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Leverkusen on FM11

mwichmann's continuation of Hibernian Hopes story
Started on 5 May 2012 by mwichmann
Latest Reply on 27 February 2013 by mwichmann
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Dude the reason no one is replying to your story (besides me) is because each post is two long. See the fact is people start losing interest if you tell them to read several thousand words, your not making a novel hear, just facts, information and opinions. If you can please make it shorter. Post the results of a match in one post, transfer things in another and other things that you want to show us one post at a time. It would aslo be good if you add some pictures to "hook" the readers interest. Trust me this is from self experience.
#54335 Ory1997 : Dude the reason no one is replying to your story (besides me) is because each post is two long. See the fact is people start losing interest if you tell them to read several thousand words, your not making a novel hear, just facts, information and opinions. If you can please make it shorter. Post the results of a match in one post, transfer things in another and other things that you want to show us one post at a time. It would aslo be good if you add some pictures to "hook" the readers interest. Trust me this is from self experience.

I've already read every one of his posts when it was posted in the original place. It's a tactical commentary. If you don't know the difference between two, to, and too, it might not be your thing
#54356 tbendis : #54335 Ory1997 :
Dude the reason no one is replying to your story (besides me) is because each post is two long. See the fact is people start losing interest if you tell them to read several thousand words, your not making a novel hear, just facts, information and opinions. If you can please make it shorter. Post the results of a match in one post, transfer things in another and other things that you want to show us one post at a time. It would aslo be good if you add some pictures to "hook" the readers interest. Trust me this is from self experience.

I've already read every one of his posts when it was posted in the original place. It's a tactical commentary. If you don't know the difference between two, to, and too, it might not be your thing

Yeah, I know they're too long. Just the approach I chose. Keep saying I'll write less, but this is the way it comes out comfortably.

Feel free to skip entirely! Also note, there's an end-of-month summary to provide a way to skip the bulk - scroll to the end, you get results + relevant snip of the table.
January 2014

Messi wins the World Golden Ball and World Player of the Year, a ridiculous fifth season in a row for each. Ronaldo and Ozil share the runner up spots, Ronaldo 2nd for the Golden Ball, 3rd for Player of Year; Ozil the reverse. David Villa is European striker of the year, Derdiyok gets consideration as he's 3rd behind also Ibrahimovic. Similarly, for goalkeeper, Casillas first, Cech 2nd, Adler 3rd.

Our two youngster midfielders arrive amidst public approval from a few key players. Meanwhile, an offer for Augusto arrives from Barcelona. I'm going to be a bit greedy and add some longer-term clauses, but it looks like we'll have to let him go - he already had a private gripe at me that he wanted to go if an offer from a club of the stature of Barca came along. How can you turn that down? We're not at that level, and it would take many years to get there if things went absolutely swimmingly...

The SPL is shaping up to be pretty interesting, if the first-half results are an indicator. Rangers are first on 42 points, +22, 42 goals; Hibernian second on 42 points, +22, 37 goals; Celtic 3rd on 42 points, +22, 36 goals. Aberdeen are not far back, 39 points, +19, 36 goals. Hibernian still have a game in hand (hosting #10 Kilmarnock on 8 Jan), but have to visit Celtic next.

The Augusto deal is done. It's €25m up front, €1.5m after 50 league appearances (two years, about, if he plays more or less regularly), and another €1m after he scores 10 goals. I wish the young man well, and he's absolutely over the moon, but there's a definite level of disappointment there too, and I'm sure I'll hear from the fans. Although... it now turns out they think we did well to get so much money for him and are happy. Go figure... covering for the loss of an important player won't be easy. Sidney Sam gets the job of right midfielder by default, with Marcel Risse and Enzo Reale getting a crack at it as well - and some midfielders who are left-side-first will have options, such as Trochowski, Jorgensen. One player who won't be in the mix is Burak Kaplan, he has also gone, to Espanyol for a structured deal worth at least €3.8m (most of that over time). Kaplan couldn't work his way seriously into the mix in the 1.5 years I've been here, he possibly could in the future, but we've got other players to think about too. We've taken €110k+/week out of the salary mix, without actually being too worried about salaries. It means we have a lot of flexibility, if I think we need to add something big, or increase some salaries of current players. As noted from before the break started, there's a lot to think about.

There's now a rumor that At.Madrid will come for Botia, who has a release fee of €29m. I don't buy that. But if it happens, I guess we have the funds to buy a replacement... if we can find one!!!

Okay, this is not good, Derdiyok has taken an injury and is expected to miss 6-7 weeks.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Borussia Dortmund
Score: 2-1 (Sam 16, Sukuta-Pasu 81 - Guilherme 30)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We'll resume the season in an unexpected way: missing four starters from when we left off. Adler and Derdiyok are injured, Dante is suspended (he did get the three match ban we expected), and Augusto has departed. This might not be ideal meeting the #3 club in the division. It's Giefer, Sukuta-Pasu, Vida and Sam who replace them - or maybe based on first-half performance you'd say Sukuta-Pasu keeps one of the starting spots and Kiessling regains his due to Derdiyok's injury. After a tough quarter hour, it's Sam who makes his case that we won't miss the €27m man (Augusto) by opening the scoring. We're trying to come to grips with this setup, and it's got some issues... Dortmund are peppering us with shots, the 11th one goes in, from newcomer Guilherme, a debut goal. We've looked shaky in the first half, the match announcer says it's been a great match so far, but not really from our perspective. As the second opens, Dortmund have a good sequence and Giefer is fooled, we're lucky it goes in the side netting in the end. We've had a horrid match, at one point (remember this is a home fixture) we've been outshot 20-6, but things begin to turn a bit late in the match, and after a few half-chances, a corner is headed off the bar by Sandro, and Sukuta-Pasu is there to head in the carom, 81st minute, is it enough? He should have had a second a few minutes later, then Jorgensen heads a Bradley cross disappointingly just wide. Bradley's brilliant shot just clicks the bar. That was a good finish to an otherwise poor match. Giefer put in a monster performance in his fill-in role before we figured out how to play, it would have been a lost cause if he was just a little worse, and he's a deserved man of the match. Indeed he's named league player of the week.

So as we approach our fixture with Kaiserslautern, there's a week left in the transfer window. Do we need to do something? I'm liking Lee Chong-Yong of Bolton as another wide (right, Augusto's position) midfielder, but two scouting views don't rate him as that much different than Sidney Sam, and it looks like Bolton want a fortune for him. So what if Gonzalo Castro plays some in that spot and we strengthen at right back to fill in? Hard to say... Kyle Walker is unhappy at Spurs and looks a fairly inexpensive option. But... I've gotten the highly regarded Babacar Dieye to play the position, he's only 19; Castro isn't exactly a creaky old man at 26, do I want to insert one more piece here?

Match: 1.FC Kaiserslautern - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-0 (Scheiber)
League Position: 1st
Summary: The first half sees some interesting play, but nothing we've done has posed a serious threat. That story continues, and finally we get hit on the counter, the pass from the wing found Scheiber as open as you'll ever find a player in a top flight league and he scores, and that's the final. Horrid show. Bayern draw, so it costs us only one point in the table, we're still up by five.

We've gone ahead and pushed for the Kyle Walker deal, now we'll see how this works out. €3.5m this one took, money we could well afford for another dangerous option, if he works out. Of course any transfer that doesn't is "one we couldn't afford"!!! He's got lightning pace, expect to have him bomb forward and join the attack maybe more than Castro does when we've got him in. It's no secret I've never really been comfortable with options like Vida and Vanden Borre backing up Castro. Dieye, as I said, is a player for the future, but we've seen two things so far: he's not quite ready for this level although can play if needed; and he's actually better at center back.

We've restarted our season slowly. It took a Bundesliga player of the week performance from keeper Giefer to get us the three points v. Dortmund, then we've lost to Kaiserslautern, and we've lost one of our starting players to the brighter lights of Barcelona. What will all this mean?

