1.FC Kaiserslautern 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Troost 3)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Brøndbyernes Idrætsforening (ECC Group A) (Botia 11, Derdiyok 32)
Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 Borussia Mönchengladbach (Vazquez pen 14, Troost 36, Rafael 85, Kiessling 90)
Sydney FC 0-4 Bayer Leverkusen (Club World Champ. Semi) (Pool 7, 11, Naciri 19, Fernandez 41)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 Lanus (Club World Champ. Final) (Troost 13, 19, Derdiyok 26)
Hamburger SV 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Privat 77 - Fernandez 62)
Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 FC Bayern München (Derdiyok 30, Schürrle 36, Botia 60, Vazquez pen 75)
1.FC Kaiserslautern - Bayer Leverkusen
0-1 (Troost 3)
This may be a bit of a tricky fixture. Kaiserslautern have played very well this season - indeed they battled Bayern to a draw in Bayern's home park - and sit joint 4th on points. They've been very good defensively. It doesn't take very long for us to open them up, though, Troost collecting a ball that had bounced around a bit and making a run to get clear enough to drill one in the top near corner. Derdiyok pokes a shot over Sippel, but catches the crossbar. After a spell where FCK play pretty well, Derdiyok powers home a headed corner. Well, he does, but the referee has spotted a phantom foul so it doesn't actually count. Dangerous situation, we've stepped up our play and are dominating again, yet it's Kaiserslautern who almost draw level, a free header on a corner in stoppage time, fortunately for us it goes high. The second half is an even battle, maybe even a bit of an edge to our opponents, but we do see out the 1-0 win in the end.
Hibernian hire Henning Berg to take over the reins.
An exciting moment for Finland, the draw for the World Cup Finals. Finland have amassed enough ratings points to be in the second pot. #1s are Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Russia, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain. We draw group B, and on paper it looks a fairly tough job to qualify - we just had a tough time with Germany, Saudi Arabia are only one spot lower in the FIFA rankings than us, while Tunisia are 42nd.
A - Russia, Greece, New Zealand, South Korea
B - Germany, Finland, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia
C - Spain, Turkey, Chile, Canada
D - Italy, Bosnia & Herz, Algeria, Australia
E - France, Holland, Senegal, Uruguay
F - Mexico, Switzerland, Cameroon, Argentina
G - Portugal, Ukraine, Colombia, Jamaica
H - Brazil, Scotland, Morocco, Japan
Bayer Leverkusen - Brøndbyernes Idrætsforening (ECC Group A)
2-0 (Botia 11, Derdiyok 32)
This match comes a week earlier than the normal schedule would have had it, but we've got the regular date impacted by the Club World Cup. We've played some good stuff early, highlighted by Derdiyok setting up Rafael but he inconceivably misses from in close. Botia scores from a corner to get us on the board. Derdiyok looks for his spot and puts one in past the half hour. The Danish club have barely had a sniff, one speculative long shot that actually looked dangerous for a while. There's no more, and the sharpness went out a bit in the second half - 9 of 20 first half shots were on target, only one of the 15 second half efforts were. Not completely pleased, but I guess you have to have some matches with complacency problems and we've come through it fine. Naciri finally gets a run out, he's had a rough season so far, the hip injury and other circumstances. He was absolutely superb in this one.
The Club World Cup is often a bit like a vacation, but this year it doesn't fall so cleanly. It's a long trip, being in Australia, and it postpones our match with Hamburg which would have been 16 Dec, and since the Bundesliga doesn't seem to like carrying "games in hand" for any length of time, we'll play that one on Wednesday 20th just before our huge matchup with Bayern on the 23rd - that will be on the heels of having played two-a-week for four weeks straight and the long travel. Hamburg isn't going to get our first-XI for sure, possible banana peel and we'll have to be very careful for that one.
