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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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May 2016

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 VfL Wolfsburg (Bradley 72, 90, Sukuta-Pasu 76)
Eintracht Frankfurt 1-4 Bayer Leverkusen (Rosenthal 14 - Botia 18, Derdiyok 21, 28, 65)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 FC Bayern München (German Cup Final - Olympiastadion, Berlin) (Fernandez 12, Derdiyok 53, 90+2)
FC Bayern München 2-5 Bayer Leverkusen (European Champions Cup Final - Ernst-Happel Stadion, Vienna) (Cabaye 60, Babacar 83 - Fernandez 51, Derdiyok 54, 61, Bustos 84, Kiessling 86)

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - VfL Wolfsburg
Score: 3-0 (Bradley 72, 90, Sukuta-Pasu 76)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: For the first quarter hour, Wolfsburg dominate, and it looked like Drenthe had put Wolfsburg ahead in the 16th, but he was flagged offside - it was pretty close but we must trust the officials, right? :) Except when the call goes against us! We had so much trouble getting into the game that our first real chance comes in the 45th minute, started by Sandro pinching a pass and starting the attack, then Bradley and Kadlec knocking it back and forth on the left until they get Kadlec clear for a cross, headed by Derdiyok from just inside the penalty spot, but not quite on target. The ref saw a deflection, but w did nothing with the corner. The second half opens in a more positive fashion, and Bradley's whizzed a shot past the post in the 47th. It looks like we've carved them open for Derdiyok, but he's flagged offside - very close (with the whistle blowing I won't blame him for not scoring it). Adler called into action shortly after. The next patch is us fending off Wolfsburg forays, fortunately their entry pass isn't finding anything but red shirts. Bradley fires again, right at the keeper, Bradley looking very lively. Unhappy with Derdiyok and Kiessling's contributions, I've given them the hook in favor of Mares and Sukuta-Pasu, with the latter creating a chance pretty quickly. A goal finally comes when Bradley dumps a pass off in midfield and continues his run, with Wolfsburg asleep he's eventually found by Sukuta-Pasu and completely clear, he scores, 72 minutes in! Bradley's picked out Sukuta-Pasu with a positive pass into space, and he scores. At there very end there's one more - Bradley starts a rush, Sukuta-Pasu takes it wide left and pretty much only Leverkusen have made the run with him, it's four red shirts in the box and one defender, once the pass comes in Bradley scores it easily. Odd one, this. Yes it was in the meaningless category but I was still very grumpy at the poor performance almost throughout. I'm hard pressed to remember a home match where we've let the other side have 59% of the ball, and when we're playing well, we win lots of corners - attacking intent putting the other side under pressure. We had one (to be fair, Wolfsburg also had only one). The substitutes did energize things, but the Bradley performance was one I really appreciated, those were excellent positive moves on both of his goals to continue runs, get clear and score, and it's the kind of "stepping up" that gets high marks, when so much else wasn't working. Not something he's known for. He's been on my tentative list to clear some space at the club, perhaps he's sensed this and put in quite a show. Certainly his statistical performance has been on an upwards trajectory, but he hasn't played that much this year. Meanwhile, Bustos had a chance to keep the argument up he should be the starting AMC, instead he performed apathetically and let his case regress, especially sad since the Argentina manager was in the audience for this one.

We've scored 93 goals now for the season, which exceeds the 92 we scored is 2013/14. The points total equals what we had last year.

Chelsea had the EPL title in their own control, but have let the advantage slip: they drew at Fulham. Combined with an Arsenal home win over then #3 Aston Villa, Arsenal are now top on goal difference - and it's a big margin. An Arsenal win in Sunday's finale at #8 Wolves and the title is theirs; Chelsea host #7 Liverpool but unless Arsenal slip, even the best result won't get them the title. In the worst case, Man City could still pip them for 2nd.

It was our last home match, attended by just over 56.000. Mainz will win the title as the highest average attendance by capacity at 98%, but we've stayed in the picture despite the increased capacity. In the 13 home matches since the expanded stadium debuted on 23 December, we've had these attendances: 52.935, 52.957, 57.262, 54.565, 52.958, 52.948, 56.850, 52.957, 57.262, 55.324, 54.353, 57.262, 56.013. I think this is not bad, and I'm going to claim some credit, when I arrived we were getting crowds of 29-30.000, capacity or close to it yes, but the success has made the case for first a new stadium, then an expansion, and we've kept on filling it.

I'm still in a personal state of limbo. My contract with Leverkusen is expiring, they offered a new contract at the same rate earlier in the season, which I turned down; just a few days ago they came back with the same offer. I suggested a different number which the board "couldn't possibly accept". I hope I'm not being too out of touch with reality here, I feel like my accomplishments merit a contract on par with some of the higher profile coaches in Europe. One point is that I don't have anything really left to prove: we've ruled Germany for four years, we've been at the top level of the Champions Cup for three. That's been done while keeping a very reasonable salary structure, and bringing the success that's led to the increase in fan support noted above. That follows two years taking Hibernian to the top after years and years of frustration - and managing to build the overall club structure to the point where that success has continued. So, I could stay here to build a long-term dynasty, if properly recognized by the board, but we're going to have to spend a fair bit of money: Bayern have had to strengthen their club, and they've spent a lot of money doing so, the most notable signings being Babacar and Neymar (€60 between them in transfer fees), a well as a defender Mapou Yanga Mbiwa, who hasn't yet made an impact, for another €16m. This has brought Bayern back up to close to our level - their existing weaknesses didn't let them hold a high level for the entire league season, but it was enough to make the German cup final and European cup final, so you can see Leverkusen are about to get pushed. We have loaded up on youth prospects, but strengthening in anticipation still seems likely to be necessary. Anyway, sorry, I'm drifting: either a new challenge, or get compensated like a high profile coach. So far, Leverkusen don't seem willing to show me the right intent in this regard.

Celtic stumble, this has put Hibernian into the SPL advantage. However, the only thing now that can keep the race from being decided on the final day would be a Hibernian win over Motherwell and a Celtic loss to Falkirk on Saturday. Hibs lead by a point, Celtic are +2 as far as goal difference advantage.

Match: Eintracht Frankfurt - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-4 (Rosenthal 14 - Botia 18, Derdiyok 21, 28, 65)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: Final match of the season, and after two good chances from a single sequence, which we don't score on, Rosenthal has headed in a corner, cashing in on our new weakness, set piece defending. Botia returns the favor, though. Kiessling has our second shot off the woodwork. Derdiyok breaks right through the middle to score. Moments later, he heads in a corner. Four total goals inside a half hour! Frankfurt know they're going down now - there was a hope of making the playoff and maybe escaping, but we've deflated that hope and the spirit goes out, we begin to dominate. Just before the break - it's in the minute of stoppage - a deflected Fernandez shot is up in the air and Derdiyok beats the keeper to it and scores his third. Wait... very late, the referee has decided that Derdiyok in some way interfered with the keeper, so it doesn't count. Based on by view, that was dead wrong, but I'm not going to irritate the referees for no compelling reason, since this looks like a won match. Maybe a quiet word afterwards. In the 2nd, Derdiyok looks like he's sure to get the 3rd, but it glances a little funny off his head and with a very agile reaction Botia at the far post directs it in. Wait... another phantom foul on Derdiyok, now I'm getting rather irritated, there's no call to be taking our goals off the board when our players are doing nothing wrong. (On post-match replay, Derdiyok wasn't even within two yards of the player he's supposed to have fouled. The assistant, who flagged, was screened while the referee had a really clear view - why did he give it?) Fernandez feeds Derdiyok who scores... does this one count? Yes, finally it's good, and it's Derdiyok's 100th league goal. We take Derdiyok out a bit later so he can accept the cheers of the Leverkusen fans who have made the trip.

We've ended the league season with Derdiyok on 20 league goals, Kiessling with 19, not bad to have that kind of diversity. Another eight players scored between four and seven league goals - I'm really pleased there was always someone ready to step up, it's what makes for a really good side, because the designated goal-scorers do have off days, have defenders figure out how to shut them down, etc.

Hibernian take their turn to stumble to a draw and give the advantage back to Celtic, that means Celtic have the title with a win or draw, Hibernian need to win.

Chelsea's round-37 stumble to a draw at Fulham turned out to be fatal, they've lost the league title to Arsenal on goal difference, which has got to be the worst feeling in the world: what could we have done differently? Leverkusen had that feeling, the season before I arrived. In Chelsea's case, they've lost by seven goals of goal difference. They led the league with 70 scored, 10 more than Arsenal (and one more than 2nd high scorer and league #3 Man City), but conceded almost double - 35 let in to Arsenal's 18. So the answer is "we didn't defend well enough", or perhaps "we didn't concentrate enough when we had a lead" - probably a combination of both. League winner Arsenal scoring 60 in 38 matches? That doesn't sound like a respectable total for a league winner, and the Arsenal of Roberto Mancini clearly isn't much like the Arsenal of Arsene Wenger before him (Wenger retired after winning the league title in the 2011/2012 season).

Hibernian have the title in their grasp with 1-0 and 2-1 leads, but allow two late goals for Celtic to do more than they needed - a 3-2 win. Both late goals were near-post shots that the keeper Mark Brown should have stopped, Hibernian's stupidity in letting Boucher go to Zenit for a way too small a fee probably the difference between a title and second place.

We only had two loanees out, Dieye seems to have advanced his cause with plenty of action at Steaua Bucharst, where he did extremely well; Enzo Reale has not done much to enhance his reputation at Deportivo where he didn't play much and had a season without impact.

Hertha managed to sneak into the playoff spot, and enhance their chances of staying up with a 6-1 first-leg win over Oberhausen.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - FC Bayern München (German Cup Final - Olympiastadion, Berlin)
Score: 3-0 (Fernandez 12, Derdiyok 53, 90+2)
Summary: Bayern confuse me a bit, they choose not to run out their top lineup for this, not sure why because the club needs silverware and the German Cup is a big one. After Derdiyok misses a chance in the early minutes (not an easy one, it must be said), Fernandez puts us in top with a strike on a free kick. Fernandez puts Troost through, but the easy shot is woefully wide, casting doubt on my decision to pick him for this one. Quite a bit later Fernandez has set up Troost who has a good position to chip, but it goes wide. Why didn't I choose Kiessling? Neymar's got a chip going the other way, that one's just barely wide. We've blown some more chances going into the break, and then coming out of it, even with a change in scheme (narrowing the formation and Bender in for Schürrle). Finally, Derdiyok cashes in one of the opportunities, and it's about as tough a shot as you could imagine. Adler has to tip a long bending shot wide, Bayern win a string of corners but Sandro eventually clears out the danger. It's getting to "garbage time" late, and a Sukuta-Pasu shot is deflected too close to Derdiyok who scores it - the keeper Sidibe did recover to get a hand to it but not enough. Cup win is ours, in convincing fashion.

One more to go.

There are some German awards; Kroos is footballer of the year, which isn't a horrid choice; Schürrle and Adler trail. In a much less sane competition, Wojchiech Szczesny is keeper of the year, followed by Diego Benaglio and Fabian Giefer. All of them had good years, but if Adler is 3rd for player of the year, as a keeper, how does he not make the top three for keeper of the year? More anti-Leverkusen bias. Botia and Vida do take 1st and 3rd for defender of the year, more fair. I'm second for manager of the year behind Bayern's Steve McClaren. The winning manager pretty much always gets it unless someone had a breakout year; perennial favorite Bayern finishing 20 points behind us comes nowhere near to qualifying. Botia and Derdiyok are the only two to make the first division team of the year.

Match: FC Bayern München - Bayer Leverkusen (European Champions Cup Final - Ernst-Happel Stadion, Vienna)
Score: 2-5 (Cabaye 60, Babacar 83 - Fernandez 51, Derdiyok 54, 61, Bustos 84, Kiessling 86)
Summary: Bayern run out a considerably stronger lineup for this one. Unfortunately for the fans, the weather is dismal for this final, pouring down rain. It's a half where we start very poorly, giving the ball away constantly, then gradually get better as the half goes on. Neither side mount any serious threats. That changes quickly, Babacar has too much space out front and has a good look at the goal in only the second minute after the restart, he's put it just wide though. Derdiyok works his way through but has his shot saved. Oh, what a pas by Bradley, he's found Fernandez in a pocket and the shot is true! The streaky "Matigol" has finished strong. Suddenly we've found some spacing, and Derdiyok receives, turns, and blasts home! Big danger minutes later, Fernandez free kick into the box, but Pele threads his way through bodies to snare it. Sleepy defending, a give and go with Babacar has him through, Adler gets down to save it, but the ball comes right to Cabaye who puts it in, it's not salted yet, 30 minutes to go. Oh, Fernandez has done it again, sets up Derdiyok who scores, suddenly this is a goal fest! Speaking of finishing strong, Derdiyok now has four in the two big finals. Time running down now, both sides switch multiple players around 80 minutes, in our case we had three very tired. Babacar sneaks in a shot that doesn't look like it should have beaten Adler, 3-2 now. And then one of those subs, Bustos, places a long shot at the lower left post and beats Pele, 4-2. That came out of nowhere! A little bit of keeper question on both of these two late goals. And then Bustos heads for goal, he's in the box when a tackle pokes it away but it's come into the path of Kiessling who tries to blast through the back of the net... doesn't succeed at that, but he's scored, 5-2, another big burst of scoring. We've won the Champions Cup for the second year running! After years of not seeing repeat winners - the last occurrence had been AC Milan in 1989 and 1990, it's now happened consecutively - Olympique Marseille in 2013 and 2014, Bayer Leverkusen in 2015 and 2016. What an odd game, scoreless for 50 minutes, then explodes with seven goals the rest of the way.

http://i603.photobucket.com/albums/tt116/wichmannm/fm11screens/ECCFinal16.png

We get more respect from the ECC Dream Team selectors, with six players on the list: Adler, Kadlec, Vida, Sandro, Fernandez and Derdiyok.

Quite simply: it was an utterly astonishing year. In the entire calendar we've played 54 matches that count, winning 49, drawing 3 and losing 2. The level of success got lost at times, as there was always something to worry about for next match, signs of a slump that I was trying to fight, etc. The strange things is, we ended up with two opponents we couldn't beat, although we sort of beat one of them: Hamburg handed us our only two defeats, and Juventus battled us to a pair of draws - we advanced in the competition because of the somewhat dubious away goals rule. Hamburg were a pretty good team, they've finished 5th and qualified for European competition. Similar for Juventus - 5th in Italy, and return to Europe, though that's a slip from the previous year, which earned them this visit to Europe's top competition. The final team to dent our record were Bochum, who caught us in a bad moment and battled to a draw, really we should have been good enough to get a win against what ended up the 13th placed club, although they were very proficient at earning draws - 13 of their 34 matches ended that way.

Usually at the end of the season I have to thoroughly evaluate the club and make decisions on my own status. I may have finished burning bridges at Leverkusen, having turned down their offer of a new contract several times. The issues have already been well discussed: is there enough challenge to be worth staying? Am I happy with not receiving more recognition in terms of a more lucrative contract offer? The offer has been the same as the one of four years ago, when I was coming off a pair of successful seasons in Scotland, but really hadn't proven anything in terms of longevity of success, or making headway at the top of European football. Four years later, I ought to be considered more of a proven commodity. But this year there don't seem to be vacancies at the top clubs, unlike last summer when a near-deal fell through at the last moment.

Club wise... I keep feeling like we're over-performing. This is not a club filled with big stars if you look at a world stage. Keeper Adler is probably one of the best in the world at his position, but isn't getting credit for it. My two English imports, both pinched off of Spurs who didn't seem to want them, are playing superbly. Sandro continued to evolve, and now has the strange situation that he's the best choice in the team at two positions - defensive midfielder and right midfielder. In terms of his own strongest position it's DMC but he seemed to relish a role on the right that let him get into the attack more and he potted 11 goals - a player who had a grand total of two in his five previous seasons in Europe. Kyle Walker didn't make as much impact this season, but that's due to being slowed after the turn of the year by a pair of ligament injuries, one a knee, the other an ankle. He still managed to be our top average rating player over the full season, though in the end appearing only 25 times. Meanwhile Gonzalo Castro worked hard to try and prove he should be the #1 at right back, he got into 36 matches and was only one off the team assist lead with 10. It's a glorious situation to have, but perhaps is overkill. Winning European club championships soothes a lot of the sting at not playing all the time but that may be temporary.

Continuing with the wide midfielders, Andre Schürrle is, if not world-class, certainly among the best playing in Germany. At 25 he's still young and may have more growth in him, perhaps in maturity if not in technical skills. But I'm not just totally gushing over him: he almost carried the club in the early part of the season making a tremendous impact, but then kind of faded into a more supportive role. That worked okay with the two senior forwards scoring in bunches but I could maybe have seen a bit more from him. Sidney Sam, who usually mans the right, also tailed off a bit and by the end of the year, Sandro was more often the choice here, which wasn't making Sam overjoyed. Sandro not only provided a more physical presence for those times we needed it (he's a half-foot taller and 12 kilos heavier, plus just plain a more defensively solid (and minded) player, but he provided more offensive spark on a more consistent basis. Jorgensen as a backup looked to be blossoming but his role this season faded as he didn't make much impact; youngster Biglia started to work his way into the senior side but there's clearly much that has to happen before he's ready to be a regular contributor.

In the central midfield positions, it was a mixed bag. Sandro, of course, was a special player. Youngster Nestor Vazquez showed signs he's ready to contribute regularly, and he's turned out to be one of our most accurate passers (in percentage terms, he was a fair ways clear of the pack, actually, at 87%). But there's growth that has to happen, he's got blistering pace which rarely came into play, showed some problems in discipline and concentration, and was inconsistent; he's not a good dribbler (which limits the impact of his passes because defenders know he will pass and is not great off the ball. Lars Bender was again pretty good statistically but failed to make impacts very often. Michael Bradley came on and had a good second half of the season; he had some injuries in the early part of the year which was probably partly a factor. Still, for this pair, you don't see the performances of key starters on a top-five-in-Europe club, but of squad players. I'm not sure we need to have both of them; Bender should be doing better than he is, but he retains a bit of an edge because he counts as home-grown and is a year younger. Bradley is a little more physical, though. At the attacking role, Matias Fernandez was on and off. He had two tremendous stretches of play, meaning that overall he improved on his showing last year, but not quite to the level of his first season after coming over from Sporting. He seems to have a tremendous ability to make a cutting pass, but it's kind of hit or miss situation: he also will go through long stretches where he just doesn't seem very involved. Ivan Bustos showed increasing signs that he's ready to step up, maybe push to be the starter. He had seven assists in the league, despite making only seven starts. The other two in this equation, Zvonko Pami? and Salaheddine Naciri, failed to make much impact. At least one of those two players needs to move out, we're just too crowded in midfield.

At forward it's a problem of riches: Marijn Troost is ready to be a regular starter, but how can you slot him in instead of either Eren Derdiyok (30 goals) or Stefan Kiessling (31). Kiessling still looks fresh and impressive at 32, while Derdiyok should be about at his peak years at 27. Troost managed nine goals and 10 assists while starting 15 and subbing six times (missing a total of over three months with a pair of injuries, which delayed the time of decision...). I kept saying Richard Sukuta-Pasu was disappointing, and early in the season he just didn't make a lot of impact, but in the end he's made 10 goals, 5 assists appearing only 23 times (12 starts, 11 in relief). And we've got two youngsters who are going to need some more senior appearances, Jordy Pool and Petr Mares. Mares played mainly for the reserves, which of course is a lower level, but his stat line shows 48 goals total! In fairness to Sukuta-Pasu, he should probably get a transfer to a club that will let him be a regular starter, it's not going to happen with this group of six.

The defenders are a pretty solid group. Botia anchors the line, he ought to be considered one of the best in the world. His partner is now Domagoj Vida, who's established a clear position - although he can still fill in at both fullbacks and at DMC, if needed. And youngster Mitchell Winter is pushing hard for a spot, meaning that Dante has slipped to 4th in the order, but he did choose to sign up for a new contract at lower wages. Never mind some senior leadership even if the player isn't likely to be a regular again (I similarly offered a deal to Chris Hogg at Hibernian when it didn't look like he would be a key piece, because he was a leader and still a solid defender - and then he turned out to be pretty important that season after all). There are other youngsters waiting to prove they need to be considered, mainly Bjorn Meltzer - but he doesn't seem quite ready yet and there's much competition. Already talked about right back; at left back we have Michal Kadlec and Bastian Oczipka, a pair I thought of more highly earlier in my tenure. Oczipka had his year largely ruined by a broken leg at the very end of the previous season that kept him out until November. I have a little trouble with him as the backup, because he's prone to a sudden really bad game in a string of fairly good ones. Kadlec is fine as the starter for now, but here's the position where staff thinks we're most prone to wanting an upgrade - it's the only position where we can't run out at least a 3-star (in current estimations) player. That's a slip a bit from the past, not because his skills have eroded, but because our expectations set the bar a bit higher. At 31, playing a demanding position, some falloff may not be far away though. Nothing at all in his statistical performance indicates we have any reason to be unhappy with him! It's more a case of looking to the future as maybe he starts to show some age, and considering the general principle that if you stand still you're moving backwards, because your rivals (Bayern, domestically; all the big clubs if you consider the European stage) will be striving to improve to catch up to where we've been. We have some youngsters here - Babacar Dieye has had a very productive loan spell in Bucharest, getting in a lot of games and doing well in them, even developing a scoring touch; while newer arrival Andres Traverso spent the half-season acclimatising to the club and doing extremely well in his Leverkusen II appearances. Dieye is 22, Traverso 19; Traverso will almost certainly be a way better player but needs a lot more seasoning. Unfortunately, while both are versatile defenders who can play on the left, right back is the natural position for both.

At goalkeeper, Adler is the unquestioned leader; 20 year old Peter Nowak has the potential to be almost as good, the question is whether he'll wait for the job. It's hard to imagine it will work out: he's not shown any huge liking for Adler, and at 31, Adler has a ton of years left if he doesn't get injured. However, I do tend to play my backup goalkeeper more than most managers, so hopefully he will stay motivated and hungry for another year (if I'm still here to worry about it!) and then we can just see where we stand.

So the summary of all this is, we could see some players leave to lighten congestion at the club and make the roles of key players more clear. We have right now 29 players who can be considered senior-team quality, most of the ones on the fringes too old to get playing time for the II side, which is considered U-23 level. There's question about clear backup players like Jorgensen and Oczipka, though the latter has a role to fill as a home-grown player, I can't get rid of too many of those - those two are the lowest-rated players in the senior side at the moment. I'll certainly consider moving along Pami? and Sukuta-Pasu, they're simply not going to break in to the lineup more regularly and deserve a shot at starting somewhere - Pami? in particular has an international career ahead of him with Croatia to consider, and another manager might not be as eager as I have to include him in the mix if he's not playing regularly. Bradley is another who maybe could be let move on, if he wants to. 24-25 would be a decent number. The fly in the ointment is... I don't want to leave the club, plus myself if I stay, in the lurch if some of the top players get tempted by other clubs. It's not an unreasonable concern: Derdiyok seemed interested when it was rumored Barcelona as after him, for example, and he's not the only one. Everybody's under contract, but forcing players to stay when they really want to go isn't a good situation. I don't think anyone around the club should try to leave for the "bigger club" claim any longer, we've won the European Champions Cup two years running, and were in the final the year before that... are you going to do better than that?

Season Statistics
Rating: Walker 7.50, Derdiyok 7.44, Sandro 7.39, Troost 7.36, Botia 7.33, Kadlec 7.32
Goals: Kiessling 31, Derdiyok 30, Sandro 11, Sukuta-Pasu 10, Fernandez 10, Troost 9
Assists: Derdiyok 11, Fernandez 11, Troost 10, Castro 10, Bustos 9, Kadlec 9
Appearances (starts): Kiessling 46 (36), Schürrle 45 (37), Vida 44 (41), Adler 43 (43), Botia 43 (42), Derdiyok 41 (38)
Passing: Vazquez 87%, Bender 84%, Bradley 83%, Adler 83%, Sam 82%.

http://i603.photobucket.com/albums/tt116/wichmannm/fm11screens/LeverkusenSquadEnd1516.png

We've clearly been a bit more aggressive - 36 yellow cards, in the league, up from last year's 22. We're joint 17th in that category, only Werder Bremen had fewer at 34. We had 34 goals from set plays, back up to more a level I expect - that's one per game. Kaiserslautern has 22, Hoffenheim 21, Bayern 20, HSV, Werder Bremen and Schalke all 19.

Final Table
http://i603.photobucket.com/albums/tt116/wichmannm/fm11screens/BundesligaTableEnd1516.png

Finances
For the month we did €69.2m, including €37.5m in prize money, which clearly dwarfs any other month of the season. As a side effect, though, we also pay out €16.9m in bonuses, which helps drive our expenditure to €30.45m, way up from last month as well (€10.12m). So the monthly profit is €38.75, and the year to date is €72.3m. It can't be compared to last year, because there was a big expense for the stadium expansion then. We're not quite done for the year, as there will be some more outlay to wages and other non-match operating expenses, and we'll end with paying out to the shareholders. Good year though, and it leaves us rather firmly placed as the 5th richest club at €328m - that's €77m behind At.Madrid and €13m ahead of Man United.

League Summary
ECC 1. Leverkusen 94, 2. Bayern 74, 3. Stuttgart 62, 4. Schalke
EC 5. HSV 53, 6. Hoffenheim 52, 7. Gladbach 51
Relegated: Bielefeld, Frankfurt
Promoted: Furth, Aachen
Top Scorer: Babacar (Bayern) 26, Derdiyok 20, Guilherme (Dortmund) 20, Kiessling 19
Assists: Kroos (Bayern) 17
Rating: Babacar (Bayern) 7.54

Around Europe
English Premier
ECC: 1. Arsenal 81 +42, 2. Chelsea 81 +35, 3. Man City 78, 4. Man Utd 74
Euro: 5. Aston Villa 73, Sunderland (FA Cup winner, lge 9th), Everton (Lge Cup winner, lge 12th)
Rel: Sheff Utd, Southampton, Bristol City
Prom: Burnley, Huddersfield, Leicester
Top Scorers: Tevez (Man City) 29, Rooney (Man Utd) 23, Kalinic (Chelsea) 21

Spanish Liga:
ECC: 1. At.Madrid 88, 2. Valencia 81, 3. R.Madrid 74, 4. Sevilla 71
EC: 5. Barcelona 65, 6. Athletic 60 +11, 7. Racing 60 +0, Getafe (Spanish Cup winner), 9th lge)
Rel: Hercules, Gimnastic, Tenerife
Prom: Mallorca, Recreativo, Albacete
Top Scorers: Llorent (Athletic) 29, Galvan (Racing) 23), Pato (At.Madrid) 20, Ronaldo (R.Madrid) 20

Italy Serie A:
ECC: 1. Napoli 80, 2. Genoa 77, 3. Roma 71 +33, 4. Palermo 71 +22
EC: 5. Juventus 66, 6. AC Milan 62, Fiorentina (Cup winner, lge 49)
Inter missed out though level on pts with AC Milan
Rel: Siena, Vicenza, Padova
Prom: Crotone, Ascoli, Livorno
Top Scorers: Vucinic (Roma) 19, Lavezzi (Napoli) 19, Immobile (Cagliari) 19, Stuani (Torino) 18, Hulk (Inter) 18

France:
ECC: 1. PSG 74, 2. Girondins Bordeaux 74, 3. OL 70 +28
EC: 4. OM 70 +24, Lille (Coupe winner, 6th lge), Auxerre (French Cup winner, 14th lge)
Top Scorers: Carmona (Guingamp) 22, Mori (Saint-Etienne) 20, Mendes da Graca (Bordeaux) 18
Rel: Sedan Ardennes, USBCO, Chateauroux (last year's promotion list!)
Prom: Toulouse FC, Bastia, Stade Brestois 29

Portugal:
ECC: 1. Benfica 70, 2. Porto 62
EC: 3. Sporting 57, 4. Vit.Guimaraes 53, 5. Braga 50, 6. Maritimo 50
Rel: Academica, Olhanense
Prom: Freamunde, Olivierense
Top Scorers: Baba (Maritimo) 19, Zildovic (Portimonenese) 14

Scotland
ECC: 1. Celtic 83, 2. Hibernian 79 (79 was last year's winning total)
EC: 3. Hearts 69, 4. Motherwell 55, 5. Dunfermline 50
Rel: Partick Thistle (only one win! 1-8-29)
Prom: Hamilton
Top Scorers: Griffiths (Dundee) 21, Megginson (Aberdeen) 19, Hooper (Celtic) 18, Graham (Dunfermline) 18

Another little pointless exercise I'm going to look back at former players, mine and Leverkusen's.

