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mwichmann's continuation of Hibernian Hopes story
Started on 5 May 2012 by mwichmann
Latest Reply on 27 February 2013 by mwichmann
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June 2017

A short report on the international activities between seasons. Finland have a devilishly tough tie in Croatia and a difficult one in Georgia, which will determine whether there's any chance left of World Cup qualification. I want to bring young blood into the side, but the players who are candidates just plain aren't ready. But for the forthcoming Euro 2020 campaign, or if we crash out so there's no qualification chance left for WC 2018, that will have to start happening.

The tactical decision with this pair of matches: do you run out your best against the first, and tougher side, and risk maybe losing that one and then the next because the best players are tired? Or do you try to "save" for the second, supposedly easier match in an effort to get at least three points out of the pair? I decide that saving isn't the right approach, if I look like I don't believe we can compete with Croatia, what message am I sending?

Starting lineups:
Croatia: Delac; Pamic, Lovren, Vida, Srna; Modric, Rakitic, Badelj, Tomecak; Kalinic, Mandzukic
Finland: Lehtovaara; Raitala, Toivio, Ojala, Hoivala; Sparv, Schuller; Alho, A.Eremenko, Hakola; Karlsson
A lot of players I know very well - both sides of the ball!

International Match: Croatia - Finland
Score: 0-0
Group Position: 3rd
Summary: There's not a lot of action early. About the 10th minute, a high ball threatens to spring Mandzukic, Raitala gets up to head clear but it comes right to Kalinic who angles it forward for Mandzukic who alertly had kept going forward. We're collapsing back though and he hurries his shot and puts it wide. A chance for us on a corner, Karlsson has just snuck inside his man and poked at it, the keeper's beaten but Tomecak on the far post sweeps it clear without too much trouble. That's a chance we may not get again, sigh... Even though Eremenko collects on the side and puts it back in the mixer, my cautious defenders are already heading backwards and so it's headed clear easily. We do get another opening, Eremenko feeds Karlsson who comes forward with many defenders but none getting really close, eventually his shot can't beat the keeper as it was closing down. The break comes and goes, and the next danger is Mandzukic coming alone down the right, he's got some space, Lehtovaara closes down the angle well but he's open for a chip, which Mandzukic executes, but not cleanly - it sails over. We're already into the final 25 minutes. In the 74th minute it looks like our back line is finally broken down as Mandzukic receives in lots of space, but has he shoots right at Lehtovaara, the flag is up, the defensive timing in the end had been just right. Real danger in the 84th, a cross comes in and we're ragged as both Modric and sub Vukisic go for it, looks like they interfere with each other and the shot just dribbled to Lehtovaara who scoops it up with relief (post-match replay shows that Hoivala was the one who got enough foot on it to take the sting out of the shot, actually a very good defensive play but disappointing for Croatia, their clearest chance). Croatia are still attacking and get a shot late in stoppage, but it flies over. We've been outshot 14-4, and the home side had 56% of the possession, but we expect those kind of numbers, and we've held out for a very good result. The scoreless draw leaves us with some hopes, although we're sitting third behind two stronger sides, Croatia and Scotland on 11 pts while we have 8.

Croatia started the campaign really well, but have lost their edge rather. Sept 7 was 4-0 at Moldova, Oct 8 was 7-0 home to Luxembourg. The three matches since then have seen only two goals, 1-1 Scotland, 1-0 at Georgia, and now 0-0. Knowing what they're capable of, I'd say their performance against us was apathetic. The top two have apparently easy matches next round, and if we can win at Georgia, it should see the top three stable - waiting for the fall matches to sort things out.

International Match: Georgia - Finland
Score: 0-1 (Moisander 62)
Group Position: 3rd (Croatia 14 +18, Scotland 14 +9, Finland 11 +5)
Summary: We've got the first real chance in the 19th, a corner has broken down but we keep at it, and Alho sharply heads a long diagonal cross, unfortunately it catches the bar and though it glances down it's just in front of the line and is eventually cleared. Georgia have a dangerous situation when we don't defend a throw quite well enough and a good interchange sees Khutsishvili open from 16 yards left, but the ball goes just wide. Then the danger is extreme as a long ball finds Israflov, he's a little slow pushing that forward and Moisander is recovering from an angle, sliding in to tackle - and missing! Israflov fires, beats the keeper, but it glances off the far post. Just before the break, a speculative long shot by Jano is over Lehtovaara but denied by the crossbar. In all, a disappointing first half, we've had only one decent chance and we've let Georgia have three; the woodwork coming into play in three of the four overall. I tell the side it wasn't good enough, they respond by starting poorly in the second. We've finally picked up a goal on a set play, a corner is headed well by Moisander but blocked out, he somehow manages to get back on it and pokes it in through traffic... It didn't trickle in by much, but it's enough to count! Karlsson is on, and he's on a break right away, Makaridze has to make a very good save to tip the shot wide. In the end, a dreary 1-0 win, but an extremely needed three points. On balance, a draw would have been a fairer result, but clearly we'll take what we got!!! Shots were 8-9, nobody really got a good attack going, not a lot of corners as another indication, even if we won the match off one. We've been just a little sharper - a small advantage in possession, driven by somewhat better passing accuracy.

England's world cup hopes were already on the ropes, now they're on life support: with six of 10 played, they're 4th (level with Bulgaria on points), six behind Poland and four behind Belarus and Switzerland.
July/August 2017

Monthly Results
SV Viktoria Aschaffenburg 0-6 Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 1st Rnd) (Kiessling 8, Sam pen 16, 50, Mares 21, 24, 48)
Karslruher SC 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Derdiyok 6, 40, 72)
Bayer Leverkusen 7-1 TSV Alemannia Aachen (Troost 30, 80, Derdiyok 45+1, 58, Bustos 54, Schürrle 69, Mares 88 - Rieloff 78)
FC Schalke 04 - Bayer Leverkusen 1-1 (Riviere 47 - Botia 58)

International Results:
Italy 5-1 Finland (Friendly) (De Rossi 14, Colonna 35, Carraro 45+2, Pazzini 50, Acquafresca 75 - Hamalainen 77)

To wrap our yearly activities off, the shareholders get €21m, leaving the final season total at €32.6m.

We've got our one massive signing in camp, Rafael, do we need to do anything else? After the retirement of Herrmann, we've added a new coach, but since he doesn't know any of the players well, we've made Michael Ballack the assistant manager. Ballack suggests we're weak in defense. The problem there really is, we don't have a left back of sufficient quality. Kadlec has lost a bit; Oczipka, who was his backup but last year was out on loan and nobody really offered to buy him, isn't good enough to be the starter and if Kadlec is the backup, then we don't need Oczipka for that role either. So who's #1? If Vida moves there, it's not his best position though at the moment he's probably our most talented player at left back. That would put Winter into Vida's central defense spot which he'll be great at, but still isn't quite at his full potential yet. So from an evaluation viewpoint, we look like we're weak at two back line spots, but that's deceptive, it's actually one. The youngster Traverso is still a bit more of a right back than left back, but maybe the answer is a three-way rotation with Traverso, Vida, Kadlec; with Vida still spending most of his time in the center.

We're pondering the moves offered by various clubs who want off us, generally, the players we don't want to sell. And we're meandering our way through a friendly season that's not really exciting me. I'm looking for a lot of fluidity to develop, and to work Rafael in and get some of the youngsters chances with the first team. At times it's looked pretty good, and throughout we've gotten a lot of shots, but compared to past years it doesn't seem as fluid and the productivity on those shots hasn't been there.

I'm a little irritated that Renato Augusto returns to Germany for a cut-price transfer, to Bayern. He'd have been welcome back (well, before we made the Rafael move), though the salary they're paying him is high - Bayern have gotten even tougher. In the end they've gotten him for €6.5m, when we got a hint Barcelona might let him go and asked, they suggested it would take three times that. Very irritating; Bayern are yet stronger (they have also added fullback Diego Renan and central defender Moustapha Diop. And so far, young whiz kid Rafael has not shown that he's quite ready - but we'll give him time to fit in. We're gambling here, that the club can recover better form in the league or that Bayern won't play up to the level they did last year. I hope we've addressed the one spot we could seriously have a go at, as opposed to just adding a lot of players for no reason. There's some pressure on two of the Argentine players - Traverso the fullback is going to have to give quality minutes at left back, or maybe in January we look for another solution there. And Biglia is going to have to start staking a claim at the left midfield spot - there's interest in him, and I'm not sold despite what looks like boundless talent. The other two - Vazquez in a holding/defensive role and Bustos in an attacking/playmaking role, have stated their cases. After serious thought - should we keep him around and try to send Troost our for some seasoning? - Sukuta-Pasu has gone out on loan with a purchase option. Meanwhile, not needing more midfielders, we've made a move anyway - young French DMC Brice Kayembe is really exciting, but we don't have a defined place for him yet. What we did is put in a loan bid to match several other loan bids tendered to OM, but we did ours with a purchase price, so we can evaluate if he's going to be a player that will take a place. It's just the beginning of August as I write this, so expect more outgoing action, probably not incoming action but who knows.

Even in the final tuneup, which is a clash with our reserves, there's not as much as I'd like. Through 75 minutes, it's 1-0, off 23 shots. The final is 3-0.

We open German Cup play v. Aschaffenburg, and we know if we win we'll also be away for the 2nd round, to Mannheim. Troost is showing some signs of coming out of his confidence problem as he scores three in his last ~90 minutes of pre-season play. Aschaffenburg is a town on the Main located 40 km southeast of Frankfurt. Administratively it's considered in Bavaria but is kind of isolated from it, and is considered home to its own dialect. Until 2007 it had a significant USA military presence. The club doesn't have an especially glowing resume. For a long time they played in the Hesse leagues rather than the Bavarian, but they have switched over, partly because the Bavarian leagues have a less rigorous financial requirement and the club were in financial trouble. A recent run of slightly better form has at least seen then appear in the German Cup a bunch recently, after appearing six times from 1979 through 1992, they're now making their seventh consecutive appearance, dating back to 2011. Though it's the prestigious national cup competition, it's not open directly to everybody, only 64 teams enter. You qualify by being in the top two leagues, top four finish in the 3rd league, or cup winners (and possibly runners up) from the regional leagues, so the number of qualifications recently is pretty impressive.

Match: SV Viktoria Aschaffenburg - Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 1st Rnd)
Score: 0-6 (Kiessling 8, Sam pen 16, 50, Mares 21, 24, 48)
Summary: We go for a lineup of backups in the cup match. More and more I have to shuffle for cup matches anyway, as we've got a growing number of South Americans and essentially need to leave the ups to European players - last year I got caught a couple of times wanting to make a particular substitution and not being able to because it would have meant more than three non-homegrown players in the match. At any rate we'll plan the rotation better to accommodate that. Salaheddine Naciri becomes the only "foreign" player, and he sets things up for Kiessling who scores inside 10 minutes. Sidney Sam is absolutely flattened, it's a penalty, the ball did squirt away as if Haag has gotten it but there was just too much contact. Sam wants to take it himself, and it's a quality take, keeper frozen. A corner a few minutes later leads to a nifty header from Mares. Mares has won a spot in the squad so he can spell the powerful presence of Derdiyok, and this is a good chance for himself to build something up. And the young man follows that with an excellent long shot, now he's making a case for himself! We lose the plot a little bit, but 4-0 at the break, how much can you expect? Breakout for Mares? He opens the second half completing his hat trick on a nice pass from Sam. Sam taps in the 6th, he's got a brace, making a case for experience over the potential of Rafael. That quick burst puts us back in the territory of maybe challenging scoring records - 40 minutes to play. But the edge goes off again and there's no more. Bayern, meanwhile, steal the "record" march, winning theirs 10-0, one more little message of their intentions.

The schedule makers have decided to make it interesting, we won't face them until 23rd December, with the return match coming away on the final day of the season. I'd certainly rather it not come down to that being the deciding match! We don't see Dortmund early either, 4 November and 28 March.

As defending champions, Bayern get the chance to open the season first. They do so with a convincing 5-0 win.

Match: Karslruher SC - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-3 (Derdiyok 6, 40, 72)
League Position: 2nd (gd behind Bayern, total goals behind Stuttgart, gd ahead of Wolfsburg, Aachen, Dortmund, Gladbach, Schalke)
Summary: In their return to the Bundesliga for the first time since being relegated in May of 2009, a capacity crowd comes to see what will be a tough test for them. A counter attack sees Troost feed Derdiyok and we're up a goal after only about 5 minutes. While we dominate possession after that, there's not much danger until Troost and Derdiyok hook up again with five minutes to go in the half. Schürrle draws a penalty just before the break but Derdiyok can't convert it, good save by the keeper. It's just a minute into the second half when Derdiyok has a shot denied, he should be on four by now. Derdiyok does get his hat trick, it's from a corner. How we didn't score again from a corner in the 83rd I'll never know, looked like it was right there on the floor There's only one draw the opening weekend, leaving eight sides level on three points - that will shake out quickly!

There's a short break for international friendlies next. It's not ideal for Finland, we've got our two top goalkeepers out, a number of key players not match fit yet as they get ready for their new seasons, and the opponent is a daunting Italy - away. It's a balance between challenging ourselves to get better against big opposition, and the possibility of losing confidence if it goes poorly. We also hear we've moved up in the rankings, we're not actually earning many of these changes, it's more that since rankings are on a rolling time based period, some rankings points are expiring from other nations. 39th now.

International Friendly: Italy - Finland
Score: 5-1 (De Rossi 14, Colonna 35, Carraro 45+2, Pazzini 50, Acquafresca 75 - Hamalainen 77)
Summary: It's a decent almost quarter hour when De Rossi drills in a shot from distance, not much you can do against such quality except maybe hope he's not got the space to take that shot. We're holding our own for a good stretch, but then a horrible bit of defending, Italy start a break, the man veers off, then drives toward the end line to send in a cross. As the latter part of this is evolving, we've got our two central defenders back, but the whole rest of the side is being beaten badly by a horde of Italians. With no chance at help, it's headed in. Pazzini made that one, and moments later he's loose, only a great bit of keeping by Aaltonen rescues the goal. Then more sloppy defending, Carraro has stepped behind to bang in a low driven cross. Really a half of "not nearly good enough". The first couple of minutes look better and Pukki, half time sub and earning his first senior cap, is given a chance by R.Eremenko, but can't quite find the net. We needed that one, even more so since a sharp pass in from the wing finds Pazzini clear, and he rams it in. Not even competitive... You can see it happening again, even though the defenders are instructed to stay deep we can't come close to staying with them on a break, Pazzini destroys us with another cross and Acquafresca lurked behind the defenders and headed it in nicely. We get a consolation goal, excellent effort by Hamalainen to win a challenge in the air and then go beat the keeper. Acquafresca should have had another. Fortunately an entry pass misses Pazzini or he's sure to score (too bad for Italy he wasn't making the pass, as he's been deadly on both ends of the plays), then he just barely misses a chip. The post-match summary says "Finland outclassed by Italy", and what more, really, is there to say? Ugh. Time to trot out the "it's only a friendly, and it was a chance to experiment" platitudes I guess. Can't I just skip the post-match interviews?

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - TSV Alemannia Aachen
Score: 7-1 (Troost 30, 80, Derdiyok 45+1, 58, Bustos 54, Schürrle 69, Mares 88 - Rieloff 78)
League Position: 1st (g.d. over Dortmund)
Summary: This match should see the new all-time Leverkusen attendance record. Since the stadium expansion is completed and we're now at 65,000 seats. Since it's not a top team, it probably won't fill completely and we'll be able to break the record again. There's a bit of noise in the press as it's my 400th competitive match in charge of someone. A lot of those have been Leverkusen, it will be the 270th of those. I don't see 400 as anything that special, no big deal for me. Getting out of the gate fast is, and Aachen aren't really very good, so I want an impressive show in this home opener. Bustos mis-hits our best scoring chance until right at the half hour mark, when a goal finally caps a stretch of utter dominance (75% of the ball), Bustos to Troost the actual scoring sequence, but some tricky work by Rafael the bit that broke the situation open. We've got Aachen seriously on the run, and eventually a break had to come our way, a clash has a ball fall in Derdiyok's area and he takes one touch and bangs it in just before the break. Trouble for Aachen as the 2nd opens, a goal kick is headed back and Derdiyok is after it, he part-rounds the keeper but unluckily hits the post. Perhaps a victim of his tendency to always blast. Rafael creates for Bustos who misses, but then Derdiyok lays one back for him and he drills it in. The 58th minute corner is easy for Derdiyok, he's got five goals in two and could have almost double that. The cross from Rafael is brilliant and Schürrle rises to head in. Bender doesn't stay in front of his man on a corner and Aachen have pulled one back. Rafael is just ripping people apart, and around the 80th, it's led to a goal, a desperation partial clearance after his work is sent back by Castro and headed home by Troost. Is there more in this one? Yes, to the joy of the fans, this time Troost sets up sub Mares who scores, that's seven! And... we've gotten a gift! Bayern, who are notoriously slow starters, and bottled their first game away, drawing 1-1 at Wolfsburg. The six perfect records who played today quickly whittle to two, the other being Dortmund; Gladbach and Schalke have Sunday matches. That attendance was 58,540, plenty of room to go for bigger crowds. It's only 90% capacity!

Gladbach are the ones who sneak an away win, so now there are three at the top.

I'm very pleased with the start so far, we've shown the edge we didn't in friendlies, and it's okay if it works out this way. A bit of trouble finding enough playing time, it would be nice if four-five players went in the 10 days left in the transfer window, but the odds are not too great, there are no offers for these, though "interest" for some. Bustos is named player of the week after what was a really good game to be honest, meaning the battle between Bustos, Naciri and Fernandez for an AMC type role is fierce, the older Fernandez is probably third now in that rotation, much as he's done for the club, and with nothing but table scraps for the Croatian Zvonko Pamić. The crowding has eased slightly for a moment, loanee Kayembe being injured for a bit, he should come back soon after the international break. Which I never look forward to (from the club perspective) if we're going well, always seems to disrupt the momentum. We have 11 senior players going out of contract at the end of the year (not counting loanee Kayembe, which maybe we should - his current club have to accept if we offer to buy for the agreed amount, but terms would still need to be worked with the player). Of those 11, we've got our chunk of over-30 players: Adler, Dante, Kadlec, Kiessling, Castro and Fernandez; of those Adler is the only lock must-keep, Kiessling we'd like to have end his career at Leverkusen, and Castro, Kadlec and Fernandez have been good servants but extensions have to depend on being economically viable as they're all likely to slip into backup roles (seems to have happened already with the latter two, Castro is still holding his own with Walker). Of the others, Pamić, Jorgensen and Oczipka are pretty much in the not needed category, Sam the jury is out - both on him and on the performance of his replacement Rafael and Bender still hasn't shown what he's capable of and maybe should move on. So it's not nearly as bad a picture as it looks at first, as long as we keep track of having enough home grown players.