Bayer Leverkusen - Borussia Mönchengladbach
4-0 (Vazquez pen 14, Troost 36, Rafael 85, Kiessling 90)
I expect a win in this one, we've been very tough on Gladbach in my time here and just before, 12-2-1 in the last 15, but they've given us some trouble recently, including the one win last season. We've started okay, but two potential opportunities don't quite click. On a throw in from the side, Atila Turan is judged to have held back Marijn Troost. That's rather a harsh penalty, I'd say, but the referee had no hesitation at all. Vazquez nets the penalty. Bustos is robbed twice by Szczesny, on a lovely bending shot, then as Bustos hustled to get the ball, by snagging the cross that was sure to be tapped in otherwise. Kadlec does a lovely job of lulling the defense then looping a long forward ball for Troost. Szczesny robs him too, although he could have done better... that looked like shades of the older Troost, which there have been a few other hints of recently, don't want him regressing to the less polished finisher he was. As usual, when we don't cash in on chances (shots 9-1), there's a moment in the half when it almost goes level, a Gladbach header off a corner is relatively clear, but goes over. Troost eases my worries with some really nifty moves to get us our second. It's been a nice habit to get into, we seem to have a lot of games where we've scored an early goal, then weathered a bit of a push from the other side, then potted a second before the break. Derdiyok draws a wonder save from Szczesny. The second half is not bringing much in the way of scoring chances. Botia does head a corner off the bar. Troost misses weakly as we're into the final quarter hour. Bustos rockets one off the bar... those chances are coming again now, but we're missing them. And in the 85th we don't, late sub Kiessling dumps a blind pass to Rafael who sneaks it in. Some nifty long passing off a Gladbach corner, they've gotten caught and we've scored a somewhat undeserved 4th, Kiessling the beneficiary. Nice overall job, despite the chunk of wasted opportunities. We're at 51 league goals after only 15 matches, a nice scoring rate. And yes, Bayern win again as they extend their record streak. The showdown approaches... Another sellout, 65,000, and another win against a traditional rival.
Sandro and Mitchell Winter will not make the trip to Australia, at least not as part of the registered squad. We guessed that both would need a bit more recovery time, and at departure date, it turns out we were right. The competition has already been underway for a bit. In the "playoff" round, Asian champions Sydney FC beat Oceania champions Auckland City - Australia have two clubs in this competition. In the "quarter final", No/Cen. America's DC United beat Africa's Kano Pillars. and Sydney FC edge host club Melbourne Victory on penalties. We'll face Sydney in one semi-final and DC United meet South America's Lanus of Argentina, a club I know very little about personally, although we have scouting reports on two promising players of theirs - both on loan from other clubs.
The U19's sink to a disappointing defeat at the hands of Bayern in the youth cup.
Sydney FC - Bayer Leverkusen (Club World Championship Final - Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne, Australia)
4-0 (Pool 7, 11, Naciri 19, Fernandez 41)
I'm able to set up my preferred arrangement of a complete different starting XI in each match. We've got a lot of pressure on early, and Jordy Pool cashes in our 7th shot in just six minutes of play. Nifty little nod on by Kiessling, who could have gone for goal. Sydney try for an early adjustment, but Pool heads in an almost impossible ball where he seemed to be going the wrong way, 2-0. Wonderful header! Sam puts a ball in the middle and Naciri drills it home after a failed clearance, and we're ready to coast. We've created more danger, saved only by desperation defending, and then the snake bit German Biglia has gone down with injury yet again. Kiessling doesn't control a long ball well enough to get in on goal, but the defensive recovery knocked it to Fernandez who drills it home. In the second half, otherwise largely uneventful, we also lost Kayembe to injury, that's the sort of thing you don't want from this kind of "counts for nothing" tournament. Kayembe's injury is reported not serious, but Biglia's is, another 2-3 months out.
Some pride can be taken in our world reputation - the match has drawn 68,000 spectators. In the earlier match of the day the "home" side Melbourne Victory have won the 5th place match, and they "only" drew 52,000, while the other semi final yesterday only drew 22,500.
The ECC qualifiers are now all set: Leverkusen and CSKA Moscow; Atletico Madrid and Liverpool; Arsenal and OM; Man City and Sevilla; OL and Rubin Kazan; Man United and Real Madrid; Valencia and Napoli;
Bayern and Inter Milan.
