dortmund (Derdiyok 5, Fernandez pen 33 - Weiss 2)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 1.FSV Mainz 05 (German Cup Qtr Final) (Sukuta-Pasu 10, 24)
Werder Bremen 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Kiessling 15, Sukuta-Pasu 82)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 1.FSV Mainz 05 (Fernandez 31, Sukuta-Pasu 41, Winter 82 - Funk 23)
Juventus 2-2 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 1) (Kadlec o.g. 21, Acuqafresca 71 - Sandro 1, Bradley 24)
1.FC Kaiserslautern 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Niasse 41 - Troost 31, 39, 45+1)

Still following Hibernian's progress, and Tuesday's big match with Celtic ends 2-1 for Hibs, so the two are level on points, Hibernian have a game in hand. On the other hand, their Scottish Cup progress stutters a bit... a 2-2 home draw with Inverurie Loco Works which means it goes to a replay.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Borussia Dortmund
Score: 2-1 (Derdiyok 5, Fernandez pen 33 - Weiss 2)
League Position: 1st
Summary: A bad beginning, Vladimir Weiss has scored in the 2nd minute. Fernandez immediately sets up Schürrle, but the shot is missed. The fifth minute effort by Derdiyok is not, however - we're back on level terms quickly. This match looks scarily open so far. Sigurdsson goes close. Grosskreutz puts one under Adler, but luckily - and maybe a little dubiously, it's disallowed (note: on replay after the match it was clearly the right call, because he'd come back from a considerably offside position). Weiss is robbed; we can't get a foothold here. We have some luck slowing things down... and Schürrle has been robbed by Weidenfeller, who just tips the shot onto the post. Dortmund are inches from a goal as a shot goes off the bar. Then the seasoned players set Dortmund up for a mistake... Fernandez finds Derdiyok who's got his defender screened, the defender chooses to take him down rather than concede an almost certain goal. The referee is not amused and the punishment is severe - a red card AND a penalty. Fernandez nets for the lead. Dortmund are rattled and need to regroup after the sending off, we've almost scored again in moments. It's still 2-1 at the break. In the second half we hit the woodwork three times, but 70 minutes in it's still 2-1, even though we're putting on more and more pressure. It doesn't result in any more goals, but it's a win. Poor performances from Kiessling again, from Winter, from Castro, and nothing special from the substitutes. The upcoming cup match will give us a chance to shake things up a little bit. Good news for us, Bayern's home woes continue, a 1-1 draw with Werder Bremen. The lead is 13 with 13 to play.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FSV Mainz 05 (German Cup Qtr Final)
Score: 2-2 (Sukuta-Pasu 10, 24)
Summary: We've gone with something a bit unusual, an especially attacking 4-4-2 diamond. Sukuta-Pasu heads in a corner in the 10th. After Castro makes a break all by himself off a Mainz set play, we've got a attack building, and Bender sets up Sukuta-Pasu for his second. Troost's been a little unlucky, he's had two great goes but been denied by excellent keeper work by Giefer. Giefer robs us a couple more times in the second half, a half that was largely devoid of interest to be honest. We fell a little short of a sellout for this match (we set that record last time out against Dortmund), but it's a gate receipts record. We'll see Mainz again in less than two weeks for the regular league fixture.

Bayern won their match, and in the second batch on Wednesday, Werder Bremen wins - and in a surprise, Nurnberg upend Dortmund, so there's still one second division side alive. We get Werder Bremen in an away tie, Bayern get Nurnberg at home. Certainly on paper easier for Bayern, but as noted they've struggled at the Arena. Meanwhile, we haven't exactly had a swimmingly good time at the Weserstadion; we've been 2-2-1 there while winning the last five at home.

Match: Werder Bremen - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-2 (Kiessling 15, Sukuta-Pasu 82)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Before the match it's confirmed Babacar Dieye is going out on loan to get some more game action, it hands the start to newcomer Andres Traverso with Castro tired from the cup match. Werder start with a lot of the ball, but we hit them on the counter twice in 15 minutes - the first one Derdiyok lobs the keeper but misses, the second Kiessling gets in and rockets a shot where maybe he could have placed, but he's scored it anyway. Derdiyok fails twice more on decent chances. Fernandez places one perfectly forward for Kiessling but he has his blocked too. We're not cashing in; the lineup today provides little width but we're still making it through, however there seem to be no "angles" for the shooters the way it's worked out for the first half hour. Kiessling does take it wide, crosses for a Derdiyok header off the bar. That's five missed chances. We look like we've made a dangerous defensive mistake late to send Werder on a break, but Naciri (who made the error in the first place) recovers brilliantly to clear and it's half-time. Gebhart scores early but there's no question he was standing well offside - probably five yards off. Kiessling hits the post but he was offside anyway - not by as much, but still pretty clear. Werder have very nearly scored on a corner, the ball dribbled past Adler and sat on the line. We've done a decent job of controlling the ball, but truth be told, Derdiyok was poor until being replaced Kiessling was okay but also had to come out, tired/slight knock, and replacements Troost and Sukuta-Pasu were completely off target - until Sukuta-Pasu finally scores our 2nd 82 minutes in. Without really ever going into attacking mode, we've outshot Werder 25-14 - 39 shots total shows how open it was. We weren't on target much, I found the quality of finishing disappointing. Traverso's debut was pretty good, but we wore him out completely, he's still not quite to the level we want him, he arrived totally worn down and we've tried to bring him back to fitness a bit slowly. Schürrle took a turn at AMC and did a super job at it, gives me something to think of.