Meanwhile, the latest Finland goalkeeper to go down is Aaltonen, hopefully the top two will be back for coming pair of games (or at least one of them).

Match: FC Schalke 04 - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-1 (Riviere 47 - Botia 58)
League Position: 2nd (gd behind Bayern, ahead of Kaiserslautern, Gladbach)
Summary: Decent test here: our first top opponent in our first tough away match. It's as expected a really tough match, Schalke holding their own for a while, then we have a spell of better play. Shots are falling to players like Bustos; Troost has had a couple of tries when there's not really an opening, then he lofts in a ball that's in the net in spectacular fashion. It's not a goal, it clearly had part of its flight outside the line. The looping ball from the left (an intended cross) somehow dropped down and caught the post and clicked in. Pretty stuff for the highlight films, but no arguing the decision. We were a bit better in the first half, but that counts for exactly nothing in the results table. Derdiyok has been kept largely out of the play. We've gotten the touches from the midfield, especially the central Sandro and Bustos, but Bustos is struggling a bit physically and needs to come off at the break. Riviere has opened up by beating Adler to the ball, that must be offside but his poke in has been allowed to stand. Now we've got very little chance of claiming the three points, two goals in the second half at the Veltins-Arena is unlikely. We've worked a really excellent play and "Troost must tuck this away" but Neuer is a superb keeper and he gets down to save it. So with nothing else working, what do we fall back on? Right, the set play... just short of the hour, Botia pops in with the goal which brings us level. But there's no more, my worries were justified. So we've given the tempo right back to Bayern, who clobber Hertha 5-0.

The coaching staff are going to have to make an adjustment of some sort. My first year here we dropped eight pts away, then it slipped to 13, then seven, a stunning three, last year 14, which was too much when Bayern dropped only eight (we were a bit better on home record). Here we've dropped two in only two matches. Sure that's too little to draw conclusions from but with Bayern apparently set to battle us tooth and nail again we've got to cut that out. How, I don't have an answer for today. Do we make sure to play defensively and counter attack + play for set piece goals? Or do we defend by attacking? In my earlier years we mostly played a flat 4-4-2 in away matches. We've done that somewhat less recently, but we don't have the same personnel here either, so an old answer may well not be the right current answer. The answer is not going to be bringing in more players, though. We've got some of the most talented players in the world. We're suffering a bit because of the choice to build with youth - we simply haven't brought in a lot of experienced senior type players since I've been here. I'm doing this from memory - it's basically been the two Spurs players, Walker and Sandro, and the return of Bender. We brought in the keeper Ospina for last season because the situation looked a bit desperate at the start of last year and we needed an experienced man; he got to have a good half season, a frustrating second half, and then a nice new contract, and a sale which brought us some money, but that was never a long-term deal. So now we've got a whole bunch of good young players - we're considered the youngest club in the Bundesliga, in fact, but there are some places where there's some lacking experience. Still, these are who we have to go with; the adjustments will have to be tactical, not personnel.

We pulled in some prize monies (fee for qualifying for the ECC Group stage, and a small German Cup win), but it's a small net outgo for the month of August. July and before it June brought more income though, we're up 14.8m for the season.

At the very end of the window, Bastian Oczipka leaves and a young Spanish striker, Ibon Diaz, arrives (for a role in the youth side, he has a lot of developing to do)

Some of the big transfers around the world this window...

Romano Colonna 27.5m, R.Madrid -> Arsenal
Iker Munaian 25m, Man City -> AC Milan
Jonathan Owusu 24.5m, Liverpool -> Man City
Javier Pastore 21.5m, Arsenal -> Juventus
Lukman Haruna 19.5m, Monaco -> Liverpool
Rafael 18.5m, Santos -> Leverkusen
Alvaro Dominguez 17.25m, AC Milan -> Barcelona
Adem Ljajic 16.75m, Rubin -> AC Milan
Ammar Kabla 15.75m, Grenoble -> Man United
Leroy Fer 15m, Sampdoria -> Arsenal
Gomes 14.5m, VVV-Venlo -> PSV
Ruben Ocampo 14.5m, Partizan -> Anderlecht
Osvaldo Ferreira 14.5m, Twente -> OL
Alberto Bueno 13.75m, Valladolid -> Man City
Diego Renan 13.75m, Spartak Moscow -> Bayern
Alan Kardec 13.5m, Havre -> Valencia
Jonathan Johansen 13.25m, Getafe -> Man United
Dusan Tadic 13m, Saint-Etienne -> Juventus
Emiliano Insua 13m, Aston Villa -> Roma
Pavel Niakhaichyk 13m, Aston Villa -> Inter
Dede 13m, Dynamo Kyiv -> At.Madrid
Felipe 12.75m, Galatasaray -> AC Milan
Anderson 12.5m, Fluminense -> Internacional
Dennis Appiah 12.5m, Cagliari -> Aston Villa
Takayuki Morimoto 12m, Cagliari -> Shakhtar
September 2017

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 CSKA Moscow (European Super Cup, Stade Louis II, Monaco) (Kiessling 3, Fernandez 49 - Vagner Love 77)
Bayer Leverkusen 5-0 SpVgg Greuther Fürth (Schürrle 8, Bustos 32, 72, Botia 44, Krol o.g 67)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (Vida 3, Kiessling 21, Bender 26 - Zubar 58, Jucilei 61)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 CSKA Moscow (ECC Group A ) (Vazquez pen 25, pen 43, Botia 53)
1.FSV Mainz 05 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Derdiyok 62, Schürrle 79)
SVW Mannheim 0-4 Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 2nd Rnd) (Pool 2, Dieye 12, 38, Kiessling 70)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 VfL Wolfsburg (Rafael 54, Schürrle 63)

International Results
Finland 1-0 Scotland (UEFA World Cup Qual Group 3 ) (Sadik 40)
Finland 3-0 Moldova (UEFA World Cup Qual Group 3 ) (Hakola 18, Puustinen 31, Toivio 45)

We'll open the month with an "unimportant" match - the board seem to think this is a big deal, the European Super Cup, but in matters not at all in the general scheme of things, and we already have our reputation, this isn't going to improve it or anything. Who wants to lose? But I will be run out the full first line group of players.

First, though, it's the draw for the European Champions Cup. The top 8 - Pot 1 - are Leverkusen, Atletico Madrid, Arsenal, Manchester Chit, Olympique Marseille, Real Madrid, Napoli and Bayern. It doesn't look like there are too many chances to draw a "group of death", which the press always seem to look for with glee. That mostly happens when a side gets good quickly, and so comes into a new draw with a low coefficient, since coefficients are based on results over many years. There are three sides who could create a bit of this effect - the two Milan sides and Liverpool are in Pot 3. We get one of them! Interestingly, we also get our upcoming Super Cup opponent, CSKA Moscow, so that match acquires a little more meaning as "statement match". Bayern get the other Milan club, so a tough group for them too, and Schalke land in the third of those "difficult" groups. Wow. Bias against German clubs? Tasty matchups too in Group F - Real Madrid and Man United, and Group G - Napoli and Valencia.

Group A - Leverkusen, CSKA Moscow, AC Milan, Brondby
Group B - At.Madrid, Schalke, Liverpool, Rapid Wien
Group C - Arsenal, OM, Galatasaray, Twente
Group D - Man City, Sevilla, Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Tirana
Group E - OL, Rubin Kazan, Panathinaikos, Partizan Belgrade
Group F - R.Madrid, Man United, Zenit, Celtic
Group G - Napoli, Valencia, Dynamo Kyiv, Fenerbahce
Group H - Bayern, Benfica, Inter Milan, Club Brugge

We've faced two of the three group opponents before, a pair of wins over AC Milan in group play in 2012, and a pair of wins over Brondby in group play in 2014. The schedule is CSKA home in Sept, Brondby away and Milan away in Oct, Milan home and CKSA away in Nov, and Brondby home in Dec. Not a completely easy schedule.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - CSKA Moscow (European Super Cup, Stade Louis II, Monaco)
Score: 2-1 (Kiessling 3, Fernandez 49 - Vagner Love 77)
Summary: CSKA field some players I know - keeper Igor Akinfeev has always been someone I've admired, as has lone forward Vagner Love. Midfielders Blaise Matuidi and Dimitri Payet are known too. We get a very early goal, Mares heads Traverso's free kick unfortunately off the bar, but Kiessling is there to head in the follow. We're looking very sharp after the Schalke disappointment, a couple of good chances, Sidney Sam the second robbed by the post. Payet gets in for a shot that clips off the post. After this, the game settles into something less interesting. We're struggling a bit, and a pair of injuries, to Traverso and Vazquez, cause halftime substitutions. Fernandez, who's gradually slipping into a less key role, justifies continued selection by nailing a wonderful free kick from a left angle. Dieye's trip is something less than ideal - it's his second yellow, and he's off. And to compound the unusual... the next sequence sees Kiessling almost able to score on a break. Vagner Love beats Nowak with 13 minutes to go, can we hang on? Hmmm, almost not, Vagner Love heads a corner back across, but it's wide of the far post. It's almost a killer goal late, a nice cross seems to be misjudged by Kiessling, and sub Biglia coming in behind him can't do anything useful with the header, tough chance for him. Kiessling makes an excellent run with the ball and then caps it with a questionable decision at the end, but we do hang on for the win. It's not really in the realm of superb team performances.

Our Friday special match means our league match is delayed, and we'll go into it further behind, most likely. We're set for Wednesday but I'm not completely sure we'll play then due to the international break, seems like these deals sometimes get late changes. Werder Bremen host Bayern, can they maybe help us out? Not close, Bayern triumph 4-1. We'll be 5th before our game, with a chance to go back level on points with Bayern and Kaiserslautern. It would take a big win to take the top spot, though.

Our new kid, Ibon Diaz (age 16), opens his Leverkusen life with the U19's and scores two goals. He may not be long for that squad if he keeps that up.

Our injured players, Kayembe, Traverso and Dante, are all likely to be back by the end of the break or earlier, which means we'll be really congested.

It's really hotting up internationally, we're into the last two regular breaks for World Cup finals qualifying. Of course, a few sides will have one more go in playoffs after the Sept. and Oct. breaks, for Finland it's not clear we'll be able to get there. I'm still troubled picking a squad with enough quality, somehow we have to get the most out of what we have, but it's a big step down from the best national squads. We have to either get a win against Scotland or Croatia and take the two matches against lower rated sides. Scotland and Croatia, both three points ahead of us, have to face each other, so if the results work the right way, and we do our job, it's still possible. But still a bit of a dream.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - SpVgg Greuther Fürth
Score: 5-0 (Schürrle 8, Bustos 32, 72, Botia 44, Krol o.g 67)
League Position: 1st (g.d. over Bayern, Kaiserslautern)
Summary: We've made a quick start; Rafael is through quickly but the flag is up, however a following rush has Schürrle there to poke one in. A sort of dubious challenge on Rafael delays things a bit as there's a long walk until the referee produces his card. It's Red! A bit harsh I think, but it gives us an opportunity... We're working hard, which I like, without result, which I don't, until Bustos cranks up a pretty shot that goes in. Derdiyok's unlucky not to add to the tally, then we get two more shots off the same sequence which are also denied. There is another goal before the break, though, Botia on a corner. 10 minutes into the 2nd, brilliant stop by the keeper denies Derdiyok. Glorious chip by Troost is a goal, unfortunately he doesn't get credit as a desperate defender got a foot to it and it's called an own-goal. Derdiyok is denied again on superb goalkeeping. Bustos gets us an important goal with a long blast. Derdiyok denied once more; in all this goodness, he's having a tough time. The second Bustos goal means we're going to the international break on top by a single goal of goal difference. It's as dominant as it gets in this division, I guess - we've outshot poor Furth 28-1 and had 62% of the ball. It could even have been more than 5-0, to be honest. Not too displeased with that: there's always two issues: play well against lesser teams, and try to find road wins against good teams. We used to have concerns about "complacency", meaning we didn't play so well against lesser sides, to some extent that problem is better now. It's the other one...

We broke the Leverkusen attendance record again, but there's plenty more space to go before capacity, we've not not broken the 60,000 mark yet.

Hmmm, we had a devilishly difficult friendly against one of the world's best in Spain; now two more top nations, Germany and France, have come through with November proposals. I don't know whether to think this is a good or bad sign: are they thinking of us because they want an easier opponent to work on things in one of the last tuneups before the World Cup finals, or is it a sign of respect that we're becoming someone worth testing yourself against? Not sure. If Finland accept, we'll be hoping we're unavailable (because we're qualified for the playoff), or else that we're tuning up ourselves for the WC after some kind of miracle. If neither of those are the case, it's a way to really test a side that will be trying to build something bigger for Euro 2020. Interesting dilemma. We'll say yes. I'd worry we could lose confidence if we get skunked like we did in Italy, but if we do make the finals, we'll be in a "whatever we can do is a bonus" situation, so why not?

Familiar players in the Scotland lineup are Wotherspoon, Douglas and Hanlon, Sean Welsh is on the bench and Daniel Galbraith is in the squad but not on the bench today. Current Hibernian attacker Johnny Russell and midfielder Paul Coutts are in the squad too. Croatia should have a cruise, they're at Luxembourg who've started 0-0-6 with 0 scored, 18 conceded. So this is a battle for 2nd - Scotland to keep it, or us to challenge for it (probably even a win wouldn't get us there, due to goal difference, but we'd be level on pts).

International Match: Finland - Scotland (UEFA World Cup Qual Group 3 )
Score: 1-0 (Sadik 40)
Group Position: 3rd, behind Scotland on goal difference
Summary: I've not been thrilled with our production from the forward position, it's been an ongoing trouble spot. We have a comparatively strong midfield so I'm playing with five in the middle consistently (4-2-3-1), I think the side loses something if I put two true forwards in and drop to four midfielders since I don't fully trust any of the forwards in a challenging international setting. And yet, that exposes the problem that none of the forwards is best suited to leading the line by themselves. Today we're trying Berat Sadik in the role. Danger early from a Scotland corner, Roman Eremenko clears off the line after a sharp header. After Sadik takes a long pop, Steven Fletcher walks around a defender and fires, but Lehtovaara is well places and pushes it aside. Finally some early action in a Finland match, though we're finding ourselves on the back foot at home. Fletcher is clear, his shot passes the keeper but goes off the far post, which has now saved us numerous times in the last couple of matches. The back line, which blanketed Croatia, is being carved open today. Darren Fletcher is in space, he waits to get his shot and it's a wicked one even if he had been closed down, but catches the side netting. For 35 minutes we've been gasping to stay in it, but then a bit of a surge starts, and in the 39th it yields early fruit, Rahmonen with a deep angled cross and it's Sadik who snuck in to tap home! 1-0 Finland, and after Cairney puts on in the side netting, we go the the break ahead. Moisander solid in defending what could have been a break for Wotherspoon. As the hour mark passes, the Finnish central midfielders starts to put together some passes, and half-time sub Alexey Eremenko gets clear for a shot that's just pushed out by Gordon. A pass sends Porokara clean, he can't keep his advantage but puts in a dangerous looking chip, it lands just inches wide of the far post. Now all the offense is with Finland. What there is of it... the game kind of winds to its end without too much more action.

So we've knocked off one of the objectives we absolutely had to, 3 pts vs. either Scotland or Croatia. Croatia do win, though not convincingly, given the opponent. Honestly, this style is not exactly the way I prefer to play football - seven goals in seven matches, but given we have what we have in terms of players....

Here's the Group 3 table after 7 of 10 rounds:

1. Croatia 5-2-0 21gf, 2ga +19, 17 pts
2. Scotland 4-2-1 10gf, 2ga +8, 14 pts
3. Finland 4-2-1 7gf, 1ga +6, 14 pts
4. Georgia 3-0-4 5gf, 6ga -1, 9 pts
5. Moldova 1-2-4 1gf, 14ga -13, 5 pts
6. Luxemb. 0-0-7 0gf, 20ga -20, 0 pts

The remaining matches that matter are:
Sep 13 Finland v Moldova, Scotland v Croatia
Oct 14 Finland v Croatia, Georgia v Scotland
Oct 18 Croatia v Georgia, Luxembourg v Finland, Moldova v Scotland

Our extra problem is that right now Scotland are #2, and by the arcane UEFA formula, since some groups are five teams and some six, only results against the top five count, so Scotland are actually 8th of the nine second placed teams. Even if we overhaul them, will it be enough to qualify for the playoff?

Briefly back in the world of club football, AC Milan have been rated slightly higher odds than us to win the ECC - and we're in the same group!!! 6-1; 7-1; then R.Madrid 10-1; Arsenal, At.Madrid and Bayern 11-1.

So now a crucial home fixture for the Finnish qualification effort: Moldova. They're better than Luxembourg, so this one should count into 2nd-place-team record and goal difference, should those come into play. That means we can't just hope to squeak a 1-0 win, we need to put some goals on the board - and of course, we MUST have the three points. If Croatia can win in Glasgow over Scotland we'd be clear 2nd, but still with our second fixture v. Croatia to come. One step at a time, that's next month!

International Match: Finland - Moldova (UEFA World Cup Qual Group 3 )
Score: 3-0 (Hakola 18, Puustinen 31, Toivio 45)
Group Position: 3rd (gd behind Croatia and Scotland)
Summary: Madcap start, as rain sheets down in Helsinki, Roman Eremenko gives away a penalty in the first minute, but Lehtovaara saves it. We have some chances, then Ojala has to come out injured. Very difficult header from Hakola has just drifted over the keeper and in and we're up 1-0 in the 18th. More needed... We're actually taking a lot of risks here. Lehtovaara makes another great save, this one from a free kick. Puustinen scores on a difficult break, he's been knocked down, gotten up, run down the pass, and battled through a couple of tough challenges. Some play. Is this our new striker? It's some wild stuff, and a third goal before the break comes from a corner, Toivio heading home. So far so good, even though we've missed some first half opportunities, and can't cash in one early in the 2nd. Goodness, what a header off Puustinen, and what a marvelous save by the Moldova keeper. Sparv is unlucky to hit the bar on a free kick, then misses a shot from distance. In the end it's a match we've dominated, but I would have hoped for more than the 3-0. A spanner in the works... Scotland beat Croatia at home 1-0, and now it's a log jam. We're all three level on points for 1st with 17, but this looks like it could hurt us: with a match left against Croatia, Scotland, whom we'd caught, might cruise back by us if we don't get maximum points v. Croatia. So we may end up going to the last round needing help from Georgia (who are at Croatia) or more improbably, from Moldova (who are home to Scotland).