First Leverkusen. Some clubs have a policy that they keep an eye on former players to see if someday they ought to come back. I brought back Lars Bender on this basis, thought to be honest it hasn't been the boon I'd hoped.

Players who were there before me:
Diego Contento (loan 2010 , Bayern) - backup player at Palermo for a year after some time at Cologne
Federico Macheda (loan 2010 , ManU) - unused at Spurs (after signing for 15m)
Christian Eriksen (loan 2010 , Ajax) - played well at OL in rotation for 2 yrs, now a year at Getafe, value (and performance) has dropped
Tranquillo Barnetta (to Arsenal 2010) - decent player at Bolton after leaving Arsenal after 4 yrs
Arturo Vidal (to Zenit 2010) - standout at OM after superb at Zenit, out of our price range
Simon Rolfes (to OL 2010) - fallen to reserves at age 34
Stefan Reinartz (to Valencia 2011) - injury-ruined season was his worst since leaving
Daniel Schwaab (to Valencia 2011) - has completed five superb seasons at Valencia, but we already have Castro and Walker at his position with youngsters in the wings
Milovan Pekic (to ManU 2012) - made no mark at United in one year, okay on loan in League 1 at MK Dons the next, back in Germany at 3rd Div Erfurt where he was excellent (still only 21)

Players I saw, then sold or let go:
Junior Moraes (to Hercules 2013) - stellar in their promotion season, good the next year in La Liga, just finished year at Zaragoza with 14 goals
Hanno Balitsch (Koblenz 2013) - playing well at low-league Braunschweig, he's 35
Jens Hegeler (Bielfeld 2013) - regular player, but wasn't quite good enough for us then, and nothing has changed
Burak Kaplan (Espanyol Jan 2014) - last two seasons decent, but he's a poor passer in a league that values good passers (as do we)
Renato Augusto (Barcelona Jan 2014) - an intriguing prospect. At the time Barca was clearly the bigger, more glamorous club. We've made a lot of progress since. He cost Barca €27.5m and has been excellent, but they keep bringing in midfielders - Fabregas and Moutinho last year, Marin this year, plus some more youngsters. Do they actually need him? Indications are he wouldn't mind a return.

Then Hibernian. This exercise is just one of looking back to see what happened, most of these players were not at a high enough level to join Leverkusen or a similar top club.
Colin Nish is 35, toiling as a backup for Bournemouth after 2 yrs at St Mirren
John Rankin has had an OK time at Motherwell, now an infrequent player
Graeme Smith toils as the #2 keeper for Bristol, which has made the EPL, he was their regular keeper for two years after a year at Derby
Kevin McBride has gone into coaching
Sol Bamba has been decent at Maritimo for two years, his move to Porto was not a great one for him, he never broke in as a regular and was sold after 3 yrs. Hard to tell as a player, isn't it?
Barry Douglas went to Nottm. Forest, after two relegations he moved on to Sunderland mid-season 2013 in likely a financial move, and has been a decent starter in the Prem for 2.5 years now.
Kevin McCann is still in Scotland, stints at Kilmarnock and St Mirren.
Francis Dickoh made a fee move to Sunderland in the Prem, where he didn't play; in Germany with Osnabruck for three years, and at 33, it's not going to get any better.
Edwin de Graff is in coaching
Thiago went to Stade Rennais, where he's made only a minor impact, 36 league games in four years, at 25 he should be at his peak now. This is a player who ought to have developed into more, disappointing.
Jean-Alain Fanchone is toiling for Atalanta, he's been a good player for four seasons in Serie A
Pavel Rebane went to Schalke and still hasn't really broken into the senior team. At 22, he's not developed some of the skills we expected at Hibs, though he still has superb pace, and they say strikers peak at 27 or so.
Jeffry Monokana, a youth "project" after not making it at Arsenal, has bounced around: he left for Hull City, had loans at Ross County, Brentford and Northampton, making a major impact at the latter - which was the lowest level, England L2. He's just finished first year at Doncaster (Eng. Championship).
Ross Bradley, a young defender, went to West Ham, they were relegated and then after a year he was sold to Stoke, he had an unproductive loan at Huddersfield this last year, but is still the property of the Prem side Stoke.
Marijn Troost is with Leverkusen now, a good player hoping to break in to the first XI if only Kiessling will get old a little faster :)

In the 2013/14 season, most of the rest of the players I knew went out...
Derek Riordan is out of football
James Dunn is tending the nets for Alloa in the 2nd division
Callum Burns has moved on to Arbroath where he's been a three-season starter
Liam Miller has been an important player at Notts Co as his career winds down; they've slipped to Eng. L2 now.
Scott Taggart went then to Derry City, then on to Sligo Rovers where he'd had a happy loan year, and now Fingal.
Matthew Welch is out of football after leaving for Macclesfield - too bad, I think he had more to offer.
David Wotherspoon moved to Bolton, where he's failed to become a regular, another move that probably was ill-considered, but I think he'd fallen out of favor in the Coyle system at Hibernian so maybe he didn't think staying had any value.
Hernan Lo Monaco, my first foray into signing Argentine players, secured a move to Liverpool. He was loaned back to Velez Sarsfield in Argentina for a year where he was dominant; still trying to break in at Liverpool though.
Juhani Ojala moved to Espanyol, which was a bust; he moved on to Sporting in Portugal where he's been at least a decent player. Again... he was superb at Hibernian where I think he was at just the right level for his skills, the moves later have not helped his career.
Omar Koroma ended up in Finland at HJK where after his third season he'd evolved enough to get a move to Germany with Union Berlin - but that's a low league side.
Dialo Guidileye, one of my French signings, had at least advanced his career: he wnt to Bristol City in the Prem, had a decent loan year at Watford in the Champ., then returned to become a starter at Bristol - but they have just been relegated, so who knows what comes next.

In the following season, most of the rest of the churn happened,
Ian Murray, now 35, headed for Eng. L1 Rotherham where he's had two very good seasons.
Paul Hanlon got a big-ish money move (for Hibs, 4m GBP is big) to Blackburn in the EPL where he's been a rotation player/backup for a mid-table side.
Callum Booth, who never got a clear role anywhere, moved to Dundee United, didn't make a big impact, and had year another loaned, to Nottm Forest, where he didn't make a big impact. He's been out on loan more than he's been at the two clubs which have owned his contract.
Jonathan Owusu has been one of the finds of the bunch; we got him for 5k, he hadn't worked his way in anywhere except a loan to Cyprus (Omonoia), yet in August 2014 he got a transfer to Liverpool where after a season learning to fit in, last year he suddenly emerged as probably 'Pool's defensive midfielder of the future - he outplayed incumbents Fernando and Lucas, with the former now transfer listed.
Daniel Galbraith left that January for Fulham where he's made limited impact so far, but it's not clear he won't surpass the older Ludovic Baal.

This season there were only two other players I had worked with,
Pedro Santos, a young defender that to be honest was brought in (like Koroma and some others) when we needed decent bodies and had no budget for really talented ones, moved on the the 2nd division Spanish club Ceuta, where he's done well although they've been relegated. Hope he gets another move; seems like he'll do okay in his native Spain if things fall correctly on the contract front.
Zacharie Boucher has taken a move to Rubin Kazan. I don't like it so much for him, but Rubin are often in the Champions Cup, so there's at least visibility.

Players left at Hibernian from my days are:
Mark Brown - the goalkeeper before and after; 36 league games in 2010, 17 in 2011, 3/0/0 the next three (due to Boucher taking all the starts in those Owen Coyle-managed years), 38 this past season.
Chris Hogg - the defender who joined back in 2005, a decade later he's not a regular player any longer, but he's a leader and extra-reliable, never seems to miss time to injury.
Sean Welsh - the right back is the captain now, a short loan at Stoke City a couple of years ago seems to have instilled something extra in him.
Lewis Stevenson - a player with skills but who didn't seem to have a clear position has continued to struggle for playing time, and this past season was definitely a bit player, getting in only one league game, six total, that's not really fair in my opinion
Callum McRobbie - a regular striker the last two seasons, though somehow he doesn't seem to have turned into the SPL force that we expected and lost ground this year - 19 starts (31 all comps) and 13 goals (23 all comps) last year; this year 11 starts (23 subs; 18 starts overall) and 5 goals (10 overall).
Danny Swanson I hired but he never played for me; he's never cracked Coyle's regular first-XI setup
Garry O'Connor - has to rank as one of, if not "the", best signing of mine ever; this was a case of looking for former Hibs players who could come back, but it had to be cheap at the time. He was free, in five seasons he has 83 league goals, 107 all comps. He's never going to catch the all time league goals leader for Hibs, though - Gordon Smith had 364.
A bit of a diversion from the club scene with the European Championships.

June 2016

As June begins, we approach the Euro 2016 competition in France, the first since the expansion to a 24-team format. What it means is that getting to the knockout stage is a little easier; six groups of four, where the top two in each group go through, then the best four of the six 3rd placed teams. With 16 teams moving on to knockout play instead of eight, however, it means there's one extra step to the title. In Croatia's case, the national federation wants a semi-final appearance, which means we have to not just qualify from the group, but find at least two more wins to meet that target. Our group, as noted, is not an easy one: we have world #1 Spain plus two Balkan rivals who will be motivated not just by the chance of securing one of those 3rd-place qualifier spots but also at the chance to knock us off. My expectation has to be that a result v. Spain will be hard, but we need to shoot for a pair of wins in the other two. But we won't give up on the Spain match. The other two sides will come with challenges. Bosnia & Herzegovina come with two big names: Miralem Pjanić in midfield, Edin Dzeko at forward plus Asmir Begović in goal is good too, as is defender Muhamed Bešić (contracted to HSV, it's not like I haven't seen him). The question is if their supporting cast is up to the task. The other side in the group are Croatia's fiercest rivals Serbia, who possibly have a more balanced squad reputation-wise: Zdravko Kuzmanović of AC Milan; Nenad Tomović of Rubin Kazan; Neven Subotić of Man City; Nemanja Vidić of Man United, who at 34 is still likely to feature prominently; Branislav Ivanović of Chelsea; Aleksandr Kolarov of Everton.

Before the tournament comes up, I decide personally on a compromise position with Leverkusen. They've come back yet again with a contract offer. With no plum jobs looking likely to open up this summer, I'll take on their substandard salary offer, but for a year instead of the four they're offering. This leaves options for the future as open as possible.

The agony of team selection is next. With only 23 spots open for this competition, I have to leave some players home who merit a spot. And our starting keeper Matej Delač is still injured. I include him because he's a fair sight beyond the other two, and we are required to include three keepers anyway. There's nobody else I'd want to add to the three. Delač could possibly feature for the 3rd group game.

The tournament is underway!!!

Group Stage
June 4: Russia 2-1 Belgium (Grp B ), Scotland 0-0 England (Grp E )
June 5: France 1-0 Romania (Grp B ), Denmark 4-2 Wales (Grp E ),
Montenegro 0-1 Germany, Switzerland 0-0 Ukraine (Grp D )

In the first two days, goals seem hard to come by except for the Denmark-Wales match - this is not unusual, as sides normally are fairly cautious in their first match, where a loss can be crippling, but a draw leaves your options open, depending on who it's gained against (draw in your "easiest" match would not be a good thing). We're on the schedule for the third day...

International Match: Croatia v Spain (Euro 16 Group F, Stade Felix Bollaert, Lens)
Score: 2-1 (Rakitić 38, 73 - Torres 15)
Group Position: 1st
Summary: I cross up what I've been doing and go for a flat 4-4-2, and there's almost fruit very early, Vida heads a free kick and the ball flies oh so close. Rakitić has had a go on a very long free kick, and it's also very close. It's that man Torres with a shot from outside the box that opens the scoring on a quarter hour. We've almost answered eight minutes later when Kalinić dives to get a head on a rocketed entry pass, it's flown just wide but the referee does award a corner. A missed challenge gets Vukušić a chance, but it's just saved. As the half starts to wind down, we're the side with the initiative. Kalinić comes very close from a corner but De Gea is able to catch. It's another set play chance as some crisp passing has caught Ruben Perez out of position and he trips Rakitić, earning a yellow. Perez is a player I once thought long and hard about trying to sign, and I see he's holding down a spot in the Spain national side now. Rakitić rockets the free kick in from just under 30 yards! I have no problem with our chances coming from set plays. Really lovely bit of play by Spain, in the end a back-heel pass has got Bojan a fairly clear shot, but Jozak is up to it. It's Rakitić who's almost capped the half with a goal, a lovely shot has clipped the post. Either side of the break it's Jesus Navas putting in some good defending, well positioned in the box and heading clear dangerous entry balls. You don't think of defending first when you think of Navas, to be honest, but he's a complete player. A busted play, a hard Spanish tackle fails to win the ball and players seemed to let off thinking there'd be a foul, but instead it's Sime Vrsaljko getting it wide open on the right. He should score, but can't beat De Gea. Now it's Kalinić who's got a chance, De Gea tips this one wide. We've certainly not been pushed around by the vaunted Spanish side, rather it's the other way round. De Gea is keeping Spain in it, now he's poked away Vrsaljko's shot with a desparate dive. Honestly, our players are working harder than Spain's! Finally a deserved breakthrough - Vrsaljko floats in a cross, it's not hard enough to cause danger and is headed out, but that's actually more dangerous: Rakitić is there to drill in the long shot, he's always a threat from distance and we're not a huge threat from close to goal. There's just under 18 minutes of regular time to go... can this be a match winner? It can!!!! Wow! We've come out of this one with flying colors, knocking off the FIFA World #1! A late push from Spain narrowd the shots gap to 20-13, but they never threatened much, and only had three of those 13 on target, while we had 10. It says much that man of the match is David De Gea, without his contribution and some wasteful finishes on our part it could have been a rout, almost.

June 6: Austria 0-0 Slovakia, Portugal 0-0 Holland (Grp A ), Croatia 2-1 Spain (Grp F )
June 7: Serbia 2-0 Bosnia & Herzegovina (Grp F ), Italy 2-2 Turkey, Sweden 4-3 N.Ireland (Grp C )

Naturally, for scouting purposes, we watched Serbia v B&H. Serbia were dominant for the first half, wasting some chances to put it away; B&H were much better in the second half - the second goal came very late in stoppage when it no longer mattered. One of the B&H stars, Pjanić, looked dangerous, but Dzeko didn't seem very involved. We face B&H next.

June 8: Belgium 1-4 France (Grp B ), Wales 1-0 Scotland (Grp E )
June 9: Romania 0-1 Russia (Grp B ), England 5-2 Denmark (Grp E )

While I'm off worrying about Croatia, I do get word that Juan Mata has had enough at Valencia, and has asked to be transfer listed. Nice player, not clear if we have a space for him though. We have put in a bid for a young Brazilian defender/dmc Anderson Santos de Oliveira, who helpfully goes by the single name of Anderson - aren't there enough of those already in football? :) We like him very much from some earlier scouting reports. He came over to play for Timisoara in Romania, then quickly moved on to Arsenal Kyiv in Ukraine. Whether to bid or not was a strange question, in a way we don't really need this 19 year old, though when a little more mature he could allow us to occasionally play a little differently - he's an absolutely lock-down defender so we could use one of the other centerbacks in a more attacking mode, usually we play with a balanced central pairing. The nudge for us to make a bid was not that four Brazilian clubs are after him, but that Bayern are in... I'm getting a little tired of the last few years seeing Bayern snap up big players and bring them into the league, so almost defensively, we're in too.

International Match: Bosnia & Herzegovina v Croatia (Euro 16 Group F, Stade Geoffroy Guichard, Saint-Etienne)
Score: 0-3 (Vrsjalko 16, Kalinić 55, Rakitić 69)
Group Position: 1st
Summary: We start play 2nd in the group behind Serbia on goal difference. I can't resist tinkering, and I think we have more of a chance to attack B&H so we'll do that. I thought we started pretty well, but B&H have their threats going too. Pjanić looks like he's going to break clear and score for them, but Rakitić tracked him back and reached around to poke the ball as he was shooting. Kalinić keeps the ball through a couple of challenges, then has a horror miss. However, we do get the opening goal through Sime Vrsaljko, super setup by Kranjčar. Dzeko goes clear but does little to beat our keeper Jozak - and Ibišević's follow is nowhere near the target. Lovren's got solid contact heading a corner, the keeper just reaches it sticking a foot back as he was already going the other way. Vida's missed challenge looks like it will set Dzeko loose, but he doesn't go straight towards goal and Lovren pokes it away from him anyway, after some other players had recovered so he wasn't taking a big risk. Kalinić lovely layoff for Modrić who beats his man... and the shot clips off the post! Srna takes a foolish foul to earn a yellow. Superb defensive header on a corner and we're off the the races, after Kalinć eventually peels off we end up with a cross for a header by Vrsjalko which just goes high. Kranjčar's try is saved. Excellent first half, big international tournaments don't always serve up open entertaining games, this one has delivered so far. Just as long as B&H don't get too entertaining! Dzeko and Vida battle for a long ball with nobody behind... Dzeko comes up with it, but the flag is up for a foul, pretty clear actually though Dzeko complains loudly. We're looking to have taken charge of the contest but there's always danger from set pieces, and Dzeko almost scores from one, his header going just over. But we come back to score our 2nd, repating a pattern that's occurred several times already, our setup giving us some angles and Rakitić finding Kalinić in a pocket, this time he slides it under the keeper and in at the near post. Our big problem is we've now picked up three yellow cards to key defenders, and that matters in this tournament, we're not deep in defenders and a later match with some suspended could be hard. We make a break off a B&H set play, sub Mandžukić winning a ball at the sideline, making a long run, and putting it in the middle where eventually it's open for another Rakitić bomb from distance, 3-0. Sub Zvonko Pamić lays it perfectly in place for Mandžukić and it's... wait, it's offside.

June 10: Germany 0-0 Switzerland, Ukraine 3-1 Montenegro (Grp D ), Bosnia & Herzegovina 0-3 Croatia (Grp F )
June 11: Slovakia 1-1 Portugal, Holland 0-2 Austria (Grp A ), Spain 0-0 Serbia (Grp F )

Spain desperately needed a win over Serbia, but it doesn't come, the sharpness we've come to associate with the side still wasn't there. The shooting was woeful, several good opportunities went by the boards as shots were nowhere close. The result means we're qualified for the next round already.

June 12: N.Ireland 0-2 Italy, Turkey 1-0 Sweden

A little club information, the Leverkusen shareholders pocket €23m in payouts, with the result that we retained €47.4m of the season earnings, really excellent!

So with two rounds of group play complete:
Group A - Austria 4, Slovakia 2, Portugal 2, Holland 1
Group B - Q-France 6, Q-Russia 6, Romania 0, Belgium 0
Group C - Italy 4, Turkey 4, Sweden 3, N.Ireland 0
Group D - Ukraine 4, Germany 4, Switzerland 2, Montenegro 0
Group E - England 4, Denmark 3, Wales 3, Scotland 1
Group F - Q-Croatia 6, Serbia 4, Spain 1, Bosnia&Herzegovina 0

Only three of the 16 spots are settled. It looks like as little as three points could see you through, and at the moment everybody on the board is capable of reaching that mark. I can't see how a side with 4 pts wouldn't make it through, 19 sides can reach that mark, but of course all of them won't. In three days we'll know.

This is a little tricky: while we're through, we have Srna out (collected two cards over the first two) and several in yellow card trouble, and should just play everyone who hasn't gotten significant time yet. But... this is a match against our bitterest rival Serbia, and they're fighting to qualify for the next round, it would be wrong to roll over. I'll just have to place the trust in the players that may not be the very first choices, they're still international-quality players.

Anderson agreed terms with Leverkusen, but failed his medical so the deal is off. There might be time for a fresh bid near the very end of the transfer window, depending on how fast he recovers, we'll just have to monitor that.

A player I really like, Stevan Jovetic, appears like he's going to be sold, and he's one of the most attractive experienced midfielders that's still available for a reasonable price. But, we just don't really have a clear place for him. I mean, he'd probably win the spot, but then leave out in the cold someone else that we're already well invested in and who is equally a good player. I'm thinking now that I have to resist the temptation, and trust what we have. It would be different if there was a lineup hole, I'd scrape up the Euros it would take if I had to dig in the couch cushions in the executive suite :)

June 13: Group B - Belgium 2-1 Romania, Russia 0-3 France
The host France and Russia are through, #3 Belgium is 3pts, -3
Group E - England 3-1 Wales, Scotland 1-0 Denmark
England and Scotland are through, #3 Denmark is 3 pts, -2 (Wales eliminated by a single goal of difference)

International Match: Serbia v Croatia (Euro 16 Group F, Stade Velodrome, Marseille)
Score: 0-3 (Sertic 20, Vukušić 53, 86)
Group Position: 1st
Summary: I do end up shuffling significantly, and we start out really brightly. A player I almost didn't put in is Grégory Sertic, I was going to put Kranjčar in after his excellent show last time. Kranjčar does come in as Mandžukić is injured early, but it's Sertic who gets us on the scoreboard with an excellent individual play - great goal, really. Stung, Serbia really crank up the pressure and the match would be level if not for the crossbar - and then near the end of the half Sertic nearly scores a second, this one also denied by the bar. Vukušić gets us a second, he's played rather poorly so far in the match and I was thinking of a substitution when he snaps off a shot that does catch the bar, but glances down, off the post, and barely in. No matter what, it counts - and it's his first Croatia goal. Nicely set up by Z.Pamić. Serbia are again starting to create chances, and they've gone close twice, the second off the bar, again. Luckless Serbia should have scored on a breakaway which we defended poorly, but there's the woodwork again, third time. What an astonishing long ball by Vrsjalko, Vukušić is onto it, does some stuff to beat the keeper and leaves himself with a tough finish, which he converts. 3-0 with only a few minutes left. A performance I can be relatively pleased with, we let Serbia dictate play more than I'd prefer, but countered them well and took enough chances to make it look comfortable. Fly in the ointment: Mandžukić, and at the very end of the match Cale, took injuries that are pretty sure to keep them out the rest of the tournament.

Some new-season information comes out... Leverkusen have unsurprisingly moved to #1 in the UEFA club rankings. OL and Barcelona are #2 and #3. In the early tally for the next round, we're 22 points clear of OL, that is when the 2011/12 points are dropped off and none have yet been issued for 2016/17 (we lose 20.9, OL 32.1 and Barca 31.0). In the nation coefficient, we remain 5th, putting two teams into the final of the Champions Cup got us close, but we're 0.07 points behind France now. Perliminarily for next cycle we're 3rd, if we can keep that we'd be getting four ECC slots (which we'll have again this year due to our being the champion).

June 14: Group A - Holland 0-1 Slovakia, Portugal 1-1 Austria
Austria and Slovakia are through, #3 Portugal are 3 pts, +0
Group F: Bosnia & Herzegovina 0-6 Spain, Serbia 0-3 Croatia
Croatia and Spain are through, #3 Serbia is on 4 pts -1, behind Spain on g.d but now sure to be one of the top 4 #3's

June 15: Group C - N.Ireland 2-5 Turkey, Sweden 1-4 Italy
Italy and Turkey are through, #3 Sweden is 3 pts, -3 - in danger!
Group D - Germany 1-1 Ukraine, Montenegro 0-1 Switzerland
Ukraine and Germany are through, #3 Switzerland is 5 pts, +1, same as Germany

So finally we can sort the places... the four best 3rd placed sides are: Portugal, Switzerland, Denmark and Serbia; Belgium and Sweden miss. The matchups the rest of the way through:

Second Round:
Austria v Russia
England v Spain
Portugal v France
Switzerland v Croatia
Slovakia v Scotland
Denmark v Italy
Ukraine v Serbia
Turkey v Germany

Quarter Finals:
1. Austria/Russia v England/Spain
2. Portugal/France v Switzerland/Croatia
3. Denmark/Italy v Slovakia/Scotland
4. Turkey/Germany v Ukraine/Serbia

Semi Finals:
Winner Qtr #1 v Winner Qtr #4
Winner Qtr #2 v Winner Qtr #3

So our path is through Switzerland, then Portugal or France, then one of Denmark, Italy, Slovakia or Scotland. You'd not bet too much against France as the home nation; they were, with us, the only 100% side and they start with Portugal who didn't look too incisive, three draws and only two goals. Our opponents the Swiss don't look so hot either (win and two draws, and only one total goal), but I know the danger, since my own club player Eren Derdiyok is the key scorer for them.

Second Round:
June 18: Austria 1-0 Russia, England 2-0 Spain

International Match: Switzerland v Croatia (Euro 16 2nd Round, Stade Felix Bollaert, Lens)
Score: 0-1 (Vida 69)
Summary: The play favors us in the early minutes, and a nice setup has left Kranjčar with a shot, which he puts well wide. Shortly after, he has to go out inured, the tournament is starting to take a toll! We're not making much, the half is winding down, Modrić finally makes an incisive pass to find Kalinić. The Chelsea man does not drive to goal however, peeling off, eventually cutting it in, where it set up for Rakitić, who can't produce another moment of magic. Scoreless at the break, the nervous tension rises. We instruct to go more attacking to open the 2nd. Lichtsteiner has gone in hard on Modrić, we're waiting now to see what the referee thinks, he had a pretty good view of it and it's only yellow. Vrsaljko takes a weak shot that looks to be going just wide, but Benaglio dives to tip it to be sure... can we cash in the corner? No, but five minutes later Vida heads in a subsequent corner. Then Srna foolishly gets a second yellow. We're hanging on... there's a long ball and sub Vukušić gets to it clear, but can't convert the shot. Still a few minutes left. Djourou has a chance, but misses. I think we'll have just enough to hang on... and we do. Not really a match to be impressed by, possibly falling in the trap of playing too well early in the tournament... it does get harder when you're into the knockout rounds.