Bayern make it easier for us, dropping two more points.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FSV Mainz 05
Score: 3-1 (Fernandez 31, Sukuta-Pasu 41, Winter 82 - Funk 23)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Second time in a couple of weeks we play Mainz at home, we've again rested some players with our trip to Italy on for Tuesday. This time maybe it's cost us, we don't seem that organized in attack and Funk puts Mainz in the lead. Danger for Mainz as a long ball drops between the high line and Giefer, Sukuta-Pasu gets there but shoots rather than trying to go around, and Giefer has that blocked. Fernandez gets us level with a free kick. Fernandez sets up Sukuta-Pasu just moments later, but that's fired over. Sukuta-Pasu heads in a corner shortly before the break. In the second half, there aren't many early developments. Sukuta-Pasu wins the race to a long ball but can't beat the keeper. We're still having trouble converting chances, until Winter walks into the middle from his far-post slot and heads in a free kick uncontested. Three long shots in the closing minutes are barely saved by Giefer, but he hasn't stopped being a good keeper, he's been up to the task. Troost takes an injury at the very death, I'll be frustrated at that if it's anything serious as I feel the whistle ought to have blown already. We've scored all three from set pieces, unable to score from the run of play. But, yet another three points in the bag. We've outshot Mainz 21-5. "Only" 53,000 showed up for this one.

Match: Juventus - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 1)
Score: 2-2 (Kadlec o.g. 21, Acuqafresca 71 - Sandro 1, Bradley 24)
Summary: We've set up cautiously, but there's nothing wrong with taking an opportunity that presents itself, and Sandro has scored in just 24 seconds after we played passes on the left side of the pitch and Kiessling then sent the ball across - it looked like for Derdiyok but he dummied it and Sandro had a step on his man coming behind. Sandro turning into a real goal-scorer! The lead almost doesn't last two minutes, "Chicharito" Hernandez going down easily in the box, penalty whistled against Botia - but Alder guesses right and tips the spot kick out wide. Adler denies Hernandez when he receives a beautiful ball inside but doesn't have time to do anything with it but poke it forward. Krasic is offside and has missed anyway. This is a tough challenge for us, Juventus are pouring forward hard. And sure enough, on 20 minutes Chiellini heads in the corner. We get the lead back quickly, long ball for Kiessling is perfect, he drives forward down the left, goes to goal, then slides it into the middle where Bradley bangs it in. Two away goals, are there more? Juventus still trying to push, fortunately their shots aren't very effective. We're losing too many challenges, and Hernandez is off in space after one miss, Adler robs him again. Juventus score from a second corner, I know what we'll be working on in the intervening weeks. Krasic should have put Juve ahead, but misses nervously. Is he trying too hard to impress me (his national team manager)? Acuqafresca has a chance to score late, but misses. However, there's another corner, Juve's 10th (to our one). We survive it, and the final is a draw. The Chiellini goal was called an own-goal on Kadlec, which is silly; it was headed over him at the post, if he touched it at all he did nothing to put it in... anyway, level but with two goals going to the home leg. We'll have to take a more positive approach to that game, and tighten down the set piece defending. We ended up outshot by a huge margin, as we only got off five shots, that is not our usual style of play.

It's Croatia-picking time, and life is complicated as three important players, Modrić, Ćorluka and captain Srna are withdrawn by their clubs.

Match: 1.FC Kaiserslautern - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-3 (Niasse 41 - Troost 31, 39, 45+1)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We've been absolutely horrid for the first 20 minutes, at one point possession was 72-28, shots 6-1, but we've still scored first as Troost rolls one in on the half hour. He wove his way around two defenders, nice goal. We should have been punished for some slack defending a few minutes later, saved by the post. Troost looks really fired up now, and his good defending is almost rewarded as Derdiyok sets him up at the end of the sequence he started, but the Kiessling-style chip floats wide. But he makes up for it moments later with an excellent spin move to score. Then for FCK, Niasse fires in a brilliant shot. Troost finds Derdiyok in good position, though, and he's scored a late goal to go to the break 3-1 up. Derdiyok sets up Troost who makes good move to get clear, and with the hat trick on, hits the side netting. Fernandez catches woodwork with a sneaky shot. Troost is still working hard late, and has twice won a ball on one sequence by battling, shoots wide again. Again Troost's day ends with a very late injury. A little odd - a four-goal game, all four scored in the final 15 minutes of the first half. No change in the top two as Bayern do what they have to - win again. Last time we got off easy; Troost wasn't seriously hurt, but this time he has a broken toe and we won't see him for up to two months.

Decent month with only the draw to mar it - in probably the second-most important match, as we would likely have been roasted alive over hot coals if we crashed out of the cup to Mainz, in spite of their excellent cup form over the last two seasons and improving league form this year. However, for a side used to a large number of clean sheets, we seem to be getting a little leaky - five goals in the six.

End of Month Table Summary (24 pld)
1. Leverkusen 67
2. Bayern 52
3. Stuttgart 44
4. Schalke 40
5. Gladbach 36
16. Hertha Berlin 16
17. Bielefeld 15
18. Frankfurt 14

It's close for the 5th spot; Gladbach followed by five other clubs. There's a gap emerging to the bottom three - 9 points to the next side.

Meanwhile, we can't be caught now, can we? 15 points clear with only 30 points (10 matches) left on offer, it would have to be a collapse of monumental proportions to give that up. Our performance is already enough to assure us of European competition again next year, although if we stopped dead here and only made the Euro Cup there would be mass discontent.

As expected, numbers stabilize a bit for February, three home contests bringing in more revenue. The loss is €2.52m on turnover of €7.22m, up from €5.71m; expenses 9.74m, down from €16.16m.
March 2016

Monthly Results (Leverkusen)
Bayer Leverkusen 1-3 Hamburger SV (Mares 58 - Westermann 26, Kucka 54, Alves 74)
VfL Bochum 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Derdiyok 51, Botia 72, Schürrle 80)
Bayer Leverkusen 0-0 Juventus (ECC 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 2) ( Leverkusen win on away goals, 2-2 aggregate)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 TSV 1860 München (Kiessling 6, Derdiyok 21)
Werder Bremen 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup Semi Final) (Fernandez 90+1 - Jorgensen 18, Pool 36, Sukuta-Pasu 61)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 FC Schalke 04 (Jendrisek o.g. 7, Kiessling 15)
Arsenal 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Qtr Final 1st Leg) (Sanchez 24 - Kiessling 6, Derdiyok 21)

International Results (Croatia)
Armenia 0-2 Croatia (Friendly) (Vukojević 44, Vida 66)

I'm off on Croatia duty for a mid-week; I'm hoping to build some confidence but in addition to three withdrawn players, and two missing due to injury, five more have received 45-minute restrictions, and we're getting criticism for not planning a more challenging match than Armenia.