Salaheddine Naciri takes a fairly serious injury off on international duty in Africa, he'll be out until near the end of the year (not season, but calendar 2017) with a hip problem.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
Score: 3-2 (Vida 3, Kiessling 21, Bender 26 - Zubar 58, Jucilei 61)
League Position: 1st (GD over Kaiserslautern, pending Sunday matches)
Summary: Tuesday is ECC day, so we get to think a bit about lineups and rotation. Hoffenheim haven't made the greatest start to the season, but they're expected to be good, media pick for 3rd, so no cakewalk here. Castro free kick, Vida header, it's 1-0 in the 3rd minute. Kiessling has come close on a long shot, turned aside by the keeper, then the corner is headed off the crossbar and the break is on the other way. We deal with that one, and Kiessling is just denied again. Then Schürrle. We've looked very sharp for 12 minutes, keep it up, lads! We do, and after a couple of sequences a superb pass from Biglia leaves it easy for Kiessling to score the 2nd. Corner time... Bender!!!! Apparently this international break hasn't sapped our momentum. We've got nothing like the same enthusiasm in the second half, and by the hour mark, Zubar has pulled one back heading in a corner. Pretty soon it's 3-2 when Jucilei bends in a shot, we're in danger of blowing this one now. A tactical substitution, bringing in two more central midfielders and dispensing with the wingers, mostly sorts things out and there should have been a 4th goal but we don't get it.

Bayern stunningly drop points, 0-0 home draw to Stuttgart. Thanks! It's even one more goal of goal difference for us despite us taking a 3-0 lead that could have been an utter rout and turning it into a narrow 3-2 win. Let's not pretend I was happy with that.

CSKA... we've beaten them already, and now it's a home tie, I expect a big result with a more favored side.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - CSKA Moscow (ECC Group A )
Score: 3-0 (Vazquez pen 25, pen 43, Botia 53)
Group Position: 2nd (g.d. behind AC Milan)
Summary: We've had a lot of the ball early, but not much result until we earn a penalty due to a hand ball by Kanu (not "the" Kanu, some of these Brazilian names get reused a fair bit). Vazquez has put the spot kick in. Wait a minute, there's another penalty given, this one looks harsh. Vazquez drills this one in as well. We're close to a third goal, but it doesn't come until after the break when Botia heads in a corner. After this, the quality drops off, and the 3-0 win is convincing, but less than the 4-0 win AC Milan record, so we're in second in the group.

62,440 attend, breaking the previous record of 59.357, and with the inflated ECC prices, a new gate receipts record.

Match: 1.FSV Mainz 05 - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-2 (Derdiyok 62, Schürrle 79)
League Position: 1st (pending Sunday matches)
Summary: We've got some chances, but our former backup keeper Fabian Giefer knows us too well, and it's all gone by the wayside. Finally, Derdiyok heads in a corner just past the hour mark. We've had pretty poor conversion of chances, but then we get some luck, a shot by Derdiyok is pushed by the keeper in the direction of Schürrle, who finishes it off. The 2-0 is not really reflective of the lever of dominance we've had. We're waiting for Sunday results for a few top sides - Kaiserslautern, Dortmund, Bayern, Wolfsburg, to know what the table looks like. A Bayern win leaves them 2nd, not much surprise in the table after just six rounds.

Match: SVW Mannheim - Bayer Leverkusen (German Cup 2nd Rnd)
Score: 0-4 (Pool 2, Dieye 12, 38, Kiessling 70)
Summary: We've decided on major attack mode for this one, and Jordy Pool is broken loose and scores in the 2nd minute. Babacar Dieye's header off a corner caps a ridiculous spell of domination, through 11.5 minutes, we've had the ball 85%. Dieye's first Leverkusen senior goal! Dieye bangs in a second off a free kick, that's in the 38th minute and honestly we should have several more by now. First half shots are 18-1, passing 82% to 48%, 71% possession. Dominant. Keep going? Mares has a sure goal when the keeper comes out of nowhere and snatches it out of the air. Pool's through and misses, this is getting silly. Kiessling gets an opening and loops it in, nice from a sub appearance. Some rather sleepy looking play at the end, and some players who had a chance to make a big impression and really didn't, but an easy enough win (4-0, shots 32-2).

We've really got a tremendous record in the German Cup now. We've recorded 20 match wins in a row and won the cup five times in seven seasons. For the third round, there are actually five non-Bundesliga sides left, not too bad. The matchups, with a * for the non-D1 sides:

Bayern - Aachen
Hoffenheim - Nurnberg
Ahlen * - Furth
Leverkusen - Bochum *
Schalke - 1860 Munchen *
Wolfsburg - Aue *
Koblenz * - Stuttgart
Köln - Hertha BSC

We've got history with Bochum, who've spent plenty of time in the first division. We've not lost to them in 10 matches, but they have managed two draws

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - VfL Wolfsburg
Score: 2-0 (Rafael 54, Schürrle 63)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We've started this one on fire, slowed down a bit by an injury to Vazquez but then energized again by a tracer bullet shot from Derdiyok to get the lead. Wait... they've found a fictitious offside? We've also lost another goal to an apparently incorrect call, and while the half was pretty much dominant, there's absolutely nothing to show for it. Takes a while in the second half, but finally a rush sees Rafael fire in through traffic, and the keeper can't see it well enough to stop. His first Leverkusen goal, a little less time coming than Dieye's last match! Benaglio drops a cross he's gotten to, and Schürrle happily bangs the mistake home. Substitute Kiessling has missed to rather easy looking chances. Troost hits the bar. Snake-bit today, shots end up 24-6, but a lot of missed chances. We could have scored more, though it's a clear win - and to illustrate the issue, Bayern destroy Nurnberg 7-0 and take over the goal difference advantage. We're still two points up on them though.

End of Month Table Summary (7 pld):
Table Summary (7 pld)
1. Leverkusen 19
2. Bayern 17
3. Dortmund 15
4. Kaiserslautern 13 +4
5. Wolfsburg 13 +2
6. Karlsruhe 13 +1
14. Nurnberg 5
15. Werder Bremen 4 -7
16. Köln 4 -11
17. Hertha Berlin 3
18. Mainz 2

€1.1m loss. Turnover €12.4m down from €13.3m; expenditure €13.5m down from €13.9m.
October 2017

Monthly Results
Brøndbyernes Idrætsforening 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group A ) (Derdiyok 90+1)
Hertha BSC Berlin 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Thygesen 77 - Bustos 18, Derdiyok 20, Troost 42)
Bayer Leverkusen 4-1 Werder Bremen (Derdiyok 24, Troost 41, 54, 86 - Salamon 71)
AC Milan 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group A ) (Kiessling 46, Bustos 57)
VfB Stuttgart 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Derdiyok 80)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 VfL Bochum (German Cup 3rd Rnd) (Troost 21, 46 - Messaoudi 73)

International Results
Finland 1-0 Croatia (UEFA World Cup Qual Group 3) (R.Eremenko 51)
Luxembourg 0-2 Finland (UEFA World Cup Qual Group 3) (Schuller 27, Sadik 43)

Match: Brøndbyernes Idrætsforening - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group A)
Score: 0-1 (Derdiyok 90+1)
Group Position: 1st
Summary: The game starts in frustrating manner, and continues so. In the beginning we had all of the ball, but that dried up, and when we made a chance we couldn't do anything with it. Schürrle hitting the inside of the post just past the hour was the closest we'd come. It's into stoppage time before the pressure we put on a tired Danish side pays off, as sub Derdiyok makes a bunch of the play and gets a return pass he's able to turn and score on. Heartbreak for the Danish side who thought they'd secured a point against the champions of Europe. I'm unhappy with the performance, but we still benefit, as Milan have stumbled worse than us: they've lost 1-0 in Moscow, so we're three points clear two rounds in.

Match: Hertha BSC Berlin - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-3 (Thygesen 77 - Bustos 18, Derdiyok 20, Troost 42)
League Position: 1st
Summary: I'm a little frustrated as we seem to be on and off recently. Which team is showing up today? Derdiyok does one of his plays where he goes right around the defender in the first minute, but the shot is over. A promising break seems to have nothing really wrong, but at a string of passes are all lateral, not forward so as a result it fizzles as a break. Bustos does take a crack which drifts, and hits the post; a quarter hour in it looks like the side that have shown up are the "struggle on the road" side like we saw in Denmark. But we get a bit of luck a few minutes later, a ball is poked away from Troost right into the path of Bustos and he slots it in. Now it's Derdiyok out in front and he scores, a quick pair have changed to complexion of this one completely. Hertha waste a chance with Cisse through but putting the ball wide. Troost runs a defender silly, and for a change, drills his shot in. 3-0 at the break. The foot comes off the gas completely the second half, despite the half-time talk, and Hertha are eventually rewarded off a lovely shot by Ramos. In the end, that costs us in the goal difference race: Bayern win 3-0 and are now +25 while we're +21.

So we'll go to the international break in 1st place. Picking the Finland squad is a tough job this time, and in the end our promising striker Mattias Karlsson is dropped, he's not played well since my first match in charge, and at his new club in Greece he's gotten no playing time at all, so he's really out of form.

We have some club injury problems now, Bender is injured and will miss a month while Vida has taken a more serious knock (a lower back stress fracture) and will be out closer to two months. That causes some re thinking on the back line. Where the first choice pair is Vida and Botia, with Vida able to consume important minutes at left back and defensive midfielder too. Winter is the logical replacement and we won't drop off much technically, but Vida is one of the club's top leaders. With Vida he'll clearly be missed. With Bender... somehow, I've never managed to find the situation where this player can thrive. He's got the skills, and I feel like some of the blame may lie with me that he's not blossomed into one of the German stars.

So here it is for Finland. The chance to qualify for the World Cup finals is within the grasp of the team, although it will require tremendous performance over the next two matches - and maybe over a playoff tie as well. It would be a massive honor to get there, as it would be quite unexpected. Footballing quality is not really sufficient, there's not really top-level talent around since some of the most prominent players of the previous generation hung up their boots. The Eremenko brothers are the main bridge to that group - but this group has already exceeded that one in even being in position to qualify for a finals this late in the game. Sometimes it works like this in football, you can pull something off that maybe is not completely justified. It's not like I want to pass up the chance, but I don't want players, association, or nation to see it as any kind of failure if it doesn't come off.

International Match: Finland - Croatia (UEFA World Cup Qual Group 3)
Score: 1-0 (R.Eremenko 51)
Group Position: 2nd (one goal of g.d behind Scotland)
Summary: It's a wild first half, way more open than I'd expect. On a world scale, we don't have a supremely talented bunch of defenders, but they've still managed a really good defensive record this qualifying tourney. So somehow, though Croatia show their superiority, and we fluff the few lines we have, it's still scoreless at the break. Oh! Roman Eremenko! Cleans the fullback of a sloppy ball and goes in on goal, it's a long run but nobody gets to him and he's scored it!!! We've cashed in a mistake, an entirely individual play by Eremenko, and have a lead in the 54th. Absolutely magical goal, poor Barbaric the victim. Hamalainen has a bit of a chance to score, he's come clear but can't beat the keeper. There will be no fingernails left after this one. Just over 10 minutes to go... Mandžukić has some space but puts it wide. Raitala heads clear a shot from a corner that was going in. Here come Croatia again... Modrić lofts it over with under 8 minutes left of the 90. Some really good defensive heading going on from the Finns, and Strnic has had to take down Eremenko in the open field to prevent a break. 3 1/2 minutes... 3, a Croatia shot, their 22nd, floats over. Three minutes stoppage, it's all in the Finland end, Croatia know their World Cup hopes are in trouble. Delac is up in the play, sends it back in. Final whistle!!! Finland steal it!!! What a snatch and grab... We've managed to play enough possession to have 51% of the ball, but a poor 67% passing is indicative of the uphill climb we always have with this group of players - and of the degree to which Croatia have disrupted everything. They've made 20 fouls to our 13 which added to the disruption. Final shots are 13(5) - 23(9). Croatia have had at least four plays on which they should have scored, by the statistical sheet. They dominated in the air, 84% headers won to our 42%. But... it's our three points. As I said after the Scotland match, this is not exactly my preferred style, but there's not a lot of talent to work with, and while the defensive talent has produced a superb record - only one goal conceded in nine - the offensive talent has not gelled to produce more than "just barely enough".

So where does this leave us? Table:
1. Scotland 9 pld, 6-2-1, 13gf, 2ga, +11, 20 pts
2. Finland 9 pld, 6-2-1, 11gf, 1ga, +10, 20 pts
3. Croatia 9 pld, 5-2-2, 21gf, 3ga, +18, 17 pts

We finish away at bottom side Luxembourg, who naturally have suddenly found a bit of form, winning 2-0 at Moldova for their first points of the qualifiers. The Scots are at Moldova who are now just above Luxembourg (5 pts to 3). And Croatia finish off hosting Georgia, who sit in the middle of the pack. Croatia are in trouble: they lose on the head-to-head consideration against either us or Scotland, having in both cases lost the away tie and drawn at home. But they will have the goal difference advantage on either. We divided our pair with Scotland straight down the middle, each side winning 1-0 at home. So, our best route is to win in Luxembourg by a big margin, then there are no questions. If we finish second, we're safe: though we're done playing for the 2nd placed teams table, we now top it and only Sweden can mathematically pass us there.

Recent results have seen Finland up to 26th in FIFA rankings. France retain the top spot; Brazil #2, Italy #3, Mexico #4, Spain #5. Germany are 7th. So, if we're free for November, we've got friendlies v. the world #1 and world #7. Ouch!

International Match: Luxembourg - Finland (UEFA World Cup Qual Group 3)
Score: 0-2 (Schuller 27, Sadik 43)
Group Position: 1st (Winner - qualified for Finals !!!)
Summary: It's tough to say how to play this. A draw assures us a spot in the playoff, but playoff means the risk that we still have to play another very good side. A big win and we've got a chance to avoid the playoff entirely, but taking chances could cause us to stumble and lose out completely. Luxembourg... am I even talking about a draw? We must be able to do better than that, surely! It takes a while to build anything dangerous, it's a well worked sequence which finds Schuller in some space and his long shot skips under the keeper, 22nd minute. A mostly ineffective Berat Sadik suddenly gets active in the waning minutes of the half, turning for one shot, found and volleying a second (with the flag up) and finally getting his goal as a keeper clearance was headed back into the zone and Sadik just put in more effort to reach the ball and get off a shot. At the break we're sitting comfortably with a 2-0 lead - and we're also aware that Scotland are trailing 2-0 at Moldova! Qualification is well in our grasp now without having to go to a playoff, unless Scotland stage a stirring comeback. We just need to consolidate, so I'm a little irritated - not too much! - that the second half opens with a couple of very speculative very long shots, let's keep the ball a little better. Sadik looks to have a chance but the entry ball doesn't land quite right for him and he has to dive forward to head it, easy for the keeper in the end. Only 15 minutes left now. Alexey Eremenko should have capped it in stoppage, but shoots wide. It's done, 2-0 win, and Scotland have lost 2-1. We've certainly not overwhelmed the group minnows, who indeed have clearly improved recently - on the defensive side, they had little in attack - but then our attack doesn't exactly terrorize other sides . But it's a good solid game, we have a big edge in shots, controlled possession, and passed better. The attack mostly was without teeth, only four (of 15) shots on target. Whatever - job done. We've won the group and qualified for the World Cup finals!

What in the world has happened to the last day? I couldn't see Scotland losing but they did, and Croatia have stumbled one more time, drawing 0-0 at home to Georgia. Croatia have handled 2017 very poorly. They opened with a 1-0 win at Georgia in March, certainly less offensive production than they'd expect. They followed that with the scoreless draw at home to Finland in the first of the June matches. The ship looked to be back on course with a 6-0 win over Moldova in the second June match. Worrying signs with only 1-0 over Iceland in an August friendly. The September break began with an "adequate" 2-0 over Luxembourg, again the goal scoring was a worry as it had been now in four of the year's five matches, then it got much worse with the 0-1 in Glasgow. October brought 0-1 in Helsinki and by now the confidence must have tanked, 0-0 to Georgia when they could have snatched the 2nd-placed qualifying spot with a decent win (although they were not to know that at the start of the match, when one would have predicted a Scotland win). It's not a surprise to see the Croatia coach given his exit immediately after. The lads honestly are capable of much better, there's no question in my mind, having coached the side not so long ago, that the talent way exceeds that of Scotland or Finland. Yeah, the coach gets the blame for such things, but the players have to play.

You know, I'd like to soak in a special accomplishment - international management doesn't give you the same ability to tinker, you can't buy players where you're weak for example and you have so much less time with the lads, so it's very different feeling to have success here than with the club. But the lot of the coach... there's no such chance. If you win a major competition, which tends to come in the break between seasons, you have some time to celebrate. If you win the qualifier for a major competition, you don't get to. Everyone is off back to clubs, and so am I. Finland's World Cup was actually about qualifying for the finals, anything more is a bonus. The list of Finnish international honors was previously: runner up in the European U19's in 1975. And that is seriously the whole list. We've gotten here by simply being solid and keeping other sides under pressure. The thing that's clicked is the pairing of our two central/holding midfielders, captain Tim Sparv (58 caps, of Hertha Berlin the last four seasons) and Rasmus Schuller (32 caps, of Kaiserslautern the last four seasons). With Juhani Ojala, my old Hibernian find (42 caps, now of Genoa for the second year) anchoring the back like, the Finns have clicked defensively to rack up the the second best record in the qualifying tournament, conceding only one goal. How this happens I still can't explain. As a contrast: 13 goals for, one conceded (in this very competitive group, Scotland were 14/4, Croatia 21/3 and Georgia 7/8) while high flying France won group A with 38 for, 0 conceded; Italy group B with 32 for, 3 conceded; group 5 winner Spain was 32/4; Group 7 winner Portugal 37/6. So let's say we're a long long way from the scoring exploits of the top clubs.