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Borussia Dortmund (Sam 16, Sukuta-Pasu 81 - Guilherme 30)
1.FC Kaiserslautern 1-0 Bayer Leverkusen (Scheiber)

End of Month Table Summary (19 pld):
1. Leverkusen 46
2. Bayern 41
3. Schalke 33
4. Hoffenheim 31
15. Aachen 16 -16
16. Bielefeld 16 -20
17. Nurnberg 14
18. Duisburg 13

The lack of matches leaves us making only €2.2m after transfer profit
of €9.45m. Profit for the season to date is €21m.
Would you be able to do pictures of the league table at the end of the month. I'm a bit of a statto and love to see all the numbers every once in a while.
#54619 Wagger : Would you be able to do pictures of the league table at the end of the month. I'm a bit of a statto and love to see all the numbers every once in a while.

sure, that's workable. I've done archived end-of-month saves so could fish those out.
February 2014

Before the match, Bayern have lost at home to Hamburg, which is great news for us - if we can come through against Bochum, currently 13th in the league.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - VfL Bochum
Score: 5-0 (Schürrle 9, 23, 87, Troost 68, Walker 79)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We need a quick bounce-back after last time, and it's Schürrle who gets us started, sneaking through the middle to finish a cross that wasn't that impressive, but wasn't dealt with. Bochum have a nice sequence which ends in an easy catch for the returning Adler, then Schürrle side-volleys excellently for his second goal. Where's this coming from? He's been no kind of scorer for me. Life gets worse for Bochum, Mavraj fouls to keep a play from developing, but it didn't look red-card worthy to me. The referee has made his decision however - 25 minutes in, Bochum, two goals down, are now also a man down. Kadlec takes an injury, giving a chance to bring in Walker for his debut after Dante moves over to the left, albeit at a position other than we envision as his best. In the 2nd period, Adler outright misses a corner, but it's cleared off the back post. Troost finally sneaks through to score, he's been having a tough season after such a good start on his arrival last season. Then Walker marks his debut winning a ball and firing a rocket into the back of the net. Schürrle completes his hat trick four minutes from time, and I think we've got the response we wanted! We've both wiped out the disappointment of the loss a week ago, but also capitalized on the Bayern loss in two ways: we've now got an 8-point lead, and we've taken back the goal difference race, +34 to +33. Unfortunately, there's bad news on the injury front, Michal Kadlec has a hip injury that will probably keep him out for two months.

Match: Hamburger SV - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 3-2 (Kacar 17, 46, Jansen 80 - Kiessling 86, Sukuta-Pasu 90+1)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Snow flies at the start and the officials have broken out the irritating red ball. Hamburg come in with the division's leading scorer in Sloan Privat. It's really hard to see out there, but I can see Hamburg, fresh off a win in Munich, dominating early play - and a shot that I'm not sure anyone saw eventually goes in from Kacar. There have been a lot of knocks in the first half hour. All four of our back-liners have been hacked, and then Oczipka gets kicked a second time, I'm a little worried about him and Dante. HSV already lost a player. And then Dante is down again. Privat pinches a ball off one of our defenders and he's off to the races, but he's put the ball in the side netting. With Privat drawing a lot of attention he drops it off to Beisler who's clear, but Adler comes out and stops him wonderfully. Dante meanwhile is down yet again, I think we have to consider him done. Our first-half performance was horrid, we're lucky to only be down 0-1. But that only lasts 25 seconds after the restart, Kacar again. Schürrle should have scored minutes later, but he doesn't finish at the far post emphatically enough, and now Bradley is down. I think we're finally playing a bit better past 70 minutes, but Hamburg score yet another, Jansen this time. The lads are going to get an earful after this one, we're not even competing. It's universal, Adler should have got the last one. It just gets worse, we've got a break going with three speed merchants, and Schürrle is overtaken from behind and the ball cleanly tackled away. How can this happen? Sub Kiessling finally bangs in what will be little more than a consolation goal. Kiessling, subbing at right wing, has looked our most dangerous man since coming on, and he sets up Sukuta-Pasu for a stoppage time goal, this will look better than it was. We've been outshot 24-9, out-possessed 44-56, had worse passing, HSV seemed to win all the tackles. Two minutes plus a bit for the goal left... Hamburg slow things down by making a sub. We've for a cross in, but neither of our forwards can play it as they'd both be offside, Still there's time for a final throw... same deal as moments before, there's no offside on the throw of course but as soon as it goes to a player who crosses it, they've gotta get offside. Isn't anyone talking out there? And talk about getting let off the hook, Bayern lose again, it's still an 8-point lead with 21/34 played.

We've got to get off this slump right away, we have Hoffenheim next, that will be at home - but they're the side that just upended Bayern. Then it's off to Rome mid-week for ECC knockout play.

We're starting to struggle with injuries now, Dante has hamstring trouble and will miss a few weeks, joining Kadlec and Dieye; Reale is hurt now, Sandro is out but should be back soon, and Derdiyok still out a few weeks.

The nutty SPL battle continues, with 25 played, Rangers are on 57 as are Celtic, Hibernian are on 54 but back to two games in hand, and Aberdeen 49 with one game in hand - where they'll host Hibernian. The Scottish Cup is strange, Rangers went out in the 4th round to Livingston, as did Hibernian to Dundee United after extra time in a replay. Aberdeen went out as well, but Celtic are still in it. Hibernian are in the League Cup final v. Celtic - Celtic has a reasonable chance at a Scottish triple though none of the three prizes are salted away yet.

In England it's a massive battle, six points separate the 1st through 8th place sides - those eight are Aston Villa, Man City, Man United, Spurs, Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton and Chelsea. Chelsea have played 25, Man United 24, the other six are on 26 played - at the moment the advantage seems to be with United.

The German Cup sees a Munich derby in one Qtr final - FC Bayern v 1860 Munchen. Results are Bayern 2-0 1860; Hoffenheim 1-2 Mainz; Karslruhe 0-2 Schalke; Hannover 1-2 Dortmund.

Aberdeen parlayed home advantage to a win over Hibs, so it's still a four-team race, Hibs can do no better than draw level at the top with their game in hand.

We lost Trochowski to our growing injury list, but to be honest Bayern are as badly, or perhaps worse hit... they've got Ivica Olic, Franck Ribery, Toni Kroos, Arjen Robben each out for another month; Mario Gomez, Thomas Kraft, Danijel Prajic and Sime Vrsaljko out 2-3 more weeks and David Alaba for a few more days. Those aren't all starters, but it's quite a clump of big names too with the first five of those. I have a little more sympathy for their struggles now I see that. We haven't lost to Hoffenheim in eight meetings (two draws), but what does that mean, we just broke a streak where we hadn't lost to Hamburg in seven (one draw). This is a big match in terms of demonstrating quick bounce back, and I'm going to sit some players and hope they shine against Roma.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
Score: 1-1 (Helmes 66, Santa Cruz 90+1)
League Position: 1st
Summary: I've put pressure on and told them I expect a win, even though there aren't many of what would have been considered starters at the beginning of the season - Botia and Kiessling, essentially (Sukuta-Pasu is in that position now, you'd have to say). Kiessling misses a chance when he's out front, then Jorgensen hits the post. Sukuta-Pasu with a terrible effort after a nice turn, we've got problems here. Kiessling shows incredible hustle to get us a play but the chance goes, and then the next one, in disappointing was. Sukuta-Pasu scores but was in an offside position. Need a win from this crowd, but there's not much sign of that off the first half performance, and we've lost Sukuta-Pasu to injury. Seven shots taken, not a single on on target. Can't score if... well, you all know the drill. Kyle Walker has put our first shot on target, then Jorgensen tries the spectacular with a bicycle kick that is nowhere near the target. Ballack is cooked, but before coming down he has time to hack down Chinedu Obasi, who has to come out. The challenge was not penalized. Nestor Vasquez makes his senior debut in relief. Gustavo, who's already on a yellow, hacks down Zvonko Pamic, but the referee isn't interested in the protests that it's worthy of a second yellow. Vasquez sets up a goal with a nifty little layoff to Helmes after receiving from Pamic. Not exactly household Leverkusen names, are they! Well, Helmes has been around for a while, admittedly. Long ball, Kiessling works so hard to get it, but then wastes the situation by looping over. Referee's getting fussy, we get two cards in moments, the second was a player clearly backing into Kiessling, but Kiessling gets the foul and card. And the players continue to frustrate me, for example a quick switch of play has Jorgensen in acres of space left, he attacks but waits too long to decide what to do and the ball is knocked away. Yes we win a corner, but we had them on the run, now they get to set up their defense completely. Botia tries to convert it but hits the bar. We finally have another decent shot, Pamic solidly heading a free kick at the goal, but Starke makes an excellent grab. Now we're on the break, Kiessling tries to time it... it's all perfect, but he clangs it off the bar. And that miss is as costly as it gets, as Hoffenheim break the other way, and Santa Cruz has rifled it into the net in a stoppage time heart-breaker. In the battle of "does anybody want this", #2 Bayern draw at home to Werder Bremen, and #3 Hamburg draw at Dortmund. Indeed, of the seven matches on this Saturday 15 Feb, only Gladbach secured the three points; Bielefeld, Kaiserslautern and Nurnberg lost and we know the three draws. So... I've gambled with the combination of a message shake-up, and with resting players (most under the guise of letting them think about how poor they were v. Hamburg... and I've lost the gamble, but not been hurt (yet) by losing the gamble.

All of last year we dropped 17 points, in 22 games this year (64% of the season) we've dropped 16 already. My "bite of the apple" comment was supposed to be about the Champions Cup, but it turned out we couldn't get back to the top in the German Cup, and now we're struggling more in the league than we did last year, will it apply here too? It better not... I think we were a stronger team than last year for the first half of this season, after Augusto's departure I'm not quite as sure.