So the problem here is we've lost two more players. Kranjčar becomes the third to have a tournament-ending injury. Srna is better off: since the sending off was for two yellows, not a straight red, his suspension is one match. We'll face the French in the qtr final, and have a little less in the way of player options, but if we survive that Srna would be back.

June 19: Portugal 0-1 France, Switzerland 0-1 Croatia
June 20: Slovakia 2-1 Scotland, Denmark 0-2 Italy
June 21: Ukraine 2-0 Serbia, Turkey 1-2 Germany

Which sets up the Qtr finals:
Austria v England, France v Croatia
Germany v Ukraine, Italy v Slovakia

It's some of Europe's "Old Guard" in England, France, Germany, Italy vs. some "outsiders" who still do play pretty good football, Austria, Croatia, Ukraine, Slovakia (Austria is probably rather a surprise, the only lowly rated club in the final 8, 37th in the FIFA ratings although that will certainly go up now).

We actually get a few days off to work on preparation. We've been told the referee for the France match is Paolo Tagliavento, he's managed to be the 5th lowest rated official in the competition so far, and has shown a scary 20 yellow cards + 1 red in three matches. We'll have to be very careful of that. The match itself is a repeat of the Euro 2012 semi final, an indecisive match (0-0 after extra time) that was won by Croatia on penalties, one which had a large number of players in common with the ones who will appear in this one. Of course, France have a special edge this time, with the match played on home turf. Privately, I'm not very optimistic; publicly some former star player is pessimistic, while current players are confident, and I certainly won't say anything negative that's going to hurt confidence. There aren't a lot of statistical differences; France have won all four of their matches, with an aggregate score of 9-1, which is identical to our record. It's really rather disappointing that the chips fall so that the two most impressive nations to this point have to face each other here, the final would have been much more fitting :)

Quarter Finals:

International Match: France v Croatia (Euro 16 Group F, Stade Velodrome, Marseille)
Score: 3-1 (Remy 15, 64, Benzema 70 - Rakitić 10)
Summary: Not talked too much about the qualities of this side, but it's clearly more on the attacking end; we left some deserving forwards and midfielders home while there was some question of finding a good enough group for the back line. For this one we've set up in a fairly offensive setup, a 4-1-1-3-1: it's a 4-2-3-1 excpet we've put in Vukojević, who's had a good tournament so far and dropped him back into a holding role to stay just a little more cautious. So this is a try to emphasize a positive approach without taking excessive risks. It's a French show very early, but we're good enough for there not to be any real danger. And then miracle man Rakitić drills in another long shot, it's such a weapon to have! Again, it's kind of "goal out of nothing" as you expect Modrić and his mates to spend a lot of time passing the ball around in the middle, but Rakitić just took the shot and nailed it. Remy gets a good chance but Delač denies him; moments later the ball comes to Briand who nails it, but was offside. 12 minutes and there's been more excitement than our previous match. The defending proves a weakness as I worried about, France are in again, Briand heads, beats Delač but it catches the far post; Remy is there to bang it in. We've played some long-ball and Kalinić scores, but he's offside. Depite that, we look in trouble; not sure whether the right adjustment is to go more defensive or more attacking. They pay me to make such choices but I just don't have a clear picture. Badelj has been kicked, and while he's down, France attack and Remy is clear but Delač robs him. Finally, France decide to put the ball out, and we can make our substitution. It's quite a battle the rest of the half, but in truth, we're being pushed around to a level I don't think is reflective of our quality. Something is really going to have to improve in the 2nd half. It's not just quality, either, it just seems like every small thing that happens falls for France. Sammir comes in at that half to try to provide a spark, and he's worked himself into position for a shot all on individual effort just a couple of minutes in, it's a miss, but positive sign. The positive doesn't last, France return to dominating things, and Briand, whom we seem to have no answer for, sends one into the middle that I'm sure Remy is going to finish. He never gets to it though, and espite his throwing his hands in the air it's a goal kick. I've tweaked and tweaked and tweaked and nothing helps, we're being almost overwhelmed. Just past the hour, the situation gets worse, Lovren shown his second yellow card (the first was unfair, but we knew the ref was fussy, the second I can't argue with). The probable killer goal comes not much later, Gourcuff's shot is saved brilliantly but there's nobody to keep Remy from finishing. We almost benefit from a mistake, Kalinić collecting a botched ball and just flipping it up where Modrić heads, but a defender got back enough it glances away. It's out of reach on 70 minutes, again we're just not good enough and Benzema has cashed in with an opportunistic shot. Sub Sissoko's long shot could have made it embarassing, but hits the bar. It's not exactly that we've done every single thing wrong this match, but we've not done anything important right either: every clearance seemed to go to a France player, or go out; we couldn't cut down the angles; really you have to say we've been outclassed, but I don't believe they're actually this much better, just it was one of those days where it clicked for them, not for us, and the fates as a result seemed to be all pointing one way. Final shots total was 21-4, possession 63%/37%.

June 24: Austria 0-2 England, France 3-1 Croatia
June 25: Germany 3-2 Ukraine, Italy 2-0 Slovakia

And so it's all the "traditional European Powers" in the final four.

Semi Finals:
June 28: England 2-1 Germany
June 29: France 3-1 Italy

Final:
The final pits France and England, and while France control a lot more of the possession the game hangs in the balance for a very long time... England get on the board very early, a corner is part cleared, but passed back in, and Walcott is going to be alone on the keeper when Koscielny slides to tackle from behind, gets the ball cleanly but just puts it in his own net, 5th minute. France work hard until they find a goal in the 55th, it's Benzema tapping in a cross on a break the English didn't keep up with. It looks sure to go to extra time whn a France free kick is lofted towards goal and the assistant has spotted what frankly looked like a phantom foul on Mancienne, and the referee awards the penalty. When the analysts look at it later, he didn't even seem to be close to anyone. Heartbreak for England as Gourcuff slots home the penalty, recorded as 90+4 on the clock. France are the champions on home soil (again!) and England, knowing they didn't play particularly well in the final, go home grumbling over the referee rather than not having put in a good enough performance.

July 3: England 1-2 France

After the final, I hand in my resignation. I was unsure about continuing, and some reflection indicates I'm just not able to do the job justice. This is a Croatia squad that has a chance to make some noise at the World Cup, but they deserve a manager who can give them full attention for the whole two years of buildup. I don't think we were that bad, losing in the quarter final to the eventual champion, who were playing in their home country. But for the nation, it's a comedown from being in the final in the tournament four years earlier.

So is there something particlar that went wrong? Certainly it wasn't a disaster. Croatia are a nation with some very talented players plying their trade at some of the very top clubs in the world - two at Leverkusen, others at Bayern, Stuttgart, OM, OL, Bordeaux, Lille, Inter, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Spurs, and so on. They're not currently renowned for having the ultimate team, though. I thought I could help with that; we saw some of the very best that this group could put out vs. Spain, but by the France match, it just felt like they were worn out, and missing some key players through injury and suspension was a lot to overcome. The mental part of the game seemed off, and sometimes this just seems to happen when a side have a very good group phase, perhaps "peaking too early", rather than coming in to the tournament and improving each match. Being drawn to face the FIFA World #1 in the opening match doesn't exactly lend itself to "building as you go". I don't see there's much we could have done differently, as a manager I'll always question if some different tactical / personnel setup could have done better in the match we were knocked out, but it's not easy for me to spot a big mistake on my part (am I deluding myself?). Some commentators helpfully jump in with several ideas, but fortunately, my Croatian still isn't that good! (grin). Srna was a key player, and he managed to get himself suspended twice, which is just unacceptable at this level. If he were in my club side, that level of undisciplined play would be stamped out, but in a short tournament, and with me only with the side for a short while, you kind of don't have options to deal with it. Still, you can't blame it on just one player, and I don't. We rode the brilliance of Rakitić's long strikes through the earlier phases, and when it didn't click later, we just didn't have a balanced enough attack, nor quite enough of a defense, to cope with a French side that felt like they had destiny on their side.
June/July/August 2016

Monthly Results
FSV Optik Rathenow 0-9 Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 1st Rnd) (Pamić pen 15, pen 30, Derdiyok 26, Piorunek o.g. 38, Castro 51, Troost 61, Kiessling 74, Winter 82, Naciri 90)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 1.FSV Mainz 05 (Schürrle 1, Fernandez 18, Derdiyok 40)
Barcelona 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen e.t. (European Super Cup, Stade Louis II, Monaco) (Bojan 95 - Derdiyok 93) Leverkusen win on penalties 4-5
1860 Munchen 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Fernandez pen 26, Vazquez 88)

While I'm away at the Euros, the new-season information begins to come in. We've been scheduled for a tour to Turkey for three friendlies, we'll also meet NAC Breda (our affiliated club), Chelsea, Real Madrid. There's a large gap from the R.Madrid match and the start of the season, once I find out the date for the German Cup opener I'll want to add one or two more. Okay... it's 12th Aug, and the season opener is 20th August.

Eren Derdiyok is named the fans Player of the Year.

The Best XI has Adler, Botia, Bradley, Bustos, Castro, Derdiyok, Kadlec, Kiessling, Fernandez, Nowak, Oczipka, Pamić, Sandro, Schürrle, Troost, Vida and Winter.

Kyle Walker is pulled into overall the Best XI, though not displacing any of the 11 starters.

We're still working on how to trim the squad. We tried to shed four players, some after a bit of heart-wrenching. Sukuta-Pasu doesn't get a transfer, so he goes out on loan to Dortmund. This is not a great scenario for us: he has a chance to hurt us. Jorgensen goes out on loan to Deportivo, which means he's at least out of the country. Michael Bradley is the only player to leave permanently, and after he does, Bender then takes a serious injury, so our central midfield will look different for sure. Oczipka had some offers, but didn't like the terms he was offered, now there's a loan offer to Gladbach. We've had thought of shedding Pamić, but he's been injured in the pre season, so nothing has happened here.

Meanwhile, the club have played superbly in the friendlies. It's been a mixed bag of opponents, and the lads have risen to each of the challenges. They've played the wide open game when the situation allows it, they've played a cagey game when that fits, they've played a lock-down defensive masterpiece with the toughest opponent, Real Madrid.

As July winds down we've had one of those events largely avoided in my tenure: Adler "breaks down" in training and has a knee problem that will keep him out up to four months. It's Peter Nowak's team now; I wonder if I need an experienced backup. We have 19-year old Juan Carlos Marino and 17-year old newcomer Soren Ottesen. This narrative is much compressed, but we signed a free agent David Ospina, who probably thinks he's going to be the starter... but he's likely not, unless he's better than we think.

We had a tricky end to the friendly season which will lap over into matches that count - six players called up for the Olympics, and several more injured.

Cup work begins at Rathenow, a club from the eastern part of Germany (70km west of Berlin) without a lot of illustrious history; this year marks the second appearance in the German Cup, the first being in 1991, the second season following German reunification. The town itself is known for its prominence in the optics industry. They've got quite a stadium - capacity 5000, with seats for all of 250.

Match: FSV Optik Rathenow - Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 1st Rnd)
Score: 0-9 (Pamić pen 15, pen 30, Derdiyok 26, Piorunek o.g. 38, Castro 51, Troost 61, Kiessling 74, Winter 82, Naciri 90)
Summary: We're still missing the Argentine youngsters at the Olympics, but the Dutch payers are back. A good start, especially active is Marijn Troost, but there's not an end product until a Rathenow mistake gives away a penalty which Zvonko Pamić scores. The second goal is clinical from Derdiyok, who I wouldn't normally have played at this stage, but we're a bit short of players and he asked to go in. A second penalty... Botia has headed a corner, it's saved but he's tripped as he goes for the rebound. Pamić says "thanks very much" and scores his second. We're dominant, but not as fluid as in most of the pre season for some reason. The attacks keep coming and it prompts a mistake, Rathenow own-goal. At the break, I suggest we keep pushing, and Castro gets a goal on 50 minutes, nice shot if he actually knew anything about it. Troost is too quick for the back line, but not for the first time keeper Ochs pulls out a very good save. He gets one just past the hour on good play from a long ball, that's been a threat all day. Another long ball, Kiessling cashes this one in. Winter makes it 8-0 heading in a corner. Astonishing shot from Naciri, many today have been quite easy but that was wroth something. We've not always cashed in our chances to dominate but today, something special. It's the biggest recorded win for the club, the previous being an 8-goal margin in a 9-1 win.

Rot-Weiss Essen becomes the 2nd round opponent.

We'll open the league season with Mainz, as usual as the league champion we get the Friday night gala to kick the season off. We have a superb record against Mainz (13-1-1-), yet I never feel like they're an easy opponent. Now they have a very good goalkeeper in Fabian Giefer, who of course came over from Leverkusen.

Goodness me, Bordeaux really want our young fullback Andres Traverso. Only a year after we brought him from Cluj for what I thought was a bit inflated at €4.8m, they've bid, and bid, and bid... and the latest is worth almost €15m, although it's over time, not all up front. That would be great profit to the club, but we've committed to him backing up at least Kadlec on the left, with Oczipka out on loan, so not only do we like him for the future, we've really not left the option open any longer.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FSV Mainz 05
Score: 3-0 (Schürrle 1, Fernandez 18, Derdiyok 40)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Despite the tinkering with other formations, we've gone back to our diamond formation we used so often in home matches last year. I just a feeling, and with a number of players absent, it's the formation that best suits what I have available. Schürrle pots a goal in the first minute. Troost looks like he's going to score, and then ends up going flying over Giefer, but it's not a penalty as he's picked the ball up cleanly. Then a bit too much space for Fernandez who slots home. There's a third goal on 40 minutes as a corner is headed off the bar by Winter but falls in reach of Derdiyok who pounces: those four have made up all four shots we've taken, strange half in ways. The second half is not much joy for the home fans, but then we are cruising to a win. Knocks taken by Botia, Schürrle and Reale waiting to hear... the only one that will have to miss time is Reale, without meaning to offend the young man that's not the end of our world.

The field is set for the Champions Cup, and the draw takes place:
Grp A - Bayern, Roma, Valencia, AEK
Grp B - Palermo, Benfica, Fenerbahce, Steaua Bucharest
Grp C - Olympique Marseille, Man United, Dynamo Kyiv, Stuttgart
Grp D - Real Madrid, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Celtic
Grp E - Atletico Madrid, Man City, Spartak Moscow, Zilina
Grp F - Bayer Leverkusen, Girondins Bordeaux, PSV Eindhoven, Litex
Grp G - Napoli, CSKA Moscow, Sevilla, AIK
Grp H - Arsenal, Rubin Kazan, Genoa, Basel

Hibernian were unfortunate to draw Palermo - one of the eventual #1 seeds - in the final qualifying round, and it was too tough for them so they're out and into the Euro Cup instead.

Match: Barcelona - Bayer Leverkusen (European Super Cup, Stade Louis II, Monaco)
Score: 1-1 after extra time (Bojan 95 - Derdiyok 93), Leverkusen win on penalties 4-5
Penalty Shootout: B Messi, L Kiessling, B Augusto miss, L Sam, B Silva, L Fernandez, B Fabregas, L Bustos miss, B Adriano, L Derdiyok, B Iniesta miss, L Winter
Summary: It's tremendous play for the first quarter hour, but we can't put the ball in. Warning shot fired: Marko Marin has put the ball in the net, though the assistant's flag is up. Another superb chance for Leverkusen comes and goes, but now Barca are coming more into the game. One last chance in the half from a corner, but Botia's header is somehow kept out. The second looks like more of the same, we've controlled play, then Bojan has one in the net, but again we've stepped up correctly and the flag is up. Kiessling picks out Derdiyok coming from the right, the angled shot beats Valdes, but is just wide of the post. Messi's shot is just wide... we've had some bad luck with passes clipping defenders and bouncing right to someone in a dangerous position, this was set up by one. It's into the final 10 minutes, and Barca have finally put together one of those mesmerising passing sequences that they're so famous for, but Messi caps it by shooting wide. Former Leverkusen man Renato Augusto seems determined to beat us, so he's taken a number of shots, none of them close. The match goes to extra time, unfortunately... we've already had to use all three subs due to injury and have no flexibility left. To open we get a break going, Kiessling looks like he's behind, the advantage closes down but he picks just the right moment to feed Derdiyok who had broken wide open, and he pots it into the open net, Valdes was already out to close down Kiessling's charge from the left. It only takes two minutes for Barca to level, as new keeper Ospina can't keep out a shot from Bojan after we couldn't properly clear a mess inside. Barca are on the front foot the rest of the first extra period, and another high shot has beaten Ospina but clipped the bar. Then a sudden chance the other way, but Derdiyok slides it just wide. It's to penalties, and I hope we can get it settled fairly early, we have some good penalty takers but after the first 6 or so it falls off a lot. Messi nets, then Kiessling; Ospina has saved from Augusto, and Sidney Sam puts us ahead. Thiago Silva and Fernandez score with the 3rd kicks. Fabregas nets, and Bustos has his try saved - right down the middle, but Valdes didn't guess. Adriano nets... pressure on Derdiyok to score, and he slots in; 4-4 and on to 6th rnd. Ospina saves from Iniesta, Winter for the win... and nets!!!! What an entertaining match for the fans. Which, since this is a fan spectacle more than a competition that really counts for anything, is fine. Certainly some really high quality stuff on display, but overall our playing quality was not what I would have wanted. 39 total shots were taken, Barca ended up with 54% of possession off the end of regular time and the extra periods, as we got tired, having lost our chance to adjust due to the injury substitutions, perhaps. We controlled their passing game for maybe 70-75 minutes, but they ended up at 81%.

We've picked up another youngster into the youth program, Francesco Mazzoni from Atalanta, a winger; we just don't ever seem to have enough wingers. So we've brought in six players total... a Croatian defender, Matej Bubic; a Czech defender, Martin Hanak; a Serbian attacking midfielder, Dejan Raskovic; and Italian Mazzoni for the youth side, a Danish keeper Soren Ottesen who's young enough for the youth side but has gone into the U23 group instead, where we had no cover for the one keeper in that squad; and our experienced senior keeper Ospina (Colombian) - he's in on a free transfer from Shakhtar who were letting him leave, but he's not expected to stay with the club long term, Nowak will be the #1 until Adler returns and we'll presumably have Ospina move on (when is free not free: it still cost 1.5m in signing bonus and agent fee, but I expect we'll be able to recoup that easily enough if we do sell him).

Bayern Munich have done us the huge favor of yet again starting poorly, a scoreless home draw with Kaiserslautern on the opening weekend, then a 1-0 loss at Dortmund this weekend. Because we had the Super Cup on Friday, we'll play our second round match Tuesday after all the rest have played their 2nd. We'll go into that match nominally 7th in the table, but able to go top with a win with a two-goal margin. Wolfsburg and Schalke had the most impressive opening pair each winning both, and with an aggregate 4-0 margin; Dortmund are also at 100%.

The U19's are taking a little time to get rolling, they lost a home friendly, drew an away friendly showing a bit of improvement, struggled to oust St Pauli away in the cup first round - that took extra time, and then clicking much better with a 4-1 home win over Hannover, in which Mazzoni made his debut with a man of match performance.

Match: 1860 Munchen - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-2 (Fernandez pen 26, Vazquez 88)
League Position: 1st (g.d. over Wolfsburg, Shalke, Dortmund)
Summary: This one has not started ideally. With tired players, some selection challenges, which leads us back to the 4-3-1-2 that staff think we'd be best at. The results early are questionable enough to confirm my worries about this formation, at least until we've worked on it longer than has been the case so far. 1860 come closest to scoring, first a speculative shot that clips a bar, then a man breaking through but being robbed superbly by Nowak. Then a soft penalty gets us on the board, Fernandez being "impeded" and then converting from the spot. On a better bit of attack Fernandez goes very close, but is robbed by the keeper Kuszczak. On to the 2nd half. A header shakes Troost loose, but he's had a poor game and doesn't guard the ball, letting it get poked away from behind, not even a shot. Mares, then Fernandez have goes past the hour mark, both saved. Then Vida's denied on a corner - by the post. We're starting to win corners more regularly now. We've adjusted our formation and changed players around 70 minutes, and it quickly gets sub Kiessling a chance, which he fires wildly left. I've had happier days on the touchline as we've left this one in the balance into the final five minutes for no good reason. Finally the second goal comes, 88th minute, Vazquez receives from Bustos and puts a ball in, it took a deflection but might have been going in anyway. Vazquez has capped off an excellent midfield performance in his first appearance (only of the players away at the Olympics) - in the middle of everything and nearly 90% passing success.

Finances
Profit of €1.41m for August, with a lot of prize money - €9.68m. Turnover was €14.53m, after €19.47m in July. For the year, €48.6m in the black, a number which includes pre-season revenues and the bump for qualifying for the ECC group phase; the number will shrink until May when the end of season payouts come.

Transfers
The big transfer news in Germany is the arrival of Romelu Lukaku at Bayern for €20.5m from Real Madrid, Bayern continue to try to strengthen, but in my opinion, in the wrong place - their downfall has been a shaky defense, not the attack. Kevin Wolze moves clubs from Wolfsburg to HSV for €8.75m. The other moderately big arrivals are Thomas Prager to Dortmund, Nicolas Lodeiro to Schalke and Bradley's move over to Hoffenheim. After Lukaku the next biggest deals involving the Bundesliga were outgoing - Tiago Alves from Dortmund to OL (€14.75m) and Silvio going from Bochum to Palermo.

Outside Germany we saw:
Javier Pastore, Palermo -> Arsenal, €56m
Yaya Sanogo, Auxerre -> AC Milan, €25m
Nicklas Bendtner, Aston Villa -> AC Milan, €19.75m
Andrea Poli, Man City -> Juventus, €18m
Issar Dia, Fenerbahce -> Man City, €17.75m
Andy Carroll, Newcastle -> Man United, €17.5m
Chris Wood, Sheff United -> Palermo, €17.5m
Darwin Quintero, Palermo -> Napoli, €17.25m
Gio dos Santos, Liverpool -> Napoli, €17.25m
Jano, Spartak Moscow -> Tottenham, €17.25m
Raphael Holzhauser, Sassuolo -> Shakhtar Donetsk, €16.5m
Rogelio Funes Mori, Saint-Etienne -> Getafe, €16.5m
Nassim Ben Khalifa, Monaco -> Birmingham, €16.5m
Luca Anotonelli, Sampdoria -> Fiorentina, €16.25m
Sotiris Ninis, Wolves -> Inter, €15.25m
Andy King, Wolves -> Liverpool, €15m
September 2016

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 3-3 Shalke 04 (Kiessling 26, 68, Bruma o.g. 45+2 - Lodeiro 23, Chermiti 84, Bruma 90+3)
Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 PSV Eindhoven (ECC Group F) (Naciri 26, Vazquez 40, Fernandez 65, Troost 85)
1.FC Kaiserslautern 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Schreiber 85 - Kiessling 65, 90+5)
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Derdiyok 70, 88)
Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 Vfl Bochum (Fernandez 8)
Girondins Bordeaux 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group F) (Derdiyok 24, Winter 59)

We open the month with the September international break, essentially. There's some nice news coming out of some of the matches. Peter Mares has won his first cap for the Czech Republic, and even scored in a substitute appearance in the friendly half of their two-game set. Likewise, Mitchell Winter is now a capped senior international with Holland. Ivan Bustos gets an injury replacement call-up to the full Argentina squad, although how he gets into the lineup I don't know, in the Sep 3 win over Venezuela, they've fielded a front six of Di Maria, Pastore, Mascherano, Messi, Tevez and Aguero!!! At 20, he's the youngest player in the squad by a fair bit.

We've had our last "easy" selection for the ECC registration, where several players I'd like available didn't need to take a slot as they still qualified as U21.

Our backup keeper Peter Nowak, designated starter while Adler recovers from his injury, has now also taken a fairly serious injury. So I guess now we have some hindsight to draw on, the "luxury" signing of David Ospina may be crucial to us. He'll have to be the man for the next 6-7 weeks, while Adler may still be out three more months. That means the other newcomer keeper, Soren Ottesen (18), battles with Juan Carlos Marino (19) to be the backup (fortunately both are U21). Fortunately, Ospina is a very experienced keeper, among other things he's capped 78 times for Colombia, which is quite a haul at the age of 28.

The U19's continue growing: in a repeat of the 1st round cup match, they visit St Pauli again and win this one 4-0, remember the cup match just 11 days earlier had to go to extra time.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Shalke 04
Score: 3-3 (Kiessling 26, 68, Bruma o.g. 45+2 - Lodeiro 23, Chermiti 84, Bruma 90+3)
League Position: 1st on g.d.)
Summary: We're a little limited by players tired from internationals. We've made a very good start, but at least initially fruitless. Several good chances, a serious penalty claim, and even a ball in the net from a corner, but that one ruled our for a foul - all in the first five minutes. It's not going to be easy to beat a keeper of Neuer's quality, so it's irritating not to have cashed in the early chances. At a quarter of the match, Schalke have gone ahead, Loderio punishing Ospina's already evident tendency not to catch cleanly on saves. Superb bit of close control by Kiessling to receive a through ball with very little space and finish it off. Then Kiessling is loose but Neuer saves. The ref showed a spate of fussiness, issuing a yellow for each side off... well nothing. We inflate our shot stats with several tries in traffic in one sequence, all of which are blocked. We'll be listed has having a 16-shot half. At the very death, there's a mad goalmouth scramble off a corner, and the ball is judged in, in the end it's given as an own-goal on Bruma. Derdiyok's header off the bar and straight down, several players battling for it, and it couldn't ever get cleared, calling it an own goal is harsh (and no foul is surprising). So we'll go in to the break ahead after conceding the first goal. Pamić threads a pass to Derdiyok who's wide open, but he doesn't beat Neuer. Not a great performance by Derdiyok so far. A fresh injection of pace with Troost yields a dangerous chance very quickly, but the resulting corner is headed over. Troost again creates havoc and wins a corner and Kiessling is completely free to nail this one in. Shocking defending on that one by Schalke. Schürrle's almost made it a 4th, but catches side netting. Schürrle has an even better chance and hits it right at Neuer. Oof, bad stuff and Schalke have pulled one back with enough time to make it nervous... Chermiti has gone after Botia, gotten the ball off him, and while Botia is looking at the referee asking for a foul, Chermiti has fired the shot from the corner of the box and Ospina can't keep it out. "Do Leverkusen have a right to feel aggrieved about that goal"? Botia clearly had his heels clipped, but he just can't stop dead and hope a foul is given. And Ospina should have saved. Some trouble in paradise... Five minutes of regular time left. It's nearly another right away, long shot in side netting. Kiessling the other way, saved by Neuer. Schürrle's ball into the middle catches nobody, so Kiessling goes and tracks it down, wins a corner, and Vida has almost ended it with a header off the bar. Now the pressure's on the other way, and Schalke have leveled. Bruma heads off the bar, but pokes the carom in. Hoffenheim win which means for the moment we lead a pack of three (Schalke, Hoffenheim) on goal difference, but the other two 100% teams play tomorrow. I'm not happy, we had some really good performances in the middle section of the match but we didn't close out a two-goal lead with less than 10 minutes left. Yes, there are some questions to ask over Schalke's second, which let them back in with a chance, but you have to do the job to be champions.

Decent odds on us to come top of the ECC again, though not much margin over Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Arsenal and Bayern.