What it has been, besides exhilarating, is one of the most exhausting short periods I've had in coaching. Getting back to Leverkusen is going to be a bit of a battle. And there's no time to catch my breath, we have a horror stretch of seven matches in three weeks and a day (until the next international break), which includes playing AC Milan twice and Borussia Dortmund. And we're going into that stretch not at the fullest of fitness, right at a point where you want to use your depth for rotation. We're not exactly short of players, but Vida, Bender, Walker, Naciri and Biglia are all out injured, and after the break, Derdiyok (of group-winning Switzerland), Kadlec (of playoff-qualified Czech Republic) and Dieye (of ACN-qualifying group leader Senegal) come back pretty tired.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Werder Bremen
Score: 4-1 (Derdiyok 24, Troost 41, 54, 86 - Salamon 71)
League Position: 1st
Summary: On one hand you'd say we've started very brightly, on the other hand you might point out that's led to Derdiyok and then Troost shooting completely wildly. Troost does have a moment of brilliance in winning a ball far out left, then putting in a cross that we botch. The signs are ominous as the ball keeps flying over the goal - way over - but then there's Eren Derdiyok, he's slipped into space and scored after Sam finds him. I'm not very pleased with the side as we pass the half hour... we're dominating a Werder Bremen side who's started the season very poorly, and I'm happy we're doing that at least, but the shooting has been terrible, the shot choices have been quite poor, and our passing hasn't been up to normal standards. Oh, Troost is going to get behind on a lofted long ball, can he score? I think he's tapped it for Derdiyok but he follows the ball himself and it's been enough to get around the keeper and score. Hmmm, the 2-0 persuades me from being as critical at the half as I would have been, and silly me, of course then we come out flat and Werder are suddenly energised. But we do get another goal from Troost, a pin-point low cross from Sam who's been excellent. Probably a reaction to competition since Rafael has been the clear first choice this year. Still, Werder have had good sequences, their timing isn't quite right as two scoring situations blunted by offside on the final pass. Adler can't quite catch a 30-yarder from Salamon, it's off hands, off post, and just down inside the line. We've just give up too many oddball goals that shouldn't be, most, like this one, haven't hurt the match outcome, but they count in the goal difference story, and I guess are an indication of a few late concentration problems. Troost has an easy chance for his hat trick, but completely mis-hits it. Another indication. Once more he has a chance, and this time he's sealed it! We get more help: Bayern draw 1-1 at home to Kaiserslautern. Maybe it's just that last year was special magic for them? We've closed the goal difference gap to 1, should it eventually come to that.

Facing AC Milan is going to be an odd feeling for me. This is a club I was not far from managing. We'd agreed a deal and from my viewpoint they got unreasonable. I'm sure they think, especially those not in the know, like the fans, that I was the one being unreasonable. We were all set, but they demanded that I quit Leverkusen and come take over there before the Champions Cup final. I'm sorry, they could have waited less than a week longer, and let me fulfill where I'd brought my team to that season. But they wouldn't budge, and withdrew their offer when I wouldn't. Milan have some wonderful players, as individuals I think they're maybe stronger than they were a few years ago when I was set to join them. Silverware has been eluding them, they won Europe in 2007, Serie A not since 2004. The Italian Cup has been in there twice since then, in 2011 and 2014. Sitting 3rd in this early part of the season, already a bit of a gap to the top two who are Napoli and Inter - both are four points clear with a game in hand.

Interesting little development, Croatia have approached me about coming back as coach, with Drazen Ladic tossed out on his ear as mentioned. Flattering on one level; but I've taken my ancestral home country to a World Cup finals for their first time ever, I'd leave to take over a national team that missed out? I hope they understand there's no malice or anything involved in declining, but I have to say I don't get why they bothered to ask. If circumstances were different maybe.

We're starting to hit a somewhat familiar problem, players whom I can't keep in top form. Dante, Pamić and Reale are really out of match form, and Mares is slipping a bit too. For these four, I can't get them matches in Leverkusen II even when the matches are friendlies, since the rules just don't seem to allow the older players. I miss the reserve system of England, you can get anyone in. Scotland too, excepting that they don't have a reserve league as such, and it's devilish hard to get matches scheduled there... but at least anyone can play.

Staff insists Milan don't play well against the combination of 4-3-1-2 formation, high line, slow tempo, narrow width. I do tend to listen to the guys, but some of that is not part of how we play normally, so it seems worth a moment again to reflect... We're a decent passing squad, but also an opportunistic one. I can't count, and readers will probably agree, the number of times a long ball has had one of our forwards just blow away the defense and score. I don't understand if there's any criticism of that, taking advantage of opportunities is what the game is all about. Indeed usually if we get criticism, it's for the opposite, we'll hear an opposing manager say we'd be "better off if they didn't try to walk the ball into the net". Usually the manager who says this has been beaten 4-1 or some such. If you play slow you pretty much have to play short, slow with long balls just doesn't make sense, because you can't catch anyone napping that way. High line... we usually only do that against weaker teams, we're not an incredibly good side at pressing, which you have to do if you're going to attack and play high line. So the instructions become something you really have to think about, balancing squad strengths with opponent weaknesses.

Match: AC Milan - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group A)
Score: 0-2 (Kiessling 46, Bustos 57)
Group Position: 1st
Summary: It's an incredibly tough first half. Romo saves from Troost about five minutes in, but it wasn't really that dangerous. Then tougher off Kiessling, then tougher still off Rafael. We keep some pressure on but by 15 minutes the tide has turned, and it's Nowak being called into action several times. It's scoreless at the break, but Milan have had the better of it. Vazquez comes off at the half, he hasn't been great but it's a physical issue, he's been banged a couple of times and is just struggling more than I want. Brice Kayembe gets a nice high-profile appearance for us. I challenge Kiessling, whom I know is capable of it, to lead us forward and do something special. And he links with Rafael and scores a goal 33 seconds in. Wouldn't it be nice if we could always have such immediate responses to a move? We'd look like utter geniuses :) What incredible movement by Troost, in the end he can't get a shot but the ball has come for Bustos and it's an easy finish as he's behind the keeper. Papasthatopoulos the unfortunate who had it clip off him as Bustos wasn't going to go anywhere off the first touch, but running on for the second go it was golden. A little sloppy in the back and it's come off one of our players and Honda is clear, but Nowak is out for a great save. Milan have had their chances but been off target with most. With less than 15 minutes a chance comes for Bentner, he fires but it slides just wide. Thing is, we've left a number of chances on the table too, but we're the away side so for the moment it's good. It's getting a little sloppy, now Sanogo's off free, that's got no result, then he has another go wide. We have to adjust a bit. Oh, wrong choice for Troost, we've got a sudden break and as Troost is getting closed in on, Kiessling is coming clear, but instead it's a weak long distance shot that causes the keeper no trouble. Head up, lad... That's a nice team show, for sure, despite Milan out-shooting us.

Match: VfB Stuttgart - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-1 (Derdiyok 80)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Nasty weather in Stuttgart, it's right at freezing and sleet is coming down. I'm trying to see if 4-2-3-1 is a way to work these away matches. That's roughly what we did in Milan, too. Bustos has started extremely well, he's operating at will in the middle, but has missed his two early shots. The next foray he gives it to Derdiyok who blasts but it's well saved by Ulreich. Winter's headed corner is just caught by the foot of the post man, then Bustos sets up Derdiyok who shoots wide. Rafael is standing in the right place for a loose ball to find him and shoots weakly. So far 35 minutes of considerable frustration. Make it 45. The weather has gotten worse over the break, it's really coming down now. Finally, we've gotten a goal in the 80th minute, some mad stuff happening around the net and it's eventually come free for Derdiyok who has the easiest of tap-ins. In the end I'm not incredibly impressed, but 1-0 away wins in the Bundesliga you can at least call "productive". Stuttgart seemed to tackle the ball away from our players an awful lot as the match progressed, I'm not sure the full concentration was there. Bustos really tailed off after a hot beginning, and we eventually substituted him.

In Finland, a league I don't play a lot of attention to since the level of play is fairly low, Oulu have won the title. The manager, Mika Lehkosuo has taken them to their first title in their 15th year of existence, and I have some suspicions he's going to be my successor in the national team when the time comes.

Strangely, Bayern draw again on Sunday. We'll end the month with a 6-point lead!

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - VfL Bochum (German Cup 3rd Rnd)
Score: 2-1 (Troost 21, 46 - Messaoudi 73)
Summary: We've got a side containing a number of "backups", but not as many as I would have used if the timing fell a little better - the injured players just aren't ready yet (Naciri is back in training, the others are not), and with the restriction on non-EU players choices are constrained. Okay, what's going on here? Bochum aren't that bad, though they're a level down this season. We're all over them early but it won't go in: four good saves by their keeper in the first 11 minutes (including a penalty!), and two more off the woodwork. Troost scoots through which he seems to be able to do with ease and puts one home, I thought the shot had missed, good job. After the goal, the players look like they lost interest, letting Bochum play much better. In fact by the break, they've had 61% of the ball, unacceptable for us in any home match, much less against a side below our league. Our passing is very bad. Just after the break, though, Kadlec puts it in the middle and Bochum don't have the quality to deal with Troost who makes a move or two and puts it in, that should never happen to be honest. Kadlec gets in Nowak's way as he goes to punch a free kick, and the ball plops like a gift to Messaoudi who scores. We do see it out, a little more life in the end when it got tight again, the desired result but nothing to be proud of. For us. Bochum can take a lot of pride in their fighting spirit.

End of Month Table Summary (10 pld):
1. Leverkusen 28
2. Bayern 22
3. Dortmund 21 +10
4. Aachen 21 -3
5. Schalke 19
6. Wolfsburg 18 +5
7. Karlsruhe 18 +3
15. Mainz 6
16. Nurnberg 5 -13
17. Köln 5 -15
18. Hertha Berlin 3

€5.55m loss. Turnover €8.16m down from €12.4m. Expenses €13.72m up from €13.51m.
November 2017

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 7-1 Borussia Dortmund (Troost 6, 27, 32, Botia 14, Schürrle 17, Bustos 22, 85 - Santana 55)
Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 AC Milan (ECC Group A) (Derdiyok 32)
1.FC Nurnberg 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Derdiyok 25, Schürrle 46, Sam 78)
Bayer Leverkusen 5-0 1.FC Koln (Rafael 2, Derdiyok 41, 47, pen 81, 88)
CSKA Moscow 2-5 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group A) (Botia o.g. 67, Payet 81 - Bustos 3, Derdiyok 37, 56, pen 89, Kiessling 72)

International Results:
Germany 2-1 Finland (Friendly) (Schroder 7, 50 - Puustinen 76)
France 2-0 Finland (Friendly) (Koscielny 43, Gourcuff 61)

We'll open November by hosting Dortmund. This match has some significance on several different levels. Dortmund were the last club to beat us in a competitive match, there have been 27 unbeaten in all competitions since then. And, Dortmund are a serious competitor for the title if they can keep their pace up and we don't keep rolling.

The next round of the cup sees these matchups: Stuttgart v Furth, Leverkusen v Wolfsburg, Köln v Hoffenheim, Schalke v Bayern. Wolfsburg are a team we've done pretty well against, an 11-3-1 record in the last 15.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Borussia Dortmund
Score: 7-1 (Troost 6, 27, 32, Botia 14, Schürrle 17, Bustos 22, 85 - Santana 55)
League Position: 1st
Summary: This ought to be the first sellout since the increased capacity. It's not made easier knowing Milan arrive in just three days, but this is too important here. We start out a little cautiously against dangerous Dortmund. The passing is good and well thought out, and Troost sees a chance, he steps around a guy and heads towards the goal, putting in a difficult shot, so we take the early lead. And double it inside the 15th minute as Troost puts a bending free kick in the air and Botia heads home at the far post. Excellent start! And it gets more magical, Schürrle has potted the third in the 17th minute as Bustos interrupted Dortmund buildup and sent it the other way, catching Dortmund heading the wrong direction. Now it's Derdiyok getting clear, he puts his shot at the keeper but Bustos was trailing and he finishes it off. Wow. Miracle pass springs Troost and he's scored again. And #3 just past the half hour. Seriously, it's 6-0 a half hour in vs. the third-best side in the league! There's no more before the break, although hints of it as two balls go into the side netting. In the second half, though, the magic is gone, and so is the clean sheet when Felipe Santana heads in a corner near-post, we failed to cover that to my expectations. The half progresses, by the end we're starting to look more fluid again, and Troost sets up Bustos for his 2nd, Troost has been involved in most of the goals. In fact, the final stat line is three goals, three assists. Some performance, team and Troost. And we did completely sell out.

Bayern win Sunday 3-1, so we lead them by six points in the table, +4 on goal difference, and +6 in goals scored. They still have an advantage of 2 in goals conceded.

The impressive show means we get six players into the team of the week, certainly a rare occurrence. And the statistical explosion now means Troost leads the league in scoring (9, level with Derdiyok) and in assists (8, level with Dortmund's Vladimir Weiss), as well as best average rating (8.16). We knew he had the potential, it's why I've bought him twice, now it's a matter of keeping a high level of performance consistently. I know forwards are often "streaky".

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - AC Milan (ECC Group A)
Score: 1-0 (Derdiyok 32)
Group Position: 1st
Summary: This one goes pear-shaped fairly early, Troost trying to stretch too hard for a ball knocks down his man, and the referee over reacts by showing red. Seriously? Derdiyok's going to have to do this one on his own, and he makes a great start, coming out of the crowd to head home a free kick. Our second problem of the day is Winter has to come out with a knee injury. Down to 10 men I really needed to keep the subs for tired players. Seriously, Milan must be disappointed to have done so little in a first half where they played a man up for 25 minutes, only three futile shot attempts. Fortune smiles on us in a way at the hour mark: Sandro has tried to buy a foul against a once-cautioned Milan player, the referee isn't having it, and they're off to the races, the shot clanging off the post when it looked likely to go in. Milan have gradually taken over the ball control side of the equation as the half progresses, as you'd expect. The tireless Rafael misses, if he had his shooting in order he'd already be a superstar. Derdiyok is oh so close to heading in another free kick in the 84th, don't know how that was saved. Still work to be done... and almost undone, as Sanogo heads, it's just over Nowak but off the bar. Use the ball wisely now lads... and we've done it. Some good play by Vazquez after he dropped back into Winter's center back spot. Nice team job making this one three points after the early setback. CSKA have skunked Brondby and are at the moment a nice solid 2nd on 9 points, Milan have a job to qualify, they must definitely win both their remaining matches. We, however, are already guaranteed to be through.

Winter's injury is not as bad as it could be, you always worry when it's a knee. He's strained ligaments, not worse, but he'll be out 5-6 weeks. It will take a little thought how to replace him as the physios think the man he's mainly replacing, Domagoj Vida, will be out three more weeks. We have the experienced but "losing a bit" Dante, we have the young enthusiastic Dieye, we have players who aren't natural center backs but can play it fine such as Vazquez, Bender, Walker, Kadlec. And we have young reserve players who could maybe get a chance - Melzer, Christ, Bubic. Really, it's almost too many choices! Including the club world cup, Winter misses probably 10 games, and we have Vida hopefully back for the last few of that.

There were some fairly big wins in this round. After four rounds, in addition to us, Liverpool, Man City, OL and Bayern (also 4-0-0) are already through. The other German side, Shalke, are having a bit of a rough go of it, meaning we're still trailing Italy a bit for 3rd place for the next coefficient ranking.

Match: 1.FC Nurnberg - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-3 (Derdiyok 25, Schürrle 46, Sam 78)
League Position: 1st
Summary: It's a powerful start, but unlike the magical Dortmund match, things aren't going in - until Derdiyok pots on our 11th shot in the 25th minute. A bigger lead is denied by the crossbar, and a picture perfect passing sequence by the keeper's great save. It's not a lot of times we get 18 shots in the first half of an way match, so I'm pleased and displeased at the same time: why couldn't we finish one or two more? It takes 14 seconds of the 2nd to handle that, Derdiyok finds a charging Schürrle and his shot is true. A couple of substitutes are involved in the 3rd goal, Kiessling works the hardest, then his layoff to Schürrle (a starter) finds the middle where Sam heads in. A deflected Kiessling shot almost goes in anyway, but we'll have to settle for the 3-0. Away win? That's fine. Winning streaks and unbeaten streaks go on. Bayern do the same at Hoffenheim, so nothing happens with the top two. After Sunday's matches, 3rd through 9th are separated by only three points, with four teams level on 21 for 3rd - which is 13 points behind us and 7 behind Bayern, already looks like only a two-team race.

International break time... for Finland I have to see about replacing Ojala and Schuller who are injured; and I need to work Karlsson back in the mix after I challenged him to get his club form up and he responded.

For Leverkusen, there's not as much involved. England have playoff v. Greece and Czech Republic v Scotland, so for the three players involved there, nail biting time.

Not to anybody's great shock, Troost gets a further two match ban, so he'll miss the next three ECC matches. Some kind of roller coaster, he had that monster game against Dortmund, then lasts just 20 minutes before a sending off against Milan. Normally, I'd have rested him, but I figured he deserved another go after the Dortmund match, as he didn't seem tired at all. Possibly my fault, but really it's a roll of the dice in these matters.

It seems I always keep a bit of an eye on the Chelsea job, and things fell apart there for Juan Carlos Garrido as Chelsea go six without winning in the league (0-4-2) and he gets the chop. In years past it seems my name would come up, but no mention this time. The Blues have sunk to 11th. David Moyes is installed as the press favorite, he's had a couple of stints in Italy (a year at Juventus and eight months at Palermo) after ending his 13 year run at Everton. I guess you could say his star has dimmed a little.

The first friendly should be a pretty interesting one. It's made less so by a quirk, Germany have no players I recognize.

International Friendly: Germany - Finland
Score: 2-1 (Schroder 7, 50 - Puustinen 76)
Summary: Well, it's simple, especially in a friendly, we can't give up an early goal to the FIFA #5 club in the world, when they're playing at home, but that's what we've done. And it was some defensive shoddiness, a ball bouncing off Ojala's replacement Moisander, that led to the goal. We play well on some levels for the rest of the half, if you count 60% of the ball with no chances as playing well. There's finally a possibility when Hakola puts in a teasing cross, but Porokara can't get to it on the other side. The second German goal comes even earlier in the 2nd half. Can't get anything generated... finally a chance for Hamalainen, but nothing doing. Finally, a little stuff starts to work, and Jami Puustunen scores. My mood is not improved when Sparv goes out injured. And yet, we almost snatch the draw, a nifty little sequence and Hamalainen blasts a shot, side netting. We're outshot 21-5 for the match.

Playoffs round 1:
B&H 3-1 Sweden, Czech 2-3 Scotland, Greece 4-2 England, Turkey 1-0 Ireland.

And Moyes does get the Chelsea job. Good luck with that. He becomes the 7th manager since 2010, and there's only been one bit of silverware since that year, an FA cup in 2013. Only Manzano had anything more than a cursory run, consuming 30 months of that period and winning that cup.