It's staying wild in Scotland, I hope that really pumps up fan interest. All of the top four have led at some point in the season, right now it's Rangers 58 from 26 (+31), Hibernian 57/25 (+30), Celtic 57/25 (+29), about as close as it gets. And Aberdeen are still not out, 52/25 (+25). Sunday, Celtic draw with Hearts, so now they're 58/26 (+29)... for the moment moving Hibs to 3rd. Aberdeen don't cash in their Monday home match, a win would have put them directly in the hunt, as it is they're now on 53 points after a draw.

We've got a battle of our own, behind the top two, it's now Hamburg 37, Wolfsburg, Stuttgart and Schalke 36, Hoffenheim 35. And Dortmund are hovering at 33, all battling for European spots and especially for the ECC slot.

There's no secret I'm nervous about the visit to Roma. We've got four starting players definitely out, two forwards and two defenders. Kadlec's injury is a problem because his backup Oczipka is inconsistent - he can have a great game or a poor one, you just don't know; Kadlec is remarkably even-keeled and you pretty much know the left will be solid no matter what; and because the only other left back choice we have is Dante, mainly a central defender - he's the other of the two defenders who's out. So it's Oczipka or bust at left back; and under-performing Kiessling plus one of Helmes or Troost up top. And to be honest, Sandro, while back from injury, isn't quite fit enough for starting this one, so I guess it's five starters out. Unless we follow the theory that if you have a player you're not sure can play the whole match, start them, at least then you replace them when it's time, if they sub in and can't finish, then you have to burn yet another sub... Walker can't be selected as he saw European action already for Spurs, and Pamic isn't on the registration list. And possible backups Trochowski and Reale are out injured too. Somehow despite being in a slump and short of the best talent, we need to hold the score to the point we have a chance of winning the tie in the home leg in three weeks, when we should have at least some of the players back and the home crowd behind us.

Match: AS Roma - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 1)
Score: 1-4 (Boriello 76 - Botia 29, Fernandez 54, 66, Troost 61)
Summary: After my musings on using Oczipka, when match day arrives, he's just too tired to start, and we have to pick Anthar Yahia instead... the fourth choice based on training but I've never played him in the position. Sandro isn't ready enough either, so we've got a super tired bench, I hope I don't need them for anything critical before we get to 60-70 minutes or so. The Roma midfield is scary: Riise, Pjanic, De Rossi, Gourcuff... we're going to have to find a way to attack a back line that's good, but not quite as scary. Forward Boriello has had a bad start, he's missed a sitter and later tripped Botia to earn a card. This helps, because we're struggling to keep up. It's Boriello who puts in the opening goal though. Wait, he's offside! Honestly that's a tough one; he was off, came back, the pass was made at which point he looked on, but "coming back" isn't allowed... We have only our second decent sequence about 23 minutes in, but Sam's eventual header is weak and Curci snatches it out of the air. There seems to be some arguing in the back as Roma win a corner, but we survive it. Fernandez is a free kick specialist, but he seems to keep hitting the wall. 28 minutes in he's had one slither off a wall players, and Curci can't field it, under him for a corner. That's a boon for us - Botia, who's been ages without a goal, has headed in Castro's in swinger, and we've got a lead and a vital away goal. Pjanic, then de Rossi try to make up the deficit all by themselves. Then Gourcuff. If the long shots aren't going to be any better than that, we'll take that all day. Now it's Fernandez the other way, similarly a fairly weak shot. We've had some great defensive saves, and we've been a bit on the back foot all half, but it's still 1-0. Roma pile on the pressure in the 2nd... but suddenly, it's Bradley (Bradley? really???) on a break down the left touchline, he's shaken a man, and the entry pass finds the streaking Fernandez near-post, chested down and rammed in for the score!!! What a gorgeous play! Now it's Troost on the break, and he's scored, just seconds after getting a completely unjustified yellow card. 3-0!!! 30 minutes to go, we need to consolidate this one so the home leg isn't too big a battle. This team has talent, sometimes it takes a big challenge to bring it out. Speaking of which, we're trying to break again, Kiessling looks like he's picked out Troost to go through but it closes down and the ball is tackled away... and comes to the poaching Fernandez who says thank you very much as he scores easily!!! A deadly 12 minutes, three goals... There's almost a hat trick for Matigol as he bangs at a botched clearance and it goes just barely wide of the far post. Took a deflection the ref says. We don't do the right things on the corner, and Roma break the other way and score, Boriello heading in a cross trailing the play. Boriello puts in another one, but he's miles offside, the second one he's had ruled out. With some tense moments, we've seen out a gigantic result, if we can't see out this tie in the home leg, we've got real problems.

Now... was this the event that launched us back onto a roll? Or are we going to keep being up and down?

In England, strange doings... defending champions Tottenham Hotspur, who had title-winning manager Harry Redknapp retire, brought in Louis van Gaal to replace him. It's not been a stroll to the title by any means, but also not a disaster, 6th on 49 points, seven points behind leaders Villa with a game in hand, so possibly just four points off. But expectations are such that gets van Gaal the sack, and Unai Emery is hired away from Manchester City, who sit 3rd, four pts. behind and also a game in hand on Villa (note Man United have multiple games in hand and are likely to go top). I don't think I've seen a big club hire a manager away from a bigger club mid-season when both are still in the title hunt...

Match: Werder Bremen - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 3-3 (Denis 23, Walker o.g. 45+2, Almeida 69 - Naldo o.g. 14, Troost 29, 40)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We've had some good stuff going early but blunted, then a goal scoring sequence arrives... Troost looks like he has a solid scoring chance but he gives to his partner Kiessling who has less. Stefan chips, and it looks like "maybe, maybe..." until it hits the bar, but Troost hasn't fallen asleep and heads home. Okay, this is stupid again, it's heading in, Naldo behind the keeper slides in and pokes but can only get it off the inside of the post... how is that an own-goal by any definition? Oczipka has put a perfect ball into the middle but nobody can finish, and in the followup, Walker has to take a yellow card. Marin then heads in a looping cross, but is called offside, and that's the right call, as he stayed rooted and everybody stepped up. But... Werder are awake, and it's not long before they've scored Beausejour to Denis to the back of the net. Troost cashes in a mistake, and this time there's no question it's his goal. Sandro just isn't quite ready yet so we bring on Bradley, he of the new contract. Moments later, Fernandez bends in just the right long free kick and Troost heads home, he's been everywhere in this match and should already have his hat trick. Walker makes a superb steal and puts it on a plate for Kiessling, who... surprise... clangs it off the bar. What a horrid year for him in results, but he's still working so hard. Wide open, end to end, fans are loving it... well, except that for the majority, their side are losing. Just at the death, a corner sees Denis fire - off target, but off the back of the legs of Walker who's busy marking his far-post man, and in it goes. Another own-goal. It continues frenetic in the second half. Kiessling has had a chance, and no surprise, it's woodwork again. Kiessling makes a run down the left touchline, he's found Troost, and that shot is off the woodwork too. What's going on here??? Fernandez has a chance to pick out Troost, but his looping ball is not well taken, it's too low and so headed away, and off it goes the other way... nobody will cover Beausejour all match and he's found Almeida for the header to draw level. Sukuta-Pasu, in for the hapless Kiessling, has made a great move and he's off to the races, and here's yet another shot off the woodwork, six scoring chances foiled this way so far!!! I don't think I've ever seen that many. Fernandez keeps hitting the wall. We've blown another close-in chance. Time's running out on yet more points dropped... Sukuta-Pasu wins a footrace to a long ball, but his effort at a shot is woefully wide. Once more he's loose, this time the ball bounces enough to let the defense catch up. I'm utterly furious at this draw, and again we're let off the hook because Bayern are just as bad, drawing at Wolfsburg. We've only taken five points from the last five league matches, most of it coming from the clobbering of Bochum. I've given Kiessling a pretty serious nudge, see if he takes it on properly.

I should stop looking at Scottish matches, it's none of my business any more, and the Hibernian playing staff now is gradually drifting away from what I left behind. But in the ongoing shuffle, Hibs have now gone top, they've beaten Rangers and Celtic dropped points at home drawing Killie... now Hibs 61, Bhoys 59, Gers 58.

Heh... Louis van Gaal, who was cut loose by Spurs so they could hire Unai Emery from City, has now been hired as the new manager at City. So it's essentially a transfer, but financially it's one that favors City, since Spurs had to pay €2.3m in compensation to City, and since van Gaal was sacked, City paid nothing.

Our month was again unpredictable... we've opened with a crushing win in the league, and we've replicated our surprising away performance in an ECC match, taking a commanding lead on AS Roma, and around that we lost once and drew twice in the league. Definitely struggling to put together consistent winning performances in the league, and we're fortunate that Bayern are doing no better.