In the first day's worth of group stage matches, some of those favorites come good, Bayern 3-0 Valencia and Real Madrid 4-1 Chelsea.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - PSV Eindhoven (ECC Group F)
Score: 4-0 (Naciri 26, Vazquez 40, Fernandez 65, Troost 85)
Group Position: 2nd (goal diff. behind Bordeaux)
Summary: We've started decently, but there's not a serious scoring chance into the 17th minute when Sandro comes clear to head a cross from Kadlec, but he's not timed it quite right and so he's just a smidge too far forward and the header goes over - not really his fault, Kadlec seemed to take a lot of time getting it delivered. Bustos makes a nice run through defenders but has his shot saved. Naciri scores an astonishingly pretty long shot (indeed, this turns out to be named one of the top three goals of the entire ECC competition). Schürrle gets involved with a dangerous shot. Four more opportunities miss the target in the next 12 minutes or so. Vazquez starts an offensive sequence with a nice sliding tackle, and some while later caps it off with another lovely long shot - that's two times we've scored from distance, with style - we're not really a long-shooting side in approach. 2-0 at the break. Naciri makes an excellent dribble a long way and fires a shot that's beaten the keeper but clips the post, really you call that unlucky because the whole play from start to finish was all him and all so excellent. He's not given up playing, as he's poked a ball away to Derdiyok who's gone on a run of his own, and while he often scores from that position this time the keeper wins the duel. Now it's picture-perfect for Derdiyok to set him up breaking through in great position, but the assistant thinks it's offside. Now Fernandez bursts through but he doesn't beat the keeper either. Ball looped over, Troost looks like he'll win it but instead it's half-cleared but that just leads to Schürrle putting Fernandez through and he deftly slots it past the keeper and in, five minutes beyond the hour mark. There's one more goal, Troost nicely redirecting a free kick from distance with his head, catching the keeper wrong-footed. It's a comprehensive beating, we've outshot them 27-6 and with a little more accuracy, it could have been a much bigger scoreline (our own staff markup feels we should have converted four of the chances we missed). We'll end the day 2nd, since Bordeaux have laid down a 5-0 beating, but in this competition goal difference doesn't matter as much, usually you're battling one side for position and head-to-head comes first in that reckoning.

To start the weekend, Wolfsburg win and Dortmund lose which leaves the two of them top on nine points from four. Going into our 4th match we're in a group of six clubs on seven points; Schalke, Hoffenheim and Furth are also on three played at the moment, while Bayern and Hertha Berlin have taken four to get to those seven pts.

Match: 1.FC Kaiserslautern - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-2 (Schreiber 85 - Kiessling 65, 90+5)
League Position: 1st (on goal difference)
Summary: Our first-half display is nothing to write home about for half an hour, finally getting a chance as Fernandez bends across a free kick from the right and Winter heads crisply, but Sippel gets across for an excellent save. The karma just isn't there. Finally the lads launch a long ball to take advantage of Troost and he's taken down very cynically by Ferronetti, he's lucky to just get a yellow. Two players get the hook at halftime as I'm unhappy with poor play. Nice sequence early in the second, but Fernandez' shot at the end slides just barely wide. Winter's broken clear on a free kick but hits the bar. Half an hour left and not much real sign. Surely there's one goal in this? And there is, a horrid mistake by Kaiserslautern send a ball back towards goal instead of clearing out, and Kiessling gratefully blasts it home. Second horrid mistake shortly after, sub Pool should be completely clear with 65 yards of empty turf ahead of him, but he lobs it long intending to chase down and it's too far, the keeper claims. Very very poor. A really good save from Ospina. And a second. These have been the kind that are good for him, reach to tip. But the third time, on a break, he can't come up big and it's level in the 85th minute. Kiessling pulls a rabbit out of the hat with the clock showing 94:09 with four extra minutes having been announced. Pool with the setup pass, Kaiserslautern are absolutely livid, and to be honest, the goal did look offside. We've gone back top with a major escape act after a very poor show - goal difference over Furth.

This match comes mid-week after the weekend fixtures - fairly unusual for Bundesliga action, obviously we're used to playing mid-week when we're in European competitions so maybe we have a bit of an advantage that way? Most of the other clubs play Tuesday before our Wednesday tilt; there are five clubs that could temporarily pass us in the table based on those results. Our opponent, Hoffenheim, is also in such a position. We're so used to leading all the way I have to think hard whether putting pressure to maintain that situation needs emphasis. I more interested in getting a better performance than the position, the last two league matches have been possible warning signs that the club isn't quite sharp, and that maybe there's been too much success. Of course, speaking of sharpness, it's not evident this Tuesday from others - four of the six home clubs have failed to score; Furth draw to go top with 11 points, and there are now four of us on 10, a bunch we lead, but just barely (goals for +1 over Schalke). This means a draw keeps us top; Bayern's home loss is something we're like to capitalize on.

Match: TSG 1899 Hoffenheim - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-2 (Derdiyok 70, 88)
League Position: 1st
Summary: It's Lars Bender's first appearance, after finally getting fir following his injury. Naciri has set up the red-hot Kiessling to head home, but we can't really argue with the assistant too much when he raises the flag - Hoffenheim stepped up, the only question would be whether they did so early enough. After a solid opening 8 minutes or so Hoffe take over. We get things a little more in order after switching to a more direct style, but Michael Bradley is naturally causing us trouble, and their three-man midfield is an advantage, while we're not getting our two strikers involved enough. Scoreless at the break. Six minutes in, Hoffe have the lead, as Ospina inexplicably can't reach a header from some distance off a corner, seemed like he was there but it's clipped the underside of the bar and gone in. Sam pokes in a loose ball after a clash in the box for a header, but Kiessling was ruled to have fouled. We've got one major throw of the dice to make, pulling out the wings and bringing in Sandro and Fernandez. Little to do with that change, we've got a goal out of nothing, Derdiyok collects a ball wide right and opportunistically shoots, and somehow it's in the back of the net. It was a long ball out of the back by Winter, but the difference is for the first time one of the forwards received with even a little space. All of a sudden we're finding gaps, Troost squirts through but has his shot saved by Starke. Seems like the change has occupied the Hoffe midfield and our forwards aren't blanketed any longer. The team looks much livelier now as we enter the final 15. Winter gets up to head a free kick but just over, then Fernandez takes a free kick that's saved but left dribbling in front - nobody gets in to finish, however. Long ball to Derdiyok in the closing minutes, he's made a nifty move that's taken him clear of both defender and keeper and the finish is easy!!! At the restart there's just two minutes of stoppage and we've seen it out. Well. That one sort of came out of nowhere, but maybe not... it showed determination to get the result after all, and a real spark after the formation change. We're two points clear at the top.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Vfl Bochum
Score: 1-0 (Fernandez 8)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Really lively beginning, we're playing a 4-2-3-1; hunch starter Reale looks active, Fernandez is into it, Pamić has headed off the bar. Fernandez cashes in with a nice placed shot after his first effort had been brilliantly saved. Seven shots in the first 8 minutes! The half continues impressive, then the edge seems to come off a little bit. In the end I'm somewhat disappointed we didn't further cash in our advantages. Early in the second it looks like we've scored, Bustos cutting back to Pamić who puts it in, but the flag was up on Bustos. Still waiting for the young man to break out, though that was a nice play for all it didn't count. Troost has done well with an individual effort - until the finish. Derdiyok is in, with his first touch after Reale deftly puts him through he's... fired way over. Waste. The game should not be anywhere near close, but it is, and Rocca's stepped up to blast an an in-swinging free kick, his volley is woefully wide when he should have scored, or at least tested Ospina. Let-off for us. Again a good Bochum move and Dedic has fired wide. Quansah is through and Ospina saves the point-blank shot... the flag goes up anyway. It's looking shakier and shakier, a quarter hour left, can we hold on and maybe cash in on Bochum taking some risks? Derdiyok collects a long ball but he's wide and has zero support. Wonderful stuff later from Fernandez, until he goes to finish and fires way over. Again good combination from Bochum, Dedic heads in the middle but over. It's three points, but very disappointing show in the end, seen it so many times in my career now, where you really have it going early, but if you don't sink the dagger in, the other side begins to gain confidence.

Match: Girondins Bordeaux - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group F)
Score: 0-2 (Derdiyok 24, Winter 59)
Group Position: 1st
Summary: Expecting a tricky match with Bordeaux in their home park. They've scored well here this season, three goals in each of their four home appearances, and have made a good start to their season. Khalil sends a dangerous bending shot that goes just wide - Ospina probably had it covered if it was on target. Kahlil gets a card flattening Botia while chasing a ball Ospina had blocked but as usual left out in front, maybe that will slow Khalil down a little? Not in the first few minutes after, anyway, and we've saved another dangerous situation as Ospina leaves another ball out from with Modeste chases, Winter gets it clear first. Once more Ospina leaves a spill - he went for a kick save when he could have smothered and now it's Holtby after it - Ospina saves one try, Castro clears the second behind. We need to reverse the pattern from last match - keep Bordeaux from cashing in their dominance and start turning it around. One brilliant bit of play and it's opened for us, but Schürrle puts it wide. And we are starting to turn the tide a bit. After some instructions not to change formation but to alter the playing tendency of three of the midfield players, Naciri and Bender operate in the attacking half to set up a goal, Bender working to set a lovely pass through for Derdiyok who's scored far post. The Bordeaux forward pair of Modeste and Khalil are playing superbly however, finding channels or the gap between forward and midfield as we're not using a defensive midfielder specifically, and Khalil has beaten Ospina, we're saved only by the post. A lot of times I'm not too thrilled with "only" a 1-0 lead at the half but today that's an excellent place to be. Early in the second we're again lucky with woodwork, though this time it was from a long shot, GB had not broken us down. And just short of the hour, disaster for Bordeaux from a set play, we play on the left from a short free kick and too many Bordeaux defenders come out to the ball, it's fed to Naciri and he just rolls it forward where Winter, still forward, runs onto it and bangs home! Derdiyok had to stay away, he would have been offside. We tightened up the back with an anchor man but Kahlil still finds Modeste in a pocket, however the shot is over. Bordeaux frustration grows, they've already picked up four cards and way more fouls. Nice job; we've been badly outshot but we did indeed survive the early onslaught, defended set pieces very well (glad that was our pre-match focus area), and had some super last-ditch defending by the back line. Litex and PSV draw, the result is we could quite possibly come out of the pair of matches with Litex with our spot in the next round already booked.

As the month comes to an end, I'm worrying a bit about slow starts from stellar players of years past - Sandro and Walker are only doing okay; Sam is struggling; Schürrle is not where we expect. And two of the Argentine youngsters are not showing signs of influencing proceedings either, Bustos and Biglia. Bender's been out of the picture due to injury, we'll have to get him some more games before I can evaluate his start to the year. The problems are particularly notable in that we can't really crank up any wide play - Schürrle and Sam and nominally the starters in such roles, Biglia as a backup, and a fair portion of last year, Sandro was filling a wide right role instead of his more normal holding midfield role. Don't know whether to keep working on the narrower formations, or work on playing the way we've played the last few years, which is primarily using a pair of wide players, until it starts working better.

End of Month Table Summary (6 pld):
1. Leverkusen 16
2. Dortmund 13
3. Furth 12 +4
4. Köln 12 +2
5. Schalke 11 (5 pld)
...
14. Bochum 4 -1
15. Kaiserslautern 4 -4
16. HSV 3 -6
17. Mainz 3 -8
18. 1860 Munchen 2

Finances
It's getting a little silly, we just don't use our transfer budget, as I'm able to continue to work in younger players, including a number that were bought some years ago at relative bargain prices. This year we had €48.5m in budget, and now have €53.2m remaining after a net profit on sales. The loss for the month was €2.1m, turnover being €8.49m and expenses €10.6m; last month these were €14.5m and €13.1m. The three home matches drew a total of 166,707 spectators, with the sellout for the ECC match bringing an all-time gate receipts record.
October 2016

Monthly Results
Borussia Mönchengladbach 1-0 Bayer Leverkusen (Mlapa 7)
Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 SpVgg Greuther Fürth (Pool 33)
PFC Litex Lovech (ПФК Литекс Ловеч) 0-7 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group F) (Derdiyok 2, Kiessling 4, pen 22, 70, 88, Winter 42, Botia 85)
VfB Stuttgart 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Danny 88 - Derdiyok 44, Troost 86, Reale 89)
Rot-Weiss Essen 0-5 Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 2nd Rnd) (Dante 21, Schürrle 30, Pool 45+1, Sam 60, Biglia 88)
Bayer Leverkusen 5-0 TSV Alemannia Aachen (Derdiyok 16, Naciri 57, Vazquez pen 69, 81, Gueye o.g. 88)

It's another international-break month. We'll open with Gladbach, then be off as a club for two weeks before having our first match in ages with Furth, newly promoted. Dortmund have pushed their claim in the Saturday matches, their win puts them level on points pending our Sunday match. Our neighbors Köln, who flirted with the drop zone table last year (finishing 15th), are a point back in 3rd.

Match: Borussia Mönchengladbach - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-0 (Mlapa 7)
League Position: 1st (g.d. over Dortmund)
Summary: We start badly; a horrid play in the back gives Gladbach a powerful goal, Walker tries to play in the back and it's taken off his foot by Mlapa on the six-yard line with everybody else heading upfield, he has nobody but the keeper to beat. We have a couple of chances around the 15th, but they've both fallen to Vida, who's not really naturally an attacking player. Then Vida takes an injury, and we have to decide how to substitute. It's Dante we decide on. Troost botches another break chance, his confidence is low at the moment. Derdiyok gets a good chance with a header but steers is wide, then turns on a shot and clangs off the far post. Not our day do far. Superb saving tackle by Dante or Mlapa is sure to make it 2-0. Then we've got a wild attack at the other end, Troost eventually poking in a loose ball, but he's considered offside so it's waved off. After the break, we do get a chance about 10 minutes in, after a corner Gladbach break down a bit but in the end Troost can't finish. Kiessling is in, Troost's selfish shot glances and Kiessling is open but fires wildly. We're better in this half, more attacking intent and winning corners. But no end product. It's a worryingly weak performance, I know we have to lose sometime but at least let's seem some quality. We retain top spot by only a single goal of goal difference. Bayern cash in on our misfortune by winning their match 5-0.

I've presided over enough times when the arrival of an international break has spiked a run of excellent form. Can we have the reverse? Regain our form after an international break interrupts an indifferent run? Or will it instead allow the bad feelings to fester... only time will tell.

Our injury situation is improving a bit; if he can regain the form he had before taking a knock, having Vazquez back will give us some more flexibility in midfield deployments, and for the next two weeks, help alleviate the problem caused by the injury absence of Domagoj Vida, who'll still be out a couple more weeks after the injury he took in the loss just before the break. Vida has been playing midfield positions. Peter Nowak is on his way back - probably that will be two more weeks. Ospina has been generally good in goal, but his tendency to leave balls in play around the six yard box after making saves puts us under pressure I'd like to eliminate, especially while our attack is struggling to finish their chances. Petr Mares is back, which gives us a way to use a target-man type player even when Derdiyok isn't playing.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - SpVgg Greuther Fürth
Score: 1-0 (Pool 33)
League Position: 2nd
Summary: We started very well but then quickly lost momentum, and the first real chance is a Furth shot which cracks off the woodwork after Ospina is beaten. Fernandez comes the closest for us in the opening half hour, bending a shot into the side netting. Astonishing pick-out of Pool inside everyone by Sidney Sam, but the volley goes awry. The goal comes one sequence later, Jordy Pool rising in a crowd and heading in a cross. Mares spurns a chance to make it two, then Schürrle. It's another case of not pleased to be only 1-0 at the break. Sub Bustos puts one on a plate for Schürrle who loses control of the shot and clips the corner of the frame. What a layoff by Mares to Pool, but he just swings at it instead of tapping around the keeper, and it bounces clear. Lack of composure there. They claim he was offside which is clearly wrong, but perhaps eases some of the embarrassment at the miss. The match sputters along after that. By the end we're constantly in our attacking third but still there's no product. So I gambled with backup forwards and while not entirely their fault, the result has cost us a little bit: we're now second in the table, a whisker behind Dortmund (same goal difference, one less goal scored). Another injury casualty, Traverso will miss three weeks; he was in to save Kadlec (a bit tired from internationals) for the ECC match in a few days.

Bayern and Schalke lurk three points behind the two leaders after eight rounds of the Bundesliga season.

We've had a difficult patch for sure; in the last eight we've only won "convincingly" twice (that is, more than a one-goal margin), those being the two Champions Cup group matches. On the one hand shouldn't complain at a 6-1-1 stretch, but on the other, we're better than this unconvincing play. We're nearing the end of a stretch that will have seen us play seven of nine away - three more away matches to go. Though we haven't been convincing at home: in the last three league matches it's 3-3, 1-0, 1-0.

Now we're off to Bulgaria, to the smallish town of Lovech, Bulgaria (pop 36,000) for our ECC match, travel is by way of Sofia, 150km distant.

Match: PFC Litex Lovech (ПФК Литекс Ловеч) - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group F)
Score: 0-7 (Derdiyok 2, Kiessling 4, pen 22, 70, 88, Winter 42, Botia 85)
Group Position: 1st
Summary: We score early, Fernandez coming clean with a ball and when his shot is saved, Derdiyok has no trouble finishing into the basically empty net. Kiessling has little trouble putting in a left-footed shot, it's 2-0 inside four minutes. Derdiyok is unlucky to hit the inside of the post but not score. Naciri wins a penalty, but Kiessling steps up to take rather than the usual take Fernandez, and he hits the post. Should be 4-0 12 minutes in, but it's just 2-0. Though Litex are playing better, a second penalty is awarded for a push on Walker. Kiessling nets this one. As the half winds down, a Leverkusen corner is taken, the ball falls to the floor and Winter bangs it in. Play's getting a bit scattered in the second half. More blown chances... Kiessling finally nets his hat-trick with 20 minutes remaining, to that point I'd been quite unhappy with second-half quality. Botia makes it 6-0 from a corner. Crisp sequence and Kiessling gets his 4th. Bordeaux have beaten PSV, so the two bottom clubs are eight points behind us, another win assures we qualify for the next round.

Is that enough to shake us out of our offensive funk? The schedule is interesting - we've got Stuttgart away, a second-round cup match, Aachen at home, the return match with Litex, and then... back to back, Bayern and Dortmund, who are looking to be our two main challengers for the league title. That sequence will be repeated late in the season, April 1 and 8.

Halfway through the ECC group stage, a few sides have had dominant starts - and it's some usual suspects. OL, Real Madrid, Man City, Leverkusen and Arsenal have 100% records; Napoli and Sevilla (in the same group) have collected 7 of the 9 pts on offer. We're the third-highest scoring side behind OL and Sevilla - both those two have played an extra pair of matches, five to our three.

Match: VfB Stuttgart - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-3 (Danny 88 - Derdiyok 44, Troost 86, Reale 89)
League Position: 1st (g.d. over Dortmund)
Summary: The answer to the question I raised - carryover - is answered after not too long. We have a very good start using the same setup, but things quickly turn the other way and we look in trouble for a while. Ospina makes several very good saves, balls of the kind that he's good at dealing with, and finally one launches a quick counter where Kiessling ends up finding Derdiyok for the score just before half time. As we pass 55 minutes, the lanes are starting to open a bit. When Derdiyok takes a bit of a knock, Troost comes on and is causing plenty of trouble, indeed he could have won a penalty with a well placed fall, then looks like he has won one, but the referee has us put the ball down on the line for a free kick. But... all the chances we're suddenly getting are not resulting in a goal. Troost has a chance to get us the clincher but he chooses the wrong option, a contested shot when there were two runners undefended. But he makes it up seconds later by deftly evading a defender and firing in a very tough shot. The two-goal lead is not long lived, as Defederico puts a ball across the face that Danny taps in easily. Learning from his earlier misjudgment, Troost cuts back, and slips the ball through where sub Reale meets it with a sliding poke. Sudden late burst of scoring. We've gone back top with the two-goal margin, since Dortmund won by a single goal. Bayern romp over their local rivals 1860, and have an excellent goal record now, 18 for, 3 allowed. For now they remain three points back.

Our second round cup tie is a much closer trip, to Essen, only 55km north by road. Despite the proximity there's not a lot of history between the two clubs, though the Leverkusen II side compete in a division where Rot-Weiss Essen also play. The Rot-Weiss fans are enthusiastic, perhaps too much so, with generally a poor reputation in Germany. The club does have a bit of history, they won the first division title (pre Bundesliga days) in 1955 after winning the German Cup in 1953, they were also the first German club to qualify for the European Cup with that 1955 title. Success has been a bit thin in more recent years, though, having been relegated from the Bundesliga for the last time in 1978. They've been in financial trouble a number of times - three times they were denied a professional license, so were relegated from the division they were in and had to operate as an amateur side for the next year.

Match: SC Rot-Weiss Essen - Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 2nd Rnd)
Score: 0-5 (Dante 21, Schürrle 30, Pool 45+1, Sam 60, Biglia 88)
Summary: Nowak plays as we try to get him match fitness, and so do the various players we have who aren't tired, including Schürrle and Sam who we're trying to get untracked. In the early going, Essen are making us look silly, like they're the D1 side and we're not. They can't keep the pace, and Dante steps clear to head in a corner past 20 minutes, after we'd started to pull even on possession already. Essen refocus after the goal, and here they come again. Troost nearly scores but has it poked away, once Schürrle wakes up and goes for the ball he still has time to score it. This brings another push from Essen. Troost yet again blows it when be breaks clear but Pool follows the play and finishes, as the Dutch kids have combined. What a shot by Sam, but it's not rewarded, bends past the keeper, clips inside of far post, rolls across the goal mouth just nicking the other post... and out. Sam does get a goal right on the hour. A little too much passing, Schürrle had a clear path to goal but sent it left where a defender clears. A fortuitous 5th goal comes, Bustos has a shot blocked and Biglia bangs home the follow. Not too many shocks the first day for the round, Karslruhe did edge out Koln in extra time, and the surprise is Leipzig knock out Werder Bremen on penalties. The second day, no non-D1 sides advance. D1 sides that lost in matchups with their peers were Hoffenheim, Aachen and Bochum.

The third round draw is: Gladbach v Augsburg; Lippstadt v HSV; Karslruhe v Hertha BSC; Dortmund v FS Bayern; Stuttgart v Wolfsburg; Dusseldorf v Furth; Kaiserslautern v Schalke; Lok Leipzig v Leverkusen. So the interesting matchup is Dortmund will renew their rivalry with Bayern, and one of the two will be out. Those two clubs are 5-5-3 in the last seven seasons, Bayern with the edge.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - TSV Alemannia Aachen
Score: 5-0 (Derdiyok 16, Naciri 57, Vazquez pen 69, 81, Gueye o.g. 88)
League Position: 1st
Summary: It's the kind of start you hope for when you draw up a new plan, based on scouting we're running a 4-5-1 and have 78% of the ball for the first quarter hour, capped by an Eren Derdiyok goal. Two excellent chances are both saved. It's been an attacking show, but a frustrating one... it's been an astonishing 26-0 shots advantage, we rarely even get that many in a full game unless it's going really well. And again that dagger has not found its mark, just 1-0. Naciri has an excellent chance to make it two, but he puts it wide on a shot that didn't look confident at all. Sam draws a good save, but he took the wrong option going near post. Finally a Sam knockdown squares it for Naciri who hammers in from distance, second goal comes on 32nd shot! Youngster Baris Solmaz gets a run out, and he's drawn a penalty, although it's a controversial one. Vazquez takes it and scores. Derdiyok is going to have a clear go but he lays it off to Vazquez, who is too eager to go for the ball and earns a card for his trouble. Super shot from Vazquez from just outside the box makes it 4-0. Botia slices across on a corner and niftily directs it in for the 5th goal, 40th shot. So in the end I'm happy, we still wasted too many of those raft of opportunities (shots 41-5, of those 20 on target), but in the second half we got more ruthless. Dortmund win again to stay level on points, but we've upped the goal difference there (+15 v +10) and Bayern's loss to Schalke has dropped them six points behind as Schalke move 3rd. Ah... the Botia goal ended up ruled an own-goal on Aachen. Vazquez and Naciri ate up the midfield with Vida holding behind them - all three were super. My selection problems continue, Naciri has been stating a case for being 1st XI all season and Vazquez, now he's back from injury, is again making a similar play, as he was doing before his knock. The top four in terms of average rating are Vazquez (7.63), Botia (7.63), Winter (7.61), Naciri (7.59); Vazquez and Naciri have contributed 7 goals between them. At the other end of the scale, Sandro is 6.89 and no goals, Bender 6.87 and no goals, the highly regarded Bustos 6.84 and no goals.

Vazquez is named Bundesliga player of the week off his performance.

In past years I complained we might have trouble competing with the smaller stadium. Now we've got the new one, we're 4th in average attendance, 55,109 per match, trailing Dortmund 78,269; Bayern 68,361; Schalke 60,143. We won't go higher unless Schalke plays so badly their fans stop showing up, since our capacity is smaller than those three. But it puts us in the ballpark, rather than way behind, and I think we have the nicest facility in the league now, even if we're absent the long German tradition of standing on the terraces, since we're an all-seater. It's probably not a complete accident that the top four here are also the top four in the league, although not a direct correlation: consider #5 is Hamburg, but they're #17 in the league, in the drop zone. We're 6th in average attendance by capacity %, filling 95% of seats; this is a close competition and we could easily end up higher on that table.