International Friendly: France - Finland
Score: 2-0 (Koscielny 43, Gourcuff 61)
Summary: It's yet another reunion with the goalkeeper I recruited to the Hibernian project, Zacharie Boucher, who's now at Napoli (an opponent for Leverkusen this past spring) and has risen to the France #1 spot as well. France open well, Kabla has dinked a lovely pass forward for Tafer who should score, but with the keeper out to challenge he puts it wide. 14 minutes in, Sadik pinches a ball off a lazy defender but instead of challenging by going forward, he takes a fairly long shot. Boucher makes a good diving push on it, but it wasn't honestly that tough. We don't know at the time, but that will be the only time we test Boucher on target. A deflected shot falls favorably to Moilo, and Lehtovaara is called into action for a good stop. On the following corner Sakho heads over Lehtovaara - how can that happen? Keeper gets the arms raised! but the header is off the bar. After another France shot set up by a block falling favorably, Gourcuff steps in front of a pass and is off to the races. Lehtovaara fails to grab the cross and Tafer is there for the tap in - which he inexplicably puts off the post, and that caroms straight to the prone Lehtovaara. What a let-off! Tafer steps around his man and blasts, drawing a superb save. Gourcuff again, cross finds Tafer centrally and he blasts, but Lehtovaara again. That could have been three for Tafer in just a few minutes, but we're still hanging in there. Gourcuff again steps in front of a lazy pass and goes to goal, his shot is just wide. Tafer looks like he's set up Moilo but finally a good defensive play as Raitala breaks it up and clears. I think maybe we'll survive to the break but then on a free kick, Koscielny comes clear and heads in cleanly, 43rd min. In the 2nd, Moilo is wide with a shot Lehtovaara wouldn't have gotten, then hits the post. In the 60th minute any remaining luck expires, Remy out wide (all alone) crosses in where Gourcuff has somehow made acres of space right in front and he blasts home to put it out of reach. There's not much more, the final part of the game has a lot of subs on, Lehtovaara does have to make a couple more good saves, plus another where Remy was offside anyway so it doesn't go on the stats sheet.

Well, that was disappointing. We've kept the score to a respectable (on the surface) 2-0, but it was strictly no contest, one indication is we're outshot 24-3. I certainly wanted to see a little more fight from the lads, but maybe it's a reality check of what distance remains from us to the top. Maybe in hindsight we should have tried to go for easier matches instead.

It was still an important WC week, though not for us: in UEFA playoffs aggregate winners are Greece 4-2 over England, Turkey 2-1 over Ireland, Scotland 3-2 over Czech Republic, Bosnia & Herzegovina 5-2 over Sweden. All four losing coaches are sacked immediately. New Zealand have won over UAE 6-3, overcoming a 3-0 first-leg deficit. Colombia (including our former keeper Ospina) comprehensively knock out Honduras 4-0 on agg.

African qualifiers were Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco, Cameroon, Algeria. Asia send Saudi Arabia, Australia, South Korea and Japan and there really wasn't any contest there: all four qualifiers had 18 pts or more in the final stage, the next sides were 8 and 9 pts - UAE won that playoff handily over Oman, but were wiped out in the playoff with the Oceania side. North America send Mexico, Canada, Jamaica - USA finish an astonishing 5th in the six-team "hexagonal". South America sends Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and playoff winner Colombia. Oceania send playoff winner New Zealand. And to recap, Europe sends France, Italy, Finland (!), Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Holland, Ukraine, Scotland, Bos&Herz, Greece, Turkey. Russia are in as hosts. So the field is set for next summer, now we wait only for the draw.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FC Koln
Score: 5-0 (Rafael 2, Derdiyok 41, 47, pen 81, 88)
League Position: 1st
Summary: It's back to the league grind for Leverkusen. Seems like some of the importance has gone out of this on a competitive level, as we've just been so much better than them, and this year Koln are flirting with relegation as we near the halfway point in the season. Still, a goal comes quickly, Schürrle digging to put in a cross which is headed back into a scrum and Rafael finds the ball and pokes it in. Vazquez nearly makes it two just past the quarter hour - I was sure it was in, no idea how a ball in the side netting can behave that way. We're dominating all aspects of the match, and getting a good number of chances. The best since the Vazquez chance falls to Derdiyok when he shakes a defender, but Kessler comes up with a dramatic save. When the second goal comes it's clearly deserved and really easy for Derdiyok, who taps it in after the keeper saves from Bustos but leaves the ball out front. Kiessling finds Derdiyok to open the second half - we've scored inside two minutes of both halves! Montero takes the first decent looking shot for Koln (their third shot statistically) and it nearly bends in, staying just wide. A bit of a warning there. A combination from Fernandez to Schürrle to Bustos is spectacular looking football, but the finish doesn't beat the Koln keeper. Derdiyok looks set to score his third after a nifty pass in from the wing, but he seems to slip applying the finish. The referee thinks he had plenty of help in that, and points to the spot after a moment's thought. Fernandez, if he's in the game, would normally be the penalty taker, but Derdiyok's on a hat trick - and he completes it. Koln get into trouble in the back and Derdiyok, hustling, makes them pay all by himself, netting his fourth of the match! It's a 5-0 stroll over our local rivals, of course not all the 65,000 capacity crowd went home happy as there were a good number of Koln supporters, given the close proximity. Bayern win as well, although they had to work a lot harder. It's enough, though, to give them a new record, 37 games in a row in the league unbeaten, knocking us off the #1 spot. They last lost to Schalke 29 October 2016. If it wasn't for our killer 0-1 loss to Dortmund last April we'd be on 40 in a row, and would have won last season's title.

At 29, Derdiyok now seems to be at the absolute top of his game. He's scored 16 in 14 starts and one sub for club, and seven in seven for country.

England have offered me the job running one of the most prestigious (not, however, one of the most successful) national sides in the world. It's an interesting situation, to be sure: Finland have overachieved and don't have much chance in the World Cup finals, but I can't imagine how anyone thinks a coach with integrity would abandon a team they've gotten into the finals for another team which isn't in them. So not at this time.

Two of our longer term injuries, Domagoj Vida and German Biglia, are finally able to resume training.

The first club I managed, Hibernian, have seen my replacement Owen Coyle resign. Doesn't seem to be because they were doing terrible, although they technically sit 5th in the table, with a game in hand on top two clubs Celtic and Hibernian and only three points out they could draw level for the lead if they won that one. Just hours later we hear Coyle has taken the Republic of Ireland job. At the same time Celtic are looking for a new manager as well - that spot is filled by Paul Lambert.

Match: CSKA Moscow - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group A)
Score: 2-5 (Botia o.g. 67, Payet 81 - Bustos 3, Derdiyok 37, 56, pen 89, Kiessling 72)
Group Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: Off to Moscow for the penultimate Group A game. We haven't been winning that impressively in this competition, CSKA have in fact outscored us by four goals at this point. We had our biggest win of the European campaign against them, 3-0 in the opener, but that was at home. CSKA may still be harboring dreams of winning the group. The question now is whether to rest players or go with largely a front line group. We decide on the latter, in respect for the high importance our fans place on looking good in European competition. Vazquez is absolutely brilliant in getting us an opening goal, making moves to work in from the right side, then finally dump off to Bustos who is happy to finish. A fired up Vazquez nearly scores one from distance. Now it's Bustos with a dry, he's fired over. The first quarter hour has been excellent now, but Akinfeev has kept CSKA firmly in it if they can stabilise. Which they do. We look like we've got the second as Rafael volleys in a difficult cross, but the flag is up. Derdiyok heads in a corner, though, and we hold that 2-0 lead to the break. It's not a rout; CSKA have played well in stretches and have had some chances. We've picked up a third goal 10 minutes in, Rafael fires from the wing and Derdiyok has decisively redirected in from in front. Strange sequence shortly after, a long ball is looped forward, Nowak doesn't arrive in time, Payet steps around him - and misses the wide open net, and was flagged offside. A really good sequence of diagonal passing gets CSKA a goal, Nowak closed down the final shot but the ball ricocheted off Botia and in. Derdiyok manages a centering pass that Kiessling pokes in, I'd rate it a defensive mistake really. Derdiyok looks for the hat trick but hits the side netting. A little sloppy in the back and CSKA pick up a second goal, nobody moved to clear after Nowak made a good save. Good stuff gets Rafael a shot wide open, but he fires over. Scrum in the middle of the CSKA box, and the referee is pointing to the spot. Derdiyok nets, meaning he's scored seven in the last two matches. Nearly eight as he heads wide in stoppage.

End of Month Table Summary (13 pld):
1. Leverkusen 37
2. Bayern 31
3. Wolfsburg 24
4. Schalke 21 +8, 23gf
5. Kaiserslautern 21 +8, 19 gf
6. Dortmund 21 +2
7. Aachen 21 -10
15. Mainz 12
16. Koln 9
17. Hertha BSC 8
18. Nurnberg 6

A loss of €3.3m for the month; turnover €9.23m up from €8.16m;
expenses €12.53m down from €13.72m.
December 2017

Monthly Results
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)

Match: 1.FC Kaiserslautern - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-1 (Troost 3)
League Position: 1st
Summary: 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

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Brøndbyernes Idrætsforening (ECC Group A)
Score: 2-0 (Botia 11, Derdiyok 32)
Group Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: 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.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Borussia Mönchengladbach
Score: 4-0 (Vazquez pen 14, Troost 36, Rafael 85, Kiessling 90)
League Position: 1st
Summary: 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.

Match: Sydney FC - Bayer Leverkusen (Club World Championship Final - Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne, Australia)
Score: 4-0 (Pool 7, 11, Naciri 19, Fernandez 41)
Summary: 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.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Lanus (Club World Championship Final - Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne, Australia)
Score: 3-0 (Troost 13, 19, Derdiyok 26)
Summary: 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.

Match: Hamburger SV - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-1 (Privat 77 - Fernandez 62)
League Position: 1st
Summary: 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!

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - FC Bayern München
Score: 4-0 (Derdiyok 30, Schürrle 36, Botia 60, Vazquez pen 75)
League Position: 1st
Summary: 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.
January 2018

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 6-0 Karslruher SC (Schürrle 5, 62, Rafael 18, Troost 50, 73, Vazquez pen 57)
TSV Alemannia Aachen 0-4 Bayer Leverkusen (Botia 29, Bustos 46, Derdiyok 69, 76)

Some interesting stuff as year-2017 honors are announced. Gonzalo Castro and Marijn Troost have been named - as starters - in the world team of the year. Very very mysterious, as neither have been full-time starters for the whole year by any means. Derdiyok and Adler are substitutes. Troost is also European striker of the year !?!? Adler second behind Joe Hart for European keeper, Castro second behind Pique for defender.

We've completed the sale of Enzo Reale to Sampdoria. A player who never found a regular place here, but I hope he develops into a good player, he still has the potential. He says he's disappointed to no longer work with me, which is a bit surprising, I did try to support him but never got him much playing time, which could easily have led to plenty of discontent, instead he says nice things. Classy.

After my Chelsea comments, they make a quick rise winning four on the trot, but then slip a bit off the pace again.

Inquiries for many of our good youngsters.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Karslruher SC
Score: 6-0 (Schürrle 5, 62, Rafael 18, Troost 50, 73, Vazquez pen 57)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Karslruhe are under new ownership, doing reasonably well this season overall. I've been giving the players a little more license creatively, and now more license to roam in general, against opponents we should do well as. Schürrle pops up in front of goal to head home early, sort of epitomising this. The trend continues on the second goal, where Rafael is inside the box, Derdiyok out wide, and Rafael's shot sneaks in. Don't want to get carried away with this, but so far it's worked today. That was some shot, but it shouldn't have gone in, really - near post, keeper should have been protecting more. Weather turns foul as hail starts to come down. This continues through the break but stops a bit after the second half gets underway, after which Troost slides through a small gap and slots in our third goal. Troost has put a nifty ball which is sending Derdiyok through, he's just about to gain control deep in the box when Nounkeu takes him down. Clear penalty, and the referee thinks it egregious enough to show red, which seems like the right call. Vazquez has proven to be a reliable penalty taker, and he nets again, 4-0 before the hour mark. Wonder shot by Schürrle shortly after, he picked the upper right from a steep left angle and was inch-perfect. It turns from cruise to rout when Troost wins a challenge for a long ball and turns in another pinpoint shot, 6-0. Today they're going in, some days those don't. Bayern squeak a win over Mainz, but it counts the exact same three points as ours.

There's a lot of transfer rumbling which I'm too lazy to write up. Summarize actual transfers at the end.

Match: TSV Alemannia Aachen - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-4 (Botia 29, Bustos 46, Derdiyok 69, 76)
League Position: 1st
Summary: With a rested (in game terms) squad, winter break followed by one week after the first match, we've got an almost unchanged lineup from last time. Vida moves back into the middle, Traverso plays at left back, and Winter sits. Troost almost gets a goal in the 5th minute, but it's caught the bar. Troost's got a chance like the ones last time, but this time he can't place it inside the far post. It doesn't work every time no matter how good you are. Since we're having trouble converting in this one (a lot of action that wasn't described didn't yield productive finishing), in contrast to so many matches, it's really not surprising it's Botia who pops up and heads in a free kick from near the left corner to open the scoring just before the half hour. Although in a sense, straits were not as desperate as usual... he's been the most astonishingly clutch player for us, even if there's a defensive lapse or two these days where he's not seeming to concentrate. We're doing well but not quite as sharp as most matches, sometimes the incisive pass isn't quite executed, sometimes we're losing a challenge we usually win, so on. Away matches can do that. There's just a little sign that we're either too predictable here or that Aachen have done a really solid job in preparation. Derdiyok is robbed by the bar. Shots 14-2 at the half, but... all those steps in front on the passes that would actually have been incisive - the shots have almost universally been non-threatening. Bustos is the beneficiary of Troost's attacking, pokes it in just 25 seconds into the second half. Corner... it's in... who's the scorer? Seems like it's Derdiyok claiming it. Sub Sandro had head to it, but Derdiyok must have further directed it. A second for Derdiyok, Troost gets clear left and his ball into the middle is headed home - after the keeper batted at it and it changed direction. Derdiyok nearly gets a third on a long shot. It's just damage control now, and Aachen are having trouble with the control part. And... yes, Bayern win again. Our unbeaten run is now 24 in the league, and of course we ended Bayern's in the last match of December.

Our main bit of transfer activity was to bring in Real Madrid youngster Daniel, a left winger. We looked at him several times earlier and passed, but he pretty much hung out a Come And Get Me sign, turning down offer after offer from Madrid, all of which we heard about, and when the signing is done, he says how thrilled he is to come work under me. We've not given up on Baris Solmaz by any means, he's gone out on a loan to learn some more things, he'll spend the second half of the season in Portugal with Sporting. Young (17y) striker Willi Buzenthal gets an offer from Inter Milan and we let him go for €2m. He's not the best we've got coming up; a little disappointing about how hard we're finding it to bring German players through the program, but even if he developed as far as the coaches expect, he'd have about four other young strikers ahead of him, what do you do when a dream opportunity pops up - Inter are still one of the world's most famous clubs. Defensive midfielder Engin Arslan goes out on loan to Mainz, again hopefully he'll pick up some good experiences here. I mentioned both Solmaz and Arslan not too long ago as being players we'd have to start working into the rotation eventually if we're going to keep them.

Newcomer Daniel plays for the reserves to start getting used to the system, and immediately is man of the match.

In a good start to his new career, Hibernian manager Henning Berg is manager of the month for the second time (both months he's been there) and Hibs have surged to a seven point lead over Rangers, 10 over Celtic (who have a game in hand).

End of Month Table Summary (19 pld):
1. Leverkusen 53
2. Bayern 46
3. Dortmund 39
4. Schalke 34
5. Wolfsburg 31
6. Kaiserslautern 30
14. Werder Bremen 19
15. Hertha BSC 17
16. Koln 16
17. Nurnberg 15
18. Mainz 13


Transfer Summary
There are 23 transfers around the world in January for over €10m. The biggest of all is Necip Uysal for 22m from Spurs to Man United. Ryan Bertrand takes 18.5m to move from Juventus to Barcelona. Carlos Alberto is 18.25m Corinthians -> Dortmund, who were losing Nuri Sahin for 17.25m to Barcelona.
February 2018

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 FC Schalke 04 (Derdiyok 89)
SpVgg Greuther Fürth 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Troost 29, Daniel 47)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 VfL Wolfsburg (German Cup Qtr Final) (Sandro 22, Bustos 52)
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Derdiyok 34, Schürrle 41, 83)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 1.FSV Mainz 05 (Winter 53, Pamic 65 - Savio 80)
Sevilla FC, SAD 2-5 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC First Knockout Rnd, Leg 1) (Negredo 7, Doumbia 44 - Schürrle 9, 54, 71, Rafael 18, Vida 90)

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - FC Schalke 04
Score: 1-0 (Derdiyok 89)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We're playing quite well, but it hasn't been enough to break down a solid Schalke side. The dangerous Riviere actually comes the closest to scoring when he bangs off a long shot before a play really set up, it comes back off the crossbar (38th). Three minutes later Derdiyok has it in the net, but the flag is up. Riviere hits the bar again, as the game has suddenly lit up a bit. I don't think there's going to be a goal in it as time is winding down in the match, though we're pushing ever harder. Botia has a chance to pop up again with one of his magical goals, but fails the opportunity as the header flies over. Then late sub Fernandez rolls one wide that was sure to be a goal. Finally it comes, in the 89th minute. New boy Daniel in a sub appearance has blasted even though he's not going to beat the excellent Manuel Neuer, but it has a result anyway - caroms to an open Derdiyok who could have walked it into the net, although he shot immediately instead. Thrice thereafter it's near disaster as each time Troost is almost loose, but the defense is good enough - against other sides, those are probably breakaways. It's a very hard fought 1-0 win, while Bayern answer with a bigger win on the road.

We've now amassed a 42-match unbeaten run in all competitions, which is a club record.

Match: SpVgg Greuther Fürth - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-2 (Troost 29, Daniel 47)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Fürth have managed some reasonable results this season and at the moment are in no relegation danger. However, they can't score goals to save their life - third-lowest in the division. With a string of three matches in eight days, we pick this one to do a round of rotation. I'm not finding much in this match to "write home about", but Troost does eventually get us the lead just before the half hour with an excellent goal. Kiessling follows scoring on a through ball, but the flag is up - we'll have to wait for replays on that one, at the moment nobody is happy. 1-0 at the break, I think we've done a lot of things that usually work but Fürth have cut them off. Again I get a hint that at least on a day when the magic isn't flowing, we're a bit too predictable, and I'm not sure how much I want to tweak to combat that. The second half's first few minutes are better, our attackers apply themselves to trying to make it hard for Fürth to get out of their own end, and it pays off when a rushed clearance finds nobody and a quick series of passes finds Daniel who scores. He didn't have to wait very long for his first goal! We've worn them down a bit but don't have the quality to drive a final nail in the coffin, with five different players missing a chance to score. Still, it's a 2-0 away win in the league, one shan't be too upset. Meanwhile the Bayern engine is starting to warm up, their match is a 5-0 thrashing of Werder Bremen.