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 5-0 VfL Bochum (Schürrle 9, 23, 87, Troost 68, Walker 79)
Hamburger SV 3-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Kacar 17, 46, Jansen 80 - Kiessling 86, Sukuta-Pasu 90+1)
Bayer Leverkusen 1-1 TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (Helmes 66, Santa Cruz 90+1)
AS Roma 1-4 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 1) (Boriello 76 - Botia 29, Fernandez 54, 66, Troost 61)
Werder Bremen 3-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Denis 23, Walker o.g. 45+2, Almeida 69 - Naldo o.g. 14, Troost 29, 40)

€4.4m out... €16.5m in for the season.

End of Month Table (23 pld):

Well, there's a try with some screenshots, and I remember why I stopped doing screenshots once I got onto a really widescreen monitor... they look kinda silly, all stretched out like that.
March 2014

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - VfL Wolfsburg
Score: 2-0 (Kiessling 50, 52)
League Position: 1st
Summary: It's pouring rain for this one. We've got a nice break going early, two Wolfsburg players both going for a ball in the attacking end, they get in each other's way and the break is run just perfectly to have Kiessling spring Derdiyok but he fires wide. Diego looking dangerous for Wolfsburg. They've got a 10th minute setup that gets an open shot for Riether inside the box, but he puts it over. Kiessling draws a great save - lot of action in the first 10 to not see a goal. Kiessling sets up Fernandez in close but he goes wide, with luck Kiessling should have two assists now. He blows a chance of his own at the half hour, and the game kind of stalls as far as excitement for the rest of the half, scoreless at the break. As the 2nd gets underway, Derdiyok has blindly headed forward, Kiessling gets there and sets up Derdiyok with a return pass, the shot is right at the keeper, but with the power he put on it, he can only beat it away and it's Kiessling who pounces and blasts the ball in. A deserved goal, he's been very active. And just two minutes later, Kiessling slots one across the keeper for his 2nd - and a milestone, a century of league goals for Leverkusen. Fernandez sets him up for a possible 3rd but that shot goes over, then Derdiyok has one saved. We're still on a burst, and three more chances come by the 64th minute but after that there's not much more. It's a match we dominated from the viewpoint of chances - we outshot Wolfsburg 21-8, and even more tellingly, on target was 12-1; we blocked three of their eight efforts. But we committed more fouls, lost the possession battle, and passed a little less accurately than them... and tackled poorly. Not entirely the kind of performance I like to see at home. The rain didn't help, of course, but the opponent played in the same conditions.

So at this point we're in decent shape, but not as well off as last season - with ten fixtures to play, we've got an eight point lead over Bayern; last year it was 15, and they didn't have chances left to play us. This time we've got three of the current top four teams chasing us left, including Bayern in the second last fixture of the season - in their home park. We've crashed out of the German Cup, but we're still going in the Champions Cup. We'll have to be sharp to keep everything going.

Match: 1.FSV Mainz 05 - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-3 (Risse 16, Bradley 69, Jorgensen 89)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We've gone with a bunch of backups, and they look very good early, capped by a Marcel Risse goal a quarter hour in. Oczipka's cross was perfect for the far-post header. But as a reminder nothing will be easy, Mainz almost score minutes later, only the crossbar saving us. We're missing a bit of sharpness as Mainz get a sequence with three distinct dangerous shots, Adler to the rescue. As we approach the break, the referee has handed out three rather ticky yellow cards, all on our back line, which has to be very cautious the rest of the way. We've got a good setup, Sukuta-Pasu receives a bit deep for his taste and squares it in, but where are the runners? He has every right to be irritated, as am I. Mainz, despite out-shooting us 10-5 in the first period, never looked likely to score, hope we keep that up. With our contributions fading, we make a couple of subs, Ballack (tired) and Sukuta-Pasu (ineffective) our for Vida and Helmes. Shortly after, a near-perfect sequence gets our second goal, Mainz keeper Ali Al-Habsi throws out and the back tries to send it long but puts it out instead. Walker throws from the mid line to Pamic, tapped back to Walker, looped forward to Risse who has to volley on the run to keep it going out, and it's into space where Helmes runs onto it, taps it into the middle where Bradley's sliding run pokes it in. Kyle Walker caps an excellent game with a sliding poke off the line late in the match, it launches a counter which sees Helmes chip the keeper, but a defender come behind to clear it, that's one last-gasp non-keeper rescue for either side in just a few seconds. The long ball to Risse on the right, another player with an excellent game, has been dangerous several times, and on 89 he runs one down and crosses into the middle where two runners are menacing the goal, it's Jorgensen with the finish. Nice stuff, I've mumbled about wide play several times, and this was just what I wanted - with star Augusto and backup Kaplan sold, and with current starters Schürrle and Sam sitting, we got superb shows from Risse and Jorgensen, whom I want, along with currently injured Trochowski, not just to be filling in when needed, but trying to push for a starting position. Today's showing was in that category, with very good performance from Bradley and Walker too.

Another big-name coaching job has come and gone... AC Milan's came vacant, the press decided I was the top contender, I "declined to comment", the board took that as a good thing, I was never contacted, an in the end Fatih Terim takes the job.

In the mystery that is Scotland's Premier League, Hibs only could draw at bottom half club Dunfermline, but Sunday Rangers lost at Motherwell and even worse Celtic lost at home to St Mirren... Hibs lead the division by 3 over Celtic, 4 over Rangers with 28 matches gone.

Odd doings again on the managerial carousel, Felix Magath, who has coached at a bunch of teams in Germany, returns for as second spell at Schalke after spending a little under two years at AC Milan. He's been at 12 clubs so far, none for any great stretch.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - AS Roma (ECC 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 2)
Score: 2-2 (Kiessling 6, 61 - Guarch 48, Brighi 90+1)
Summary: Magical stuff in the first leg, but are we clearly better or was it just one of those days, and we'll have to battle to prevent their comeback? Our only question to start is at right back, Castro has a European suspension and Walker's ineligible due to his Spurs involvement in the tournament. A needlessly fussy referee shows Sandro a card on 17 seconds for a nothing challenge. And a Roma player a card also inside 5 minutes. Then Kiessling gets in place for a lovely header to take the lead, that must surely do it!!! Dante's done another stupid studs-up challenge, and again been shown red, he's put us in trouble here but even more he's just not giving us what we need - this is going to be a yet larger number of games he's missed as what's supposed to be a key central defending position. I'm about ready to consider transferring him out after this one. Down to 10 men, Kiessling and Derdiyok have both made bad judgments on breaks. Now it's Fernandez leading a break, he works it just right to dump to Kiessling after he's drawn the defenders, but the shot slides wide of the far post. Aaaargh... Still, we've played well through the half. There's really not much chance of losing now, 5-1 on aggregate with 30 minutes left, but we switch to a more defensive set at the break and I explain to the substituted players that it's nothing to do with them, just trying to lock in the win. We blunder at the back and it's 1-1 in the 48th after a follow-up finish. We're doing enough, and then Adler catches, makes the right throw, Vida with space to loft it out to Kiessling who swoops in on goal and beats the keeper, 2-1 in the 61st, our win in the tie is certain barring a miracle but I want the win in the match too. Kiessling, working alone up top, nearly works his hat trick... we have a corner. Stefan: we needed you back on form, it's looking like it's getting there finally. Sandro's been great for most of the second half, Adler's been there for everything that gets through the defense, and Vida, who has played three different roles, has been great. And still, a lucky shot in extra time Brighia gets Roma level. Some problems with defending, but we're through.

After losing on penalty kicks last year, I hope my U19 squad has enough to win silverware this season. And... quite a first half effort from a 15 year old striker Rainer Demir whom we don't rate all that highly overall, two goals, gets us on our way, and inside 50 minutes it's 4-0. In the end it's a dominant win, and there are names like Daniel Scheuer, Engin Arslan, Ali Omer, Nestor Vasquez and a bunch of other, in addition to Demir, will these be future Leverkusen players?

Bayern follow us through to the next knockout round in the Champions Cup, as do Girondins Bordeaux and Benfica. The other four in a week...

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FC Köln
Score: 3-0 (Sam 9, Fernandez 44, Sukuta-Pasu 64)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Despite a couple of lineup changes we're doing well in our derby match. Kiessling took a knock very early, we'll see if he can run it of. After we spurn a couple of chances, one set up by Sam, it's Sam who scores rather easily on a header, Oczipka with the feed. Derdiyok hits the corner of the frame and when Schürrle tries to volley the bounce, he puts it just high. Now Derdiyok is struggling a bit. Kiessling goes through, he's behind, and he puts a shot wide... after consecutive matches scoring a brace, I thought maybe he was over this problem. And I don't know what Derdiyok is doing as he lofts a ball that looks like neither shot nor cross, just way behind and way wide. Ouch. Fernandez shows a little more touch when Schürrle feeds him, this one is in the back of the net. To open the 2nd, Kiessling's bending shot looks a lot more promising, but just over, then a moment later an easier shot is way over. Sukuta-Pasu's tame shot is blocked by the keeper, but Schürrle out-hustles the defender to the ball and puts it back in the middle where Sukuta-Pasu slides to poke it in. Troost isn't really defended, but misses; Koln have looked quite vulnerable at the back, we've gone right through holes several times. Sukuta-Pasu with an impossible miss from four yards late in the game... Schürrle and Sam were big impact players and keeper Giefer had a superb game with a number of acrobatic saves. No change at the top this round, although Shalke dropped points while staying 3rd. They're still having trouble scoring, 28 goals in 26 matches, way behind our 65 and Bayern's 60, and behind #4 Hamburg's 51. The loss to us costs Koln boss Frank Schaefer his job. Five of his coaches go with him, so they'll have a bit of a job rebuilding.