End of Month Table Summary (10 pld):
1. Leverkusen 25 +15
2. Dortmund 25 +10
3. Schalke 20
4. Bayern 19
5. Koln 18 +4
6. Wolfsburg 18 +3
...
14. Kaiserslautern 10
15. Mainz 10
16. Bochum 6 -8
17. HSV 6 -10
18. 1860 Munchen 2

Finances
We've lost €4.85m for the month, probably largely due to our ongoing string of away matches, we're finally through that patch (two of six were at home). Turnover is €6.52m down from €8.49m and interestingly, merchandising makes up the biggest item, not gate receipts. Expenses are €11.38, up from €10.6m. Most of that is player salaries, and we need to start looking at whether contract renewals are in the cards for the players who are running out.
can't you make your posts shorter ???????
Naah. They are what they are, which includes already written through the end of next season. I won't do this style of story again on this board, I promise; it started on another one (since defunct) which seemed to like the longer style better that this one. I've put the "money shot" - the competition results - at the top for a while now, which makes it easier to have a glance and skip the rest if one wants. Not that you wanted to read a long reply from me either, so I'll stop now :)
November 2016

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 PFC Litex Lovech (ECC Group F) (Troost 31, Reale 66, Kiessling 70, 86)
FC Bayern München 0-0 Bayer Leverkusen
Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 Borussia Dortmund (Botia 3, Walker 13, Kiessling 40, 88)
1.FC Köln 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Winter 29, Troost 40, Kiessling 80)
PSV Eindhoven 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group F) (Naciri 1, Troost 52, Sam 84)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 Werder Bremen (Derdiyok 26, Botia 79, 86)

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - PFC Litex Lovech (ECC Group F)
Score: 4-0 (Troost 31, Reale 66, Kiessling 70, 86)
Group Position: 1st (qualified for next round)
Summary: We've started this well enough considering we're clearly the superior side, but without the magic opening of the first meeting. Perhaps because while using the same 4-3-1-2 setup, the midfield is populated with players who are not on form - Bender, Sandro, Bustos (with Pamić, who's been doing fairly well this year). Walker's ball glances through for Kiessling, but his blast is right at the keeper. A quarter of the match is gone with no better chance than Kiessling's. Troost finally works his way through traffic, and while still in more traffic shoots and scores. Seems we didn't bring the shooting boots, everything's going over. Walker with a woeful miss, even though he's really come on after my early concern, that looked devoid of confidence again. Litex has come with a physical game, and the referee has let a lot go, even though he's shown them three cards, he's also issued a number of talkings to that could and perhaps should have been similarly penalised. Kiessling to Troost right at the death of the half, he goes down the throat and then pulls his usual deal, fires it right at the keeper who's come out to close it down. He's going to have to come up with something new, this happens over and over again. So just 1-0 at the break. 53rd minute, Kiessling to Troost, guess what? He's wide open, makes no effort to go around, right at keeper. Four-goal man Kiessling doesn't have that step that gets him space. Troost with a break, this shot is better but Ansah still reaches it without diving. With Fernandez and Reale in for Pamić and Bender, there's a bit of freshness, and Bustos gets a shot which bangs off the post. Troost turns in and aims for the far post, this situation seems to be better for him than the clean through 1v1 thing; Ansah, however, dives to just tip it around. The corner brings the long awaited 2nd goal, Enzo Reale with a header. More selection problems, Reale is supposed to be bottom of the pecking order among the central midfield crew, but he keeps performing for us when he gets the call. Robinho (not "the" Robinho, another one) has committed one too many fouls, this on Fernandez, and picks up a card, while Fernandez lines up the free kick, bends it onto the head of Kiessling coming at the far post, and it's in. Kiessling didn't have to do a lot of work on that one! Troost makes an excellent play to control and turn clear, but Ansah has just a hand on it as it slides wide. Short corner to Botia, he turns but puts it in the side netting. Bustos perfect pass for Kiessling who controls in in stride and goes past the keeper to score, quite unlike what we see from Troost. The "old man" still has something special. Reale makes a great run and finds Bustos slicing in, he inexplicably misses wide, that looked an easy finish. A vastly more polished second half, though; and the match ends with shots 28-5, so our sudden surge of offensive form continues. Our place in the next round is booked, as is Bordeaux's, this has turned out to be a lopsided group, points after four rounds are 12-9-1-1.

We're the second top-scoring side now, 17 goals from four to OL's 19 goals from six, and with Arsenal the only side not to concede. Kiessling's six goals trail only Wayne Rooney's seven. The bottom half of the list of groups has already seen seven of the eight qualification spots settled: Man City and At.Madrid from E; Leverkusen and Bordeaux from F; Napoli from G; Arsenal and Genoa from H. Sevilla will likely be the other one. In the top half, OL and Man United are through from C; Real Madrid from D.

A preliminary look at UEFA nation coefficients show Germany in with a chance to move as high as 3rd (5th now). The 2011/12 total that falls off the chart was 14.714 pts, which was only the 5th best total; France are losing about a point more than that and Italy 8 points more, so the update 2017/18 totals show us 3rd ahead of those two. If we can continue good performance, that will move us back to four ECC slots. We've got a point's gap on Italy, two on France; England look to move back top over Spain for the first time in a number of years, they've now got a point and a half over Spain. Still plenty of European action to go, however.

I had hoped we could come out stronger after the October international break, and after an initial 1-0 match (Furth), we've had an aggregate scoreline of 24-1 in the five matches since. Yes, there are three weaker opponents in that - 2nd division Essen in the Cup and Litex twice in the ECC - but you take your momentum where you can get it, and work to have it carry forward. No question things are better, but now we have to translate it to the two tough and possibly pivotal matches next up: Bayern and Dortmund.

Match: FC Bayern München - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-0
League Position: 1st (pending Sunday result for Dortmund)
Summary: This one sees us take a fairly cautious approach, and for the most part, being in form gets you in the game. Except for one charge down the gut by Fernandez, we've not put any pressure on Bayern for the first half hour, but we've kept them largely at bay as well. It's a scoreless first half with little in the way of "highlights". Bayern are changing at half-time, Schweinsteiger for Lukaku, we'll have to see how this impacts our approach. Not so much, they've just moved Neymar up top. We're looking in more trouble against Bayern than we have in ages, just can't keep the ball or get anything really cranked up. Kiessling defender superbly v. the younger and quicker Babacar. Derdiyok skins a man to get partly clear but doesn't come close to beating Pele. The momentum has shifted subtly past the hour mark, the impetus is mostly with us, but then Castro takes a knock moments after we had made our last sub, with Fernandez having left ineffective earlier and Vazquez and Kiessling out exhausted. Even with 10 men, we're still on the front foot for a while at least, and Troost steps clear for one of our better shots. Time's running down and Bustos sets up a break just the right way to draw the defenders and free Troost, again he fails to convert the 1v1. Have we got enough in the tank to snatch one or three points from this? Sandro, Kadlec and Naciri are gassed, but Bayern aren't doing a whole lot better, they've got at least four players who are struggling to keep up. The referee almost gives the game away in the final seconds, it's been a rugged battle all along and he penalises Winter on a 50/50 ball, indeed shows him a card, really unfair. The free kick is a little drop-off to Schweinsteiger who blasts just over, and it's a scoreless draw. Sharing the points at Bayern is not a bad thing for us although I'd have preferred to snatch a win as we've done so many times before. The point leaves us top for now, but Dortmund have an excellent chance to take the top spot Sunday as they have a home match. Castro is not seriously hurt, by the way, will just miss a few days.

For scouting purposes I go watch Dortmund - Schalke - the latter have gotten themselves into this race too and have no interest in rolling over. Dortmund are the slightly better side but there's no scoring until the 44th minute when Grosskreutz directs in a cross. Schalke have no way to build a threat and after a near goal early in the half, Dortmund seal it from Guilherme in the 74th. Neuer's wizardry keeps it from being worse. Dortmund have claimed the top spot, it's been a while since anyone but us led this late in the season, it hasn't happened since I've been here. So our initial clashes with top clubs have not been as fruitful as we're used to - we drew with Schalke early and now we've drawn Bayern. After Dortmund we have our local derby match with the rejuvenated Köln, they've jumped over Bayern and Schalke after this weekend and sit 3rd.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Borussia Dortmund
Score: 4-0 (Botia 3, Walker 13, Kiessling 40, 88)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We've got the pressure on right off the bat, Dortmund haven't even had possession and we've forced a yellow card, a free kick, and three corners, the third of which Botia heads home; 2:42 have elapsed. Now to consolidate... Kiessling's coming clear, chips, the keeper's nowhere but Tonucci is able to get back and just clear off the line. Schürrle battles through a crowd to put a ball into the box and it's banged home... by Walker! What's he doing in there? 2-0 13 minutes in. Dortmund arrived full of talk and they've been undone (so far) by a pair of defenders. Weiss has one saved, Ospina's left a ball out front again but we survive it. Dortmund are gradually upping their level of play. Kiessling runs right by two defenders to collect a long ball and score. That should put it to bed! Nice sequence for Dortmund, ends when a ball is headed on and Osei loops it over Ospina with a header, but the flag is up. Kiessling's roller nearly goes, the keeper gets back just in the nick of time to snag it. Vazquez and Botia both take knocks late in the half, we sub out both at the break, no need to take chances. In a costly match, Fernandez takes a knock early in the end. We have to pull him out as well. Break on, if Troost plays this right it will be 5v3 in attack, but he doesn't, lets the ball get knocked out. Weiss gets clear, he's sure to be offside but Ospina makes the correct save this time - if he's going to palm it away, hitting it behind rather than back into play is what we want. The flag never went up. Ospina's block late does leave it in the box and it looks about to haunt us when Winter gets in for a desperation clearance. With time winding down, a quick little counter has seen Kiessling score his second. Kiessling returns the favor setting Troost loose but he can't duplicate. Time's up. We didn't exactly dominate statistically, but it's certainly a statement game: if Dortmund think a title challenge is on this year, they're going to have to prove it against us, and this wasn't close to doing so. None of the injuries prove at all serious.

Mini-international break follows, just mid-week friendlies. Don't like this, we've got tired players even if we had no mid-week game last week. We could use the rest. German Biglia becomes the second of the four young Argentinians to collect a senior cap.

Match: 1.FC Köln - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-3 (Winter 29, Troost 40, Kiessling 80)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Kiessling has a go, then Troost is through but wide right, he has a go and just misses. Troost does good work and misses an easy shot. Frustrating, it will click for the young man eventually. I hope. We've not had anyone play outstandingly, but Winter gets a good position and heads in a corner just short of the half hour. Troost completely botches another 1v1 chance, the ball bounces to Naciri who puts it in... but it's bounced off Troost on the way and he gets the credit! Troost misses another sitter at the death. 2-0 at the break. My frustration grows throughout the second half as we make some very poor decisions, take terrible shots, and generally get pushed around by our rivals. After I rejigger everything, sub Sandro works the right side and puts it on a plate for Kiessling who has a trivial finish from in close. That man isn't going to miss foolishly too often, and he doesn't here. It's a 3-0 win, with another six chances that probably could have been finished. Dortmund fail to recover from the beating we gave them, and disappoint the home fans in a 0-1 to Hoffenheim, now we've got a four point lead. So quickly it can turn... from two behind to four ahead in just the two matches.

Match: PSV Eindhoven - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group F)
Score: 0-3 (Naciri 1, Troost 52, Sam 84)
Group Position: 1st (qualified)
Summary: The match marks the first appearance of the season for Rene Adler. Wow, Naciri is given the ball and dribbles down field, when he's not really closed down he keeps going and scores, 17 seconds in! He nearly does it again three minutes later, the keeper is able to snare this one however. Where is this coming from? Individual brilliance notwithstanding, we do seem to be lacking a bit of match sharpness here. Bustos tries to emulate Naciri, shoots wide. PSV do seem vulnerable to these incisive runs from midfield. Or perhaps from forward - Troost makes one to get clear, but again doesn't beat the keeper. We improved our passing but still didn't put more together, and it's 1-0 at the break. With Schürrle sleepwalking through the first half, we bring on Biglia, and he causes trouble, like he's supposed to. It culminates when he strips the fullback of the ball and drives forward to feed the cutting Troost, the finish this time is excellent - and it's not a 1v1 type situation which he seems to struggle making the right choice on, this one was pure instinct in traffic. The first real threat from PSV follows the kickoff, but Korsten has put his shot just wide. Naciri comes off injured in the final 10 minutes. Bustos should have scored at least twice, then we score off of high pressure, it's Jordy Pool who came and left the defender with no options, and Biglia intercepting the poor pass to feed Sidney Sam for the finish. Like all coaches, I absolutely loved that; a backup striker making the most of his chances and cashed in by two awake wingers. Really good half of play by German Biglia, and a nice match from Ivan Bustos. And Naciri got us off to such a good start, and then played rather well in midfield up until his injury.

So most of the players I was worried about their early form from have come along; Biglia and Bustos have both had decent recent form, Sam is playing well, Walker's improvement has already been chronicled and he continues to get hotter, and even Sandro has upped his level too. The only one not getting in the swing of things is Bender, who's been okay but is really really struggling to make a case for playing time what with excellent performances from Naciri, Vazquez, Pamić and Reale.

It's been a good run by the side; seven clean sheets in a row (interesting that it's been with three different keepers between the posts), and since our loss to Gladbach, it's been 10 matches, 35-1 goals for/against (9-1-0 record). Normally there's a fairly long winter break in which we can work on some things, but you never know whether you'll come back sharper or having lost something. This year a little shorter; a chain of scheduling changes caused by our Club World Cup participation means we finish the year 28 Dec with a Cup match, a full week later than we'd usually expect to break.

We've got the interesting job of picking a 23-man squad for the club world cup. Eventually, after discussion with the players to make sure they're not upset with the move, three older players, Kiessling, Kadlec and Adler, are left off, and younger players will go in their stead. If nobody gets hurt between now and then, we've got a squad which can do two complete lineups plus one extra midfielder. Kadlec in particular can use the rest: he's starting to show his age not so much in declining performances but in obviously getting tired later in games.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Werder Bremen
Score: 3-0 (Derdiyok 26, Botia 79, 86)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Although we seem to have nearly all of the ball against Werder in the opening part of the match, there's no sign of breaking them down for a scoring chance, until there are some signs on a pair of set pieces, followed by a goal from a corner - the bar has just kept it out from Vida's header, but Derdiyok is there to ram it in, with Wiese having no chance as he went airborne trying to reach the initial shot. 1-0 at the break, and we've not shown as much as our recent form would indicate. Still no signs of more goals until Derdiyok turns and blasts one, it's beaten Wiese but not the crossbar. Kiessling is about to get loose behind but he can't get a decisive touch on it and the defender times the bounce and clears. Unusual, actually, Kiessling's been so good at that play. Botia puts in the corner, however, now it should be safe. He almost gets another off Derdiyok's bending free kick, but heads across and misses the far post. Now it's Derdiyok behind on a long ball, and his touch is clumsy too, but he's busy being tripped. What does the referee think? He's seriously unamused and shows Braghieri red. Sam with a lovely turn and shoot, he's unlucky to clip the post. Moments later, we're able to cash in on the man advantage, Botia receives a free kick at the far post and has time to bring it down and finish easily, there just weren't enough markers. Or they really blew it! Not a performance of utmost quality, but unfortunately (I'll explain in a moment) more than sufficient. The concern is the players are getting cocky and think it will always be a win, more than just confidence. I'd rather have it be harder if we don't play so well, so they wake up a bit. Or something. Dortmund keep pace; Bayern play tomorrow.

We've got the whole week until the next match, which opens up December; three in 8 days, then it's off to the Club World Cup. It's been a good month, on the whole; five wins and a draw, no goals conceded; the draw was in the lion's den, at Bayern Munich.

We've been the top-rated club in UEFA coefficient this year, no surprise; and we're going to be the top club by a huge margin next year, our three nearest are OL, Barcelona, R.Madrid. The 2011/12 points fall off for computing the next cycle, those points are 20.9 (us), 32.1, 31.0, 35.0. So we lose a lot less points than the others, as long as we don't crash out early.

End of Month Table Summary (14 pld):
1. Leverkusen 35
2. Dortmund 31
3. Bayern 29
4. Schalke 27
5. Hoffenheim 23
6. Stuttgart 22
...
15. Furth 14
16. HSV 10
17. 1860 Munich 8
18. Bochum 6

Furth had that nice start on their return to the top division, but now the wheels have fallen off, four losses in a row and six of seven (the other was a draw, so just one point from the seven).

Finances
The loss for the month is €2.53m. Turnover is €8.26m up from €6.25m - see the benefit of having more home matches? Expenses are €10.8m, down from €11.38m.
December 2016

Monthly Results
Hertha BSC Berlin 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Raffael 70 - Kiessling 54, Derdiyok 80+2)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 Girondins Bordeaux (ECC Group F) (Derdiyok 3, Kiessling 37, 82 - Bakar 45+1, Modeste 90+2)
Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 VfL Wolfsburg (Vida 24, Naciri 60, Kiessling 79, Troost 89)
Al-Ahly 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Club World Championship Semi, Cairo International Stadium, Cairo, Egypt) (Vida 40, Fernandez 45+1, Naciri 86)
SC Corinthians Paulista 0-7 Bayer Leverkusen (Club World Championship Final, Cairo International Stadium, Cairo, Egypt) (Derdiyok 7, 14, 33, Troost 18, 60, Bender 68, Schürrle 81)
Hamburger SV 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Derdiyok 41, Fernandez 51, Kiessling 80)
1.FC Lokomotive Leipzig 0-4 Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 3rd Rnd) (Troost 2, Vida 11, 28, Pool 31, Bustos 37)

Match: Hertha BSC Berlin - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-2 (Raffael 70 - Kiessling 54, Derdiyok 80+2)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We find ourselves a bit lucky not to concede early to bottom-third club Hertha Berlin, a header just caught by Adler's fingertips then goes off the bar. We're having to contend with a motivated side, everybody seems to get excited when we come to visit. By the 20th minute we looks like we're starting to exert some control, but they're tackling well, breaking up many of our attempted attacks. Good sequence sets up Naciri, who's nowhere near with his shot, then coming the other way Vida, playing left back, miscalculates a challenge and Hertha get a clean shot. Fulop's been untroubled by our inaccurate and/or weak shooting. A scoreless first half has seen us credited with 13 efforts, but in that only three simple catches are considered "on target". Naciri's ball for Kiessling is prefect, but out in front he misses. Kiessling fixes that problem in moments with a bending run where he hangs up the defenders on Naciri and scores. Near disaster for Hertha just moments after that as a cross catches a defender's head and deflects passed Fulop who was going the other way - saved by the post however. This time - it's been a while - we pay for not putting in the dagger, in the 70th minute Raffael launches a long shot and it catches out Adler, who hasn't been playing well in this one, just over his head and in. Winter looks like he's found the winner on a corner, but Raffael just gets a foot on it at the post. We're into stoppage time... Reale receives, crumples in a heap, a lot of people seem to stop but we're playing on, Derdiyok turns and drills in a shot just inside the box. The winner? It was Naciri who had the presence of mind to find the ball and keep playing. Poor showing, possibly not a surprise, After I wrote off Furth as having hopelessly slumped, they duplicate what we did a few weeks ago: hold Bayern to a scoreless draw in Munich. Bayern are eight points off our pace, with Dortmund to play tomorrow. Dortmund win that one; they're still four off the pace.

Chelsea have sacked Alex McLeish. As usual there's lots of speculation, but it doesn't seem to involve me this time around - Michael Skibbe, Jens Mustermann and Mark McGhee are linked, and the Sunderland manager Juan Carlos Garrido says he wants the job, unlikely to endear him to his employers to be honest. Chelsea are 10th with a 5-6-5 start and can't score - only 19 in 16 league games. With a chance to lock up qualification in the ECC in their final match, they instead lost to PSG who took the second spot, this was apparently the final straw for the Chelsea hierarchy. The fans at Sunderland revolt and ask for Garrido to be sacked.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Girondins Bordeaux (ECC Group F)
Score: 3-2 (Derdiyok 3, Kiessling 37, 82 - Bakar 45+1, Modeste 90+2)
Group Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: Derdiyok opens the scoring heading in a corner very early. Feeling it, he works a break by himself and rattles a long shot off the bar, after which Man United bust Bebe, who's become a very good player at Bordeaux, starts to cause trouble, taking one shot and setting up another. Bordeuax are ascendant, and Bebe would have scored if it wasn't for the flag, just about the right call. Derdiyok's got an angled shot but misses. How Kadlec and Sam have each missed open chances is hard to credit, as now its swung back our way. It's back and forth for a bit, then Kiessling works his way into the clear and makes it 2-0. Almost a second moments later, but then Bakar scores for Bordeaux. We've got some stuff going in the 2nd, but can't put it in, several different players missing chances. Here goes Kiessling right down the middle, how can he miss? Is Troost's problem catching? Here we go again in the final 10 minutes, this time he's made a little move around the keeper and the finish is easy. Ospina with a nice save of Fofana as he got through, else they would have pulled one back. Derdiyok is absolutely flattened on what would have been a breakaway, the referee issues only a warning. Bebe has more in his tank, with time already past the stated extra minutes he's run all the way down the right and put in a ball that Modeste somehow pokes in between two defenders. Great game to watch, good play by us except the leakage of a goal in each stoppage time, which is a lapse in concentration I'm pretty unhappy with.

Final Group Results:
A - Valencia 12, Bayern 11, Roma 10, AEK 1
B - Benfica 12, Fenerbahce 10, Palermo 10, Steaua 3
C - OL 16, Man Utd 12, Stuttgart 5, Dynamo Kyic 1
D - R.Madrid 15, PSG 10, Chelsea 7, Celtic 3
E - Man City 15, At.Madrid 15, Spartak Moscow 6, Zilina 0
F - Leverkusen 18, Girondins Bordeaux 12, PSV 4, Litex 1
G - Napoli 14, Sevilla 11, CSKA Moscow 6, AIK 1
H - Arsenal 14, Genoa 11, Rubin Kazan 5, Basel 2

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - VfL Wolfsburg
Score: 4-0 (Vida 24, Naciri 60, Kiessling 79, Troost 89)
League Position: 1st
Summary: A while to get our feet in this one, eventually Vida comes charging in from the backside to head home a corner. We're again playing well but not cashing in, and it's 1-0 at the break. In the second half it takes a while, but Naciri threads his way through to score just before the hour mark. Kiessling doesn't want to be left out of the scoring and gets a header off a free kick in the later going. Troost finally gets one where he broke through the middle and went 1v1, happy to see that - and now it looks like another big win. Dortmund lose, 7 pts behind.

We have our draw for the club world cup now: we'll play host club Al-Ahly in the Cairo International Stadium in Egypt, following the match between Mexico's Cruz Azul and Brazil's Corinthians. They play Tuesday, we play Wednesday before the weekend final.

Stuttgart can't do us any favors when they host Bayern Sunday, but going to our "break" heading for Egypt, we're 7 pts clear of Dortmund, 8 of Bayern, 11 of Schalke. One more round before the winter break,
and the halfway point - ours will be delayed a bit to next Wednesday.

Well, they never contacted me at all, Chelsea: they've installed Juan Carlos Garrido as their new manager. He's got some qualifications, especially in cup competitions - some EURO Cup progress, making a quarter final at each of Villarreal, Inter Milan and Sunderland, winning the Italian Cup at Inter (joining them late in that year so he only steered the last two matches), and winning the FA Cup at Sunderland. But his league finishes have been mostly dismal, not sure this is what Chelsea need. So I'm a closet fan, shoot me! And in an odd swap, McLeish takes over at Sunderland.

We've planned the two full lineups setup, but it's a little disrupted as Bustos isn't full fit yet, he was due to go in the first game.

Match: Al-Ahly - Bayer Leverkusen (Club World Championship Semi, Cairo International Stadium, Cairo, Egypt)
Score: 0-3 (Vida 40, Fernandez 45+1, Naciri 86)
Summary: With a lineup we'd not usually use, but which should be good enough, things look poor in the beginning. Naciri has a chance in the 12th, is this the catalyst to start breaking through? A good break, but astonishing miss by poor Sandro who just can't break through this year. Mares is there on a corner but a defender and the post are involved in denying it, then Pool's follow is weak. Another shot passes the keeper and clips woodwork. Al-Ahly should have taken the lead in the 23rd, but the shot goes wide, so they've botched one as well. Nifty stuff by Pool, and he misses. In the first half hour, 14 shots, 10 of them off target, most wildly so. OMG, there's been some terrible stuff here. It's seasoned international Domagoj Vida who finally gets us a goal, heading in a corner. We're not done blowing chances, but at the very death Fernandez has scored on a header (?) in traffic. 2-0 at the break, and it doesn't take long before Naciri tries to assert himself and wins a very obvious penalty. Obvious enough that Karim Shawky is shown the red card. And wait... it's not a penalty? The ref has blown that, he was well inside the box. The game slows to a crawl, two injuries for Al-Ahly, then Biglia is injured... when we hope to be going again, Naciri makes a run through the middle but wastes his shot. Troost gets onto a long ball - and hits the post. The statistician now thinks we've wasted seven clear-cut chances. Not to count another crossbar shot, this one from Bender. Walker's perfect long ball lets recent sub Troost blow another, this is painfully ugly in terms of execution, obviously the match itself is not in question. Naciri finally picks out a long shot and buries it. It's our 31st shot. We've done well but not built to any kind of quality on the finishes, five times off the woodwork, a number of astonishing misses. We'll face Brazil's Corinthians in the final.

The luck of the draw in the ECC has been quite tough on us, we've gotten Atletico Madrid who are one of the favorites for the tournament (after ourselves and Real Madrid, according to the bookie picks from back in September). The other matchups are Man United v Valencia, FC Bayern v Real Madrid, Sevilla v Benfica, Genoa v Olympique Lyonnais, Paris Saint-Germain v Napoli, Fenerbahce v Man City, Girondins Bordeaux v Arsenal.

Match: SC Corinthians Paulista - Bayer Leverkusen (Club World Championship Final, Cairo International Stadium, Cairo, Egypt)
Score: 0-7 (Derdiyok 7, 14, 33, Troost 18, 60, Bender 68, Schürrle 81)
Summary: Oh, what a play to open the scoring.... Bustos puts in a pass into space with perfect weight, Derdiyok isn't really clear but he's strong enough to win it anyway and bangs home. Derdiyok scores a second on a superb direct free kick. Troost scores when he gets a lucky break, he's made a poor pass to the left, but it bounces off the defender straight back in his path and the result is a goal. Derdiyok should have his third on 22 minutes, but floats the shot over trying to place it. Troost has acres of space to beat the keeper but his attempted loft is just batted away, not enough lift. Two headers on goal, neither score, quite an onslaught so far. Walker misses by inches. Derdiyok is so clear it's not funny, and now the hat trick is sealed. He's having an utter blast, three more chances come in fairly short order, and all are not far from being converted. With the game over at half time, Derdiyok comes out for Mares. Troost pots his second on the hour mark. Troost-Vazquez-Bender (just on as a sub), and Lars has finally gotten a goal. Looked sharp at it... is he going to find the form he should be capable of? Bender's feeling it, he's had two more chances, but not put them in. The Brazilian side has a wonderful passing sequence, the kind Brazilians have some fame for, but it's 6-0 with 80 minutes gone, there's kind of a "what's the point" feeling... and then Ospina, who knows Brazilians so well, makes the save anyway the 28-year-old has 80 caps, and you know, based on how the qualification system goes in South America, he's faced Brazil a number of times). And right after that, we show we can put together some passes too, and Hurler increases the rout with our 7th goal. Traverso almost scores a great goal with the final kick, but we've won this one comprehensively.

While we're away, Bayern destroy Aachen 8-0 including four for Babacar and Dortmund have won too, so it's incumbent on us to take the good feelings from being world champions and translate them into a win over Hamburg. Not doing so doesn't cause us trouble in the table, we'll still end the first half on top by at least 4 pts, but a big lead would have a better effect.

In the German Cup, it's not going to hurt that Dortmund play Bayern. These two rivals will have a battle and someone is out - but the schedule means we don't see any "tiredness" benefit, since they'll go into the winter break after this. It's Dortmund, with the home advantage due to the draw, who prevail 3-2.

Match: Hamburger SV - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-3 (Derdiyok 41, Fernandez 51, Kiessling 80)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We've had a half full of nothing as Hamburg go at us hammer and tongs, but we're not easy to score on, and in the 41st minute we find a crack and Derdiyok finishes one of his usual hammer shots where you worry for the net! Astonishing free kick from Fernandez shortly into the 2nd half, and it's 2-0. Adler seems to be back... some magical saves. As time is winding down, a special fast break, the end is Fernandez feeding out for Kiessling who has nobody near him, and it's a 3rd goal. And in end, we've just eliminated another opponent - away to a decent side and while they had a few statistical advantages, it again ended up no real contest.

The draw for the cup quarter final takes place - favorable to us, always assuming we win the tie in a few days: Stuttgart v Furth, Lok Leipzig or Leverkusen v Karlsruhe, Schalke v Dortmund, Lippstadt or HSV v Gladbach. So we're drawn a home match AND we've drawn a lower division side.