International Friendly: Armenia - Croatia
Score: 0-2 (Vukojević 44, Vida 66)
Summary: We don't really impress early; Vukušić does walk it into the net in the 10th but he's fractionally offside. The team have set themselves up a little bit by announcing they expect to score a ton of goals, and they're pressing. Zvonko Pamić hits woodwork for the best chance in the first quarter of the match. Badelj is clear but shoots too early and skies it over by a mile. Vukojević finally breaks the duck with a long shot just before the break. We've looked a great deal more lively after the break with Kranjčar on for Badelj (both were on 45-minute limits) and Kranjčar, despite being wasteful in taking poor shots when maybe a pass was in order (rather unlike my experience of him), has lofted in a well-placed corner for Vida to head home. It's in the end a pretty dominant performance, but missing in cohesiveness and finishing acuity. We had 27 shots, with an astonishing 15 off target, really need to do better. Really good performances came from Cale at left back, Vida at center back and man of the match Vukojević who commanded the middle of the park in his 76 minutes - and not just because of his excellent goal. Neither of my backup goalkeepers had a senior cap, so I got both of them in - it was pretty clear Delač's club preferred him not to play anyway, so this worked out; Kelava and Jozak have now both been "blooded", not that they had to face any serious action in the nets.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Hamburger SV
Score: 1-3 (Mares 58 - Westermann 26, Kucka 54, Alves 74)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Minor shuffles, Mares gets a go for Derdiyok, who was tired from international duty. Sukuta-Pasu isn't the type of player Derdiyok is, he doesn't really have power or aerial game; Oczipka spells Kadlec, who was also tired; Bender goes instead of Sandro. We've made another poor beginning, and though playing a little better after the first few minutes, we've conceded the opening goal - yes, despite some focus on this area, on another set piece, Westermann heading on a free kick. Another good chance saved - if not for Adler, we could be down four at the break. There's some stern talk in the dressing room, but it doesn't show any signs of helping; in the 54th, Kucka has drilled in a shot to make it 0-2. Kiessling is through but blows it, then Schürrle is too slow with the follow and gets nothing out of it. It's a 2v1 break for HSV, Dante doesn't close the ball but the shot is missed. Finally, Mares scores as he beats the keeper in a challenge, poking it underneath him. I'm thinking we can yet save a draw, but Adler spills a shot and Thiago Alves pounces and makes no mistake. We've got nothing more, and it's the first home league loss for Leverkusen since 20 March, 2012 - a string of 67 matches! Very poor show, over the course of the match the two fullbacks had a lot of problems, Kiessling was off his form, and really nobody else stepped up either. It's got to happen some day, doesn't it? We've had a bit of a spotty record v. Hamburg, they gave us our other defeat this season so it seems they've got something cooked up on us; before that they also beat us in their park in 2014 but we'd won eight of the previous nine with them before this season.

It could be noted we've already conceded 21 times in 25 matches, that's five more than all last season (16 from 34 matches)

Another glance at Hibernian - they're being a bit hammered by their success on multiple fronts: since beating Celtic on 2 Feb, they've only put in two league matches, and will only get in one more (a tough one - a visit to Rangers, although Gers are still off form) until 21 March. They went to a replay in the Scottish Cup, finally prevailing; they've survived the first knockout leg in the Euro Cup (beating Zenit) and have to face a leg v. Palermo next, and they have a Scottish Cup Qtr Final (update: won v. Rangers). Meanwhile, they've dropped to third on 55 from 26, two games in hand on #1 Celtic (60 from 28) and #2 Hearts (57 from 28). The Edinburgh football revival continues with Hearts now also in the mix.

The U19's stumble the day after in what looks like one of those club-wide sudden rots, but recover enough to win the U19 Cup mid-week despite a generally poor performance, plus taking some key injuries.

Man City eliminate Schalke and Rubin Kazan take out Tottenham in Tuesday ECC matches; Napoli knock out Man United and OL get past At.Madrid, the latter tie going to penalties.

Match: VfL Bochum - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-3 (Derdiyok 51, Botia 72, Schürrle 80)
League Position: 1st
Summary: The weather is rotten in Bochum. I want an immediate response, no chance for rot to set in. We start brightly, but don't score. The surge drops off, and on the whole the first half performance is crap, and I let the squad know that. Derdiyok scores pretty early in the second, now we need to consolidate. Botia scores an amazing headed redirect of a free kick in the 72nd, is that enough? Sub Schürrle heads in after a free kick, suddenly the win looks comfortable! Maybe it wasn't, but there was a response in the 2nd half, and I hope it's enough to show we're not going into a funk - we after all have a huge match coming up.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Juventus (ECC 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 2)
Score: 0-0 (Leverkusen win on away goals, 2-2 aggregate)
Summary: Nothing taken for granted here, we know it's going to be a tough one. I've made one surprise pick - only - Jordy Pool for the off-form Kiessling. There's nothing really to separate the sides for 20... 30... 40 minutes. At the very death, Chicharito looks like he's gotten loose, but Adler is way out and denies any chance he may have had. At the break we've got Fernandez trying to fight off a knock, Vida and Derdiyok playing badly. I'm not going to swap three at the break, indeed in the end I'll credit them for being senior players and encourage the two not playing well and change none - but keep a hand poised on the hook, not necessarily waiting for the hour mark to make a change. Fernandez is the first to go off (for Pamić), as he's not able to put in a full effort any longer, then Pool replaced by Kiessling, finally a roll of the dice with the mercurial Biglia on for Sam to see if maybe he can put in a decisive cross (Biglia's the far better crosser, but as hinted, not a consistent player at this stage of his career). It's really tense as we come to the final ten minutes. Right now, we're through on away goals, but a goal from Juventus would leave us with very little time to recover. A looping shot from Pamić leaves the keeper Muslera having to tip over, corner won. Juventus try to attack, it's sent back and Kiessling is trying to get out of the way but it hits him anyway and so offside is flagged. Juve attack, then we're countering, Kiessling has some space but fires way over. With a minute to go in regular time, the 4th official shows four minutes added... and moments later Juve look to have broken us down, Jara gets it past Adler, but it's off the far post!!! What a let-off!!! Can we attack? Kiessling drives it the right way, but when he dumps to Pamić he and Derdiyok aren't on the same page and the ball is picked off easily. A panicky Acquafresca is nowhere near the target. Time passes, the four minutes are up, but Jadson is allowed to line up a free kick... sent to Bertrand, the former Chelsea man, who challenges Adler but doesn't beat him, and the ball is cleared to spend enough time for the referee to blow for full time. Certainly a skin-of-the-teeth tie, both matches drawn. We're through, without impressing. But in this competition, "through" matters, "impressing" is secondary. Barcelona are playing in the Euro Cup, if you want to talk about pretty football. There are only 8 shots total the keepers had to deal with, of 29 shots combined, rather a weak showing on both sides of the ball.