Bradley, who's been a little injury prone, takes a training knock and will miss up to two weeks. Enzo Reale is close to making a comeback, while Kadlec is still out a few more weeks. Oczipka continues a little erratic, but generally has been more consistent since taking over as the starter in Kadlec's absence. Needed to be getting more minutes I guess.

In the alternating-week scenario of the ECC first knockout round, we see the other batch of matches - Barcelona and OM have advanced from the Tuesday games, Porto (on penalties over Juventus) and Liverpool from the Wednesday games. That means we're clear to have the draw for the next round, and this year we don't dodge one of the risks of the tournament - drawing a monster team. It's Barcelona we get; the other matchups are Liverpool v G.Bordeaux, Benfica v Bayern, and Porto v holders O.Marseille. Leverkusen met Marseille in group play in 2011, that was before my arrival. Barcelona won in Spain 2-1 and drew 1-1 in Germany. The first leg will be home on 2.April, the second away on 8.April. In a case of "how the mighty have fallen", Man United face Inter Milan - in a Euro Cup knockout tie.

Match: FC Schalke 04 - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 2-1 (Uchida 54, Bienvenu 82 - Derdiyok 42)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Horror tackle from Botia just 20 seconds in, he sees red for it. That's bad stuff... Schalke are not a team we want to play a man down to, certianly not for the full 90 minutes. We look better early, then Schalke have two golden chances - and blow both of them. I don't want to sacrifice someone right away to put in a defender, we're going to be working horribly hard for the whole match and will need the subs to relieve tired players. So we've dropped Sandro back into the defense, where he's not rated a good player, but we'll just have to make do. We've held Schalke just fine for most of the half, and get a goal late in the half from Derdiyok, it's a chip over the keeper. Schalke draw level on 54 as we just don't have enough defenders in place on a free kick and Uchida heads in. Bienvenu pokes one in late, looks like we're going down to defeat this time. Especially after Sam creates space for Derdiyok but he fires wildly. Derdiyok gets behind, but shoots at Neuer, who is, of course, a brilliant keeper. Once more for Derdiyok winning a footrace, and again miserably off target. I had kind of hoped we could hang on for the point, so the 82nd minute winner for Schalke hurts. Bayern win theirs handily, and now it's a five point lead and they've taken the goal difference advantage +44 to +40. We need to turn that around right quick so we can survive possibly losing at Bayern near the end of the season. Can we do it, though?

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - MSV Duisburg
Score: 5-0 (Yelldell o.g. 11, Kiessling 33, 35, Derdiyok 65, Fernandez 90+2)
League Position: 1st
Summary: It's a Tuesday match following our regular Saturday, so a few changes. Walker seems to be edging Castro for right back, I only got him as a backup initially. Castro isn't looking really happy, either. Walker gets us a goal, he loops in a short cross that's not that good, too close to the keeper, but Yelldell is not paying attention and lets it go in off his legs. Kiessling scores just past the half hour. And a second on a lovely shot in off the inside of the post just two minutes later. We're picking poor Duisburg apart, which of course is just the response I wanted. Vanden Borre's header is off the bar. Kiessling's already gone close twice to getting his hat trick before the half. It spends some time in the 2nd looking like we won't get more, but Derdiyok pots one after we've made a couple of subs. We don't have the precision of play to score more until a stoppage time break sees Kiessling pass up a try at the hat trick to put Fernandez clean through. Good effort, but we just can't afford mistakes of that sort, losing a key player so early. I'm not going to make a public stink about it, but he'll hear about it nonetheless.

Bayern were not in league action as they had a cup match - which they've lost on penalties to Schalke - they've joined us now in crashing out, although they can point to going a lot further in the competition. Dortmund beat Mainz in the other semi final, so Dortmund v Schalke for the final. Dortmund haven't won it since 1989 (twice total), while four time winners Schalke last won in in 2002 (and 2001 before that).

In Scotland, Hibernian hang on to top spot despite some stumbles, they dropped points in four of six league games sandwiched around winning the League Cup, before beating Dundee United. Showdown ahead: this coming Sunday, they host #2 Celtic, with a three point lead. They could keep the top spot even if losing if it's only by a single goal, anything more and the goal difference would swing to Celtic. Eight matches remain in the season. The final was Hibernian 0-2 Celtic, so Celtic are top by a single goal.

Mini-international break here, 86-times capped Yahia is off for an African Cup of Nations qualifier.

Not too bad; four wins from five in the league, with the first-minute dismissal at tough Schalke just too much to overcome; we're only drawn Roma at home, but since it seals the tie, that's okay.

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 VfL Wolfsburg (Kiessling 50, 52)
1.FSV Mainz 05 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Risse 16, Bradley 69, Jorgensen 89)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-2 AS Roma (ECC 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 2) (Kiessling 6, 61 - Guarch 48, Brighi 90+1)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 1.FC Köln (Sam 9, Fernandez 44, Sukuta-Pasu 64)
FC Schalke 04 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Uchida 54, Bienvenu 82 - Derdiyok 42)
Bayer Leverkusen 5-0 MSV Duisburg (Yelldell o.g. 11, Kiessling 33, 35, Derdiyok 65, Fernandez 90+2)

End of Month Table Summary (28 pld):
1. Leverkusen 63
2. Bayern 55 (27 pld)
3. Hoffenheim 49
4. Schalke 48 (27 pld)
5. HSV 47
6. Stuttgart 46
7. Dortmund 44 (27 pld)
14. Koln 27 -8
15. Aachen 27 -19
16. Nurnberg 20 -29
17. Bielefeld 20 -33
18. Duisburg 20 -41

Loss of €1.44m, which is fine; turnover increased to €7.23m from €3m and expenses to €8.68m from €7.42m. If we go out to Barcelona it will certainly affect our ECC revenues.
April 2014

The two Portuguese clubs, Benfica and Porto, failed to consolidate their home advantage in the Champions Cup first legs; Benfica draw 1-1 to Bayern and Porto lose 0-1 to Olympique Marseille.

We welcome Barcelona to Leverkusen, but it won't be an on-field homecoming for Augusto, who's playing well for them but of course is cup-tied having appeared for us in the group stages of the competition in the fall.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - FC Barcelona (ECC Quarter Final Leg 1)
Score: 3-2 (Derdiyok 18, 61, Sam 75 - Pedro 43, Villa pen 81)
Summary: The two sides are going at each other, we have a string of early corners plus a run-of-play header that amount to nothing, then Barca have some chances, then Kiessling gets through but fires wildly, then Derdiyok tries but it's right at Valdes - so one striker way off target, and one too much on target :) After the Derdiyok play, however, we win a corner, and Derdiyok heads that one in! Just over the bar from a free kick some minutes later. Botia bangs at a Castro free kick and it comes off the underside of the bar. We're probably going to regret not taking some of these chances. We hit some referee trouble, first Sam is offside on a very late, and apparently incorrect, flag; then Howard Webb books Derdiyok for making contact with the keeper on a play where he looked entirely entitled to go for the ball. After 35 minutes Barca start to take over, and Pedro nets from Messi near the break. Kiessling had a poor game and came off around the hour, then Fernandez puts Derdiyok through and he almost takes the back of the net off with his emphatic blast. Villa is through but he's missed badly. Busquets misses even more badly. Then Villa is on target, but Adler brilliantly robs him of the goal. The tide has shifted again. Pedro seeks a penalty with a blatant dive... but Webb buys it! Villa nets, and we're in trouble - no lead, and two away goals for Barca. However, we get the lead back when Sukuta-Pasu makes space with his blazing pace, and then puts his cross on a plate for Sam. We have to make an odd change with both fullbacks completely exhausted (and one, Oczipka, having a poor game as well); we go to three in the back and two defensive midfielders. I simply don't have another left back with Kadlec still injured and emergency Dante (normally a center back) serving a suspension. Mascherano, who's been flirting with a second yellow, finally convinces Webb he deserves one with about a minute of stoppage time left. Alves gets an even later yellow, both those guys will miss the second leg on suspension. We've picked up a win over Barca, never anything to sneeze at, but we still have a big job if we're to come through the tie.

The other first leg sees Liverpool 2-1 Girondins Bordeaux.