Match: 1.FC Lokomotive Leipzig - Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 3rd Rnd)
Score: 0-5 (Troost 2, Vida 11, 28, Pool 31, Bustos 37)
Summary: Snow falls in Leipzig on an already white field. Troost makes an individual move and scores in the 2nd minute. It's 2-0 ten minutes later when Vida heads in a corner. The guys, however, think things will be easy, and Leipzig keep picking the ball away. Vida gets another, this time heading in a free kick. Troost does all the work to create a dangerous situation, and Pamić then slides a ball for Pool to finish. Bustos adds to the first half barrage, slotting one in from outside the box. 5-0 at the break. So I guess in ways it was an easy half, but I still wanted crisper passing, and to not get caught on the ball. Second half involves less chances on goal, Vida had several chances at completing his hat trick but nobody put the ball in the net. So our matchup for 24th Jan is set: we'll host Karlsruhe, the only non-top-division team left, have to say that time the draw has been favorable.

So we've finished the year on another good run; 11 wins in a row (all comps), and 18 unbeaten (only the draw at Bayern marring the run). We're 22-0 in the last five, yes the competition wasn't all top level but good results breed confidence - and smashing an opponent you should beat easily is better than edging a narrow win, so they all count for something. 64 goals in the last 17 matches, that's 3.76 per, so we've certainly clicked on the goal-scoring front.

End of Year Table (17 pld - half season):
1. Leverkusen 44
2. Dortmund 37
3. Bayern 36
4. Schalke 33
5. Kaiserslautern 29
6. Köln 27
7. Hoffenheim 26 +8
8. Wolfsburg 26 -2
9. Stuttgart 25
10. Gladbach 24 +4
11. Werder Bremen 24 -3
12. Hertha BSC 21
13. Furth 18 -4
14. Mainz 18 -7
15. Aachen 17
16. HSV 13
17. 1860 Munich 8
18. Bochum 6

Finances
Noticeable negative cash for the month, €3.85m. Some of that certainly attributable to renewal bonuses and agent fees as we locked up those contracts. Renewal feed totaled just over €3m. Turnover €11.74m, up from €8.26m - prize money a factor. Expenses €15.59m, up from €10.8m. No red flags.

Other
We're renewed all the senior contracts that were up at the end of this year. It went easily because the players generally were quite reasonable. Sandro's now on a bit higher salary than I'd really want, but in comparison with other top clubs it's really that the other players are somewhat underpaid. It's clear that young Petr Mares needs more playing time, I'd like to arrange him a loan. Enzo Reale, though he got a new deal, should probably move on now. With both Adler and Nowak back to full health, Ospina is back to being the luxury I thought he'd be at the start. But the man has played well for us, 18 times between the sticks in the first half of the season
January 2017

Monthly Results
1.FSV Mainz 05 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Derdiyok 70, 85, Troost 78, Fernandez 89)
TSV 1860 München 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Derdiyok 22, 52, Winter 41, 47)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Karlsruher SC (German Cup Qtr Final) (Vida 59, 79)
FC Schalke 04 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Sandro 44, Walker 67)

C.Ronaldo is player of the year and world Golden Ball winner. Closer to home, Alberto Botia has been named to a spot on the world team of the year, with Derdiyok a substitute. Derdiyok is European Striker of the Year, having potted 35 goals during the period (halves of two seasons).

In the Scottish Premier League, Celtic are apparently cruising to the title on 46 points (20 pld); the next group are St Mirren, Rangers, Hibernian, Motherwell and Hearts, that group separated by four points with various games in hand, St Mirren currently 2nd on 35 pts. In the English Premier (21 pld), Man City and Arsenal are fighting it out with 50 and 49 pts, then a clump of Aston Villa, Liverpool, Man United trailing a few points behind. Any of those five have a decent chance at the title if they can put together a run. In Spain, Sevilla and Valencia are top with 36 pts (16 pld), with Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid close and Barca still in shouting distance. Italy sees Inter top with 41 pts (18 pld), Napoli, Sampdoria, Genoa, Udinese and Fiorentina chasing and AC Milan trying to get involved but sitting 7th now.

Back in the own club, one question is the pursuit of a right wing to upgrade the position, which has been manned by Sam plus a collection of players who are not "native" to the position - Vida, Sandro, Walker or Castro, and sometimes Schürrle if someone else is stationed on the left. It seems a bit unfair because in terms of ratings Sam is having a pretty good year, he's been solid but he's just not making a lot of "impact". One of the most dynamic players in the world is Brazilian wonderkid Rafael, who played some time at Litex (who were in our ECC Group but he had already gone back to Brazil to play for Santos so wasn't an opponent we played against directly). There's a lot of money involved in prying him out, not just in what would be a record transfer fee, but the scout expectation is a salary request that would put the 19 year old at the very top end of our earnings table. That seems a little problematic for squad harmony, can't expect such details to remain quiet. It's the only realistic upgrade we can make, to be honest; we've got strength everywhere. Left back continues an niggle, starter Kadlec is 32 and as noted is starting to have stamina issues, especially if we play with a pack of central midfielders so he has greater responsibility to get forward for with. His agent largely acknowledged this, as we worked on his contract renewal just completed, he was only asking for a squad status as a backup even though he's still the #1 pick. The other left back is the young Argentine Traverso, who's really a right back natively. We've got Oczipka out on loan, that was because we decided he wasn't quite good enough to take the position over from Kadlec and we wanted to be able to play Traverso and see where he is over a decent amount of playing time. So we probably need something here, but this doesn't sound like a winter upgrade need. Similarly there's a defensively oriented midfielder we like, Brice Kayembe, who might be an option if some other midfielders are cleared out, but he's out on a season-long loan so this also isn't a January issue. Then there's the question of Ospina - I'm not inclined to push him out the door, but if somebody enthusiastically came for him, I think we might let him move on, if he wants to.

Then there's the question of fending off moves for our own players, which always come, this year won't be any different. Porto's already come with an offer for German Biglia, which we rejected; the young man has so much potential we want to see if he's going to reach it, it just hasn't quite clicked yet. Meanwhile, there's rumor Bayern are after Salaheddine Naciri, who has clicked - after three loan spells and a low-impact year last season, he's blossomed in the first half of this season, and his success has actually helped influence some tactical choices in favor of more centrally-focused midfielders and lower emphasis on wide players.

Match: 1.FSV Mainz 05 - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-4 (Derdiyok 70, 85, Troost 78, Fernandez 89)
League Position: 1st
Summary: It takes a long time to get a competent attack going: the first half sees us get nine shots, two on target, and nothing dangerous while Mainz have just two shots. The second half it begins to pick up, and after I start substituting the floodgates come open - Derdiyok opens the scoring in the 70th minute, then Troost has a good effort go off the post and he's the first to the rebound, then Derdiyok nets another, and finally Fernandez bends in a nice shot. All four goals in the last 20 minutes, and our second half tally was 17 shots, 10 on target, a bit of a contrast in halves!

We've had a bid for Biglia; bids for young defender Matej Bubic; bids for Dieye; a contract offer to Martin Glowacz (deciding whether to offer him a new deal to keep him); inquiry (from Barcelona) for Vida; and now an offer for Jordy Pool from Arsenal. In the case of Vida, don't want to lose him but if he actually wants to go to Barcelona, I'd let him go - for a hefty price. The one I suggested caused them to withdraw, but I'm not counting on that being a dead issue, as the Spanish clubs seem to have a different yardstick when it comes to prices... Real Madrid have just bid for Eden Hazard. Just bid €46.5m, that is!!!!

AND my native Finland has offered the manager's job after Stuart Baxter left the position. Which I've accepted. I quickly went out and found a young recent player who wants to get into coaching who has really good talent evaluation skills, and I'll put him to work compiling reports on the players in the pool. There's not a lot of nearby activity; it's 16 Jan, we'll play Slovenia in a friendly 8 Feb, then Luxembourg in Group 3 of the World Cup quals, which is it until summer. Interestingly, the national side I managed for a short period last season, Croatia, are in this group, and so are Scotland, the nation where I started my managerial career. Qualification is 10 matches; 3 are already on the books. Finland have beaten Georgia, lost to Scotland away (both acceptable results) and drawn 0-0 to Moldova away (not an acceptable result if qualification is a target). The table after three matches is

1. Croatia 7 +11
2. Scotland 7 +4
3. Georgia 6
4. Finland 4
5. Moldova 1
6. Luxembourg 0

The remaining group matches are:
22 Mar 2012 Finland - Luxembourg
3 Jun 2012 Croatia - Finland
7 Jun 2012 Georgia - Finland
9 Sep 2012 Finland - Scotland
13 Sep 2012 Finland - Moldova
14 Oct 2012 Finland - Croatia
18 Oct 2012 Luxembourg - Finland

The presumed plan would be to obviously beat Luxembourg; work hard to pick up something out of two tough away matches and go into the fall hopefully in a position that the somewhat favorable ending schedule, three at home followed by the presumably winnable away at Luxembourg, is enough to pip second. You'd like to dream that three points down with seven to play is possible to overcome so we could get first, but hardly likely when there are three sides to pass in the table.

The Leverkusen U19's, who've been having an excellent season, stumble at a bad moment and are knocked out of the Cup by Hamburg in the semifinal. They'll face Stuttgart in the final while our lads are out.

We're actually a little short of players... maybe that's overstating things, but we did send Reale and Mares out on loan, Bustos is out for the month with an injury, and Naciri and Dieye are away for the African Cup of Nations.

Match: TSV 1860 München - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-4 (Derdiyok 22, 52, Winter 41, 47)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We're not making much headway despite playing well, until Derdiyok heads in a cross from Kadlec. Winter cashes in a corner, he's actually very good around the net, it doesn't just have to be directly on his head, he'll go get the ball and finish with the foot too. Having said that, after the break Winter finishes with the head to make it 3-0. Bad luck for 1860, good for Derdiyok, a ball is poked loose and squirts forward into space where he catches up and blasts the ball into the roof of the net. Furstner looks like he's pulled one back but the referee has spotted a foul and it's waved off. It's not our most effective game ever, and still it's been an easy win - for the second time in a row, settled in an explosive burst, last time four goals in a 20 minute stretch, this time four in a 30 minute period (and three in 11). We have to wait for the late game to see how Dortmund and Bayern do. Shalke drew and now are 13 points off the pace in 4th. Bayern record a 3-1 home win over Dortmund which sees Bayern 2nd, 8 points behind; Dortmund are now 10 adrift, with 15 to play.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Karlsruher SC (German Cup Qtr Final)
Score: 2-0 (Vida 59, 79)
Summary: Another game where we'll save some players for the fairly important Schalke match at the week-end. Unfortunately, the crew involved in this one isn't taking control the way we want. An indication of problems is when Vida is tripped out wide right in the attacking end in the 32nd minute, he wins our first free kick of the half, where Karlsruhe have had 11. We have a typical play that gets us a number of goals, a goal kick doesn't travel that far and is headed back towards the Karlsruhe goal where Troost is first to it. Unlike the kind of performance we get from Derdiyok and Kiessling, however, the chance goes begging again. We open the second half with Pool getting a pretty dubious card for diving. It's Vida who breaks the deadlock, bashing in a Pamić free kick. Vida gets plaudits for paying attention in a game where others were not so hot... a second goal, this from a corner. Just after Castro becomes the fourth player booked to none for the visitors, and free kicks are 6-20. It ends 2-0. Good enough, I guess, but the fans wanted a more interesting show. Schalke knocks out Dortmund. Furth and Gladbach win on the second day, the former an away win at Stuttgart which has to rate as a bit of a surprise.

After a somewhat kind quarter final draw, we get presumably the hardest possible semi final draw of the three choices: we're away to current league #4 Schalke, while current #13 Furth host current #10 Gladbach. Our record with Schalke is 7-3-4 over the last 14 matches, and it's 2-1-3 in their park, so they're a side that give us noticeable problems.

Match: FC Schalke 04 - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 2-0 (Sandro 44, Walker 67)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We start pretty well, but the match settles into rather a slog, and we seem to be getting a lot of the passes with forward intent picked off (padding our passing stats with square passes and otherwise non-attacking ones). Well, Schalke know us well and it's up to us to not make good choices and not be too predictable. Finally, just before the break, Sandro slides in a shot through traffic. There's not much going on until our lads run a lovely little game off a free kick where Fernandez looks like he's going to send it but instead drops to Sandro who picks out Walker coming from the right to score. Then Schalke mess up defending a corner, Uchida and Neuer come together and eventually it's a ball popped in the air which Winter happily heads in. However, the referee thinks Kiessling was at fault for the mess (how, I'm not sure, and the players are arguing vociferously, of course to no avail). As time is winding down, it's mostly Schalke and we're having to defend a lot. We've seen out the clean sheet safely, though.

Fernandez had goal of the month for his bending shot v. Mainz.

End of Month Table Summary (20 pld):
1. Leverkusen 53
2. Bayern 45
3. Dortmund 43
4. Schalke 37
5. Hoffenheim 33 +10
6. Wolfsburg 33 +3
...
13. Furth 22
14. Mainz 21
15. Aachen 20
16. HSV 19
17. 1860 Munchen 9
18. Bochum 6

So it looks like 1860 and Bochum are toast and the battle is to avoid the relegation playoff spot, where there are four sides in close proximity.

Finances
It's a monthly loss of €6.72m, not surprisingly driven by a shortened calendar. With turnover of €6.95m, down from €11.74m, it's worth noting the main revenue item is the regular monthly TV contract payment of €1.75m. Expenditures a little lower as we didn't have the burp of all the contract renewals - although we ended up having to extend Vida's contract and that cost a bit. Expenses of €13.65m, down from €15.59m.

We've come out of the month with nine consecutive clean sheets, we haven't conceded since 7 Dec v. Bordeaux - that's rather good actually, although some of the competition in that stretch wasn't of the highest quality (club world cup).
February 2017

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 1.FC Kaiserslautern (Derdiyok 17, 33, Fernandez pen 74, Kadlec 83)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (Derdiyok 38, Pamić 71)
Atletico Madrid 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC First Knockout Round, Leg 1) (Aguero 86 - Kiessling 4)
VfL Bochum 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Walter 65 - Derdiyok 44)
FC Schalke 04 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup Semi Final) (Kiessling 48, Sam 67)

International Results
Finland 3-0 Slovenia (Friendly) (Hakola 15, Alho 66, Ojala 84)

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FC Kaiserslautern
Score: 4-0 (Derdiyok 17, 33, Fernandez pen 74, Kadlec 83)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We've had a horrid start, or rather Kaiserslautern have had a great one, but we keep plugging and a goal heals many wounds... Derdiyok has crashed one in in the 17th. Then Troost misses by inches. Troost puts Derdiyok through and it's two, just past the half hour. We really did turn it our way; FCK took the first three shots of the half, by the break we had a 12-4 shots advantage. We should have scored a few times in the second half, Troost continues to have finishing problems; then Fernandez and Kiessling can't convert. When Walker is knocked down in the box it's a penalty and he has to be helped off for treatment. Fernandez scores from the spot, and Kadlec adds one in the final 10 minutes. Kadlec doesn't score much; it's only the second one he's scored in all competitions since I've been here, the other was in an ECC match in the 2013 season.

The upcoming Finland friendly marks a reunion with my former Hibernian recruit Juhani Ojala, who's had a bit of spotted career since. He was a washout in Spain after his €2m move to Espanyol, for whom he never appeared; two years in Portugal at Sporting were better, and it led to a €4.5 move to Genoa in Italy where he's played a lot but charitably one can say he's still adjusting. I guess we might conclude, perhaps unfairly, that he was excellent in Scotland, good in Portugal, but the higher levels of the top Spanish and Italian leagues have been a bit above him.

International Friendly: Finland v Slovenia
Score: 3-0 (Hakola 15, Alho 66, Ojala 84)
Summary: We've started rather well, and in the 14th minute start a very composed passing sequence which involves a lot of touches for 5 cap Lokeren (Belgium) man Nicolai Alho, who ends it by sliding into the middle until he has an opening to pick out his right wing counterpart Juha Hakola (once capped, Girondins Bordeuax but not in the first team), and the blast beats Handanovic. Very very nice stuff there, do we have consistent behavior like that? After a half hour, the verdict would be no; Slovenia have looked more composed and more aggressive, keeper Jukka Lehtovaara (32 caps) has looked a bit nervous although he does well on a close-in chance, it's the longer shots that he's not quite taking charge of. Solvenia have had three good chances that have gone wide. Long ball for Karlsson who finds he's 1v5, not a lot of Finnish players pushing forward! Does well to win a corner, just to complete the thought. Some solid work from new captain Tim Sparv (whom I see frequently as he's playing club ball at Hertha Berlin). As the second half begins I'm a little frustrated that our spacing is poor in the attacking end. First time they've played for me, true. We've had a couple of situation where we fail to convert, not trivial chances but still you hope for a rise to the occasion. A long ball exposes a Slovenian weakness as there's no way Alho should have (a) gotten the ball and (b) slipped past the keeper so he had an empty net to poke it into. Have to say, superb bit of control. After we substitute and switch to a 4-4-2, Ojala gets his goal from a corner. A defensive mistake (taking a chance on a tackle) should have gotten Slovenia their goal, the the shot is slid wide. It's a comprehensive win, and I'm not sure what conclusions to make from this. Slovenia are a good side, they're leading their qualifying group (which also includes Germany, Ireland and Denmark!), and are ranked 35th by FIFA to Finland's 59th; but it's only a friendly in the end. Really pleased by what we got from the two inexperienced wide players.

Naciri has helped lead Morocco to the ANC final, so he's still not going to be back for a bit. And while Dieye's Senegal have lost, they're in the 3rd-place match. Senegal win that one; Dieye has three solid performances out of the six matches, unused in the other three. Naciri's Morocco lose the final to Cameroon; he's played all six and done well, although his best performances came in the group matches.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
Score: 2-0 (Derdiyok 38, Pamić 71)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Hoffenheim's manager says again how he intends for his club to replace ours as the dominant force. The match is quite even, although I'm inclined to give us the blame rather than Hoffenheim the credit, we are not playing up to our standards, and we're not winning the 50/50 challenges, Hoffenheim seem to want it more. There's finally a goal late in the half, it's come almost out of nothing: Hoffenheim have just had their best chance when a header is off the bar, then the break's on the other way. That attack is blunted, but as we regroup as Hoffenheim prepare to go on offense, Traverso steps in and pinches the ball and he rolls it through the middle where Derdiyok turns around his man and kind of sweeps it left-footed at the goal where it's beaten the keeper, who seemed slow to react, at the post. Not his usual blast, but it's a goal on the board. Will that open things up? Not before the break. After the break, Kiessling has taken a quick shot and Starke has to fly through the air to keep it out. We'll try a little tweak, Hoffenheim won't let us work it in but seem to be vulnerable if we take our chances quickly. We've come so close after Fernandez replaces Vazquez, struggling with a knock - Derdiyok has picked him out and I think the shot is in, but the netting it's nestling in is the outside, not the inside. After a corner is coming to nothing, Derdiyok clips a ball into the middle where another midfield sub, Pamić, has headed it... looks like he didn't connect at all well, but it's somehow looped over Starke and in. Derdiyok almost duplicates that header, but Starke backpedaling just does get a hand on this one to steer it over. Derdiyok looks sure to score with a couple of minutes left but it's denied. Tough game, and we seem to have lost a little edge, it didn't all just flow smoothly, but a difficult opponent. Speaking of which, Bayern continue what's been a very good season while Dortmund stumble, so it's really a two-team race now. We've got 59 points from 22, but haven't opened up more than an eight point lead on Bayern, who are the same ahead of Dortmund.

We receive word that part of the west stand has been closed for health and safety reasons, reducing capacity by 2410. Really? It's a brand new stadium... what have they done wrong. Will they repair it?

Match: C. Atletico Madrid SAD - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC First Knockout Round, Leg 1)
Score: 1-1 (Aguero 86 - Kiessling 4)
Summary: Atletico Madrid look like they're going to be a really tough match for us, and they've come right at us, but we strike lucky and hit them on a counterattack very early, a ball over the top run down by Derdiyok and while he might have scored he's squared for Kiessling who has an empty net to put it in. Only 3:05 on the clock. They've broken us down for a shot by Pato, but he sends it over - way over. Kiessling has been off color for a while, but seems to have it back now, stepping deftly around and blasting. Atleti are quite a bit more aggressive, it's in their nature, but the referee has been penalising them for it. Bender's had two good chances, both denied through excellent saves from De Gea. Atletico get a very late goal, a long ball is going to spring Aguero, Adler tries to come out to play it but as he's just outside the box he has to use feet and Aguero eventually wins the battle for the ball and fires it in. That mistake ends two long runs of ours: 11 clean sheets in a row (and for Adler, over 730 minutes), and 17 wins in a row. 1-1 the final. We've given up a very late equalizer, that never makes anybody happy. We do have an away goal in the bank, but I wouldn't count on Atletico not to score in Leverkusen in a few weeks, not with players like Aguero in the squad, so we're going to have to win that one to be sure of taking the tie. Man United 1-1 Valencia is the other result of the day.

Finland have moved up to 54th in the world rankings. We seem to be better than that, but it's all about results.

Second day of ECC knockouts: Bayern 3-2 R.Madrid, PSG 0-3 Napoli.

Match: VfL Bochum - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-1 (Walter 65 - Derdiyok 44)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Looks like we're into a bit of a slump. Though we start well if you consider offensive prowess, a half hour passes and we have taken 10 attempts without forcing the keeper into action. Then Derdiyok scores, but he's incorrectly (apparently) ruled offside. Then in the 42nd minute, Traverso sees red for a tackle that missed, but certainly wasn't violent or in any other way deserving of a dismissal. It means the end for the ineffective Bender, as Dieye comes in to man the left back position, and we'll play a man down. That's apparently an advantage if you have a Derdiyok, as he gets angry, takes the ball away from a defender after not getting to the long ball first, a couple of dribbles, and, still clear, cannons a shot into the net. Pool sets up Derdiyok and his point-blank header is somehow saved; then on a following free kick, Botia heads it but it's cleared by the man on the post. Bettinger given too much time in the box but Alder is up to making the save. Continuing the feeling the referee is a 12th man for Bochum, Derdiyok is about to break free and he's felled like a timber. It wouldn't have been last-man, but should have been a yellow card, and it's not even a foul. We fall apart at the back and concede a goal that never should have been. Fernandez fails to score when he's clear, then after a corner, Sandro is felled and again there's no call. Dieye receives a free kick and steps deftly into space, unfortunately that's the wrong man to have the ball and the shot worries nobody. Poor show, including by the referee. We've dropped two points to Bayern who win again. We've already dropped more points in the league than we did last year, though last year was so silly it's hard to compare anything with it, that was 8 points dropped in 34 games.

We've got some time, for once... the next match is German Cup in ten days, next Tuesday; then Furth Saturday followed by the second leg at home v. Atletico Madrid (those are into March).

3rd day of ECC knockouts: Fenerbahce 0-1 Man City; Sevilla 3-2 Benfica. 4th day Genoa 1-3 OL; Bordeaux 0-0 Arsenal.

While we're getting ready for Tuesday, Bayern have a chance to cut the lead to three points Sunday. They do that with a big win at Hamburg, putting five in the net (5-2 the final). Now we'll see what the mental state of our players is this year, as we've got three big matches in eight days: cup semifinal against difficult Schalke, our chance to respond to Bayern's win and restore a decent margin, and the second leg in the Champions Cup.

Match: FC Schalke 04 - Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup Semi Final)
Score: 0-2 (Kiessling 48, Sam 67)
Summary: Neuer's had to stop two good chances in the first seven minutes. Now we need to follow up the pressure. We can't do it, Schalke being to take over, and go very close to scoring from a free kick, and offside (barely) El Hamdaoui getting through and poking the ball off the post. There's been nothing that looks like a serious chance until very late in the half when we have two off set plays, first from a corner sequence Sam slides it towards Vida who's broken clear far post but the pass isn't of high enough quality, then Derdiyok nods a free kick off the post. Still in the first half Ospina purely on reaction tips over Lodeiro's snap shot. Bad first minute of the 2nd, first a breakaway with a superb defensive recovery after Ospina took up the perfect stance to discourage the early shot, then a super clearance from Vida, then from a set piece it's been cleared off the line by the man on the post. And that quickly we hit back, the long ball sees Derdiyok getting a shot, it's off the bar but Kiessling didn't stop running and puts in the carom. Unlucky for Neuer, it wasn't going in Kiessling's direction until it caromed off his back and changed course. Walker's ball is about to find Kiessling but it's maybe a smidge too high and he's not able to bring the header down. Superb sequence, I don't see how we failed to score in the 64th minute, but it's a corner. Second half performance so far has been a lot more convincing, and Sam's in good position to redirect a long diagonal cross for the second goal. Kiessling is in position to score but he doesn't hit it hard enough with the left. With enthusiasm comes more aggression, and Schalke just can't keep the ball, our lads keep poking it away. They should have had one chance, but like the earlier Vida chance for us, Riviere is open, the passer sees the chance, but the pass isn't good enough. We change some players late to make sure we're fresh for the finish. Break late for Derdiyok and Kiessling, the latter's shot is saved brilliantly but it's just too late for Schalke, and we're on to the German Cup final! Our opponent is Gladbach, who have to go to penalties to oust Furth.

End of Month Table Summary (24 pld):
1. Leverkusen 60 (23 pld)
2. Bayern 57
3. Dortmund 46
4. Wolfsburg 42
5. Schalke 39 (23 pld)
6. Hoffenheim 37
...
16. Aachen 20
17. Bochum 14
18. 1860 Munchen 9

Finances
A monthly loss of €2.81m. Turnover is €7.47m up from €6.95m; expenses €10.29, down from €13.68m.

We've got a huge transfer kitty (€54.4m "remaining") , I'm debating whether to try to pull the trigger on Rafael to get the fee in this year's budget. Because of a trip over FIFA rules we couldn't have brought him in in January - he wasn't eligible until July anyway. This was not originally clear. Even though he transferred in early July, he transferred from a club that was in-season and had played a match after July 1 for them, so FIFA ruled he'd been registered for two clubs in the same season. Don't know if he'll be actually available; scouts think he'd love to make the move but still he's not been at Santos even a full season, and they may resist. IS this the player we want to spend a club-record transfer fee on? The current record is actually the purchase of Dante from Gladbach (which, the observant will notice predates me). €12.5m. The record sale is considered by be worth €27.5m, that of Augusto to Barcelona.
March 2017

Monthly Results
SpVgg Greuther Fürth 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Derdiyok 21, Winter 42)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 C. Atletico Madrid SAD (ECC 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 2) (Botia 18, Derdiyok 41, 50) Leverkusen win 4-1 on agg
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 VfB Stuttgart (Derdiyok 15, 51, Troost 84)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Borussia Mönchengladbach (Biglia 52, 63)
TSV Alemannia Aachen 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Gueye pen 44 - Botia 74)

International Results
Finland 3-0 Luxembourg (UEFA World Cup Quals Group 3) (Karlsson 18, Toivio 29, Ojala 34)

Match: SpVgg Greuther Fürth - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-2 (Derdiyok 21, Winter 42)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We play earlier in the day than Bayern, so they can't draw level with us on this day unless we slip up. We'll still have a game in hand after the day. It's looking now like the difficult pair vs. Bayern and Dortmund will have significance on the race. We nearly get an early counter attack goal, Naciri taking off after a corner on a long run and finding Walker for a powerful shot, which, however is batted aside. It goes fluidly but only a header off the bar besides that first go in the first 15. Winter comes across from the back post to head a powerful corner but it's waved off for a foul nobody in the team can understand. Greats pass for Troost, he's behind with a chance to score but fires at the keeper. Troost's cross finally gets us the goal, Derdiyok heading home. Narrow miss moments later, then Walker, Walker again, Winter on a corner. Winter finally gets one to go, and count, shortly before the break. That should have been a lot more than two goals. The second half doesn't have the sting of the first, we've lofted a few long shots over, and late sub Pamić bursts through in stoppage time but fires right at the keeper. Really a pretty dominant show, 55% of the ball and 26-5 shots. Seemed like we were somewhat wasteful a lot of those shots off target and too many of them from distance. Mustn't be greedy, but if the habit of profligacy takes hold again, what happens if we're in a match with only a few chances?