Dortmund have suddenly found form after an up and down season - they've recorded eight wins in a row in all comps (seven league, and their last Euro Cup Group E match, which was enough to leave them top of that group). It's not exactly a title threat at this stage, but if the form continues and somebody stumbles. We have them left on the schedule in an away match, while Bayern will face them at home in just a few weeks.

The draw for the Euro 2020 qualifying takes place...
Group A - San Marino, Azerbaijan, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Macedonia
Group B - N.Ireland, Austria, Latvia, Belarus, England, Lichtenstein
Group C - Hungary, Portugal, Ireland, Russia, Andorra
Group D - Iceland, Montenegro, Croatia, Kazakhstan, Slovakia
Group E - Cyprus, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Israel, Bosnia & Herz.
Group F - Norway, Romania, Turkey, Sweden, Malta
Group G - France, Greece, Poland, Luxembourg, Estonia
Group H - Georgia, Italy, Switzerland, Slovenia, Faroe Islands
Group I - Bulgaria, Holland, Serbia, Armenia, Ukraine
Group J - Finland, Moldova, Wales, Scotland, Albania

There's not a really top nation in Finland's group, but three that are pretty close (Scotland, Finland, Wales) so it's likely to be quite a battle.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - VfL Wolfsburg (German Cup Qtr Final)
Score: 2-0 (Sandro 22, Bustos 52)
Summary: We'll trot out a better lineup than usual for this stage of the competition; Wolfsburg are a good side though. We've done pretty well against them - the last eight at home, the venue for this one as well, have been wins. I like a lot of what's happening in this one, but there's nothing even close to an end product until Troost is just a whisker off on a 34th minute break - hitting the post. It's scoreless at the break even though shots are 15-1, possession 60/40. In the 58th minute it's Wolfsburg who go close, a headed cross just misses the far post. Second shot, but nearly put us behind. I'm getting increasingly irritated. Troost almost does it himself, but in the end the shot is saved and he ends up injured. Shortly after, the goal does come, and it comes very suddenly - an opportunistic shot from maybe 30 yards by Vazquez. And a second a few minutes later, after Bustos moves forward to take the spot vacated by Troost, he works clear and scores a nice shot. Any lingering Wolfsburg chance dies when Medina picks up a second yellow with a quarter hour to go. Rare sub Zvonko Pamic so nearly scores with a long bending shot, took a great save to tip that wide. No magical help in the cup this day, Bayern win at Schalke.

The Wednesday matches see the two home sides, Koln and Stuttgart, win over the two visitors, Hoffenheim and Fürth. Only one of those four, Stuttgart, is in the top half. Koln have seemed to be a good cup team even when their league results leave a lot to be desired. The draw for the semi finals helps set up what perhaps most fans might want: we've got our local rivals Koln, while Bayern get Stuttgart; the #1 and #2 clubs in the league get the benefit of home matches to boot so we're set up for a Leverkusen-Bayern final, if we can both first seal the deal in the semis. March 27th the date for those.

Hoffenheim sack Ralf Ragnick, guess that was the last straw, it's a club who was expected to be much better. They're tipped by the media for 3rd (strangely ignoring the much tougher Dortmund), but they're only 10th at this point and have just seen the cup dreams of salvaging something out of the year go out the window vs. a team they should definitely be beating. Four of his staff follow him out the exit door. And... this is our next opponent. A player I ditched as part of the Leverkusen evolution, USA international Michael Bradley, will make his return. Good to see him, but of course we want to compound their misery since there's no sign of Bayern letting their foot off the gas.

Match: TSG 1899 Hoffenheim - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-3 (Derdiyok 34, Schürrle 41, 83)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We don't start that well, but it looks like it's going to come good when Troost does some miraculous stuff, however his effort in the end goes off the bottom of the post. After this, there's a bunch of stuff that's leading me to get irritated, and my staff are telling me to calm down, it will get better. We're on a lengthening string of performances that aren't up to what we're capable of. Bustos is particular is bugging me recently, with shots way off target that didn't need to be taken - we've got folks he can pass to, he doesn't need to be the one scoring. Derdiyok makes things feel better, as he's capable of doing, we've got a lead just past the half hour. The pressure improves after this, and it doesn't take too long for Schürrle to get in to score. A little better in this half than we've seen but still some problems. Injury for Derdiyok in the second half, certainly hope that's not serious. Troost misses an absolute sitter. I'm starting to get a little irritated again as we can't cash in on what I see as superiority, but it does come finally, and it's Schürrle again. He's really made another step up this year. 3-0 is the final, we seem to be working back into form, with Europe coming up, it's about time... Derdiyok has broken ribs, we'll lose him for a month. Troost is already established, the decision now is whether Kiessling has enough left to fill the void or whether it's time to go to something else, like a one-striker set. Or whether Jordy Pool is ready to step up.

I know, I know, I'm too critical, the lot of a coach. We're completely unbeaten this year, even in friendlies, but you have to draw from experiences, and Bayern hung around last year until we faltered and got just past. Have to take it all very seriously. What we've got going is the overall squad approach is astonishing defensively - only two goals in the last 12 league matches, and one of those was a throwaway, a goal conceded to Dortmund in a 7-1 win where it was already 6-0 at the time, you can explain away a little lapse in concentration. So... score and we're likely good. We've scored every match this year, the record is only marred by two 1-1 draws.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FSV Mainz 05
Score: 2-1 (Winter 53, Pamic 65 - Savio 80)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We open this one up playing terribly. In the early part of the match the away side, who are mired at the foot of the table, out-pass, out-tackle and out-head us. Our efforts at shots are woeful, indeed the impressive Naciri seems to have completely lost the plot now. Daniel heads towards goal, he's just looping it in there with no particular aim, but Pool gets in position and heads it - another looper, but it goes in. I'm waiting for the flag as that's the kind of play that we always seem to get called for a foul on, and there it is... waved off. There's some aspect of this that makes it seem the referees have it in for us. He was completely clean, but is claimed to have fouled Giefer. We're evening up the play some, and Daniel has dribbled into the middle and done a nice job picking out Sam but the shot slid past/under Giefer goes wide. The referee thinks he tipped it, which looked wrong, but we'll take the corner, yes. As the half winds down, we're starting to dominate, but no closer to scoring. After Stokkelien clips Sandro somewhat dubiously (earned him a yellow) van Moorsel goes right through Dieye from behind, which earns him red from the referee who's having none of this trend. Daniel has managed to put a lot of balls into the box, but we appear unprepared to get on the end of them. Time to rejigger out approach - the second half will be played a man up. Seven minutes in we're finally on the board, after a corner Troost retrieves a ball and turns to fire. It's taken a deflection on the way through, leaving Giefer with no hope - off Winter, who collects his first goal of the season. A blocked shot has come into the reach of Pamic, and he puts it home. All started with an error in judgment, Sam had headed poorly and it was going out for a Mainz goal kick, but Koz "saved" it back into the mix. Troost lines up a difficult shot and misses it completely, I don't know what has gotten into this side. We utterly fail to deal with an entry ball and Savio gets to bang it home. Very sloppy. It actually bounced off the back of Dieye's legs and set up perfectly a couple yards out. Adler does not look pleased. Very poor performance, especially given we had an entire half plus a few moments with a man advantage. The players get to hear what I think... and it matters to get back on form because we're in Champions Cup action next.

Troost didn't have a good game, but added to his assist total - he's topping, together with Toni Kroos, the Bundesliga table in that category in addition to being the #2 scorer, so he's having quite a season statistically.

Is it too much to hope for to get a bit of help from Dortmund? Yes, it was... Bayern 4-1 Dortmund. At the moment Bayern are actually on a pace to finish with more points than last season's winning campaign - on a points-per-match basis they would finish with 86, 85 last year. We've not been able to put any further distance on them. 11 to play.

Match: Sevilla FC, SAD - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC First Knockout Rnd, Leg 1)
Score: 2-5 (Negredo 7, Doumbia 44 - Schürrle 9, 54, 71, Rafael 18, Vida 90)
Summary: Sevilla are not at full strength for this one, Vermaelen is injured as is Mario Fernandes - both back line starters, and DMC Yann M'Vila is suspended. They do have firepower, though: Jesus Navas is their best player, Wijnaldum has had a good season, and the strike pair of Doumbia and Negredo have bagged 17 and 15 goals respectively. Of course we're not at full strength either missing 26-goal man Derdiyok, and Troost is suspended, so players like Schürrle and Bustos are going to have to step up and help with scoring. Early mess and a Sevilla goal, Kadlec doesn't cover quickly enough and while Nowak stones Negredo he's able to get it back and finish. We answer right back as Rafael blows by his man and puts it across for Schürrle. Good ball for Schürrle, but he's running out of room, leaves it for Rafael. Once the pass is executed the finish is simple. The Sevilla keeper is furious. Wijnaldum fires off the post. Sevilla are coming at us hard, and eventually pull level just before the break on a corner. We're not the better side here... Since we can't make anything of our own opportunities, it's going to be a real battle to come away with anything. Schürrle is playing forward and while he has skills, he hasn't been practicing primarily at the position and is getting the ball pinched all the time. We're looking a little disorganized, but Schürrle picks up a loose ball and bangs it in, 3-2. Suddenly we're having a productive stretch, and Sevilla have to rescue another possible goal off the line. And another. We've gone 4-2-3-1 since the goal. Bustos with the perfect centering pass and Schürrle bangs in his third, 71st minute. Where's the defense? Doumbia has snuck through but misses. Now we've got a break on, it's worked correctly, I thought, with Bustos scoring, but the flag goes up. Navas makes moves and gets the cross in, and Doumbia is there to head, but it clips the bar. The fates have been with us a bit this time, although from the Sevilla manager's perspective, you could also talk about just a little lack of quality. Just at the end of the 90 it's in again from a corner! Vida gets the credit, the man on the post should have gotten it clear to be honest. I feel blessed to come away from this with a 5-2 win, and while we played well in stretches, we didn't play "5-2 well" by any means. Maybe this got the scoring machine in gear again?

The full first-leg results over the four match days are: Liverpool 2-3 Valencia, Napoli 4-2 At.Madrid, R.Madrid 0-3 Man City, Sevilla 2-5 Leverkusen, OM 2-1 Bayern, Rubin Kazan 1-0 Arsenal, Inter 2-3 Man Utd, CSKA Moscow 0-1 OL.

End of Month Table Summary (23 pld):
1. Leverkusen 65
2. Bayern 58
3. Dortmund 48
4. Wolfsburg 39
5. Schalke 37
6. Kaiserslautern 36
13. Fürth 24
14. Nurnberg 22 -14
15. Werder Bremen 22 -23
16. Hertha BSC 21
17. Koln 17
18. Mainz 16

€5.86m loss for the month. Turnover €7.76m down from €8.52m. Expenses €13.63m, down from €14.64m.
March 2018

Monthly Results
VfL Wolfsburg 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Sandro 22, Bustos 52)
Bayer Leverkusen 5-1 Hertha BSC Berlin (Troost 5, 47, 52, Kiessling 44, Winter 61 - Deac 90)
Werder Bremen 0-9 Bayer Leverkusen (Bustos 2, Troost 4, 25, 37, 56, Botia 9, Kiessling 49, Fernandez pen 64, Winter 73)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 Sevilla FC SAD (ECC 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 2) (Derdiyok 13, Schürrle 22, 83 - Negredo 68) Leverkusen win 8-3 on aggregate
Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 VfB Stuttgart (Bustos 18 Derdiyok 21, 39, Dieye 28)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-3 1.FC Koln (German Cup Qtr Final) (Daniel 34, Kiessling 69 - Bruno 8, 30, Labyad 19)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 1.FC Nürnberg (Schürrle 45, Rafael 82, Vida 89)

International Results
Finland 2-8 Morocco (Friendly) (Ojala 45+1, Alho 71 - Chamakh 4, 51, 83, Belhanda 22, Naciri 30, 47, 64, Aarab 53)

Match: VfL Wolfsburg - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-2 (Sandro 22, Bustos 52)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We've played pretty well, it takes while to come up with a goal though, and then it's a "return to older days" as Sandro, playing on the right side, gets in to score. In his statistically best year for us he did that a lot, we thought we'd try it, and it has paid off so far. Twice Troost has gotten behind without scoring. Now Rafael hits the post. Schürrle has scored but is offside. Troost again, side netting. I don't think we've solved the scoring problem. Among other problems, we aren't scoring on set plays. The corners we score on happen indirectly, and we haven't scored from a free kick for ages. Bustos finally slots home our second seven minutes after the restart. There's no more despite a number of shots, this is very frustrating. At least we've answered Bayern's win from yesterday.

Our overall unbeaten run is almost a year now, and encompasses 48 games. That's pretty impressive - it began 11 April last year. That's a club record. This upcoming international break is only a short one. I've been nervous about breaks before, sometimes you can lose momentum. We are a little lacking on that front, momentum.

International Friendly: Finland - Morocco
Score: 2-8 (Ojala 45+1, Alho 71 - Chamakh 4, 51, 83, Belhanda 22, Naciri 30, 47, 64, Aarab 53)
Summary: This one is too painful to talk much about. The combination of Chamakh and Naciri is something we can't cope with, each scoring a hat trick and adding two assists - yes, I've been embarrassed by my own player. The final really brings into question how we're going to find any kind of performance in Russia in the summer - and how in the world we managed to get there. Yes, Morocco had a dream performance, where they scored eight of the 13 shots they attempted, but we made it soooo easy for them. We seem to have virtually no defense now. We count so heavily on having the holding midfield pair keep us solid, but the three players who manned the two spots (Sparv, Eremenko and Schuller) had extremely poor games and don't look capable of physically matching up with a quick powerful side like Morocco proved to be. The fullbacks have to play an important role if we're going to get away with 4-2-3-1 and our pair this time (Hoivala and Raitala) might just was well not have pulled on their shirts and laced up their boots for all they were able to accomplish. Horrid. I'm not sure there are lessons, maybe we just have to forget this one.

Coming back to Leverkusen, we've got #14 Hertha, #15 Werder Bremen, #7 Stuttgart, #16 Nurnberg, with only Werder of those four away (there's also the second leg v. Sevilla and a cup match in that run, but I'm looking at league matches now). We will need to get ourselves sorted out for those four, there's no margin for slip-ups in that run. The final six of the season will include five top-half teams, of course highlighted by away matches at Dortmund and the season ender at Bayern; four of the final six are away.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Hertha BSC Berlin
Score: 5-1 (Troost 5, 47, 52, Kiessling 44, Winter 61 - Deac 90)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Another bout of poor weather, snow falls again. Rafael makes a great play but Bustos doesn't finish it. However, we still get an early goal as Bustos puts Troost through and he scores from in close. We're blowing chances again - two clear-cut scoring chances go by the wayside before Bustos hits the bar, meaning it should probably be 4-0 now. Vida gets in for a header on a corner, but we still can't convert it - it hits a defender and goes harmlessly away from goal. Then Kiessling hits the bar with a header, but somehow he's able to follow it up and head again. Neither very solid, but the second one drops in over Fulop. Been trying to get Kiessling involved again, and he really does seem to have lost something, but maybe there's still a few surges of form left in his career. Derdiyok should be back soon, by the way. Incidentally, Troost and Bustos are battling for supremacy in assist making - Troost has beaten Bustos' record of last year already, but with Bustos' assist to Troost in the first half, Troost is on 18, Bustos 17. It's all too easy for Troost a minute into the 2nd period, Rafael puts a ball in the box and he has time to slide sideways and find an opening to score his 2nd. He's got his third on 52 minutes. There's another one in the net on the hour, a scramble after a free kick and Winter gets his chance. We keep popping away at the goal but don't add any more, and Hertha get a very late goal from Deac. Shots are 31-6 in the end. Bayern have run out 6-2 winners, so we didn't even add to the goal difference, sheesh. It's utterly a two-team league, isn't it? Neymar scores two to join Derdiyok at the top of the scoring table with 19, Troost is 3rd with 17.

Bayern suffer their first real failure of the season: they've been eliminated by OM in the Champions Cup (1-2 agg). Valencia knock out Liverpool (4-3 agg). Wednesday Arsenal knock out Rubin (4-1 agg) and At.Madrid lose to Napoli (5-6 agg - as exciting as one might have predicted).

It's really been a juggle. Before we left on break in December, we'd had a major run of matches and gotten almost everybody healthy into the mix. From December 24 counting to the day before the Werder match, it's 83 days, 10 matches. And as a result, we've had trouble keeping enough of the squad "match fit". Now... at least if we're able to stay in the Champions Cup, it's going to start backing up again. And I need the players who we haven't been able to get into quite enough action.

Match: Werder Bremen - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-9 (Bustos 2, Troost 4, 25, 37, 56, Botia 9, Kiessling 49, Fernandez pen 64, Winter 73)
League Position: 1st
Summary: I'm somewhat nervous about Werder, who are a side we think is of considerably greater quality than their relegation-challenged status of the moment. To seemingly put the lie to my worries, Bustos, playing in a more forward role than usual, takes an opportunistic shot and gets it to go only 90 seconds into the match. A looped ball is misjudged and Troost is through and scores, 2-0 only 3:15 in!!! Botia makes it three inside 10 minutes from a corner, a play I've been looking for to boost our chances, though this one has come at a point where it doesn't look very important. After three chances that probably should have been scored, Troost nets his second. Troost gets behind again and it's another hat trick for the young man. Bustos and Schürrle get to come off at the break, it gives a better chance to use them mid-week. Troost continues his amazing play setting up Kiessling for a goal early. There's another goal in this one for Troost, his fourth. There's still a half hour to go. Troost lofts in a free kick, and Winter has been knocked down in the box. Fernandez becomes the second stub to score as he nets the penalty. Winter sneaks in to head home a corner. Record setting performance it is, a 9-0 league win, and away to boot. And I was nervous before the match! We've applied as much pressure as we can to Bayern who play tomorrow.