Bayern will make up their missing game on 16 April, it's home to Gladbach. Meanwhile, we know 14 points from the remaining six matches is enough to ensure the title. Those six are at #10 Gladbach 5 Apr, #15 Aachen 12 Apr, at #17 Bielefeld 19 Apr, #7 Stuttgart 26 Apr, at #2 Bayern 3 May and #16 Nurnberg 10 May. Bayern are at #15 Aachen 5 Apr, #17 Bielefeld 12 Apr, #10 Gladbach 16 Apr, at #7 Stuttgart 19 Apr, at #16 Nurnberg 26 Apr, us 3 May, at #6 Dortmund 10 May. We've been kind of following each other playing just about the same opponents for a while, and this continues: every one of our opponents also plays Bayern, and of course we face each other. You'd think with the title on the line we could win the three against bottom feeders, so the big question is getting the points in the two away matches v. Gladbach and Stuttgart - or else just simply beating Bayern and being done with it that way!

Match: Borussia Mönchengladbach - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-3 (Troost 1, Sukuta-Pasu 26, 88)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Nervously, I rotate, we've got tired, ineffective or suspended players after the Barca match - and another coming on Tuesday. Pamic finds Troost to score a goal 36 seconds in! Gladbach don't look good, but there's a long way to go. They're picking it up already, and one play they're allowed to pass too easily in the box, but Adler bails out the leaky D. We're struggling a bit, but a goal helps you get healthy, Schürrle springs Sukuta-Pasu and he does good work to eventually beat the keeper. Bradley unluckily hits the post. Now we're finding some huge holes. 2-0 at the break. Gladbach get an early break, but Adler does enough - there's no angle to score with a passing shot. Sukuta-Pasu has been wreaking havoc throughout with pace and attacks, but his second goal comes from a set play instead, a diving header off a free kick late in the match. Some heroics from Adler to keep the clean sheet. Bayern struggle a bit to hold on to what was a 4-1 lead to Aachen, but do win it 4-3. Our win has assured we'll be in the Champions Cup again next year, worth something of course, but we have other objectives. Eleven points will now lock up the league title.

Match: FC Barcelona - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Quarter Final Leg 2)
Score: 1-1 (Villa 48 - Derdiyok 29) Leverkusen win 4-3 on aggregate
Summary: I've tried to point out that despite their reputation, Barca are far from invincible, in their own league they're only 5th after too many draws. That speech notwithstanding, we don't start out playing very well, but then out of nowhere - or rather, from a set play (started with a throw), Derdiyok has headed home. We're up 4-2 on aggregate now, and a second goal somewhere would take the away goals thing out of the equation. We've made it to the break intact, but shortly after the restart Villa levels the match. We need that goal, Fernandez a chance but doesn't beat the keeper who turns it behind. Derdiyok's header of that corner is off the underside of the bar, we can't get it in but another corner. Kiessling scores on a nifty free kick sequence, but it's waved off for offside. Is there enough in the tank to hold them off? Time is winding down, but a single goal wins it for Barca because of away goals. Bojan is free and should score, but Adler gets him. Now it's Pedro, same result. Botia beats Villa in a footrace, and Villa trips him and gets the card. Reversal of fortune! It's difficult at the end, but we've managed to survive and we're through!

Girondins Bordeaux came back on Liverpool - trailing 2-1 going to the away leg, they won it 1-0 and so are through on away goals.

Now I'm actually hoping Bayern go through as well... we'll get matches around the 22nd and 29th of April for the semifinal, mid-week before the probably crucial Stuttgart and Bayern matches, and I'd rather have our rivals similarly stressed. Our next two league matches are absolutely must-win, there can be no stumbles here, and the second is going to involve a lot of subs. Bayern of course are welcome to stumble in the league, it will make it easier on us. We didn't get the Champions Cup help we wanted; Benfica took a 1-0 win in Munich to progress 2-1 on agg. In the last 1/4 final, OM win 2-1 in Porto and take that tie 3-1.

We'll get our chance at revenge over Olympique Marseille, who beat us in last year's final - this will be a two-legged semi final.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - TSV Alemannia Aachen
Score: 3-0 (Derdiyok 36, Dante 50, Jorgensen 54)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Must-win, and we're starting well but missing results. Sukuta-Pasu did have the ball in the net in the 6th, but was ruled offside. We've had a lot of the ball, a lot of the attack. But, for the most pat we've got the wrong people working for shots, Aachen are backed in and it's the midfielders who aren't top scorers working for shots - Bradley, Sandro, Jorgensen. Yahia's header is blocked by a diving Vilar, and then the ball rolls just out of the reach of Derdiyok. Set play - a little better. Temporarily we're making a change to try to stretch things out a bit - I'd resume our normal set if we got a lead. This is working better, but Sukuta-Pasu has his shot saved. Derdiyok gets to a corner, but Kratz on the post manages to clear. The change has helped only for a while. At the break we tweak again, higher line, shorter more deliberate passing, let's see if we can pick an opening eventually. Derdiyok makes a mockery of the "eventually" part of the story, only took 28 seconds to score. Aachen want this one ruled offside as well, but the decision has been made. Sukuta-Pasu almost makes it two in three minutes, but Vilar just gets down to tip it wide. Dante heads in the corner though. Then Jorgensen with a header, and now we're finding a way through, strangely it's wide play when I had given half-time instructions to play narrower. Who says the coach knows anything? :) 3-0 win is meeting expectations, really, would have liked more with the goal difference equation. Eight points to the title, seven if we can stay ahead on goal difference - Bayern won 2-0, we're four goals ahead of them, but with in a game in hand they could wipe that out quickly.

We're waiting for that game in hand, mid-week...

The split has now been reached in Scotland, 33 games in the bag. The Championship Group will consist of Celtic (72 pts, +38), Hibernian (72 +35), Rangers 64, Aberdeen 60, Motherwell 58, Hearts 50. So that's the way the system is supposed to work, though it often does not: will be an exciting finish there, with the final five amongst the best sides to decide the title and European places. England is crazy, nobody can pull away, the top six are separated by five points, with Man City on top on 67, then United, Villa and Arsenal on 65, Chelsea 63, Spurs 62. There are various games in hand to complicate matters. Everton on 58 and Liverpool on 57 are not out of the European mix, although the title seems out of reach with only four remaining to play.

For scouting purposes some of the staff head to Munich. Bayern look deadly, especially a midfield of Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Yoann Cabaye, adding to Mario Gomez and Khouma Babacar up top, there isn't even room for Franck Ribery in the XI, although he's just coming back from a hip injury and isn't fully fit yet. Likely he'll be ready for us in 10 days... Bayern open quickly from Kroos, then nearly suffer disaster as a keeper clearance hits a defender and rolls just wide of the post. Gladbach use that to fight back for a while, but the match is soon put to bed on a Babacar goal. 3-1 the final, so Bayern have done their work, and the stage is set. It's a five point lead for us, two goals up on goal difference. We can win the title without a result in the Bayern game, that would mean maximum points in the other three are required. I liked last year when we could lock up the title earlier, and the Champions Cup looks like it will really be a distraction this time.

My sometimes pointless scouts keep recommending Bayern players to me. Yes, I know Kroos, Muller and Babacar are young talents still with immense potential, but Bayern aren't selling any of them to me, so why bother?

So now there's decisions to be made. Do we assume Bielefeld will be an easy touch, and save players now for the difficult string of four matches to come? Do we respect the league competition and go all out here and let come what may v. OM?

Match: DSC Arminia Bielefeld - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-4 (Derdiyok 30, 89, Dante 45+2, Sukuta-Pasu 47)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We've decided to go with the big guns. We're playing okay, the one thing that's outstanding is the tackling actually. Sukuta-Pasu gets behind but incredibly misses. He's starting to lose the form he's had and I guess we're going to edge back to Kiessling. Then S-P fires one off the bar, and Fernandez misses twice. I'm started to get a little frustrated/worried, especially as a potential break dies with a careless pass, but then Derdiyok lets off a left-footed cannon shot that keeper Eilhoff can't get to. Just about the right setup for Sidney Sam, but as he goes far post, Eilhoff gets a fingertip to it. Fernandez is just off - we sat him for one game as we went 4-4-2 but we really don't have another AMC I favor as much, the youngster Pamic keeps getting knocks, Sam hasn't impressed in the role, etc. Derdiyok's chip beats the keeper but not a recovering defender, and it's going to 1-0 at the break except Bielefeld completely botch the clearance of a free kick from the side, and Dante just rolls it in. Gift. Second half, Sam again, this time he puts it over. Sukuta-Pasu just goes right through a hole in the back line that should have never been there, he's caught Derdiyok again in the team scoring race, both have 20. Hmm, on replay, that was better than it seemed, as he was coming a bit left to right, he gave a look and shoulder hitch towards Derdiyok, so the one defender just edged that way, and he turned up and went right into that gap. Cute little fake. Fernandez looks like he's put one int, but Guela on the post boots it out. Coming back the other way - a break off that clearance - Takyi puts it just wide. Now it's a matter of keeping the clean sheet. Or, what the hey, why not extend - with Bielefeld trying to get a goal late we've got Derdiyok behind and he puts it in. And Bayern have drawn at Stuttgart! That changes the picture completely, we could now (not recommended) lose to Stuttgart and Bayern in the next two, beat Nurnberg in the finale at home, and still win the title! Only three points needed.