Bayern win, and Dortmund lose, so Dortmund's chances are nil now, it's more a matter of holding off Wolfsburg for the final ECC spot (though if Germany maintain their relatively successful pace in Europe this year, the count will go up to four slots the /next/ season). The two teams have records that look very similar, really: Leverkusen 20-3-1, 60 scored, 9 conceded for 63 pts, +51; Bayern 19-3-3, 59 scored, 12 conceded for 60 pts, +47. We do have the game in hand, which is in 11 days at home to 8th placed Gladbach. But as of now, there's not a clear separation in either points or goal difference, Bayern's continued good play could easily erase the latter, and we have a six-pointer in less than a month with them which could have a major impact on the former. Their next two matches don't look too likely to help us out, they've got their local derby with 1860, but that means they play in what's also their home stadium, and 1860 are a rather woeful bottom of the table with little prospect of getting out of the drop zone, they're 11 points out of even the playoff spot. The next match is 5th placed Schalke, but that's a true home game. Meanwhile, we've got #7 Stuttgart at home, #8 Gladbach at home (that's the game in hand), #16 Aachen away before the Bayern clash.

Before all that, though, we have to come through a very tricky European knockout tie with Atletico Madrid, who based on expectations, shouldn't be playing us this early in the knockouts.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - C. Atletico Madrid SAD (ECC 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 2)
Score: 3-0 (Botia 18, Derdiyok 41, 50) Leverkusen win 4-1 on agg
Summary: Early danger as Jadson has hit one off the crossbar, down, but not quite in. Kiessling's had a chance a bit later which is steered wide by De Gea. We get a crucial goal in the 18th as Botia heads in a corner, it's been a real battle to this point. We now know we're not in trouble if Atleti score one... but would love to prevent it. If they score two, we need two more, though. Botia's no longer scoring with the frequency he used to, but he's resumed his former very welcome habit of popping up at key moments. It's almost a second for Botia, this time off a free kick, it's hit off a couple of defenders and is heading, slowly, for the goal, but dribbles off the post instead. Ball deflected comes to Kiessling who feeds Fernandez, his break is going to close down so he sends a long bending one, yet again it looks in but has caught the outside of the net. Now Derdiyok has headed in a corner, we're giving them trouble on set plays for sure! Pato's close, Botia sweeps away the loose ball after Adler's parry. We're up 3-1 on aggregate at the half. Just like the first leg, it's been a card-filled match. Schürrle gets loose on the left, his short cross is just flicked away from the guys in the middle but Sam retains and Derdiyok receives in way too deep with not enough defensive help, so he turns and powers it in. That situation looks more comfortable now, surely we can hold a three-goal lead? Aguero looks like he's gotten loose but a daring tackle from behind by Dante is perfect, nothing but ball. Derdiyok charges on goal, loops it up for Kiessling who's got a head to it but a defender manages to get his head on it before it goes in. I'm waiting on subs, we don't need them for tactical reasons and I want to make them at the right time for fresh-legs reasons. Derdiyok has lobbed one opportunistically, it's drifting just off the far post when Kiessling gets there and nods back across, but yet again a defensive head just rescues the situation. Still, it's a clean 3-0 win, 4-1 on agg. The other match of the day ends the same way, home side Valencia 3-0 over Man United, 4-1 on agg.

Wednesday, both matches are draws and the first-leg leaders hold on, Napoli 0-0 PSG (3-0 agg); R.Madrid 1-1 Bayern (3-4 agg). The battle for 4 vs. 3 ECC places sees Germany edge just slightly further away from Italy, in-progress coefficient pts are 84.238 v 82.446. Genoa are still in the ECC and play next Thurs but will have a tough time overcoming OL's 3-1 lead with the match in Lyon. In the Euro Cup, Italy have three sides left (Milan, Palermo, Juventus) vs. two German sides (HSV, Schalke) so the competition is not settled yet. After the Thursday Euro Cup matches it stands 84.667 v 83.018.

A little disturbance, Biglia wants a transfer because I didn't offer him a new contract "as promised". What I said was, "prove to me you deserve a new contract", and he's not proven it. What am I supposed to do?

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - VfB Stuttgart
Score: 3-0 (Derdiyok 15, 51, Troost 84)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Derdiyok follows a Troost shot that Ulreich can only palm away, he's continuing to tear up the scoring charts. Time passes with us on the front foot, but not breaking through. Troost makes a great series of moves to get clear, and the shot is horribly wide. The half-time shots advantage is considerable at 13-2, but we've been inaccurate, so it's gained us little. Derdiyok breaks long, he's actually not exactly clear with three defenders, but his ball control is so exquisite that he gets a clear shot anyway, and nails it. Troost goes right down the middle but where Derdiyok would score most times, he's had it saved again. Troost blows another chance, then Derdiyok puts it on a plate for him and he finally slots one in. Can that be the start of some confidence? That wasn't an easy shot, a type he's missed many of. We've still got pressure on at the very end, and Derdiyok misses one last try at a hat trick, but we've beaten Stuttgart comprehensively. Bayern's matching 3-0 win at 1860 leave the situation at the top completely unchanged.

So a little data glance, Troost is listed as 52% shots on target / attempted, which I don't believe, he must have had some better games at the very beginning; 13% goals / shot attempts. Kiessling is at 60% and 28% in those statistics; Derdiyok 43% and 23%. Derdiyok does tend to blast away, but I know he's accurate way more than Troost, so out the window go the stat sheets!!! On the season, Derdiyok 29 goals, Kiessling 21, Troost 12. Meanwhile, loanee Sukuta-Pasu, whom I was trying to get rid of, has 11 for Dortmund, just two off their team lead, and likely to pass the leader Guilherme who's out for the season now with a broken leg. Possibly part of why Dortmund has slipped off their pace.

Quick check around Europe: In Scotland, Celtic lead Hibernian by 5 pts and Rangers by 11 (Rangers having a game in hand) after 29 rounds. In England, Arsenal lead Man City by one point after 29, Man United are 13 back so it looks like a 2-team race. In France, OL are 10 points clear after 28 (Lens in second - a team tipped for the bottom half of Ligue 1). In Spain Sevilla lead Valencia by one and At.Madrid by four 27, Real Madrid are five back and Barcelona 9 behind. In Italy Inter lead Napoli by 7 after 29 rounds; Milan, Sampdoria and Fiorentina are 12 points behind. In Portugal Benfica are 12 points clear of Maritimo and 14 over Porto, 22 (of 30) rounds complete.

The third set of ECC knockouts see Benfica win a wild tie: 4-2 today, 6-5 aggregate over Sevilla. Man city win 4-1 to take the tie 5-1 over Fenerbahce. The fourth day it's Arsenal 1-0 G.Bordeaux (1-0 agg) and OL 3-0 Genoa (6-1 agg). That allows the draw for the quarter finals to take place: Arsenal - Leverkusen, Man City - Valencia, Olympique Lyonnais - Benfica and Bayern - Napoli. We don't have an easy draw with Arsenal performing well this year, and Bayern v Napoli should be fascinating as they're both explosive sides: both have scored over 60 goals in the league already, but Napoli can't really defend while Bayern have solved that part of their game apparently - comparatively poor defending has been their downfall in several seasons past. Man City are another side having a year that's explosive offensively, and rock solid defensively - somewhat better than Arsenal statistically but still trailing them by a point (City have a goal difference of +61!!!).

Finland move up another three places in FIFA rankings, pretty good given we haven't played a competitive match since last fall.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Borussia Mönchengladbach
Score: 2-0 (Biglia 52, 63)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We had a first half of extreme frustration, dominant in the extreme, but utterly lacking finishing nous... 13-1 are the shots, and we're at nearly 70% of the possession, but scoreless. And only 2 of the 13 were on frame. It's Biglia with a header in the first few minutes of the 2nd. Schürrle makes an excellent move in the middle and dumps to Biglia who scores his second. Troost hasn't solved his problems, he hits a post and then puts an open shot wide at the end. So we're back to a six point lead, matches this weekend, then an international break, then back for the clash with Bayern.

Match: TSV Alemannia Aachen - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-1 (Gueye pen 44 - Botia 74)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We're having a horror show here, another time the official seems to be utterly against us. We have three first-half goals ruled out, all on dubious grounds, then one of the worst penalty calls ever gives Aachen the lead just before the break. Vida jumped with an attacking player for a high ball, there seemed no contact other than normal, it didn't seem in the box, but somehow the referee pointed to the spot anyway. It's not getting better in the 2nd, and after subs Bustos has picked out Bender... who can't score. When does he ever? We finally get a goal on our 19th official shot (of course the three previous in the net don't count as shots!), Botia far post heads in Derdiyok's free kick. Bender fails on another chance. Kadlec heads wide. Bender again... all three on target, but none really close to beating the keeper. Kiessling wide to Derdiyok for a header, that's wide - not a bad miss, he just couldn't get the time to bring it back, his position was already wide of the goal. A few minutes left to salvage the points which are slipping away... Derdiyok finds his way through but the shot is way over. The three minutes added go by fast and we've make a bad show of this one. Shots are 24-5... and yes, we had goals taken away and they got given one.

We wait for Bayern's match Sunday, a win would pull them within four pts. It's not easy for the, but Neymar's 89th minute goal gives them the full three points. The stage is set..

It's off to Finland for a group 3 match we absolutely have to win - no progress is made in this competition if you don't take your home points, esp, against the bottom clubs, which tiny Luxembourg clearly are. We've had a late injury setback, left winger Nicolai Alho who had such an impact in the friendly last month, has damaged a foot, we have to pick a replacement, we choose Jussi Vasara who's had a good season at St Pauli in the Swiss league, and was on the edge of meriting a callup anyway. He's capped only 8 times despite being 29, there seems to be a fair bit of that in the pool, players who've had a cup of coffee but not pushed on to become regulars. The former generation of senior players who took all the playing time are mostly gone now, the Eremenko brothers still around, and there really hasn't been a new generation ready to step up all across the board, only a few positions are really set.

International Match: Finland - Luxembourg (UEFA World Cup Quals Group 3)
Score: 3-0 (Karlsson 18, Toivio 29, Ojala 34)
Group Position: 3rd
Summary: Conditions are snowy in Tampere, Finland; usually internationals are played in the Olympiastadion in Helsinki but not this time. 170km north of Helsinki and thus off the coast, and surrounded by large lakes, the weather is typically worse, so I find this an odd scheduling choice. Luxembourg have all of the ball in the early going. However, striker Matias Karlsson, who was poor the first time I saw him, simply outruns the defense for a long ball and is able to score. We've got our opening goal which should settle things down. It's his first Finland goal, scary that he still looks the best striking choice. Toivio heads in a corner just short of the half hour, at this point we've still only had about 35% of the ball but lead 2-0. It's also his first Finland goal, although as a defender the expectations aren't there. Ojala makes it three, minutes later, volleying in a corner. We continue to look very dangerous on set pieces. We don't, however, produce enough in the second half to make me happy.

Elsewhere, Georgia 0-1 Croatia, Scotland 0-0 Moldova - the Scots make the same mistake we did earlier and don't take maximum points off one of the bottom two clubs. The results leave the table with four played:

1. Croatia 10
2. Scotland 8
3. Finland 7
4. Georgia 6
5. Moldova 2
6. Luxembourg 0

The June matchups will be Georgia and Croatia, both away. Not easy.

Back to Leverkusen, another note that compared to what I see in other sides we've been quite fortunate with injuries, of front line players this year Adler missed a lot of time and nobody else has had a serious long term absence. Now Michal Kadlec has "broken down", he's got a hip injury that needs specialist treatment. We won't see him again this season. I suspect what we'll do is install Vida as the nominal starter with Traverso continuing as an alternate, rather than making Traverso outright the starter, but that decision is not made yet. Now that Winter's back from a shorter period out - he's missed three weeks with an ankle problem - I don't mind the idea of Winter, Botia and Vida all in the lineup along with a choice between Castro and Walker. Who gets the call v. Bayern depends on how quickly Winter gets his full fitness back.

End of Month Table Summary (27 pld):
1. Leverkusen 70
2. Bayern 66
3. Dortmund 52
4. Wolfsburg 47
5. Schalke 45
...
15. Mainz 25
16. Aachen 22
17. Bochum 15
18. 1860 Munchen 10

Finances
A smaller loss of €1.67m, turnover is £9.57m, up from £7.47m; expenses are £11.25m, up from 10.29m (number are always smaller in February as it's a shorter month).
April 2017

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 2-2 FC Bayern München (Walker 40, Derdiyok 80 - Lukaku 1, Neymar 62)
Arsenal 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Qtr Final Leg 1) (Chamakh 60 - Botia 44)
Borussia Dortmund 1-0 Bayer Leverkusen (Blaszczykowski 87)
Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 Arsenal (ECC Quarter Final Leg 2) (Winter 8) Leverkusen win 2-1 on aggregate
Bayer Leverkusen 4-1 1.FC Köln (Kiessling 28, 78, Bustos 30, Botia 60 - Hegler 54)
Werder Bremen 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Mertesacker 22 - Sandro 84, Derdiyok 90+2)
Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 Sport Lisboa e Benfica SAD (ECC Semi Final Leg 1) (Derdiyok 35)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 Hertha BSC Berlin (Derdiyok 32, 53, Schürrle 83)

Kiessling's been off color for a bit, really his last 11 appearances have been collectively substandard, only two goals in that time and and four quite poor performances. Although age seems to be catching up, he's not able to make an impact as a substitute, which would be a role I'd hope he can take on; he's probably not mentally ready for that yet. Hopefully, he can start to assert himself again. I've been trying not to wear him out.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - FC Bayern München
Score: 2-2 (Walker 40, Derdiyok 80 - Lukaku 1, Neymar 62)
League Position: 1st
Summary: One might think Khouma Babacar still being out with injury is a break for us, he's been their best forward for a few years now and has 20 goals in 23 appearances, but unfortunately he's now been well complemented by Romelu Lukaku, 21 goals in 29 appearances; they'll go with Lukaku as a single striker as they've adopted a fairly defensive lineup. With a number of our senior players not showing great recent form, we've gone with some youthful choices in the middle, perhaps a little more spring in the legs after a lot of seasons with a lot of matches played. Lukaku scores in the first minute off a shot where Adler seemed to be fooled, he didn't even move. We're in the soup now. Schürrle is one of the experienced players who's been struggling, and he fails to score on a very good chance. Derdiyok had missed one early, later in the half he's gone through on one of his typical plays but the shot comes back off the base of the post. I'm not sure how the ball stays out of the net in the 36th minute, we've done just about everything right but a ball has rolled just wide in the end. On the basis of quality of play you'd say we deserve to lead, and in the 40th minute we're at least level: another opportunity missed, Walker, but this time we're lucky enough the parry comes back to him and he's able to put the second chance in; we didn't get any second chances before this. In the first minute of the 2nd Kiessling seems to have a chance but can't keep the header down. Bayern have the lead back just past the hour, pretty much the same way, a quick hard shot from distance, this time Neymar. That's so disappointing, we've completely outplayed them to the point where they've taken only four shots total, but these two blasts have us in the hole. Sub Biglia earns a bit of his keep, he picks the pocket of an attacker, immediately finds Kiessling with a long ball, and Derdiyok powers his way through a pair of defenders to head home the tying goal. 10 minutes to find a winner, and keep Bayern from locating one - a draw does work for us. This time it's Cabaye with a long shot, we're lucky it skims just high, I couldn't have taken a third goal like that. Just into stoppage I think we've found the winner on a corner, but Botia's header has also gone just over. Kiessling scores, but Derdiyok had bowled over a defender, the call of a foul and no goal isn't really a surprise.

The result of a draw means nothing is settled, but the draw slightly favors us: we now lead by four points with six left, and they have lost their opportunity to pull back points via a head-to-head meeting. Our six are: #3 Dortmund A, #12 Köln H, #10 Werder Bremen A, #11 Hertha Berlin H, #4 Wolfsburg A, #13 Hamburg H Their six are: #8 Hoffenheim H, #17 Bochum A, #6 Gladbach H, #14 Furth A, #9 Stuttgart H, #16 Aachen A. Both sides have a Champions Cup Qtr Final to fit in, so no advantage there. On the whole you'd say Bayern have the easier schedule; their three top-half opponents are all home matches and they have no top-five opponents; we have two top-five opponents away and we have an emotional Rhein Derby with Koln. This title is by no means in the bag. And what it means is, Bayern have managed to chip away at our superiority and have pretty much caught up. They were a Champions Cup semi finalist last season but didn't have the consistency to stay with us in the league (when we had the league record points total). This year we had a very very good period but we've not been quite as good overall and Bayern /have/ shown the league consistency, after dropping five points in their first two matches, they've been a point better than us in the next 26.

One of the goals when I joined Hibernian almost seven years ago now was to crack the Old Firm dominance. Even though I stayed only two seasons, mission accomplished, as the success has largely continued. Hibernian look headed for a 7th consecutive top-three finish, with a 5th title in that time still a possibility. Celtic have also seen six (and now almost certainly seven) top-three finishes; Rangers have to hold off impressive Motherwell to record their third in seven years, with no titles - at the moment they're level in that regard with Hearts, each 2nd once, 3rd once in six years.

2010/11: 1. Hibernian 85, 2. Rangers 80, 3. Celtic 78
2011/12: 1. Hibernian 96, 3. Celtic 82, 3. Rangers 75
2012/13: 1. Celtic 85, 2. Hearts 75, 3. Hibernian 67
2013/14: 1. Hibernian 85, 2. Celtic 83, 3. Aberdeen 67
2014/15: 1. Hibernian 79, 2. Celtic 76, 3. Falkirk 63
2015/16: 1. Celtic 83, 2. Hibernian 79, 3. Hearts 69
2016/17 (32 pld): 1. Celtic 72, 2. Hibernian 69, 3. Rangers 60

The U19's lose their first league game of the season, but it's still enough to lock up the title again. The U19's cup failure rankles a little, but the players learn something also by not achieving all their goals, at this level.

Now the next question is if we saved enough ammunition for Arsenal in a few days or whether we fired off too much of it trying to beat Bayern (that comes out sounding like a pun, wasn't really intended). Looks like we'll get some break as a number of excellent players are out injured - Veloso, Pjanic and Pastore, although Arsenal, after spending an utter fortune on him, have not really used Pastore. Apparently Bayern used too much of their powder, they've lost the Tuesday first leg at home to explosive Napoli - they had the slightly unluckier draw as they had a day's less recovery time than we did. The other two first legs are in England - London and Manchester ("blue side"). Benfica snuck a 1-0 win in Lyon over OL.

Match: Arsenal - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Qtr Final Leg 1)
Score: 1-1 (Chamakh 60 - Botia 44)
Summary: We had a chance in the first minute, then Ramsey and Sanchez both blow opportunities in the 3rd. Hmmm. Walcott has gone out early injured, but the rejiggered lineup is looking more dangerous, as it has more attacking intent after Chamakh comes in and Sanchez looks like he's pushing up into a more forward/central position. A quarter hour in, looks like a really good match, but Arsenal have gotten the edge in a few situations, I'm looking for responses. Derdiyok almost scores really opportunistically, going back a bit to fetch a loose ball and no-look firing on the turn. We're getting into a bit of trouble because this referee seems to be unusually lenient for a European competition, we keep getting beaten on tackles I'd normally see as borderline. It gets tougher as the half goes on, I was hoping we could seize on the opportunity provided by missing players but there's no sign of it yet. Derdiyok evades a poor open field challenge and he's off, but he's out on the right side and doesn't end up with a decisive angle, Kameni makes an excellent play to tip the ball wide. Sneaky short near-post corner is headed in by Botia!!!! Just before the break, we've taken a largely undeserved lead, and collected a vital away goal. Once again, Botia proves to be one of the best "big match" players I've ever seen. At the break, more Arsenal shuffling; Wilshere is on now. Their narrowing has left our wide players ineffective, I'm looking to change this up. Derdiyok wins a challenge, heads for goal, it's 1v3 (plus the keeper) and he has an advantage for a bit but there's just no help and when he chooses to shoot it goes well wide, not really unchallenged any longer. Kiessling was trailing, peeling off might have worked better. Kiessling's on a long pass and Koscielny bumps him from behind, what does the ref think? Card, but only yellow. I pull the trigger on the wingers, bringing in Bustos and Vazquez to play more central positions. Fernandez hits the wall for like the 32,000th time; he either hits the wall or gets it through but it's just wide, for a real free kick specialist, he's no longer meeting expectations. And, as has been the case way too many times the last couple of months, we've broken down, a foolish attempt at a challenge with no cover lets Chamakh through and he scores. Koscielny has completely flattened Kiessling, he's got to be gone now? Yup, second yellow, it could easily have been a straight red. We must capitalize now... and Fernandez hits the wall again (yes, it wins another corner, but this is not okay). Late... in stoppage time... free kick, Fernandez is out, can Derdiyok avoid the wall? Yes, much better try but unfortunately fractionally high. Late sub Biglia almost steals a win all by himself, coming through several players to win an Arsenal goal kick and charges towards goal, I think he's beaten Kameni but it's just fractionally wide. So 1-1 it ends. We have not cashed in on the man advantage, and yet again we've had some key players fail to step up in a key match (including Botia, who certainly did his part offensively, but was largely at fault for the Arsenal goal after the poorly considered challenge let Chamakh through).

So... reflection time, since we've had a poor run (for our standards) of three draws in a row. We don't have an old squad, really. There are nominally 31 senior-level players (32 if you include the rapidly improving Baris Solmaz, a winger who I probably should reclassify as a senior player eligible for reserves rather than strictly a reserve player). Five of those players are out on loan, although four of those were ones I was ready to move out of the club if a permanent transfer offer that worked came through (Oczipka, Sukuta-Pasu, Jorgensen and Reale). Of those only four field players are 30 or over: Kiessling, Dante, Kadlec, and Fernandez. Adler is 32, but for goalkeepers that's nearly a problem age, you'd think he has 4-7 years left. Which won't make Nowak too happy... So, how do we refresh this over the off-season? It's possible that age is a factor in some places, compounded by too many games, as I've said before. In not quite five full seasons, this team has played 256 matches that count, plus a chunk of friendlies. While I think I've done an okay job at rotating, a lot more than most (all?) teams I see, that's still a lot of game situations. As an illustration of the tailing off we're fighting, of the 27 players marked first team now, 26 have full-season ratings of 7.00 or above, and one of the other two, German Biglia, is at 6.99. On the other hand, only 14 of the 27 have last-five-games ratings of 7.00 or above. Only nine have last-five ratings higher than their season ratio, and most of those are only fractionally.

Staff pops up to point out we need 14 points to win the league. The most important match of the final six is... well, it's the one that lets us win the title, really. Setting the tone for the final six means doing something v. Dortmund in front of 90,000, most of whom will be screaming for the home side. Dortmund have had a rough time of it recently after an excellent first half, they've won six and lost seven in all competitions, one of those was a loss in the Cup to Schalke but still they've dropped 18 points in 12 league matches.

Match: Borussia Dortmund - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-0 (Blaszczykowski 87)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Okay, a challenge here for sure. Dortmund, despite the struggles noted above, are still #3 in the division; but we have a Tuesday date v. Arsenal which is a European knockout, and they're no slouch, a win in their game in hand would put them top of the EPL. How do I allocate personnel? Kind of good for us, Dortmund, who at times in the past have seemed a free-scoring outfit, have 56 total goals (in 32 total matches), and the scorers of 25 of those are missing - Guilherme due to injury and Sukuta-Pasu since he's still our player and thus ineligible. Of the next three, 3rd choice forward Ransford Osei is out with food poisoning, so make that 30 of the 56 goals missing. It's back and forth, Dortmund dominate the first 10 minutes, then we've had our go, then Dortmund start to get it going again, and Papiss Cisse has nearly scored, hitting the crossbar. Jonathan blocks Troost, the only player who's been on target for us, and the yellow card is worth it: he would have been through clean on goal, and we do nothing with the free kick. In fact, we've not done much with anything. Troost is the only player who seems really awake. A little ragging at the break seems to have at least fired up the team. Troost draws a cynical foul off Jonathan, he was already on a yellow but it doesn't matter, this one is a straight red. Problem with Troost's play is it's been enthusiastic but of poor quality. When he's banged up later we pull him off without having to offend him, the effort is worth much. It doesn't look like we're going to score in this one. And Dortmund do... Blaszcykowski fires one that's off the woodwork but coming back it hits Adler and goes in. This side is in for a tongue lashing of major proportions after this one. Bayern of course demolish Hoffenheim so our task now is very simple: win the next five, or give up the title.

We're in poor form overall, is there any chance we can survive the second Arsenal leg? From there we could maybe win out and take the title, but if it's a loss, I fear for the morale to win the title.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Arsenal (ECC Quarter Final Leg 2)
Score: 1-0 (Winter 8) Leverkusen win 2-1 on aggregate
Summary: Attacking intent leads to an early goal, Winter with a header. He's a really good header of the ball in practice, I'm surprised he doesn't get more goals in games. On the whole, it's a superb first 30 minutes, and a very good first half, but there's a problem: we've left the tie in the balance by not capitalizing on the advantages. Somehow we've had over 60% of the ball but only gotten off four shots. The first 15 minutes of the second half are Arsenal's, as we hunt for something that will work. We've got some momentum back, but the side as a whole are still poor, when Fernandez cuts back for Pamić, and the goal is wide open, he still puts it wide. Sub Jordy Pool has been good, but when he frees Kiessling, the man has acres of space but does a "Marijn Troost" and hits it right at the keeper, Pool collects it and gets it to Pamić with some space but he misses woefully. 13 minutes (plus stoppage) to survive in a game where our quality has been horrid. Bustos wins a challenge with Clichy and is off to the races but Clichy falls down and Bustos puts it out. That's too sporting, there's an advantage gained, not from the injury because he was already on the way, and it's been given up. Have to have a talk about that. And then Arsenal don't even give the ball back. We've seen it out, it's a poor performance, the side is going to be angry with me, but I'm going to tell them so. We started okay but it just kind of slithered away, fortunately Arsenal weren't very good either. The result is a good one, we're through.