Bayer Leverkusen - Lanus (Club World Championship Final - Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne, Australia)
3-0 (Troost 13, 19, Derdiyok 26)
Two misses by Troost followed by a make... Lanus seem to have a problem covering the back. Troost emulates his compatriot Pool in the first game and bangs in a second shortly after his first. Derdiyok celebrates scoring off a corner, after Troost ripped apart the back line again to win it. A scoreless second half sees us waste a lot of shots, but it's more than enough to lock up the title. Lots of praise and excitement and all, but we should be winning these: the hard part is getting into the competition, which requires being champion of European club football.
Back in Scotland, which I look back at a lot less frequently than I used to, Hibernian have sized their opportunity: having gone 2nd behind Celtic still with a game in hand, they won that game in hand going into a clash at Celtic Park level on points - and won that crucial one rather handily, 3-0. So they've gone top, but with a long way to go.
After some discussion with others in the Finnish football organization, we decide our two world cup tuneups should be against challenging targets, but not ones theoretically way over our heads. I don't think we learn from trying to beat up a minnow, but we don't need it reinforced, if it turns out that way, that more of the top nations are way beyond us at this point. The experiences with the last three friendlies - Italy, Germany and France, was probably not as productive as it could have been. Realism yes, but why not have the lads at least dreaming of punching above their weight? To that end, we've got Morocco in March and South Korea just before the tournament. Both are finals participants, Morocco is some spots higher ranked than us while S.Korea are similar. I hope with Morocco we see something similar to Tunisia's style, and maybe something like Saudi Arabia's, while S.Korea are firmly in the Asian style of football, the region Saudi Arabia has come through to qualify. Germany, our third group opponent, we already know too well. We were able to get both friendlies at home, which is nice: I think the two invitees appreciated that we'll be about as close to the Russian venue for the finals as you're likely to get. Well, really close for those who draw St Petersburg, and not too bad for Moscow. Our own second group match is rather far from Finland, almost as far south as you'll find a footballing stadium in Russia, in Krasnodar near the Black Sea and not far from the Georgian border. Technically Makhachkala is a little further south, across the isthmus on the Caspian Sea. The opening match is a ways too, in Samara, not so far from the Kazakhstan border.
Bayern won again, their unbeaten streak at 40; with a game in hand we now lead them by just three points.
Hamburger SV - Bayer Leverkusen
1-1 (Privat 77 - Fernandez 62)
Gambling, as I'd hinted I would, we switch out the front six. It's a strange first half, we've gotten nothing from trying to counterattack a forward-thinking HSV side, in a match we were supposed to win as a rout. We shift to a more attacking view ourselves in the hope it will put them on the back foot rather than exposing ourselves, but the goal comes sort of "out of nothing", a surprise long shot from Fernandez, who gets it to go. This wakes up Hamburg, one shot has to be saved acrobatically by Adler, the next eludes him but is headed off the line by Traverso. Attempting to protect the lead fails, Privat hauls in a cross with Botia seemingly asleep, and scores. That's the second time in recent memory. It's a draw, ending a record 23-game win streak (all competitions), and not really a good show. I don't like being prophetic like this; predicted this as a banana skin, and we slipped on it, despite calling attention to this very issue. I'll take blame for switching out a lot of players, and I'll take more blame if the saved players don't lead us to a win over Bayern - I'm the one who makes out the lineup card.
Draw for the first knockout round of the Champions Cup. Everybody at this level is a serious opponent, but I'm not completely unhappy at drawing Sevilla, who are currently #6 in Spain, after finishing 2nd last season. The other matchups are Liverpool v Valencia, Napoli v Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid v Man City, Marseille v Bayern, Rubin Kazan v Arsenal, Inter Milan v Man United, CSKA Moscow v Lyon (OL). Napoli v Atleti has the potential to be quite a fan spectacle, hope it lives up to it.