Now to see if I've passed up our ECC chance with the selections made in the last match. I did manage to get the three midfielders who do the most running out of the match fairly early so they would hopefully be available for OM if we go that way. Last year the way we lost to OM was disappointing. We know they're a side that like to sit back and counter-attack, and last year they sat back, to the tune of 60/40 possession for us. They didn't really even counter attack with success, they scored on two late corners - but what they did was soak up enough of our pressure that we only had a single goal to show for it.

Here's how things have evolved since last year's final. OM played 4-5-1/4-1-2-2-1/whatever: Mandanda in goal, Taiwo, Radu, Mbia and Azpilicueta across the back, Migliaccio at DMC, Cheyrou and Kaboure at MC, Arda Turan and Remy at wingers and Gignac up top. We played -4-4-2, except Bradley was absent from the picture, so Adler in goal; Kadlec, Dante, Botia and Castro in back, Schurrle, Ballack, Vanden Borre and Augusto across the middle and Kiessling and Derdiyok up top. OM are missing Radu and Mango through injury. We're missing Dante through suspension, Walker and Pamic aren't registered for the competition (Walker because he's cup-tied from Tottenham Hotspur). However, both sides do have some additiona: we have Fernandez, OM have Edin Dzeko and Riccardo Montolivo, so they haven't gotten weaker!

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Olympique Marseille (ECC Semi Final Leg 1)
Score: 1-1 (Derdiyok 29 - Dzeko 24)
Summary: Tuesday, some match-time decisions... Schurrle will play, but it's a choice between Sidney Sam on the right, or Jorgensen on the left with Schurrle flipping sides to the right. Jorgensen has been on a roll recently and is starting to live up to some of the promise. And it's a choice between Sandro, who is the one of the midfielders I didn't get out of the Saturday match before the end, and Bradley. My assistant suggests Jorgensen and Bradley. Based on recent form, I take the former suggestion and reject the latter. Leverkusen: 4-1-2-1: Adler in goal, Kadlec, Yahia, Botia and Castro in the back, Sandro anchoring, Jorgensen and Schurrle wide, Fernandez at AMC, Kiessling and Derdiyok. Leaving the odd situation that Sukuta-Pasu, who the OM manager said was our most dangerous player, doesn't start. OM go with a repeat of last year's finals formation, Mandanda in goal, Taiwo, Mbia, Victor Ramos and Azpilicueta in back, Migliaccio at DMC, Arda Turan and Remy on the wings, and Dzeko on top. This means the key players are Sandro and Fernandez, really: can they keep the three in midfield for OM from dominating, and is there an opportunity for the "hole" with nobody playing below Dzeko to leave us able to starve him. Sometimes these formational analyses are all on paper as players go where they have to, but I have to say I'm not at all eager to see Edin Dzeko again. Dzeko (18), Remy (16) and Turan (11) do most of the scoring for OM. It's interesting stuff early, OM don't let us control the ball early, Dzeko has been too enthusiastic to get to a ball and been carded, and Botia has gone close on a corner only to see Loic Remy on the post bail out his keeper. And guess what, we're burned yet again on a corner, Dzeko heading in from the near post. Now I'm angry, this has been a point of emphasis since we were able to work on this matchup, and here we are yet again. Derdiyok should have got the leveler, but Mandanda pulls something amazing out of his bag of tricks. I'm starting to think we can't beat this team, but Kiessling goes for a long ball that is surely Mandanda's, he has a huge lead - and Kiessling gets there at the same time! Ball squirts right, and Derdiyok says thank you very much. I hate this... unless I'm reading too much into it, everybody goes to celebrate with the goalscorer, while it was entirely down to Kiessling to make this one. We still can't make any headway, and then disaster strikes, entirely unfairly, Sandro is shown a second yellow. So although I couldn't have known it, I've made the wrong choice. Now we're in huge trouble, we desperately need a big win, and we'll have to go 45 minutes a man down. In the 2nd, Castro rescues a goal off the post, then a great Adler save. Then the referee has a chance to even things up with an equally silly foul on Dzeko - but he chooses to keep his cards in his pocket. Great. We've got a chance going, Derdiyok makes a superb pass to partly spring Kiessling, but Mandanda is hard to beat, and the follow from Jorgensen is so bad as to be embarrassing. Very nice sequence, Derdiyok to Sam to Kiessling, but the shot is blocked.

I'm really unhappy with this, we've been pretty clearly outplayed, at home, to a team that's running only 5th in their league. Some really bad performances in the bunch. We're lucky to come away with a draw, and OM have an away goal in the bag.

Bordeaux and Benfica draw 2-2 in the other match.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - VfB Stuttgart
Score: 3-0 (Sukuta-Pasu 3, Sam 24, Helmes 61)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: Stuttgart have improved markedly over last season, epitomized by their result v. Bayern just now that helped us so much. Last year they were 11th, 10-9-15, 32gf, 56ga; this year 8th 14-6-11, 43gf, 33ga. I'd love a win here to salt it away, but we have to do it with some changes - I decide not to risk Botia who's one yellow from a suspension I don't want taken against Bayern in case that match matters; Dante is still nursing a minor knock; Bradley would be the choice over Sandro except Sandro's two yellows in the first leg means he's suspended for the second leg in Marseille, so it's Sandro and Ballack in the middle to start. And Adler is out with a minor knock, we don't seem to fall off much if at all with Giefer in goal. Helmes - who's asked for more playing time or a transfer, gets a rare start and goes close early, followed in by Sukuta-Pasu, although Ulreich almost made a miracle recovery to get back. Dare I say 87 minutes from the title? It's certainly not a secure lead, Stuttgart are going at us with all they have, and have made two excellent chances inside 20 minutes that both went just wide. Sukuta-Pasu releases Helmes, but he doesn't get the ball around the keeper. Now we've got the pressure on. Ans Sidney Sam bends in a shot that catches the far side. It looks better now... two goals up, 66 minutes to play. Sukuta-Pasu off to the races, but he's forced wide left and can't get an accurate shot off from there. What a pass by Helmes for Sukuta-Pasu, but an equally good stand-up save from Ulreich. Just before the break Borges misses - he's upset but I think Geifer had it covered anyway if he put it where he was aiming (near post). 45 minutes to go now. There's nearly another goal for us in the first fifteen minutes on the 2nd, then it does come, this time it's Sukuta-Pasu's shot blocked by the keeper and Helmes coming around to poke it in. It's all over now but the final 30 minutes waiting for the whistle. We've nearly scored on 70, a shot deflected wide is collected and put in the middle by Schurrle and Sukuta-Pasu is going to tap it in, but the whistle is going for offside on Schurrle. Sukuta-Pasu hits the post, then heads over on his own rebound. Six minutes... Ulreich is having a real problem hanging onto the ball, but we haven't capitalized again. There's the whistle!!! The title is ours, and it matters not that on Sunday disheartened Bayern stumble to a draw at bottom dweller Nurnberg - just that our victory margin may end up deceptively large. Until a week ago, the outcome was uncertain, despite our holding a lead, since the six-pointer next week was still to come.

Benfica have beaten Girondins Bordeaux on away goals. Even before this result we knew the final would be down to clubs outside the three highest profile leagues, England, Spain and Italy. It will be Portugal v. France or Germany... At least it won't be France v France!

Match: Olympique Marseille - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Semi Final Leg 2)
Score: 1(4)-1(3) (Taiwo pen 2 - Kiessling 65) 2-2 on aggregate, OM win on penalties
Penalty Shootout: L Fernandez miss, O Remy, L Ballack miss, O Taiwo miss, L Troost, O Dzeko, L Castro, O Ayew, L Derdiyok, O Gignac
Summary: We have to have a little think here as first choice fullbacks Kadlec and Castro haven't been as superb as usual recently, while second choices Oczipka and Walker have been doing really well. Still, we have to go with what are considered the best. Well, the referee has simply given the game away, less than 30 seconds in he has given a nothing penalty against Kadlec. Around 10 minutes, Montolivo absolutely flattens Bradley, and everybody on the field stops, seeing the obvious foul - except there isn't one. We've not had any luck beating OM anyway, we can't beat both OM and the referee if he's going to be against us. Bradley's shot makes it through traffic, but scoots wide. Dzeko-Turan interchange, but Turan misses his shot. Sam crosses for Kiessling, but the header was never close. Good defensive work, Dzeko was loose inside but the backs never let him get a shot. We're trying to score from a corner, Botia is bumped, but the ref rules he committed the foul. But then we do win a penalty as Fernandez is knocked down - but he has his try saved by Mandanda. Past the hour, Kiessling has slide to poke in the tying goal. Fernandez sends through a rocket free kick that comes back out, woodwork I think. Fernandez, who seems to be waking up a bi,t to Derdiyok, but the shot it wide, then moments later one skids off the post. We've improved our play, but we should be leading. Is there another goal in this? Derdiyok off the woodwork again! It's on to extra time. The ball just won't go in for us, Mandanda having a lot to do with that, as well as some bad luck and our own wastefulness. The referee has shows us five yellow cards now. A very dangerous free kick, but Gignac's header is over. One last rush? Ballack can't enough power on the shot. Still one more... we've got a corner, but no, an attacking foul there. Penalties. It's bad; our two best penalty takers, Fernandez and Ballack, going first, have theirs saved. Adler saved from Taiwo on OL's second round, but they make the remaining three and we're out. It was a game punctuated by penalties, the one they made and the one we missed in regular time, and our failure to come out on top in the shootout.