So we're done with the quarter final round, picking up a win despite a poor performance. Man City lose out in their tie, surprisingly: they had a 2-0 lead coming into the home leg, and manage to lose 3-0, Falcao scoring the extra time goal to beat them. The Wednesday matches see Benfica close out OL (2-2, agg 3-2) and Napoli eliminate Bayern (1-0, 3-0 agg). The semi finals will be Leverkusen v Benfica, Napoli v Valencia. Possibly not a set of four you'd have chosen before the competition began (well, you'd hope we would be in there).

The Chelsea manager job is going to come open again soon, I bet. They weren't doing that well in the league anyway, but after a nice run of five wins in a row they've been 3-3-4 in the last ten - that's just 12 points in 10 matches, a "just barely staying above the drop zone" performance if sustained over the whole season. They're 9th in the table and unlikely to finish above 7th.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FC Köln
Score: 4-1 (Kiessling 28, 78, Bustos 30, Botia 60 - Hegler 54)
League Position: 1st
Summary: This absolutely needs to be a win, and with Bayern creeping to within one on goal difference, just a small win really isn't enough. We do work for one good chance in the first 20 minutes, but Kiessling puts that one right at the keeper; the best chance has been Koln's but Adler produced a magnificent save, just a fingertip to send it off the crossbar. Then Kiessling drills one in. And then Bustos slides one perfectly through traffic, low and far post to make it 2-0. Youngster Solmaz was to get a bit of a look, but he's had to go out injured. We're playing around some here, Derdiyok Schürrle and Fernandez have played themselves out of the lineup for a bit. With Biglia coming on, we've got all four of the Argentine contingent in the match. At some point it had to happen, we've prevented it for a number of matches over the years: former Leverkusen man Jens Hegeler has put a goal in against his former side. Our shots just keep going over, until just at the hour mark Botia heads in a corner. What is it I keep saying about him? Kiessling gets a second, now we're reaching the level of performance I thing we need. The two central midfielders come out to get fresh legs in for the final 10+ minutes, and we close it out 4-1. Bayern apparently can't lose, we did edge one goal of g.d. further out as theirs was only 3-1. Solmaz has had his chance for this year go away: four weeks out after suffering an ankle problem.

Match: Werder Bremen - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-2 (Mertesacker 22 - Sandro 84, Derdiyok 90+2)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We're playing crap again, and the goal from Werder comes from Mertesacker just past 20 minutes. Misery goes on and on, into the second half and into the final 10 minutes, we don't find a goal until late sub Sandro blasts it in. And... we've got a break, the proper play between Kiessling and Derdiyok on a break is going to work, and Kiessling produces exactly the perfect thing, Derdiyok bombing it in first-time with his left. What an escape this one has been! It's possible this one will go down as a defining moment in the season, although if we can't keep the pace, it may be just staving off a bad end. The points pace we're on would, if kept up, take us to 94 in the 38-game season most of the other European top leagues play and it's inconceivable such a total wouldn't win a league. But so is the pace Bayern are on, which would leave them on 93 (yes, this is fiction, since Germany only play 34 in the top division, but it shows how close it is)... somebody's going to lose out and not really deserve to do so. Our goal difference advantage is gone, as Bayern win 4-1, and they they've passed us on the next tiebreaker, total goals. It's simple, win three and we're in. Don't win three, and we need help from someone to take points off Bayern.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Sport Lisboa e Benfica SAD (ECC Semi Final Leg 1)
Score: 1-0 (Derdiyok 35)
Summary: It's a match where we seem to have the chances, but the possession evens out and Benfica are playing quite solidly. Derdiyok goes close, then closer, then closest (beats keeper but clips the bar), then wild, then scores from a header. Looks like he's feeling it! We're playing well now, but nothing else is coming, and Derdiyok has to go off injured, really hope that's nothing serious. Benfica almost get lucky when a deflected shot dips and is only saved by the bar. I'd really like a second (unanswered) goal so it won't be so hectic in the return leg I thought we had it from sub Fernandez's free kick, after my various grumbling he's cleared the wall and put a nice bend in it, but just not quite enough, outside netting. Maybe one last shot in stoppage? Sub Naciri is just high with the try. Still some time, but then Troost is picked clean, and it's just the 1-0.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Hertha BSC Berlin
Score: 3-0 (Derdiyok 32, 53, Schürrle 83)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Hertha play well against the big teams, and while we've played well through the first half hour, we've not really found a way through. The snake-bit Troost has gotten a shot off that is straight and beats the keeper but clips the bar. Sam is looking up for this one. When the goal comes it's good play by Schürrle on the left, and his cross into a crowded middle is headed in by whom other but Derdiyok? 66% of the ball in the first half is a dominance not reflected on the scoreboard. So Derdiyok takes it upon himself to score another early in the 2nd, turning onto his left and blasting. Derdiyok-Bustos-Schürrle is the sequence for the third goal, this one coming in the final 10 minutes. Bayern of course win, so it's indeed coming down to the very end - they went top briefly, for the three hours between the end of their match and the end of ours.

So it's a month without our usual crashingly good results. The first four were a win, a loss and two draws with aggregate 4-4 - but the competition was tough with Arsenal twice, whom we did eliminate in that stretch, plus Bayern Munich and Dortmund.

End of Month Table Summary (32 pld):
1. Leverkusen 80
2. Bayern 79
3. Schalke 60
4. Dortmund 58
5. Wolfsburg 55
6. Hoffenheim 54
...
15. Mainz 28
16. Aachen 27
17. Bochum 19 (Rel)
18. 1860 Munchen 16 (Rel)

Finances
As the season winds down, a busy month saw our turnover rise to €13.77m from €9.57m, but expenses also rose, to €14.09m, from €11.25m, making a loss of €321k. For the season we're +€23.7m.
May 2017

Monthly Results
Sport Lisboa e Benfica SAD 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Semi Final Leg 2) (Vertonghen 37 - Pejcinivoic o.g. 21, Bustos 41, Kiessling 65) Leverkusen win 4-1 on agg
VfL Wolfsburg 2-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Medina 34, Keric 89 - Sandro 8, Winter 87)
Bayer Leverkusen 4-1 Hamburger SV (Kiessling 8, 54, Schürrle 26, Walker 45 - Herrmann 76)
Borussia Mönchengladbach 3-4 Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup Final, Olympiastadion, Berlin) (Juanpe 37, Mlapa 48, Heurtaux 80 - Schürrle 16, 42, 72, Troost 82)
Napoli 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen (European Champions Cup Final, San Siro, Milan) (Henrique 31 - Troost 5, Bustos 29, Kiessling 37)

So it's come down to Every Match is Crucial in May. Win or draw at Benfica and it's a chance to play for the European Cup again. Win both in the league and it's another title, but even one slip and it's probably gone. And the the German Cup final, which needs no further comment.

The other European semi final is 1-1 after the first leg, but Valencia return home vs. Napoli without their top two scorers - Soldado is suspended for yellow cards, and Falcao is injured and would miss due to suspension anyway, leaving a lot of work for Juan Manuel Mata.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, Hibernian had made a good run at things and still have a tiny mathematical chance to finish top - it means they have to beat Celtic in the head-to-head and have Celtic lose their final to Dundee while Hibs beat their ever-tricky city rivals Hearts. A surge from Rangers means a Hibernian 3rd place finish is not out of the question either. England were going down to the wire like we are here in Germany, until the April 29 slip by Arsenal, drawing at home to Birmingham. The title is now Man City's to lose, except Man City v Arsenal is on for the 37th round, and the 38th round matches favor Arsenal. City still have a big goal difference edge, should it come to that.

Whatever the Bundesliga outcome, Leverkusen need to think really hard about their future. It's a superb club with talent everywhere, including youth everywhere either stepping in or getting ready to do so, but Bayern have taken up the gauntlet, and their run in the last 27 matches has been 23-3-1, with two of the draws being with us, so only five points dropped in the last 25 league matches not with Leverkusen, that's pretty darn impressive. Do we need to do something to respond to the Bayern threat?

Stefan Kiessling... he's starting to think about coaching, and really his performance has started to fall off in the second half of this year. Quite a servant to Leverkusen, he's put in 150 league goals for the club, and 228 overall. For a while it looked like he would beat Ulf Kirsten's club record of 182, but now perhaps that's not in the cards any longer if indeed he's sliding. I like to praise players who are doing well, but he gets nervous when I say what a great player he's been for the club, so it's tricky. It's a good thing Derdiyok is smoking hot now, he has scored 38% of our goals in 2017.

Match: Sport Lisboa e Benfica SAD - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Semi Final Leg 2)
Score: 1-3 (Vertonghen 37 - Pejcinivoic o.g. 21, Bustos 41, Kiessling 65) Leverkusen win 4-1 on agg
Summary: A little risk to take, as the lineup I pick has four players on the edge of a yellow card suspension. It's a rather defensive setup with three holding midfield types (Sandro playing on the right side, Vazquez and Bender in the middle). An away goal would go very well here. We've spurned an early chance, free kick + header just wide. Then we almost ship a goal, on a set play a ball is picked away from one of the deeper men and it's a rush the other way - we recover pretty well but a pass has picked out Aboubakar who luckily is wild with his effort. Sandro's almost got the goal as he moves forward, shedding his man, Suddenly, it's in! A little clip forward is looking for Kiessling and the ball has ended up rolling in slowly as nobody can get back in time. It's an own goal, Pejcinovic having gotten the last poke, but somebody should have cleared that or the keeper been in place to pick it up. On replay, he poked it away from his keeper who was in fairly good position. Aboubakar sounds another warning as he hits the crossbar. We can't clear things and Mounier has a good chance, he too misses the target. We've gotten a fair bit of help from Benfica in the first quarter of the match! A bit further along we mishandle a break and Benfica gets one of their own, Mounier takes a shot which Adler blocks, but it's come to Vertonghen and he puts it past the now out of position Leverkusen keeper to level the match. Benfica still need two more. Kiessling almost puts it out of reach heading a corner off the bar, then getting a foot on the rebound which is subsequently cleared for a corner. We keep the pressure on, and before Benfica can gather themselves to go the other way a sneaky pass is about to put Kiessling through, and he's been taken down cynically by the unfortunate Pejcinovic. The referee has to take some action... it's yellow. Oh, good job... Kiessling has held up a break, it's not going to result in anything if he goes by himself, but drops to Bender who locates Bustos in stride and he scores! 2-1 at the break, 3-1 on aggregate, Benfica need three to pull this one out. They've had a ton of the ball, but I can put up with that if we can keep them bottled up. Kiessling still drawing a lot of attention, he's done another good job of dumping to an open man as defenders close down a break, Vazquez has almost converted but a great save from Roberto has just tipped it wide. Adler's made his second spectacular 1v1, top hand while falling, save, keeping Benfica out. And then Kiessling gets a reward for his hard work, an easy enough goal to make it 3-1. We've pulled three of the four players on yellow card trouble now, Winter the only one who stays. One more spectacular save from Adler. The Leverkusen fans who made the trip know now... 24 minutes to the final. So do the players. Good solid job in defending our lead and taking the chances which came without doing much in the way of planned attacking.

So who will be our opponent? Napoli line up a formidable lineup, even without the injured Cavani and Etienne Capoue - they've got Levezzi, Quintero (who's had a good season as a backup striker), Paulo Henrique, Coentrao, Hamsik, Afellay, Jon Obi Mikel - and in goal, Zacharie Boucher, my old Hibernian keeper, who was fished out of Rubin Kazan after two seasons there, as part of a massive squad upheaval by Napoli during the past 12 months which saw 24 players go out and 21 come in (including also Quintero, and our old player Patrick Helmes). Napoli eliminate the away goal advantage with a 52nd minute corner, but Valencia draw level before the hour from Fernandes. Valencia are on the rise and see a ball in the net, but wiped out by a foul. Aubameyang has a stoppage time ball in the net for Napoli, but that's wiped out too, so it heads to extra time. Aubameyang puts Napoli ahead with a wicked bending shot, it can't go penalties now, Valencia need two to rescue it, but the risk leave Coentrao to score an easy one instead.

The Champions Cup final pits two sides familiar with each other - Leverkusen and Napoli have met in pairs of games in 2012 (ECC 1st knockout), 2014 (ECC Group H) and 2016 (ECC Semi Final). Napoli won the first of those ties, Leverkusen the 2nd and 3rd, overall record is 3-2-1 for Leverkusen. For two high scoring sides, they've somewhat canceled each other out, only 11 total goals.

Match: VfL Wolfsburg - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 2-2 (Medina 34, Keric 89 - Sandro 8, Winter 87)
League Position: 2nd
Summary: In the absolutely crucial match at Wolfsburg, we set up like we did at Benfica, although several different faces in our line-up, and it's a lovely bit of control passing to give us an early lead through Sandro. I want to say "of all people", he had a scoring type year last year, before that he was as unlikely to score as anyone and this year had kind of reverted to old habits. I debated giving Vazquez the start again, now this feels like the right choice. All with very little space it's Derdiyok, Naciri, Bustos, Sandro; the Bustos vision was perfect to see it opening. Now Biglia makes a contribution, he's put a tempting ball in the middle but Madlung just moves it out in time. We've played well for a half hour, but the good work is undone by one moment of inattention, Claudemir crossing low for Medina who's got an easy tap-in. Unlike a few days ago at Benfica, we can't answer back between the half, and we've got 45 minutes to find a win somewhere. Now just 20 minutes. It's down to six minutes when sub Fernandez has been put into a good position but misses woefully. In the 87th minute, it's Winter to head in a corner... is that going to be enough? No, it's not, late sub Keric slides in to poke home a cross, that's probably the title gone. We can't do anything else in the minute + stoppage, and Bayern naturally win, putting them top by a point.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Hamburger SV
Score: 4-1 (Kiessling 8, 54, Schürrle 26, Walker 45 - Herrmann 76)
League Position: 2nd
Summary: With hope only flickering, we must have a win. That's made more challenging by Derdiyok picking up an injury before the match that will keep him out the rest of the way, including both cup finals. Still, two players who've been a bit down in recent weeks, months even, Schürrle and Kiessling, combine for a high-powered opening goal in the 8th minute. What a pass from Bustos, who's already the top assist maker in a season since I've been around, to pick out Schürrle and he's netted the second. Troost is given an almost free path to goal on some bad defending, he swoops in, doesn't score, but the carom off the defender who finally arrived (getting in the way of his keeper) is easy for Walker to finish, so 3-0 at the break. It's not going to happen for us, though, Bayern are up 6-0 at the break at Aachen. Vida feeds Kiessling, in the net but offside. Kiessling does get his second a few minutes later. Herrmann scores a goal that should not have happened, it's not a place Adler should get beaten. Sandro to Bustos who should have had his goal, then Sandro to Kiessling who just misses the far post. It's a win, a good show in the final match, but for naught, Bayern win the title

This is a foreign feeling to me, in my fifth season at Leverkusen, and 7th overall managing in bigger European leagues, it's the first time my squad has not lifted the league trophy. It doesn't seem like we've done too much wrong over the season, but maybe it's my fault for not providing a consistent enough platform, and changing lineups too much, and so forth. I feel like overall, midfield play did not dictate proceedings quite enough; too many near-anonymous appearances in those areas. 84 points is 10 less than last year's "season to end all seasons" (remember, the Bundesliga plays only 34, on a points per game season that would work out to 105 points over a 38-game schedule as a comparison with some other leagues), but certainly should be enough to win the league - and in each of the last six seasons, it would have done so easily. A season of 83 goals scored, 18 conceded isn't anything to sneeze at either, though Bayern won out in goals scored. Our goal difference of +65 is the second highest in club history behind last year (that was +68), but again we're outdone by the big-spending Bavarians who hit +68 this year. So credit to Bayern, they deserve a lot of it. Leverkusen will have to respond, and the response will probably be a bit financially painful. The difference between the two clubs is so small there's no reason for panic, but there is a call for a response. Here's one bit of financial info: Bayern are paying seven players more than the top-paid player on our squad. Players who could improve us are few and far between at rates which don't start putting us up in the Bayern category. So the club are likely going to have to bite that bullet. Well, full analysis to wait until we've played the two cup finals that remain. Not winning the title hurts, no doubt, but a four-cup season and missing the league by a single point isn't exactly a failure either.

Match: Borussia Mönchengladbach - Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup Final, Olympiastadion, Berlin)
Score: 3-4 (Juanpe 37, Mlapa 48, Heurtaux 80 - Schürrle 16, 42, 72, Troost 82)
Summary: Warning shot fired early, Gladbach have attacked down the left, the cross is in, and Mlapa has space to head. Just about everything is right, it's just over Nowak's hand and is dropping, but just catches the bar. Less than a minute in we could have been down. Instead we take the lead 15 minutes later when Walker puts a ball through everyone and Schürrle arrives back-post to bang it in. Gladbach answer when Stindl, who's looked dangerous, find space on the left and locates Juanpe inside, he bangs it home. We've got the lead back before the break, it's the same combo as the first one, Walker drills a cross into the middle where Schürrle is not exactly open, but has a little space, he chests and then bangs a foot at it before it hits the ground, and its a rocket into the net from near the penalty spot. Absolutely superb goal!!! After the break, Walker with another teasing ball in, this one looking for Bustos but the keeper gets to it. Gladbach gather an attack, and Stindl has a shot on target, Nowak launches himself to just tip it over. The reprieve is short lived, Mlapa bundles in the corner. Vida chases the referee halfway down the field, sure there was a hand ball involved, but no joy from that claim. Only a few minutes in, still a long way to go. Kiessling does almost everything right when we get it him off the kick off, but a superb save denies him. Wild! It takes a bit, but we get the lead back again, Bustos, who's been very lively, rolls it through as Schürrle nips behind the defender who inexplicably doesn't seem to react at all, Schürrle dances past the keeper and taps it in. What a game for him! Kladrubsky snaps off a long shot, it's bending, dipping... crossbar! But Gladbach stay at it, and off a corner, draw level for the third time. Heurtaux with the goal as 10 minutes remain. But off the kick off, Sam receives and sends in into the box, Troost has gotten perfect position on his run so he's on the ball side, he's never exactly open but able to shield and get his right-footed shot off and in! Immediate response! Do Gladbach have it in them to answer yet again? They've actually got the setup, nifty bit of passing and Gouffran has a clear shot from the right, Nowak gets down to deny it however. There's still more action - at both ends! - but we hang on. Odd game, but possibly one of the most entertaining ever - nice for a game that will have been watched by a lot of "neutrals".

Aachen survive the relegation playoff, stomping St Pauli by an aggregate 6-1 score.

Khouma Babacar's hat trick on the final day gave him the scoring title, and not just that, but also the best average rating ever in the Bundesliga (8.13). Neymar is player of the year. Goalkeeper of the year gives me my usual complaint, Adler did miss time was but was superb; Wolfsburg's Benaglio is the winner, followed by Schalke's Neuer and Bayern's Pele. Kiessling is striker of the year, which is nice, but Derdiyok probably deserved it; Lukaku second; and Troost third which is entirely wrong. Winter is defender of the year. We have no mention in midfielders. I'm not rated in the top three, even, for manager of the year. Our players of the year include our three magical central defenders, Vida, Winter and Botia... though Vida plays lots of places, left back midfield, etc. Kiessling is the other player in the team of the year.

Match: Napoli - Bayer Leverkusen (European Champions Cup Final, San Siro, Milan)
Score: 1-3 (Henrique 31 - Troost 5, Bustos 29, Kiessling 37)
Summary: The championship of Europe begins well, after Napoli attack like mad, we've got a sequence where Castro takes a free kick, Kiessling heads it down, that's kept out by Boucher but there's no defender to keep Troost from poking in the loose ball. Troost is troubling again moments later. Napoli are pushing like mad, but we've kept them at bay from the goal, a free kick is dangerous but Adler pushes that wide. Brilliant bit of passing as we pick off a sloppy Napoli pass, and it's 2-0 with Bustos finishing. Paulo Henrique just rams one in on a Napoli fire drill push forward... Adler is there but it's deflecting off a defender and he can't recover. We answer a few minutes to later, Troost to Kiessling... Troost suddenly is playing like I expect. 3-1 at the break, 45 minutes to the championship... The second half, we're looking to consolidate our lead, and to only make substitutions when we need to for tiredness reasons. We've done fine for a while, finally there's some danger when a shot by Lavezzi looks like it's going to miss completely but drops down and catches the bar. With Troost injured about the 80th minute, we switch three to freshen up. Bustos almost scores a second, but it's just tipped over. It's over now... we're on the offensive, several corners, no way Napoli are getting two this late. Extra time, three minutes... we've won the cup the third year in a row!!!!

ECC awards... Soldado is the golden boot over Kiessling by virtue of playing fewer matches. The stats still list Rooney has having scored more, 12 goals, but he scored five in the playoff v. Besiktas and I guess that doesn't count... Rooney was very streaky, in fact, he had four in one game v. Beskitas, and five in a group game v. Dynamo Kyiv. Kiessling is voted the best player, though. Naciri is voted both the 2nd and 3rd best goals, both in group play v. PSV, one in September and the other in the second match in November. Back in the part of the season when Naciri was red hot.

Peter Herrmann, in one of his last acts before his impending retirement, reports on player progress in training for the season. High marks go to the improvement of Vazquez, Naciri and Bustos, and top marks to Biglia (he's going to need to show more of it on the field, though, that will be the expectation next season, whomever the manager is). Adler and Kiessling are listed as declining slightly, and Kadlec and Dante showing noticeable declines. Among youth players, Sebastian Vernay, Christian Weiss and Denis Turbocharge are singled out has having improved significantly.

The board announce yet another stadium expansion, which will take us to 65,000 seats. Nothing like pressure to keep the results up...

I'm still undecided whether I'm staying, the club want me back but apparently have a cap on manager salary that they won't go over, and that's a bit of a point of contention. We're at a stage where I think I should be drawing a more competitive salary compared to some of the leading managers around Europe. Steve McClaren is making 33% more at Bayern. Mourinho, of course, is on another planet, he makes more than 8x as much. Mancini at Arsenal makes 3x. Ronald Koeman at Man United makes 40% more (big club, but he's only won one title as manager, in Spain). Javier Aguirre at Liverpool makes 70% more. Juan Carlos Garrido makes 40% more managing Chelsea. So on.

Update: With no other big club looking like they have an opening they want to try to tempt me with, I've decided to sign up for one more (underpaid) year. The decision to say means I have to decide another matter, and I convince the team we should pull the trigger and offer for young Brazilian winger Rafael from Santos, in response to the Bayern buying sprees. He's about the best right-sided player in the world that's still within the realm of affordability, and it's not very affordable by our general structure/transfer policy at €18.5m, and a big salary, but we have plenty of money available so in isolation we can easily afford it. At 20, he's already extremely good, he's considered comparable to Neymar who's now gracing Bayern's lineup (indeed, starring for them), but the scouts think he'll be better. The idea is to show ambition to keep improving and stay ahead of our rivals, the risk is that someone or multiple someones will be unsettled. Of course right wing competition will be grumpy (Sidney Sam, say). Will more people be unhappy about a new high salary? We don't make the salary public of course, but these things have a way of getting out anyway.

Finances
For the year, we've had good results. On June 1, we show a seasonal profit of €56.9m, which will be reduced by a shareholder payout and some remaining payouts for this season. May saw a profit of €33.2m. Turnover for the month is €71.2m, bolstered by €39.8m in prize money - the total is up from €13.8m last month. Expenses go up too, €38m, including the stadium expansion payment, up from €14.1m, and including €14.9m in bonuses.

Final Table
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Team Summary
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League Summary
ECC 1. Bayern, 2. Leverkusen, 3. Schalke, 4. Dortmund
EC 5. Wolfsburg, 6. Gladbach, 7. Kaiserslautern
Relegated: Bochum, 1860 Munchen
Promoted: Karslruhe, Nurnberg
Top scorer: Babacar (Bayern) 24, Derdiyok (Leverkusen) 23, Scheiber (Kaiserslautern 22)
Assists: Kroos (Bayern) 17, Loderio (Schalke) 15, Babacar (Bayern) 14, Dszudzsak (Hoffenheim) 14
Rating: Babacar (Bayern) 8.13, Derdiyok (Leverkusen) 7.59, Neymar (Bayern) 7.56
Most goals: Bayern 87, Leverkusen 83
Fewest conceded: Leverkusen 18, Bayern 19
Attendance: Dormund 78,243, Bayern 68,338, Schalke 59,452, Leverkusen 55,368

Derdiyok is fan's player of the year, the best X1 are Adler, Solmaz (????), Botia, Bustos, Castro, Kadlec, Kiessling, Mares (???), Naciri, Ospina, Sam, Schürrle, Traverso, Troost, Vida, Walker, Winter That list makes only partial sense.

Around Europe
English Premier
ECC: 1. Man City 93, 2. Arsenal 92, 3. Man United 82, 4. Liverpool 70
EC: 5. Everton 60, FA Cup 2nd Blackburn (10th) (winner Liv'p already in), League Cup Bolton (17)
Rel: Huddersfield, Burnley, Wigan
Prom: Southampton, Bristol City, Sheff Utd
Top Scorers: Tevez (ManC) 29, Fransisco (Fulham) 26, Rooney (ManU) 25

Spanish Liga:
ECC: 1. R.Madrid 87, 2. Sevilla 78, 3. Valencia 76, 3. R.Madrid 74, 4. At.Madrid 74
EC: 5. Barcelona 71, 6. Getafe 63, Sp.Cup Villareal (8th)
Rel: Sporting, Mallorca, Albacete
Prom: Hercules, Gimnastic, Almeria
Top Scorers: Doumbia (Sevilla) 28, Aguero (At.Mad) 24, Rossi (Villar.) 24

Italy Serie A:
ECC: 1. Inter 83, 2. Napoli 81, 3. AC Milan 69, 4. Fiorentian 62
EC: 5. Sampdoria 61, 6. Palermo 61, It. Cup Roma (8th)
Rel: Cagliari, Crotone, Livorno
Prom: Siena, Vicenza, Bari
Top Scorers: Wood (Palermo) 18, Lavezzi (Napoli) 18, Sango (Milan) 18, Kivisild (Inter) 18, Djuric (Atalanta) 18

France:
ECC: 1. OL 82, 2. OM 71, 3. Lens 68
EC: 4. Lille 63, 5. Monaco 62, 6. Bordeaux 61
Rel: Grenoble Foot 38, Toulouse, Stade Brestois 29
Prom: AC Ajaccio, USBCO, Angers SCO
Top Scorers: T.Alves (OL) 18, Montano (Rennes) 16, Dzeko (OM) 15, Kardec (Havre) 15, Brown (Sochaux) 15
OL was also the cup winner

Portugal:
ECC: 1. Benfica 74, 2. Sporting 62
EC: 3. Porto 61, 4. Maritimo 59, 5. Braga 57, 6. Vit.Guimaraes 48
Rel: Freamunde, Oliveirense
Prom: Academica, Rio Ave
Top Scorers: Fonte (Sporting) 17, Djalo (Sporting) 13, Faria (Boavista) 13
Benfica was also the Taca winner

Scotland
ECC: 1. Celtic 79, 2. Rangers 78
EC: 3. Hibernian 75, 4. Motherwell 67, Cup Aberdeen (11th)
Rel: Hamilton
Prom: St.Johnstone
Top Scorers: Hooper (Celtic) 23, Fleck (Hearts) 21, Griffiths (Dundee 20)

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