In the Euro Cup, Dortmund get Villarreal, Wolfsburg get Lille, and Kaiserslautern v Panthinaikos. Those are interesting with the coefficient points implications. Italy also have three sides here in Palermo, Fiorentina and Roma; Germany and Italy two each in the Champions Cup, which means things are pretty even: we got seven qualifiers due to having the ECC winner (us), and have lost two (Schalke, Gladbach); Italy get seven because that was their lost for this season, and they've lost two (Milan and Sampdoria). Germany need to pull back 0.6 points to keep their 3rd place in the coefficients for the following season, and since points are scaled by number of entrants, now it's just a question of who wins more.
So here it is: the final match of the first half, before the winter break, against our only realistic challenger for most of the last half-dozen or more seasons. We've had a superb record against Bayern, unbeaten in 17 matches. But the magic leaked out of the bottle last year; after 14 consecutive wins, the last being the 2016 Champions Cup final, the two fixtures last year were draws. Bayern clearly no longer expect to be beaten by us, and of course last year was when they also climbed back over us in the table. And of lesser importance, there's the little matter of the former Leverkusen whiz kid right winger Renato Augusto returning to Germany to face us for the first time in a Bayern shirt, while we have the new Leverkusen whiz kid right winger Rafael in the lineup. For Leverkusen, we hope that the dynamic that caused Augusto to leave some years ago - going to the bigger fancier club Barcelona - is not so pronounced now as we've been the more successful club for some years; plus we're now in a better position to pay world-competitive salaries. On the latter part we're not there yet, but it's coming along. We're working to keep that under control so we don't just spend needlessly. To be honest, I can't recall being this tense about an individual league match in ages!
Bayer Leverkusen - FC Bayern München
4-0 (Derdiyok 30, Schürrle 36, Botia 60, Vazquez pen 75)
And... I can't hold it until the end of the report, we've done it! It's cat and mouse for a bit... and in the 14th minute that term sort of describes the first chance too, Derdiyok slows, then speeds as he has the ball on the right, but he can't put his shot inside the frame, side netting. Around 20 minutes Bayern have a flurry of shots, none dangerous (three blocked, then one wide). Little would they know that would be a big percentage of their efforts for the match. Castro perfectly picks out Schürrle on a free kick, but his first-timer is a bit of a mis-hit and is picked up by Sidibe. Finally there's a breakthrough in the 30th, Vazquez in the center circle sends a harmless ball forward for Troost 35 yards out, but he deftly first-times it on and suddenly Derdiyok is there. The defender wasn't going to catch him anyway but falls flat on his face and Derdiyok blasts it low and hard from the edge of the box for the opening goal. The second goal comes soon after, Castro lines up another free kick, for all the world he looks like he's going to blast it but he slinks it left to Schürrle who's open again, and this time his first-timer eludes the keeper. 2-0 in the 36th. There's some pressure the rest of the half - and it's one-sided, all from us. Alaba gets a decent shot early in the 2nd, Adler has to work to save but it's not that hard. Kroos' through ball could have been dangerous, but it's too heavy, Adler picks it up easily. Then a centering pass doesn't catch Neymar, and he catches Vida as Vida goes to clear. Bayern are pushing hard... Augusto and Kroos tap it back and forth until it opens for Kroos, but his shot is weak. Castro almost puts in a free kick, Sidibe tips wide. One must wonder, Nowak was slightly behind Sidibe in the youth pecking order for Bayern keepers, which is why he was available to us. Would he be the starter for them today? If not, would he be getting as much time as he does for us? Hope he's happy here, we're very pleased with him but he's clearly not the #1 at this stage. Bayern continue to work hard to get back in the game and it's agonizingly close as Neymar collects a clearance and sends it back in where Adler grabs seemingly two inches in front of Vrsjalko. It's less than two minute after that key moment when Castro bends a long free kick slightly away from goal so that Botia can run onto it far post and head home, 3-0 right on the hour. Lovely give and go sequence as Schürrle sneaks in behind his man, but fires just wide in the end. The pressure's really on Bayern around the 70th, attack, corner, more pressure from that, corner, more pressure, throw-in... Rafael has it, he's put the ball in the net but the referee had apparently already stopped play to award a penalty. I don't get that, if a player is being fouled but scores anyway - and not with a delay or anything directly - don't you just count the goal? It's a WTF moment, but we do get the goal when Vazquez nets from the spot. Okay, the referee is saying Otamendi pushed Schürrle, on replays we see the trip is about the same time as Rafael's shot, so still, why not let the goal stand? Okay, calm down... We've had superb performances from Castro and Schürrle. Schürrle gets the nod from man of the match selectors since he had a goal, but Castro was completely deadly, from set pieces especially, but was just in play all the time, 50 passes in the game. It's only halfway through the year, as already noted, but this has to mean something. If nothing else, it means a seven point lead going to the second half! Maybe the stumble against Hamburg was a bit good for us, too... if it was something that showed we can't just stroll to victory every time, and came just in time for Bayern. Don't know, the psychology of teams is something very complex.