The third batch of ECC knockout matches: the Manchesters move on, Man City over R.Madrid 5-1 on agg, and Man Utd over Inter 4-2.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Sevilla FC SAD (ECC 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 2)
Score: 3-1 (Derdiyok 13, Schürrle 22, 83 - Negredo 68) Leverkusen win 8-3 on aggregate
Summary: Eren Derdiyok celebrates his return with a goal from a corner, looks like we made progress on that aspect. Schürrle crashes one in, and there's completely no doubt about this tie. Somehow we've gotten off 18 first-half shots. The second half is well underway, Vida is penalised a little harshly, I thought it was just a decent shoulder challenge. For a while I think it's going to be a penalty, but it's outside the box. Just. I's a goal anyway, Navas sets it up and Negredo heads in. It doesn't look like we're going to produce anything special the rest of the way, starting to look a bit sleepy, but indeed Schürrle does have something special to contribute, a very nice goal. I had given Nikolai Jorgensen a run out up top so we don't wear out Troost completely, and he's "looking complacent". How can a player who can barely get a game come in and be complacent, he should be going all out to show he deserves a place after all. Jorgensen subsequently goes out injured. Kiessling is so far behind it's not even funny, except he's lacking confidence or something and eventually peels off, and then drops it off to Sam who ends up having it stolen - we don't even get a shot. Well, it's a win and that play doesn't matter. OL take out CSKA in the other knockout tie, 2-0 on agg.

Bustos and Troost now share the club lead with 21 assists apiece.

With eight teams left, it's time for the draw for the ECC Quarter Final. It's Manchester v France, another interesting Italy-Spain matchup, and a replay of the past two years: O.Lyon v Man United, Man City v O.Marseilles, Leverkusen v Arsenal and Napoli v Valencia. City-Marseilles sees a matchup of the table-topping sides in their respective leagues; Lyon is #2 and Man United #4; Arsenal are #2; Napoli #1 and Valencia #2. We're getting to play with fire here, it's the third season in a row we face Arsenal at this exact stage. The aggregate win in 2017 was comfortable, 5-2; last year not so much, 2-1. Can we really pull off beating them three consecutive times? That's asking a lot.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - VfB Stuttgart
Score: 4-0 (Bustos 18 Derdiyok 21, 39, Dieye 28)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Bustos opens the scoring with one of those long shots where all you can do as an opposing coach, if you're honest, is go "well, if you can make that one...". Then of course the irrational part of the coaching brain kicks in and you start ranting about "well, we should have closed him down more quickly". Stuttgart quickly get into worse trouble, a long ball is falling in a risky place, and the keeper decides he doesn't want to leave the 18-yard box to deal with it... and having made that choice and stopped, he's dead meat when Derdiyok gets to the ball first. 2-0. We score next from an unlikely source, Babacar Dieye, who handles (well, foots!) the ball very deftly and completes a striker-like shot after a corner was knocked down in the box. The mostly unstoppable Troost has a charge stopped, but he's able to dump it forward for Derdiyok. Troost draws so much attention it's fairly easy for Eren... and is this another rout? Vida's had several cracks at the goal before and after the break, but denied by woodwork twice, keeper once, and barely misses once. There's not much of interest the rest of the way though, and we've seen out a 4-0 win. Ho-hum, Bayern win again as well. We've matched results the last 10 league games, all wins.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FC Koln (German Cup Qtr Final)
Score: 2-3 (Daniel 34, Kiessling 69 - Bruno 8, 30, Labyad 19)
Summary: It's an odd day in the German Cup quarter finals for sure. We've shipped an early goal, then a second, then a third by the half hour. Gianni Bruno the scorer twice, and Zakaria Labyad once. None really cheap goals; we could have defended better certainly. There's a beginning of a fightback with a goal from Daniel in the 34th, and we go to the break 3-1 down. We just can't break through though we're taking more and more control, finally sub Kiessling gets our 2nd. There is, however, no more - a couple of agonising situations with headers which should have done better. In the end we've managed 50/50 in the possession, 14-5 in shots; at one time the possession was 68% in favor of Koln. The comeback is in vain. Clearly, the eyes were on a different prize, the same being true in Munich where the other top club in Germany has gone down at home, Bayern losing 0-1 to Stuttgart on an Mbiwa own-goal.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FC Nürnberg
Score: 3-0 (Schürrle 45, Rafael 82, Vida 89)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Derdiyok looks to have opened the scoring 10 minutes in with a powerful header, but the assistant spots a questionable offside. We take a number of shots that glance off Nurnberg defenders. Botia's header is just over. Past the half hour, Rafael is found inside and seemingly can't miss, but the keeper reads him just right; the same in the 42nd minute although this one wasn't quite as easy a chance. Finally a goal comes just at the end of regular time as Rafael crosses in and Schürrle gets there to send it in. After the break Troost slides one just wide of the far post, then from the other side hits the side netting. Schürrle's about to come clear behind but a superb defensive recovery by a back limits his options and the keeper kicks it from his feet. Rafael, who you'd say "deserves a goal", gets one to make the result safe in the 82nd, it's a Daniel - Schürrle - Rafael combination. For the 81 minutes it was about as one-sided as 1-0 score as you'll see... There's a bonus goal for Vida at the end, it's Botia's headed corner but it comes off Vida and changes direction to assure the keeper has no chance. Statistically an utterly dominating show: 25-1 shots, 62% possession, 12-0 corners, held Nurnberg to 56% pass completion (we were 79%) - it could have been more than 3-0

In Scotland, Hibernian had surged to a convincing lead, then stumbled. Unlike the past number of years, it's Rangers, not Celtic, who were right on their heels. That situation came to a head on the May 1 Hibernian-Rangers match which was won by Hibs 6-0, rather emphatic. That put it back to a seven point lead with seven to play there.

End of Month Table Summary (29 pld):
1. Leverkusen 80 (28 pld)
2. Bayern 73 (28 pld)
3. Dortmund 54 (28 pld)
4. Wolfsburg 52
5. Schalke 48 (28 pld)
14. Hertha Berlin 26
15. Mainz 24 -17 (28 pld)
16. Werder Bremen 24 -39
17. Nurnberg 23
18. Koln 21 (28 pld)

€700k in profit. Turnover €14.91m up from €7.76m, helped by prize money. Expenses €14.21m up from €13.63m.
Stepping partially out of character here... this career story has the feel of drawing to an end. The current club has really done it all, one could certainly conceive a period of overseeing the final transition from long time key players to an all new setup, but I'm not convinced I want to spend the time (in personal terms, I've not played a match for two months now, which suggests the interest is waning, not to mention available time having vanished, sigh). At the end of the club season, there's a world cup finals to compete in for Finland, is there something to play for beyond that? I don't see a tremendously talented young group ready to burst on the scene and take the side to the new heights (although there are some potentially promising players in the pool). But maybe consolidating the position in a Euro campaign, helping cement the nation as one to be reckoned with, could be a good challenge? There is another path: take on a new club. In fact, since the next two months have been played but not posted, I happen know that a job offer does come in from a prestigious Italian club. Is that worthwhile? (This is now being played on a two-year old release of FM with FM13 out in days, and the number of recognizable players is shrinking...)

Any suggestions?
mwichmann's avatar Group mwichmann
11 yearsEdited
April 2018

Match: Bayern Leverkusen - Arsenal (ECC Quarter Final Leg 1)
Score: 3-0 (Rafael 15, Bustos pen 36, Vida 47)
Summary: I know what I'd like out of this one... a solid performance defensively, preferably no away goals for Arsenal, and a few of our own. 2-0 would be nice. We're having to withstand some quality Arsenal play early, but we've got the opening goal on a counter-attack, eyes in the back of the head by Derdiyok as he receives from Bustos with his back to the goal and wraps around a pass that Rafael runs onto and scores. We're a better side this year with Rafael. It's hard to tell what to do with a side that keeps winning, do you make changes to shake things up, or stand pat, or? This time it seems like making a big-money move (club record transfer buy) for one player to improve us, but not disrupting much more than that, has given the right signal. It wasn't good news for Sidney Sam, of course. Alexis Sanchez is giving us fits, though, and we're very lucky in the 25th minute when he has turned Botia and gone towards goal only to fire it off the bottom of the post. Oof, we are so close to a second goal just at the half hour. Troost has an isolation 1v1 on the left, cuts in, makes maybe not the best effort - two players in the middle to pick out - it glances hard off Clichy's head, Kameni can only finger it, and it looks like it's falling on a plate for Rafael. Fer somehow gets it behind, though. Then it gets a little wild, Botia in traffic has still gotten a head on a corner, Ramsey has to flail if off the line, but the referee is busy running into the middle of things pointing to the spot. Who? What? Seems he thinks Derdiyok going down under the challenge of Cornel Rapa is sufficient to give a penalty. We don't have our most favored penalty takers - Fernandez and Vazquez - in the match, but Bustos is more than happy to oblige, and scores cleanly. Even though Kameni went the right way, he couldn't get to it. First half is really good stuff, to be honest, weathered the early charge and took more and more control of the match. Good stuff continues after the break, Rafael completely burns Arsenal down out right side early, he can't pick out Derdiyok but it wins a corner which we score from, Domagoj Vida the man to head it home off the inside of the post. A little concern as Botia has to come off injured. Veloso takes an excellent free kick, but the defensive setup has done its job: the ball has gone through the space that is designed to go right to Adler, and he's standing there to catch it. Adler hasn't had to do much of note, but when sub Walcott produces some of the magic he's capable of (rare though it may be), Adler is there to make a superb save. Traverso takes a game-ending injury as well which leaves me not making exactly the substitution I want - Vida moves out to left back and Vazquez comes in in the middle - I had hoped to save the third sub for the most tired front-six player. I've usually made my three subs by the 75th minute, there must have been some sort of premonition there as I hadn't this time. Still, there's a been a period with a little lack of composure, I'm hollering from the technical area to try to make some adjustments to play a little more carefully. It's enough, despite some major Arsenal push, to see it out. A very nice win, 3-0 in the first leg, even a little better than the result I'd hoped for. Injury report says Traverso 2-3 weeks with a hamstring tweak, Botia 5-6 weeks with a knee ligament problem.

Rather strangely, we don't have anybody to play until the Arsenal second leg in 8 days. The rest of the league will make up missing matches tomorrow (Wednesday), three of them, obviously they couldn't schedule us the day after a European match so we make up our missing match with Dortmund on 18 April (Wed). Honestly speaking, that match is probably one of the three key matches in the season - #1 being the last match of 2016 when we beat Bayern to ensure we had a nice lead over the winter break; #3 will be the season ender with Bayern, but only if we stumble before that, and that's why this one is #2: away at Dortmund is a big test, even if they've stumbled more than you'd expect this season, they still have that massive home crowd, and they're still the 3rd placed side and the 3rd highest scoring side in the league. It's their defense that has let them down, even if our 7-1 defeat of them earlier does skew those numbers a bit. I don't hold much hope that Hamburg will help us out v. Bayern, but it turns out they do: 57,000 have watched an over-achieving HSV side win 2-1, helped by Bayern defender Alex Sandro taking a red card in the 19th minute, leaving Hamburg with a huge swath of the game playing with a man up. Despite conceding an own goal, they've come up with a win that really helps us. Hamburg have really ended up domination, 23-10 shots, 60/40% possession, and a 65% passing percentage has shown Bayern playing poorly (Hamburg were 81%). It ends a run of 18 league matches in which Bayern had dropped points only in the defeat to us - 17 wins, one loss; now two. They are such a tough competitor for us, but this year they did struggle a bit in Europe, going out in the first knockout round.

The sequence of matches now is: at Arsenal Wednesday, at Koln Saturday, at Dortmund Wednesday, home to Kaiserslautern Saturday. The Bayern loss gives us the luxury of not having to run out the top XI three times in a week, although of course last time we did this Koln ended up beating us. Of course there's not exactly a top XI. We pretty much rotate Castro and Walker at right back, with Castro having a bit of an edge this year. Traverso is slightly preferred over Kadlec at left back - Traverso is still nursing his injury as well. We've also let Vida play left back so Botia and Winter can partner in the middle, of course that's not an issue at the moment with Botia out injured. And Sandro has come on in the second half of the season while Vazquez' play has dropped off a bit. The attacking five, though, there's not much question on unless I need to rest/rotate; Schürrle and Rafael on the wings, Bustos pulling the strings, Troost and Derdiyok up top.

The two Manchester clubs have eliminated the two French clubs in the quarter finals, United 3-2 on agg over OL, City 2-1 on agg over OM.

Match: Arsenal - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Quarter Final 2nd Leg)
Score: 2-2 (Walcott 22, Ramsey 32 - Troost 13, Sam 60) Leverkusen win 5-2 on agg.
Summary: In the first 10 minutes, Adler is called on to make two good saves off Ramsey bullets, otherwise we've actually controlled play. Playing cautiously and looking for counters pays off: Troost was offside once, failed to score a second time, the third break he's put it past Kameni, with the away goal and the three from the first leg we'd now need to concede five in the final 75 minutes to lose this one. Long ball to Walcott and he works his way inside to score. After Derdiyok takes a bit of a knock, Winter scores but yet again we've had it taken away for a phantom foul. Moments later Ramsey absolutely mugs Vida to take the ball away from him and score, and that warrants no call at all. I'm wondering what the referees have against us... We're honestly not playing all that well and need to get to the break. Sam comes in for Rafael who's not able to affect this game so far. We do get close to a goal in the 49th but Derdiyok, struggling a bit still with a knock he took earlier, is not able to convert. I think I've made a mistake with squad selection, Castro and Kadlec both in as fullbacks, they're not the youngest any longer. A bit of help for us is Walcott has gone out injured. Really good couple of plays from Vida to clean up what would have been dangerous situations. A hunch has paid off, Schürrle has fed Sam who had been given space at the top of the box and he slots a shot in. 2-2 on the match, 5-2 on aggregate. A half hour to go to qualifying for the semi-final. Late in the game we're passing Arsenal into the ground, and it nearly breaks loose sub Jordy Pool for a goal, however Kameni comes up with a world-class save. We've held on for the draw, and the pattern repeats, frustratingly for the London club: three years in a row we've won the home leg and drawn the one in England. Derdiyok, unfortunately, will miss about three weeks at a crucial time of the season.

The fourth and final quarter is won by Valencia entirely against the form book - it's 1-0 on aggregate, and congratulations to them on keeping the explosive Napoli side scoreless over two legs. Of the other three remaining sides, I'd probably prefer not to face Manchester City, they've got a record of 27-3-2 in leading the EPL comfortably, and they've scored 60 goals while shipping only 10. Clearly 4th place Man United are a good club or they wouldn't be here, as are Spain #2 Valencia. Come to think of it, I believe we're really hard to beat over two legs, while who knows what can happen in a possible one-shot final? In any event, we've drawn Valencia while the two Manchester clubs will face each other. Not much history with Valencia, we played them in a friendly 20 months ago, which we edged 2-1 in their park, but that means little. The Manchester clubs, meanwhile, have divided their last 18 meetings in a manner which favors City - 8 wins, 4 losses, with six drawn.

Match: 1.FC Koln - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-3 (Freis 3 - Sam 22, Rafael 44, Kiessling 88)
League Position: 1st
Summary: With six to play for us (five for Bayern), nine points is enough to assure a league win. Revenge on our local rivals for knocking us out of the German Cup would be a good start on that. But we've got to rest some players for the mid-week Dortmund clash too, and now we've qualified for the next stage of the ECC, it's going to be a solid run of matches until May 5th, after that we actually get the whole week to prepare for the season-ender at Bayern, which I'm hoping will be meaningless. Kaiserslautern, Gladbach and Hamburg (who just beat Bayern) will be the other three before the finale. The weather is horrid as a confident Koln side score very early. We can't even get going, just like last time really. Babacar Dieye's hurried cross does get us going however, as Sam rises to head it in. The rain has mostly let up. What a play by Jordy Pool late in the half, he's not reached a long ball but goes in with an inch-perfect tackle and is first to recover to get it, charging in on goal. His shot is parried in desperation but the speedy Rafael is easily first to it and scores. The second half is not yielding a whole lot for either side, our chances are falling just short of connecting. Kiessling should have scored in the 84th, but heads over. Mares finally leads Kiessling for a tap-in in the 88th to seal the deal. Kavlak has scored late but it's waved of for offside. It's not terrifically convincing, but the three points are golden, So for the moment we've forged a 10 point lead - Bayern play tomorrow with a chance to cut it back to seven. We're now on 100 league goals for the season! That's set the recent league record, beating the 97 we had two years ago, and that's with five yet to play.

Bayern's win Sunday is no surprise, Karslruhe are not in the same class. Still, just six points to lock up the title - two wins in the next four and it won't even come down to the finale with Bayern.

The SPL split is: Hibernian (77), Rangers (70), Celtic (66), Aberdeen (54), Falkirk (51), Dundee Utd (45) in the championship group; Hearts (43), St.Mirren (32), Motherwell (38), St.Johnstone (28), Dundee (27), Dunfermline (15) in the relegation group. Not much question Dunfermline is relegated. Hearts and Motherwell, who have had some past good seasons, did not do well this year. Hearts had made the top group the previous seven years, Motherwell the last four - and were in Europe this season although they didn't qualify for the group stage in the Euro Cup.

In England, Man City are unstoppable. They've got a nine point margin with four to play, but 2nd placed Arsenal have only three to play, so mathematically they could only tie. The two have a matchup left at the Emirates, but City finish with matches against #18 Bristol City and #19 Leicester, and in fact could end with a 102-point season if they win all four of their remaining.

Match: Borussia Dortmund - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-2 (Hummels 45+3 - Winter 48, Alberto o.g. 70)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Dortmund like to attack early, and we've blunted that pretty well. But when we're supposed to start picking up some alarming cracks start to show - twice just past 20 minutes it looks like the back is going to open for them. The first is wasted as the wrong choice is taken, the second a good save from Adler. The half ends on a high note for Dortmund, Hummels heading in a corner, and with our staff upset because it was way past when the whistle should have blown. Winter crashes in to score a corner shortly after the break, and as I'm starting to become a little bit of a conspiracy theorist, I'm looking around to see if there will be a foul. Not this time, though, it's allowed to stand. We're not making any further headway until a second goal comes from a corner, Winter heads it firmly, it glances off the man on the post who had no chance. It's rather harshly called an own-goal, I thought the guideline was if it was going in anyway it's not an own-goal, and that was clearly the case here. We've seen out the win. It wasn't the prettiest match we've ever played, the most positive thing I can say - and make no mistake, it IS a positive - is that we played the match with superb defensive anticipation. Except for those two "cracks" around the 20th minute, we seemed to be there for every attacking pass, through ball, etc. Sometimes almost too much, seemed defenders stepped back to play balls where Adler might have had the cleaner play on it - we'll have to see about the communication back there (Vazquez certainly is not a regular center back). Troost, who has been such a force, looked completely unlikely to score until the last seven-eight minutes or so, when sub Fernandez found him with a lovely long ball and he got one other opening. He's looking a bit moody, not sure what that's about or how to address it.