We've smashed the club gate receipts record, a near sellout for a top level European match - €1.5m in revenues. Not bad.

Post-match we get the following article: "... Seen as just an outside bet for the competition from the outset, Bayer 04 will have delighted their fans by booking their place in the European Champions Cup Quarter Final against... " {opponent unknown since draw is yet to come}. So... we're the defending champion, and runaway leaders in our league, and we're an "outsider"? A slight, do I want to use it as motivation? Not 100% sure yet... On the plus side, where we are now matches the board expectation in the competition. Not that I'm worried about being sacked; my contract situation seems to be an ongoing news story, I did not accept the early offer which included no raise, and no bonus for accomplishments, but I'm not actually unhappy managing this very good club. It's the Board's move, not mine.

Arsenal and Bayern (the latter on an astonishing - for this stage in the competition - aggregate 7-0 win) are the final two through. For the last 8 it's England 2 (Arsenal, Man City), Germany 2 (Leverkusen, Bayern), France 1 (OL), Turkey 1 (Besiktas), Italy 1 (Napoli), Russia 1 (Rubin Kazan). Bye, Spain! The draw is Arsenal - Leverkusen, Man City - Bayern, Napoli - Rubin, OL - Beskitas.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - TSV 1860 München
Score: 2-0 (Kiessling 6, Derdiyok 21)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Time for a statement game... after a missed chance, we score one, Kiessling in the 6th. Derdiyok powers in a free kick of quite some quality - the keeper seemed like he was there, but can't deal with the power of the shot. Derdiyok is through at the half hour, but misses. Kiessling pokes one in, but the assistant sees something that wasn't there and raises the flag. Derdiyok with an amazing miss in the 2nd half, then Walker. Tired of seeing misses. And I get even more tired... in the end we've taken 18 official shots, 10 off target, 3 blocked, so only five to the keeper. We're tottering a little... we've gone 284 minutes without conceding but have had a lot of unconvincing moments in the three full games.

Match: Werder Bremen - Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup Semi Final)
Score: 1-3 (Fernandez 90+1 - Jorgensen 18, Pool 36, Sukuta-Pasu 61)
Summary: We've taken an aggressive approach to Werder, who don't look that convincing defensively with their 4-2-3-1 formation. It's paid off in a headed goal for Jorgensen in the 18th. We switch to a bit more of a ball control approach after a while. Pool is behind after a long ball and coolly slots it home. Pool has set the table for Jorgensen to get a second, but his header is weak and Wiese collects it. In the second half, Werder have a similar chance with a similar outcome - Nowak scoops the header up on the bounce. Pool has made a good pass to Sukuta-Pasu leaving him in acres of space, Wiese blocks the initial shot but it comes back to Sukuta-Pasu who makes no mistake with the second try. Jorgensen with yet another chance to head home, this is saved. Pool's got his chance, but blasts straight at the keeper, he looked like he could easily have gone around. With the game winding down Werder have worked something nice with Colonna putting it in the net, but he's flagged offside. Fernandez does head one in for them just into stoppage time, but it's too little, too late. Bayern win the other semifinal, 4-1 over Nurnberg, so that sets up a Leverkusen - Bayern final. We got by with several sub in the lineup, and things clicked well, but we did leave a lot of chances unrealized.

Hibernian's strange relationship with Hearts continues. Hearts have won the last three at Easter Road now, while Hibernian have won the last six at Tynecastle - why are these two city rivals doing better in the other side's home park? The loss leaves Hibs 3rd, Hearts 2nd, but Hibernian do still have two games in hand. They're done with the Euro Cup now, losing both legs to Palermo.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - FC Schalke 04
Score: 2-0 (Jendrisek o.g. 7, Kiessling 15)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Fernandez, who's our best long shooter among the regular players, continues to have bad luck, hitting woodwork yet again. Shortly after we get a goal - a free kick that's almost in the corner, several players get pokes at it and it's gone in, having glanced off Jendrisek who gets the blame, own-goal. Derdiyok should probably have gotten credit, his final poke was headed for the goal before it changed direction hitting the defender. After several won challenges, Schürrle gets a ball in to Kiessling, Schalke look like they think he's offside but both Schürrle and his marker were ahead so no way. 2-0 inside a quarter hour! In the first minute of the 2nd Derdiyok seems to have been scored on yet another won challenge, this time Bradley breaking up things as Schalke try to start an attack, but it's flagged offside - all happened so quickly neither of the forwards could get back. We're not making further headway on the scoreline, although Botia has a chance past 70 minutes, heading a free kick over. Late, Walker goes off injured, then Derdiyok is behind but loops his shot over. In the end a fairly boring match, one in which we were never threatened after the early pair of goals, but also never made any more. Bayern's draw - at home, of course - moves the gap up to 14 points, we're five points from sewing up the title.

Tuesday ECC Qtr finals: Napoli 1-1 Rubin, OL 1-0 Besiktas.