So... now it's time to deal with an issue that I've put off for too long, contracts for a group of players with some question marks. These players will be out of contract at the end of the season: Dante (34), Kadlec (33), Kiessling (33), Castro (30), Fernandez (31), Pamic (26), Jorgensen (26), Sam (29), Bender (28). Despite making a fair number of changes over the years, we've kept a core group of long time Leverkusen players around from before I arrived. A lot of that group is reflected above (Fernandez is my buy, as is Bender, although he'd been with the club for two seasons before being sold to Schalke). The rest of the key long-termers are Derdiyok (29), Adler (32), Vida (28) and Schürrle (27). Age is creeping up on us. These are interesting choices, and extensions will depend on whether player and agent agree with our assessment of where they are in their careers. None are full starters any longer.
Dante you'd conclude is done: he could continue to serve as an occasional backup, but we have young players who need to start working in.
The two fullbacks Castro and Kadlec are both rotating with another player: Castro with Walker, Kadlec with Traverso. Both are playing extremely well this year, Castro is outshining the younger Walker. But I don't see a really long contract for either - Kadlec turning 33 a few days ago, Castro will be 31 in June. But both should still get offers.
Kiessling has now finished being supplanted by Troost, but at the moment he still looks valuable. He's been such a servant to the club, now in his 11th season since coming from Nurnberg in 2006. I thought he'd challenge the club record for league goals but now it looks like he won't get there, he's 34 in a month and the goals and appearances have tailed off. I'd want a way to keep him at the club until he retires, if he wants that, but it can't be at too big a price premium.
Fernandez is a bit of a question, he's always been streaky, but now he's not so much; the moments of brilliance are far fewer. With AMC seemingly in the hands of Bustos and Naciri, and Fernandez seeming less effective if we don't play with an AMC, and still not much sign of establishing himself as a dangerous left mid, he's probably just an "impact sub" now, the chance of a sneaky long shot or more likely some set piece magic. Probably worth an extension if he doesn't want a lot of years - so far he's been very reasonable in his contract requests.
Pamic is an enigma; he had a really good year in 2014/15 when he led the side in assists, but can't get a game because of the emergence of Naciri and Bustos and Vazquez - and because his own performances fell off. I'm thinking he should get a chance at a new club to revitalize a career now we're not giving him chances. Do we try to sign-and-transfer, or would we let him leave on a free? Still a good player. However, he's been evaluated as the 8th-best attacking midfielder, that doesn't seem to jibe with a salary that would certainly require a raise on the current €55k.
Jorgensen somehow never came quite good enough, though like Pamic, he had one quite good year, in fact in the same 2014/2015 season. We hoped last year's loan at Deportivo would turn into a permanent deal, but he completely lost his way in pass-happy Spain (50% success ratio which is astonishingly poor). Managed to score eight goals, though. He's running on €45k now, which becomes a problem when you think we have two other well paid left winger types in Schürrle and Biglia. Although the jury is really out on Biglia - he's on the injured list too often, his record shows 14 separate times out in five years, with a total adding up to over 1.5 years (back of the envelope says 87 weeks, not even counting the time back in the squad but not fit to play yet - and not counting the current injury which is estimated as another 3 months). Is this just a horribly unlucky patch, or is his a career which won't ever go because of injury trouble?