So it's down to needing just three points to regain the title! That could come this weekend, in front of the home fans. The opponent is Kaiserslautern, who sit a respectable 7th after a very hit or miss season: in 30 outings, 14 wins and 13 losses, only three draws.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FC Kaiserslautern
Score: 2-1 (Kiessling 45+1, 90+1)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: I want this win, but the start is unfortunate - Bikey has run over the back of Dieye - Dieye was in front of him and facing the ball, but the referee awards a penalty and shows Dieye yellow. How can this be? 0-1 inside a quarter hour. Now we're forced to come from behind again. Vida gets himself sent off for a stupid tackle, isn't this exciting. What a nightmare first half, not much has been done right and that's beyond the two bad mistakes. Until the final seconds - Kiessling, who's certainly not the player he's been, receives a ball long, he can't outrun the defense at this point in his career, but he somehow muscles his way forward keeping the ball and manages to get around the keeper to score. We've drawn level in first-half stoppage, quite undeservedly, maybe this is something to work off of? In the 2nd, Kiessling puts Troost through, but he misses . It's a loss of form we can't afford with Derdiyok out. Then a steal and Naciri gets a shot, but can't convert. Naciri is as wide open behind as you'll ever see a player, but he doesn't have the confidence to challenge the keeper, and in the end he's had the ball pinched off him without even getting to to someone else. Naciri had a complaint that I wasn't playing him, which is true, Bustos wasn't letting it happen. With Bustos suspended for a match I thought this was a great chance, but there's no sign today of the player who killed my Finland squad not so long ago. I've tweaked things through the second half and we've actually gotten a lot of shots, but it looks like it's most likely going to end a draw - until virtually out of nowhere, we've gone ahead. Just into stoppage, a very long free kick from the right taken by Troost, Kiessling has headed in a crowd, and it's gone back across and the keeper can't get to it!!! 2-1 with three minutes of stoppage left, plus whatever the referee gives for time spent celebrating. FCK threaten with a header off a free kick of their own, but Adler snares that without too much trouble, and time runs out shortly thereafter.

So we've regained our title, and for Leverkusen overall it's the 6th in eight years, the other two being second place (one missing the title on goal difference, the other a point off the winner). Not a bad run. Five times German cup winner in that time as well, won't be adding to that total this year of course.

Match: Valencia CF SAD - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Semi Final Leg 1)
Score: 2-2 (Bakambu 33, Reinartz 86 - Troost 28, Rafael 57)
Summary: Valencia miss some people, we'd like to capitalize: Dzagoev and Falcao suspended, Mata and Zapata injured. Of course we're without two as well, in Derdiyok and Botia injured. Vida will be suspended for at least one, probably the last three of the season, but that's in the league, he's available here. We're having a battle here, Valencia want this badly you can see, and they're anticipating our actions. Goal comes on a through ball and the keeper didn't act fast enough or bravely enough, whichever he stopped and Troost had an easy goal when he got there. We're about to risk getting caught behind, and it's Winter who goes in hard to stop it. This time HE gets the red card, this is getting a little out of control. A Valencia goal comes soon after and it looks very easy, the score is level. We rearrange the tactical setup at the break, the first setup after Winter was tossed wasn't working out. We have stabilised things, and then Rafael scores with a great shot just short of the hour mark. We can't, in the end, keep Valencia from coming back, and it's former Leverkusen man Stefan Reinartz who heads in. I'll take 2-2 in the circumstances, though Troost nearly made it 3-2 on an individual effort, in the end the shot slid just wide. It's a draw away, two away goals, after we've played sixty minutes short-handed. Couldn't ask for a whole lot more. Both the former Leverkusen men played well, to be honest - Daniel Schwaab is in the club as well.

There's nothing clear from the first legs of the semi final, as both matches were draws. We and Man City have what you'd think are slight advantages, having the second leg at home, and having collected away goals in the first leg (two for us, one for City).

On balance we've played rather below our standards for a good stretch. In the last five, we're only an aggregate score of 11-7: two 2-2 draws, two 2-1 wins, a 3-1 win with a very late goal making it look easier, and have put ourselves under pressure with significant mistakes, most certainly including the two red cards for defenders - Winter's this game was a choice he made to try to save a goal after we'd blundered in the back. Remember, this is a club which had gone 97 goals for, 10 allowed before the last three in the league before this 7-3 stretch - that's 3.5/g scored, 0.4 allowed down to 2.3/g scored, 1.0 allowed.

Match: Borussia Mönchengladbach - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-3 (Gouffran 16 - Sam pen 4, Pool 13, Kiessling 49)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: Don't often play mental games with the squad, but in view of our poor performances recently, I suggest "they have to be respected", which the press turns into "fears defeat". The question is who plays here. The title is ours; the Champions Cup second leg is upcoming on the shorter interval (Tuesday). Logic says it ought to be second line players, maybe even youngsters to get a chance to impress in preparation for next season (except two of the top choices are out on loan). We rotate a lot, and Gladbach get into deep trouble very early, Juanpe has tripped Jordy Pool as he snuck through into the box, penalty and a red card - that's one of those "death penalty" moments where I think the rules are too harsh, personally. It's only 2:20 into the match!!! Sidney Sam takes the penalty and scores. After the astonishing gift, we play a bit indifferently but it's a goal for Pool that happens next anyway. Gouffran responds, the play embarrassing for a side a man up. We can break them down when we get organized, but that's not happening much - it's Gladbach who look the better side. Pool has hit the post. Kiessling heads in after the break. Our performance is indifferent the rest of the way. There is room, though, for debut performances from Spanish forward Ibon Diaz and Czech defender Martin Hanak, both 17.

Monthly Results
Bayern Leverkusen 3-0 Arsenal (ECC Quarter Final Leg 1) (Rafael 15, Bustos pen 36, Vida 47)
Arsenal 2-2 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Quarter Final 2nd Leg) (Walcott 22, Ramsey 32 - Troost 13, Sam 60) Leverkusen win 5-2 on agg.
1.FC Koln 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Freis 3 - Sam 22, Rafael 44, Kiessling 88)
Borussia Dortmund 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Hummels 45+3 - Winter 48, Alberto o.g. 70)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 1.FC Kaiserslautern (Kiessling 45+1, 90+1)
Valencia CF SAD 2-2 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Semi Final Leg 1) (Bakambu 33, Reinartz 86 - Troost 28, Rafael 57)
Borussia Mönchengladbach 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Gouffran 16 - Sam pen 4, Pool 13, Kiessling 49)

End of Month Table Summary (32 pld):
1. Leverkusen 92 (winner)
2. Bayern 82
3. Dortmund 61
4. Schalke 57
5. Wolfsburg 55
6. HSV 47
14. Mainz 29 -15
15. Hertha BSC 29 -29
16. Nurnberg 26
17. Werder Bremen 25
18. Koln 24

Turnover is €10.1m, down from €14.9m despite prize money of €3.3m. Expenses are €14.5m, up from €14.2m. It all adds up to a loss of €4.4m, which leaves us down €14.9m for the full season. I've had to get used to month-to-month numbers not being too useful though, we're going to pull in plenty for the year overall.
May 2018

It's our annual dance. I think I've earned a much better contract than Leverkusen offer, but my counter leads to "we couldn't possibly". They've got a hard-wired limit that they won't exceed even for the manager that has led them to their greatest success ever, which also causes them to list me as "untouchable".

Valencia are suffering a bit with their battle on three fronts. In rotating to save some players for the match with us, they've taken a 0-0 draw with Valladolid, and the match before the first leg was similarly a draw, with Malaga. That's four points dropped - and they're two points off the lead in 2nd. And only three points clear of 4th place. That's got to be frustrating for them - I've been there. We're in better shape since we could rest players with the title already won. Now we have to cash in, though. A little challenge on our side: we can't pick the ideal back line with Winter suspended, Botia injured, and Traverso tired out after last time - maybe I should have saved Traverso at least. And we've got Rafael and Bustos on yellow card situations, but I can't do without them.

Valencia are a talented side, as you could imagine for one challenging for the La Liga title and in the ECC semi final. For this second leg they'll trot out Renan in goal, Schwaab, Raitala (one of my Finland international side), Reinartz and Nuno Andre Coelho in defense, Guiliano, Jordi Alba, Dzagoev and Daniel Kofi Agyei in midfield, Falcao and Bakambu up top with Samir Nasri on the bench, although Nasri's been a bit player for the last year having had a broken foot in May (4 months) and a broken leg in October (5 months).

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Valencia CF SAD (ECC Semi Final Leg 2)
Score: 4-1 (Schürrle 30, Bustos pen 54, Rafael 60, Jorgensen 70 - Falcao 34) Leverkusen win 6-3 on aggregate
Summary: There's not much happening in this one... it takes beyond the 25 minute mark to get our first real shot (statistically we had an earlier one, but it was more of a "keep it alive" header than a shot). We unlock things for a nice combination right at the half hour, though... Kiessling on the right isn't going to get a shot, he centers I think for Bustos, but Bustos either overruns it or intentionally dummies it, and Troost dead center at the top of the box sweeps it further left where Schürrle has snuck in alone, he blasts it home. Falcao gets them level quickly with a very tricky shot, I think Adler is unhappy letting it get through him from such a sharp right angle. So the tie is back on a knife edge again after just three minutes. Kiessling's dangerous cross is cut out for a corner. Bakambu goes flying in the box, but he's the one who gets the yellow card. Bustos with a looping header that the keeper can't get, but catches the bar, barely. The game opened up a bit at the end of the half. At the break, the narrowest of leads, a single away goal. About eight minutes in Schürrle dumps it into the box where Troost has to run onto it, and he's tripped doing so. The referee is pointing to the spot... and it's Bustos who steps up. It's in... our penalty taking has been of high quality this year. 2-1 now, 4-3 on aggregate, but a second Valencia goal would wipe out our away goals advantage. They're coming at us, and I have to say our back line is looking a step slow. Maybe the season's been too long, this didn't use to happen. We've got another goal... Schürrle, who's just taken a bit of a knock, sends a wonderful long ball, it's Kiessling, he can't complete the score himself but Rafael swoops in as a poacher and pots it - not an easy shot as he was on a far angle. 30 minutes to go. Troost swoops left and sets up Schürrle, but not enough power on the shot. Schürrle is just not quite recovered, he should come out. Troost's drive is just a whisker wide. Surprise sub Nikolai Jorgensen gets a goal, though the majority of the credit goes to the incredible cross from Rafael. Now it's salted we can get a couple of fresher players in. Oops, this is going bad, long ball and Dieye trips the man. He's very lucky to only see yellow, then the free kick scoots wide. It's a 4-1 final, 6-3 on aggregate, and we're through to the final again.

Although Man United seem to play better, Man City prevail in the second leg of the other semi final, that will be our opponent. The English and German champions will battle for the supremacy of Europe. We've faced each other in the final before, in fact, three years ago in 2015.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Hamburger SV
Score: 4-1 (Rafael 7, Derdiyok 31, Schürrle 64, Troost 78 - N'Doumbou 21)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: Troost and Derdiyok don't really need to play this game, but both still have their position in the league scoring table to battle for. They're level on 21 goals, one behind Neymar (Derdiyok should have won the scoring title easily, but he's suffered with injury the second half of the season). Still, it's Rafael who gets us on the board, the young Brazilian has added scoring to his arsenal. We have more than a little history with tough matches with Hamburg, we've had a good record, but for not that great a side they've kept us from winning five of fifteen times, and have collected three wins - including a shocking 3-1 win in our park just two years ago, indeed that season they won both fixtures, the only two we lost in the 2015/16 season. And that history pops up as N'Doumbou sends in a rocket of a free kick that's at Adler he doesn't get it as it goes in off the underside of the bar. Level in the 21st. The lead is back on the half hour on a really good break, Troost out wide drills in a cross which Derdiyok bangs into the upper left corner with a first-time strike. It's the same score at the break, and on through the first 15 minutes of the second. There's a sneaky little back heel pass from Derdiyok which leaves Schürrle free, and he scores the third goal. Troost is half-through but fires high and wide. About 70 minutes, Troost looks sure to score, but in his new less fluent mode of the last few weeks, he still can't get it around the keeper. But he gets his goal with a sneaky back-turned left-footed swing that catches the far corner. Very late in the game Derdiyok goes out injured again, hope it's just minor. But it turns out it's not, rather than a strained calf it's a torn one, 3-4 months. That means he'll miss the early part of next season, and more significantly, the ECC Final.

Some ongoing records... we've topped our previous Bundesliga points haul with 95 points, and are now at 111 goals scored. Troost and Bustos have both provided 26 assists - the old record was 17. Of course scoring a lot more goals means a lot more chance for an assist! Those have been split interestingly: Troost has 22 of those assists in the league, Bustos only 16. The league lead is out of reach, Kroos is now up to 27. Troost is one goal off the team record for league goals (so is Derdiyok, who already holds the record of 23) but as he's injured again he won't get there. Troost may well break the record for the highest average rating. One match to go in the league, the visit to Munich.

Congratulations to Hibernian, who have won their fifth title in eight years - finishing in the top three each of those years.

Match: FC Bayern München - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-1 (Gomez 38 - Rafael 36)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: It's as even a battle as you'd expect from these two sides, with Bayern in the ascendancy earlier, then we start coming on later in the half, as Bayern back off a bit. That may have been a mistake, we've opened the scoring on an absolutely outstanding shot from Rafael, it's 36 minutes in. I don't want to heap so much praise on him it goes to his head :) but in his first season in Germany, and away from Brazil, he's shown such adaptability to the different game in addition to his abundant skills... you'd say this is a man who could star for any top club in the world. Wait... we ARE the top club in the world!!! I'd honestly set his transfer value at somewhere above €40m at this stage. It's been his overall play, but now he's on fire scoring as well. Okay, so I am gushing, we've got another 54 minutes to work on in the game at hand. It doesn't take long for Mario Gomez - clearly offside (to our biased view) but drawing no flag - to equalize. We're not happy, but of course nothing we can do about it but find an answer of our own. It's level at the break, and the dispassionate observer (which is not me!!!) would say that's a fair representation. We've come pretty close in the 57th, Bustos beats the keeper but not the post. There's nothing in the next nearly half hour to suggest either side is going to score. Moustapha Diop scores for Bayern off a corner in the 85th, but it doesn't count due to a foul, the kind I usually complain about when they're called against us. I guess there's some factor of evening out the calls over time... And it's a draw, hard to argue too much, we've won the home fixture and drawn the away one, reflective of "we're just a bit better than Bayern".

Nurnberg and Werder Bremen are relegated, it was a close battle as indicated by the fact it took to the last match day to settle. Hertha have to go through the playoff, and our neighbors Koln have somehow just escaped again to stay in the top league. Took them a last day 3-2 win over Werder to sort out both team's fates. I'm not so happy from the Finland viewpoint that my top midfielder, Tim Sparv, has been relegated.

We're sad personally to hear after medical evaluation that the injury suffered by Romelu Lukaku in the essentially meaningless match against us is serious, and he'll miss probably six months, which means he won't feature for Bayern again until mid to late November.

The U19's comfortably won Group 2, though as noted earlier missing out on the U19 cup. There's one more match to go, after which I'll report on the side's developmental progress. Stuttgart won Group 1. Bayern, 2nd in Group 1 by a wide margin behind Stuttgart, took the cup, ousting us in the quarters, Schalke in the semis and Kaiserslautern in the final, though a bit of luck was involved as they were less impressive in earlier rounds, had to go to penalties to beat Augsburg in the first round, then 2-1 over Gladbach in the 2nd. After that they'd evolved, apparently: 4-1, 4-1, 4-0 in the final three, but not enough to get close to Stuttgart in the group season.

Manchester City have in the end won the EPL in convincing fashion, recording a 100-point season, which is a record. Chelsea ended in 7th, only three points ahead of Liverpool who slipped to 10th - it cost the Liverpool manager Javier Aguirre his job, but not the Chelsea manager (yet).

The Euro Cup is won by AC Milan, 3-1 over Bolton. Bolton needed the win to return to Europe, having finished 13th in the EPL, how they managed to get this far in the cup competition will remain a mystery: breezed through two qualifying rounds, were only 3-0-3 in group matches but edged through on goal difference over Sampdoria, then knocked out Galatasaray, Dortmund, Blackburn and Girondins Bordeaux - the first two on away wins after looking in trouble after the opening home leg - to qualify for the final. A very resilient performance, not matched by their league showing (12-10-16).

The relegation/promotion playoff is a Berlin affair - Bundesliga #17 Hertha Berlin against 2nd division Union Berlin. Hertha win the first (home) leg 1-0.

My old club Hibernian, off their latest title win, announce finally a ground expansion of 4750 seats, which will take them to 25,000 - at a cost of losing some capacity during the construction, which will be done in October. This is a concession I couldn't get, but I guess a sustained period of success was finally enough. They need a new ground, to be honest, but there's a lot of tradition at Easter Road and not a lot of fan support for going elsewhere.

Our neighbors Koln win the German Cup, beating Stuttgart 3-1.

Right at the end of the season we've had a sudden spate of injuries to players in the Finland squad. Poutiainen, Sumusalo and Hamalianen will all miss the world cup finals for sure, not entirely sure all three would have been picked, but it will be a disappointment for each to be sure as they'd each thing they had a chance, having been in the most recent 26-man squad.

The U19's finish their season 22-2-2, 73gf, 26ga, 17 pts clear of #2 Schalke. Reichert and Ullmann are the top goal scorers.

Hertha Berlin have retained their place in the top division, the second leg finished 1-0 in favor of Union Berlin after regular time, and after extra time, so 1-1 on aggregate. Hertha win in on penalties, the result means that one of my Finland players, key midfielder Tim Sparv, retains a place in the top flight. Koln's Kasper Hamalainen did the same when the club's late surge took them out of danger.

German awards: three players, Derdiyok, Troost and Neymar, finish on 22 goals, Derdiyok is awarded the title based on fewest matches played (he had those injuries). Bustos is German footballer of the year. Adler is goalkeeper of the year - some recognition is well overdue, this time he played all but one of our league matches as Nowak took his turn only in non-league matches. Adler, Rafael, Schurrle, Bustos and Derdiyok are in the team of the year. I don't understand the omission of Troost, but the voting on these rarely makes much sense.

Just before the ECC finale, a job offer comes, unsolicited, from AC Milan. Since this takes some thought, I'm interrupting the narrative here. Can't do a full club summary at this point, but can do league summary.

Final League Table

Bundesliga Statistics
I love this story - the detail and effort you are putting into it is amazing. It is a shame that you don't have a bigger audience because it deserves one.
I appreciate the kind words!
Just a quick note, I've been absent from the board for ages due to assorted time constraints, but sneaking in games here and there, there are two more years to the story - which do include the job change alluded to above. If anyone's interested, drop a note here and we'll see if I post it up. I know the story is a bit aged in terms of being on FM11...

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