Match: Arsenal - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Qtr Final 1st Leg)
Score: 1-2 (Sanchez 24 - Kiessling 6, Derdiyok 21)
Summary: Sandro is out for this one on suspension (accumulation of yellows), so we go with the more defensively oriented pairing of Bender and Bradley in central midfield. And... we've scored a nice early goal, Sam working hard to come up the right flank, feeds to Bradley, he's put the ball forward where Kiessling has some space and he fires into the upper left corner from the edge of the 18, just past the hand of Kameni. In the 9th, Kiessling tries for the same spot again, it's just barely off that corner. Arsenal threaten when a header off an Adler clearance catches our line having moved up too far, Chamakh is behind, he chips it, it's on target - and somehow Vida has gotten back to fling himself and head it clear, right on the line. That might qualify as the defensive play of the season! The ball is still being headed around, eventually we gain an edge in that battle and get it out of the zone. Sam finds Derdiyok with a sharp pass, he's controlled it excellently, turns and shoots and it's in that same corner again, again just evading Kameni's desperate dive (his right post). That one draws a response from Arsenal, who score on a corner, Sanchez heading, Adler at the highest point of his jump gets a tip on it but it still goes in. We still have 66 minutes to protect the remaining one goal of the lead. Arsenal are coming after it hard now, Adler has to make several top saves to keep it 2-1 at the break. Sanchez has a break on the right off a long ball (Arsenal played a long ball? Really?) and fires, but is denied by the bar. Adler almost had it anyway, so if it was a few inches lower to miss the bar, he might well have tipped it over. The pressure is on... Adler can't catch a high ball cleanly because one of his own defenders is in the way, Arsenal look to get it with some space but Vida has fallen down and the referee gives the foul. Bradley catches Song, it looks quite accidental, but the referee, who's behind the play and 30 yards away doesn't see it that way, it's Bradley's second yellow and now we're even more under threat, 26 minutes to go with a man down. We've got a little bit of a counter, Kiessling is breaking just clear, but he shoots over - 72nd. Van Persie's trip of Sam looks far more egregious than Bradley's sin, but the referee is right in position this time and he deems it okay. Pinpoint pass had Derdiyok with a little space in the box, but Kameni is no slouch, he's able to knock that shot aside. At the end of normal time we've got a corner, Botia has been bumped, but despite appeals, no penalty is given. There's one more go, Botia heading where it looks like it's going in but the merest of touches by Kameni is enough for it to clip the post. It's a rather fortunate win, 2-1, considering that we only got off six shots the whole game. The stats are a little deceptive, after we did well at the start and scored two, Arsenal were throwing everything they had at us, and maybe we got a little too defensive in response.

OL beat Besiktas 1-0 at home in the other first leg.

End of Month Table Summary (29 pld)
1. Leverkusen 76 (28 pld)
2. Bayern 62 (28 pld)
3. Stuttgart 53
4. Gladbach 47
5. HSV 44 +12
6. Schalke 44 +8
14. Bochum 32
15. Köln 30 (28 pld)
16. Hertha Berlin 22
17. Frankfurt 21
18. Bielefeld 18

We have a profitable month, €2.4m. Turnover is €13.07m, up from €7.22m; expenses €10.59m, up from €9.74m. Prize money (German cup, ECC) didn't hurt, neither did the turnstiles clicking for 220,000 fans over four home matches.
April 2016

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 Arsenal (ECC Qtr Final 2nd Leg) (Kiessling 6, Fernandez pen 51, Clichy o.g. 90 - Song 90+2) Leverkusen win 5-2 on aggregate.
Borussia Mönchengladbach 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Fellah 14 - Derdiyok 55, 81)
1.FC Köln 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Freis pen 61 - Kiessling 53, 79, 83)
Bayer Leverkusen 4-2 VfB Stuttgart (Pool 18, Sandro 36, 55, pen 73 - Oczipka o.g. 42, Yalcin 90+1)
Napoli 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Semi Final 1st Leg) (Derdiyok 76)
Hertha BSC Berlin 3-5 Bayer Leverkusen (Fousseyni Cisse 15, Deac 43, 90 - Bradley 28, Dante 30, 79, Bustos 45+1, Kiessling 53)
Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 Napoli (ECC Semi Final 2nd Leg) (Kiessling pen 59) Leverkusen win 2-0 on aggregate.

In a helpful bit of scheduling, the Bundesliga have no matches the weekend of April 2/3, so we get the time to prepare for the second Arsenal leg; meanwhile the Gunners get no such respite as they have to play a crucial title showdown with Chelsea, who are #1 in the EPL on 69 points from 32, with Arsenal #2 on 67 points from 32. I'm sure Arsenal manager Mancini can't be too thrilled about that scheduling quirk. Another good bit of news for us (not new to this second leg) is Arsenal can't use their expensive midfield wizard Miralem Pjanic, who is cup tied from his time with Roma. Arsenal have drawn with Chelsea 0-0, and I can hope they're really exhausted for our Tuesday clash!!!

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Arsenal (ECC Qtr Final 2nd Leg)
Score: 3-1 (Kiessling 6, Fernandez pen 51, Clichy o.g. 90 - Song 90+2) Leverkusen win 5-2 on aggregate.
Summary: The only worrying issue is we have three players in suspension danger: Botia, Vida and Sam are a yellow card away from a ban. If we progress, it becomes a question of how to deploy them, but we have to win here or there's no progression, so nobody is saved out today. Sandro is back from his ban, and of course Bradley has to serve one this time. It's odd, we are rarely in this position, but the rules, and the nature of the competition itself, are quite different in continental competitions. The beginning is as good as the first leg, long ball, Derdiyok is through, the defense knowing the danger better this time scramble to close so he dumps to his partner Kiessling who has no trouble finishing. 6th minute. That forces Arsenal to score two without answer to just draw level. Arsenal as in desperation mode already as the game stalls... four times in just moments, Arsenal go in hard, the referee blows the whistle - two warnings, two yellow cards. You know our dominance, 70% of the ball through 20 minutes, will change, so it's disappointing when Schürrle has a chance to challenge Kameni but fires wildly over. We're still pushing though, we were pretty cautious in London and I think we may have caught Arsenal a bit unprepared as we've planned an attacking game plan this time. Fernandez tries the sneaky near-post option on a free kick, and just skims the post on the wrong side. At the break we're on 67% of the possession, and shots are 15-1, although we've been wasteful, only three on target. Arsenal are playing poorly, it's not just us, I'm sure they're tired from the draining battle with Chelsea, while we're rested. Unfair... and I'll take it! Still, it's not salted away, 45 minutes of work to do. Arsenal come out better in the 2nd half. Sanchez has almost brought a goal back, he heads a corner but it clips down off the bar and Castor steps out from the far post to poke it away, not too far though... we need a spell of attack, and it comes quickly, Sam launches a break, and eventually it's forward to Derdiyok who is tripped cynically in the box by James Tompkins. Waiting for referee decisions now... penalty, no further sanctions, but that's harmful enough as Fernandez nets from the spot. 51 minutes in, it's 4-1 on aggregate and we've got two away goals in the bank. Now Arsenal need three unanswered, surely that's not in the cards? Elia gets some space, but his effort to evade Adler's dive puts the shot just wide. Sub Jordy Pool might have scored on a snap shot, he's unlucky to have hit the upright. Very late in the match - 89:55 showed on the clock - Vida has headed a corner that's hit somebody and trickled in. Clichy gets the blame, although why that's an own-goal I have no idea. Of all people, Alex Song fires in a shot from outside the box in stoppage time, no clean sheet but who cares? We're through, and really, we turned around the advantages Arsenal had at home in the statistics, with the scoreline being similar... 60% of the ball, 23-9 on shots.