Sam is now displaced as starter by newcomer Rafael, a role he never fully made his own anyway after Augusto left, but he's a good player to have as a backup, if he's willing to accept that role. We don't know yet that answer, he's not getting #1 ML money.
Finally another enigma, Bender. I wanted him back because I was trying to keep a German flavor in the midst of many new non-German players. I now feel like I took him away from a budding top career and pulled him back into a less successful situation, but had no idea this would happen, I don't know why he's failed to shine; he had three seasons at Schalke as a full-time player, came back, and hasn't put in the performances to warrant that. I should probably let him leave to seek first team status again, which maybe he could have at a club just a bit below the level of this one, but he is a valuable utility player - besides being able to patrol all the central midfield positions, he can fill in at central defender and at a pinch at fullback. This is not a player I'd want to let leave on a free, though; things will depend again on how player/agent view his situation vs. our view.
There is another player with a contract decision needed, that's the loanee Brice Kayembe. I'm happy with how he's doing, it will be harder to get him playing opportunities as Sandro is finally back to full action. The status here depends a bit on player himself, and a bit on the Bender decision, and what we conclude about Sandro (28). Sandro? Yes, somehow a player who was a terrific impact for a while has slipped a bit down the pecking order. Vazquez is a clear choice ahead of him for DMC. We used him to great effect some years ago at right wing, not his natural position, but there's no real need there with Rafael+Sam, and Castro or Walker quite happy to fill in if we run short of players. It may be a case of me misusing the player that's at fault: he's possibly be better if he were playing a lot more, but there have been issues like injury that have also impacted his working into a rotation. Again, might we want to consider letting him get the career going again at another club? Still valuable here too, have to tread carefully. He's #6 on the pay list, which his current status isn't really justifying.
And key in this discussion is the status of youngsters who might be pushing forward. The two most advanced currently stuck in the U23 squad are Jordy Pool (F/AMC) and Dejan Raskovic (AMC) - Raskovic is just 17 but has progressed very rapidly. Central defenders Matej Bubic and Benedikt Christ should come good and could fill in now if needed (see Dante discussion above), Bjorn Melzer looks like he's failed to progress and will probably have to be cut loose. Engin Arslan at DMC and Baris Solmaz at AML are going to need some senior playing time by next year, if they're going to stay with the club. Central midfielder Esteban Cardon is already coming along nicely (also still just 17).
Kadlec re-signs for a reasonable amount, Castro for a less reasonable one, but I had to agree with the agent that he's playing so well right now. Kiessling says he wants to finish out the career here and would not consider anyplace else. We've worked a one year extension with him. So Castro's wages go up, Kadlec and Kiessling's down... On to work on more of them. Two players who have really staked a place recently, Naciri and Dieye, get extensions on deals that would have run out in 18 months. We didn't have to do this now, but they're underpaid, and I think it's better to get it locked up early - other clubs starting to sniff around both.
On the Finland front, Alexey Eremenko's retirement (from football entirely, not just international) is complete.
Down in England, the experienced David Moyes has not been able to do much with Chelsea, who sit 15th in the table. Expect the cord to be cut there pretty soon. The squad is aging... 12 players over 30. He's going to get the blame for a playing staff that's not been looked after properly by the club as a whole, top-flight managing is often unfair.
End of Calendar 2017 Table (17 pld):
1. Leverkusen 47
2. Bayern 40
3. Dortmund 33
4. Schalke 28 +11
5. Wolfsburg 28 +2
6. Kaiserslautern 27
7. Aachen 25
8. Stuttgart 23 +5
9. Gladbach 23 -4
10. HSV 23 -6
11. Furth 21
12. Karlsruhe 20
13. Hoffenheim 18
14. Werder Bremen 16
15. Nurnberg 15 -12
16. Koln 15 -17
17. Hertha BSC 14
18. Mainz 12
Spend on re-signings drives up costs; prize from Club World Cup drives up the take. Loss is €4.07m; turnover €14.16m up from €9.23m which expenses are €18.23m, up from €12.53m.