Our German rivals Bayern have turned around a 1-3 deficit in the first leg to brilliantly eliminate Man City, a 4-0 second leg win. The unfortunate possibility remains that we might have to face them in both cups - we're already set to face them in the German Cup, and now the chance of an ECC matchup looms... In the Wednesday second legs, OL draw Besiktas 0-0 to win 1-0 on agg, Napoli win 2-0 to win 3-1 on agg - both of the away sides taking the ties. So we've got a history with all of the other semifinalists. Bayern, of course, we play all the time; Napoli we faced in a knockout round in 2012 (and were knocked out) an in the group stage in 2014 where we won one, drew one. OL we faced in semi-final ties twice, in 2013 and 2015, winning both ties even though the wins were split evenly, each winning at home. We get Napoli with OL left to face Bayern.

Neither of the top two have easy matchups coming up, as #1 we visit #4 Gladbach and #2 Bayern visit #3 Stuttgart. We can't win it this week unless we win and Bayern drop points. Wouldn't mind, though, would give a chance to focus the effort on the ECC tie with Lyon. On the other hand, we continue to know we'll be first at the end of the day no matter what the results.

Match: Borussia Mönchengladbach - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-2 (Fellah 14 - Derdiyok 55, 81)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: We trail in this one as we've failed to cash in a very promising situation, then at the other end we can't quite get a foot to a ball and Mohammed Fellah crashes it in. We're gradually coming into the match as the half winds down, but still trail. Vida's off his form and struggling with a knock so have to spend one of the subs on a defensive replacement at the break. Derdiyok brings us level 10 minutes in. Kiessling scores but is flagged offside. Sub Naciri has fed Kiessling who has the shot blocked, but Derdiyok volleys home the carom! We want to control proceedings now but Bustos makes a pass forward that Kiessling and Derdiyok dither over who's going to play, and neither does, this launches a Gladbach attack and we're really fortunate that the header off the lovely cross goes just wide. It's a good comeback, we turned around a fairly poor first half. And as we come off the pitch we hear Bayern have lost in Stuttgart, the title is ours for the 4th year running!

Match: 1.FC Köln - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-3 (Freis pen 61 - Kiessling 53, 79, 83)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: It's not much of a first half, we've started slowly again then come on rather stronger by the end, but scoreless still. We've given the lead away, a rather harsh penalty on Vida as both players were going for a loose ball, Freis scores it. Jorgensen's unlucky to hit the upright. Kiessling picks a defender clean and he's all alone to fire a shot on goal, which beats the keeper. Köln are sure to get it back as a pass drops for Lanig inside, but he unbelievably misses, and holds his head... Kiessling looks like he's up for a hat trick, and he gets it when an attempted clearance doesn't go too far and Kadlec sends it right back goal-wards and Kiessling heads in. Bayern clearly lost some confidence after the title hopes were finally extinguished, and lost again, this time at Schalke - these were the only two matches, make-ups for ones we missed playing in the Cup. So again, like it's been previous years, it's going to look like a huge winning margin when it was interesting up to a certain point, then opened up.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - VfB Stuttgart
Score: 4-2 (Pool 18, Sandro 36, 55, pen 73 - Oczipka o.g. 42, Yalcin 90+1)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: We've taken up our "unusual" unbalanced 4-5-1 with a lot of second string players, risky v. a very good Stuttgart side, but then this match is meaningless to us and Wednesday's visit to Naples is not. Jordy Pool mans the lone "forward" spot, and he drives to goal very early, drawing an excellent save. Stuttgart threaten from a headed cross. Bustos has placed it just right for Pool who puts his shot past the keeper, but catches woodwork on the far side - however, he's the most alert player in the box and comes around to slam in the carom. Bustos comes clear and aims for the same spot Pool did, this one just wide of the far post. Adler's feed start a rush that is mostly German Biglia, when he gets to the byline and crosses, it's Sandro with the headed finish. Our onslaught continues, but then gets dented a bit as Oczipka tries to get in the way of a sliding poke at a cross and has had the ball deflect in off him for an own-goal (to be fair, it's an almost certain goal if he didn't get there). After the break, Sandro slides to poke in half-time sub Schurrle's cross (he's replacing the injured Biglia), 3-1. Gentner should have scored for Stuttgart after being fed in lots of space. Ditto for Pool the other way. Adler comes up with a very special save, then Stuttgart let their chance fizzle by fouling on the corner. That costs them as Adler's take of the free kick leads to an attack where Stuttgart are disorganized and foul Kiessling for a penalty, which Sandro converts for his hat trick! With the game beyond doubt at 4-1 with 17 minutes to go, Stuttgart nonetheless push hard, and should probably have scored in the 76th, then Oczipka kicks a corner off the line as he stayed home om the post. Stuttgart do finally score in stoppage time to make it 4-2, Yalcin with the goal. Not a cakewalk by any means, statistically even, Stuttgart failed to convert some chances. But as I said, meaningless for us.

Here's a match you wouldn't get much of a picture of from the statistics. As the home side we've edged shots 16-15, lost possession 48-52%, Stuttgart have had more "clear cut changes"; pretty much down the board things are nearly even - throws, corners, free kicks, fouls; we passed a bit more accurately but not a lot, so on. Yet it's 4-2 and could have easily been 6-0 - we've conceded an own-goal and let in a stoppage time goal. Bustos is not badly hurt; Biglia has a gash that makes the physio staff want to hold him out for a week or so. We've managed to save just about everyone I had planned to play v. Napoli - Sandro being the most notable exception.

So here it is Squeaky Bum Town (er, Time... sorry Mancini, we already beat your side)... we have six left for sure, maybe seven. Of the six, a pair with Napoli determine whether or not we make the 7th, which would be the European Champions Cup final, and we have the German Cup final; the three league matches fall in the meaningless category, except for the matter of pride.

We've divided four historical matches with Napoli in recent times - a win apiece and two draws. In the 2012 knockout round, Napoli had their win which was enough to see us off - this was a few months before my arrival on the scene. In group play in 2014, we had our win and the other draw - the five dropped points to us were presumably the difference between Napoli qualifying and not, they were edged out by Real Madrid for second spot. Napoli have had some struggles late this season, but they still look likely to lift the Serie A title and they're on the way to the Italian Cup final. For the first leg we may well miss the top two scoring threats of Napoli, both Lavezzi (21 goals) and Cavani (19 goals) are on knocks know, it's a question Napoli aren't going to answer for us whether they'll be able to rush them back. I expect I wouldn't be surprised to see them.

Match: Napoli - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Semi Final 1st Leg)
Score: 0-1 (Derdiyok 76)
Summary: Lavezzi and Cavani are indeed not available, and at one of the forward positions, we see former Leverkusen man Patrick Helmes. It's a close-fought battle early, with little sign of advantage either way. This continues, past the half hour. Fernandez threatens with an excellently taken free kick from the right, bending right-to-left and still almost sneaking in - it wins a corner but we don't cash in. At the end of 45 minutes, we seem to have had a slight edge but it's scoreless. There's finally a breakthrough, Aubameyang behind and scoring. But it's not really a breakthrough, he was open because he's offside. Finally we've created real danger, Kiessling puts in a cross, Patricio just tips it off the charging Derdiyok, and the ball comes out loose, but nobody can quite score it, however it's a corner... and Derdiyok heads it in!!!! We've got an away goal on the board, can we hold on for a win? Dori drills a free kick, it's just barely over the bar. Very late, halfway into stoppage, late sub Vazquez is very harshly shown a red card for a tackle that looked fine. We've seen it out.

The other first leg, held Tuesday, saw OL edge to a 1-0 win over Bayern. Bayern had some good individual play, especially from the elusive Neymar, but looked unsettled - they seemed to have poor spacing in the midfield corps, and the keeper Yohann Pele didn't field his position that confidently. As it was, the match went down to the very final seconds of stoppage, when the game was also won on a headed corner.

Match: Hertha BSC Berlin - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 3-5 (Fousseyni Cisse 15, Deac 43, 90 - Bradley 28, Dante 30, 79, Bustos 45+1, Kiessling 53)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: We start out playing pretty well, but it breaks down on a set play when the ball hits the woodwork, out to our right, and too many players follow out in that direction. Two passes later there are not one but two Hertha players open in front, it's Cisse who scores. Bradley gets us level in the 28th minute. Dante heads in a corner two minutes later. We can't keep things clean though, Hertha level on a corner near the end of the half, Deac the scorer. The half isn't done, an unfortunate deflection off a Hertha player as they start onto offense leaves it for Bustos, who works it all the way in himself and scores. His first of the season, and a real beauty. Kiessling's goal a few minutes into the second period looks easy. Bustos has absolutely put it on a plate for Kiessling, who shoots right at the keeper - it's looking like a breakout game for Bustos. With Oczipka needing to come out injured, it's a rare appearance for youngster Martin Glowacz. Dante gets another goal off a corner, Bustos the provider once more. Kiessling is looking for another as well, but it just won't come. Deac gets his second on a late headed free kick. We're conceding too much... this one was fun for the fans, but a little disturbing for the coaching staff. We've spent a fair bit of time working on set-play defending since the problems at Juventus, yet here we're conceded three from set play sequences. Bustos records a goal and three assists and just in the middle of everything. The injury story is that Oczipka will miss 2-3 weeks, two-goal scorer Dante 9-11 days. We've also got Botia and Vazquez missing the ECC match in a couple of days due to suspension (Botia's on card accumulation), so we'll be a little thin on the defensive side of the ball.

Another little glance at Scotland... the split saw Celtic, Hibernian, Hearts, Motherwell, Falkirk and Dunfermline in the Championship Group, Dundee United, Rangers, Aberdeen, Dundee, St Mirren and Partick Thistle in the Relegation Group. Maybe it shouldn't be a surprise any longer that Rangers miss the split again, this time Aberdeen too has slipped into the lower half. The first round (34th overall) saw Celtic beat Hearts and Hibernian beat Dunfermline so the gap between the top two is a single point still; Hearts' challenge is well an truly ended now as they've dropped nine points behind Celtic, where a win would have seen them within three. The 30 April matches seem to lend themselves to another pair of wins by the top two: Dunfermline-Celtic and Falkirk-Hibernian, the following round is Hibernian-Hearts, always a minefield for Hibs as already chronicled and Celtic-Motherwell. The penultimate round sees Falkirk-Celtic and Motherwell-Hibernian. If the two leaders can negotiate those, the title might be settled on the final day in head-to-head fashion - 11 May, when Hibernian host Celtic. Those two meet in the Scottish Cup final also. So if it all sets up perfectly, it would be Glasgow v Edinburgh for the two most important pieces of Scottish footballing silverware.

It's tight in England too, after 36 rounds, Chelsea 77, Arsenal 75, Aston Villa 73, and with a Monday match up, Man City could move to 72. Some other leagues are tight at the top as well - France has a top five separated by four points with five matches to go, PSG on top at the moment; Spain has Atleti and Valencia fighting it out with Real Madrid sitting with an outside chance with four matches to go; Italy and Portugal are pretty much done (Napoli and Benfica leading those packs).

The U19's have secured their group title now, so they've done the double.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Napoli (ECC Semi Final 2nd Leg)
Score: 1-0 (Kiessling pen 59) Leverkusen win 2-0 on aggregate.
Summary: No let-off this time in terms of Napoli players, the full complement of danger is there: Lavezzi, Cavani, Paulo Henrique, Hamsik. Half an hour in, the two best chances have fallen to Napoli, one shot whizzing just past the post, another off the bar - both from some distance though, we haven't let them inside. It's scoreless at the break. As long as we can hold them to one goal or less, we're still in the tie and of course if we score it gets better. But we haven't shown any creativity to unlock the Napoli defense yet. Castro's missed tackle puts us under pressure, but Henrique shoots over. Bustos in for Fernandez and Sam in for Bender, and Bustos makes an immediate impact, slipping into the box and buying a penalty, a trip on Marcelo. Kiessling steps up... and scores!!! Bustos suddenly looks a confident, mature player, what we've been waiting for. He's found Schürrle with a clever pass into space on the left, and his pass into the middle finds Sam... who agonizingly slides it just past the post. That could have been it, pretty nearly. Bustos in the middle... he's sure to pass with Kiessling and Derdiyok looking for the channels on either side, but Napoli know that too and he sneaks through instead... another shot agonizingly just past the post. 10 minutes to go now. Bustos lays one beautifully for Schurrle's, who tries to put it through the middle but nobody gets there in time and it trickles behind. Now it's only a minute, plus one of injury time. Over!!! We're into the final for the third straight year, and how we have shut down explosive Napoli again is, well, let's say it's at least surprising. Castro has a great game at right back, where he attempted more passes than anyone else on the pitch and also completed more, and had a 90% rate. But I still come back to Bustos - we had nothing going for 55 minutes, when he came on he was in the thick of things constantly, 14/15 passes, 3 tackles, 3 interceptions, and caused the match-winning penalty. The only down side is Vida picked up a card that will keep him out of the final, disappointing for him certainly.

I'm in Munich for the 2nd leg of the other tie to see our two possible finals opponents. Bayern line up with what still looks like a scary front six: this time, Babacar and Neymar as forwards, Alaba, Kroos, Cabaye and Robben as the midfield. I'm less convinced by the back five: Sandro, Badstuber, Breno and Otamendi with Pele in goal. OL we also know though not as well: Lisandro Lopez and Luis Suarez up top, Michel Bastos, Anderson Fernandinho and Jimmy Briand in the midfield, Aly Cissokho, Schumacher, Ranocchia and Lovren on the back line, Lloris in goal. Bayern are not playing Schweinsteiger, Mario Gomez, or Croatia player Sime Vrsljko although they're on the bench. OL are fielding a Croatian national teamer as well in Lovren. I give the defensive five of OL the edge. Bayern make an aggressive stat had have scored inside four minutes, so the tie is dead even now. Babacar makes it 2-0 on 14. Alaba heads in Robben's corner on 22, and OL are in a world of trouble, they've not even had 30% of the ball. Bayern are defending by attacking, Neymar looks a severe danger to score when he's taken down from behind in the box, Robben converts the penalty, 4-0, still inside half an hour. OL get one back before the break, Schumacher on a corner. Neymar fails to get the 5th early in the 2nd, then Briand is robbed going the other way, it's wide open here. Pele does great work to save two, had both gone in OL would actually be up in the tie on away goal, but neither does. I may have thought he was shaky in the first leg, but not today. Madness in the Bayern end, leading to the quickest break at the other end you're likely to see where Tafer is on it but shoots wide. OL have had their chances. Tafer misses one more later, then Toulalan at the death. OL will be ruing their inability to finish.

We'll have to face Bayern in consecutive finals, German and European. Really something to think about. We've had such a run of success against them, 12 wins one loss and one draw in the last 14, and a goal difference of +22. But these things don't last forever, and Bayern seem to have clicked back in suddenly - they'd been on a fine run, 13 unbeaten including a wins in a row, then it got harder, four losses in seven. But of those four, two were in the away legs of ECC knockout ties which they overcame in the home/2nd legs; and the other two were right as they were eliminated from the title race. The last two, including one in the ECC, have been an aggregate 9-1, I respect (though not quite fear) them very much. You'd never call it a bad year if we lose both, winning the league and two minor cups already, but it would be a disappointing way to finish up. While for Bayern winning both, or even one, would be a way to salve what's been a disappointing four years for them.

End of Month Table Summary (32 pld)
1. Leverkusen 88 (winner)
2. Bayern 68
3. Stuttgart 59
4. Schalke 53
5. Hoffenheim 48 +7
6. Gladbach 48 +5
7. HSV 47
16. Frankfurt 22 -30
17. Bielefeld 22 -36
18. Hertha Berlin 22 -40

So the bottom three are set (there are 8 points gap to #15), just the one of the three sides, now level on points, which gets a possible escape via the relegation/promotion playoff is to be determined.

Decent month since we got down to the end of cup competitions that start to pay pretty well. With €7.5m in prize money, we've had a turnover of €14.77m, up from 13.07m; expenses are €10.12m, down from €10.59m. It all adds up to a profit for the month of €4.65m. We're currently placed as the world's 5th richest club, at the head of a large pack of 10 clubs at "€200m and over", we're valued at €263m; the two closest behind us are FC Bayern at €259m and Tottenham at €243m - Man United, Chelsea, Benfica and Napoli are the next bunch about €15m- €22m behind Spurs. We all trail badly behind the big four: Barcelona at €894m, Real Madrid at €772m, Arsenal at 720m and then a big drop (but still a big margin above us) to Atletico Madrid at €400m. There might be a bit of a shuffle with the end-of-season payoffs.

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