I'm not going to go into details of more than a few individuals now, but there's going to be a massive clearout at the club in the summer. At the moment, we have 25 players going out of contract this summer; 25 in 2015; 23 in 2016; 10 in 2017 or later - that's a rather excessive 83 total. Of the 25 expiring, it's possible we could keep as many as six... or as few as one (that's 18 year-old left back Martin Glowacz, who's still rated well enough that if he comes good, he'll make the senior team, although probably not challenge for a starting spot). That 25 includes the retiring Ballack. I'm also tempted to clean out the youth squad, which currently has 11 players (only one going out of contract) who are only rated 1/2 star potential, which comes with the "far from being good enough" tag. There's one more who is a one star ("isn't good enough"). The youth squad, as I mentioned at the start of the season in the report that was lost, is way too big - after just moving up three players after the youths have locked up their league title, there are still 33 players. There will be a new intake for next season, so I have to get rid of ones who will never play to make some room. Normally 18-22 youth players should be plenty unless there are many involved as youth internationals. Third keeper Fernandez and backup midfielder Vanden Borre have asked to be allowed to leave if they can't get a more key role, and I'd like to accommodate that. So although it's little effect on the senior side, more than 30 players could leave the club overall.

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 FC Barcelona (ECC Quarter Final Leg 1) (Derdiyok 18, 61, Sam 75 - Pedro 43, Villa pen 81)
Borussia Mönchengladbach 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Troost 1, Sukuta-Pasu 26, 88)
FC Barcelona 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Quarter Final Leg 2) (Villa 48 - Derdiyok 29) Leverkusen win 4-3 on aggregate
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 TSV Alemannia Aachen (Derdiyok 36, Dante 50, Jorgensen 54)
DSC Arminia Bielefeld 0-4 Bayer Leverkusen (Derdiyok 30, 89, Dante 45+2, Sukuta-Pasu 47)
Bayer Leverkusen 1-1 Olympique Marseille (ECC Semi Final Leg 1) (Derdiyok 29 - Dzeko 24)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 VfB Stuttgart (Sukuta-Pasu 3, Sam 24, Helmes 61)
Olympique Marseille 1(4)-1(3) Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Semi Final Leg 2) (Taiwo pen 2 - Kiessling 65) 2-2 on agg, OM win on penalties

End of Month Table Summary (32 pld):
1. Leverkusen 75 (winner)
2. FC Bayern 66
3. Dortmund 57
4. HSV 56
5. Schalke 55
6. Hoffenheim 53
7. Wolfsburg 51
16. Nurnberg 23 -30
17. Bielefeld 23 -42
18. Duisburg 20

The bottom three are set, the only question is who is outright relegated (bottom two) and who goes into the relegation/promotion playoff (the third bottom side).

Some prize money and we've made a profit of over €3m. Turnover is €11.66m (up from €7.23m) mainly on €7.5m prize money; expenditures are €8.52m (down from €8.68m). For the season, +€17.77m.
May 2014

Not much left to the season now. It was heartrendingly close in Europe... last year, we were 10 minutes from being the champions; this year we were one of several events from returning to the final - a missed penalty, two shots off the woodwork, and worst, failure in the penalty shootout. I expressed doubts at the start of the year whether we can get back, but now I have more belief it's not a one-off, it is possible. So from disappointment comes a positive. We must be moving near the top of the ratings pack now, the club are only a still frustrating goal-difference miss of being league champions four years running, and events like a big win over Liverpool at Anfield, and eliminating Barcelona in the quarter final, convince me we have the quality, but it also needs some luck, or continued experience and mental toughness. Somehow, in the latest stages, our cutting edge deserted us, 300 minutes of football to produce three 1-1 results and a penalty shootout loss.

Match: FC Bayern München - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 2-6 (Walker o.g. 11, Breno 88 - Jorgensen 22, Bustos 31, 75, Derdiyok 73, Yahia 78, Kiessling 83)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: I planned to use Bustos and Vasquez in the finale, but a game time decision is we'll run Bustos out this one - Fernandez is completely gassed after the ECC match and as noted, I'm not really happy with anyone else at AMC at the moment... and just didn't feel like going flat 4-4-2, which is certainly an option too. To start, Bayern look much more interested than us. They get a goal when Walker slides to poke tackle but pushes it past Adler. Bayern are raining chances on us. Debutante Bustos sets up Jorgensen who levels at a quarter hour - our first shot, to that point it was 9-0. Bustos gets behind and scores, great composure as he was being closed in on. I doubt the Bundesliga are happy to see this. Rafinha clatters Sandro and is shown red, that looks a little harsh. In the second half, Bayern resume their attacking ways for a while, then it begins to fade. Derdiyok hits woodwork on a free kick, but there's a push in the box on the rebound, another unusual penalty award. Kiessling has it saved, as we're completely messed up as a squad on penalty taking now. A crunching tackle at midfield, it's Risse who runs the ball down with two Bayern players in pursuit, and he's put it in the middle where Derdiyok rams it home. We've completely confused Bayern on a break, Kiessling pulls a trick coming from the left and it's Bustos who's poked in another ball. The Munich fans are not amused as Yahia makes his way up field and heads in a corner, we've potted five on their home ground! Make it six as Kiessling sees his opportunity! Kiessling's trick works again, but Trochowski can't complete the play, his shot is in the side netting. Kiessling on a break again, Kraft tips wide. We could be on nine goals here. A sequence of five headers gets Bayern a consolation goal, the next last one clipping the bar and thus taking Adler out of the play as he thought it would drop down. Still, quite a win. Just a few days ago it looked like if we lost this game, the lead would be down to two points with one match left, instead it's now up to 12, quite a swing. What a debut for youngster Bustos. He's got two goals and an assist, vs. world power and chief domestic rival Bayern Munich no less. For an attacking/playmaking midfielder, I'll expect better passing (61%) but... he's 18, playing his first senior match.

We've made it to a rather surprising 90 goals on the season - we were 81 last year, and there's a game to go. We'll be the top scoring team for the second year, seems like we've really improved on the Leverkusen of the two years before I arrived (56 and 52 goals) in this regard. Our boatload of goals took Bayern out of the running, so now we're only battling Schalke for the least-conceded title (we're one better than them, we'll host poor-scoring Nurnberg and they'll visit Wolfsburg, the current 4th-highest scoring team).

The battle in Scotland continues, in the first two rounds in the Championship Group results were Celtic 2-1 Motherwell, Hibernian 2-0 Rangers; Hearts 0-1 Celtic, Motherwell 1-4 Hibernian. The sides are still level, now on XX; Hibs picked up three goals of goal difference so both are on 40, Hibs currently listed 1st on total goals, 72 v. 64. The next matches are Tuesday and Wednesday, then Saturday 10th May Celtic host Hibernian in what could possibly be the decider - advantage Celtic there, but Celtic have to visit arch rivals Rangers on the final day, where Hibs host Aberdeen. Glorious stuff, sad in a way to be missing it. Hibernian's Garry O'Connor is the player I brought back from purgatory - he'd spent many years with Hibs, gone off for two in Moscow, them four in Birmingham, where they eventually let him rot, a free pickup at the very end of the season 2010/11, since then he's scored 21, 18 and 23 goals and has just passed 100 career league goals for Hibs.

It's wild in England too, but Man City looks like they'll be able to edge their way to the title. Only Chelsea can catch them, as of Saturday night they have two games in hand (one Sunday). Man City must drop points in their finale v. #19 West Ham to miss out on the title now. Meanwhile, it's mathematically possible to have six teams 70 pts and over, and none at 80 (City get to 80 with a win in that finale). Chelsea blow their Sunday match at Birmingham, City can't be caught now. It will be the 6th winner in six years in the Prem, a league that had seen only four different winners in 18 years and now four new winners not from that group in the last four years.

Hibs win the Tuesday match v Hearts - barely. Celtic win theirs bigger, and take the lead on g.d.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FC Nürnberg
Score: 2-0 (Oczipka 52, Pamic 81)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: Nothing to play for here but pride. Nurnberg are going to finish in the bottom three, but are battling for the #16 spot where maybe they can save their top division place through the playoff, rather than outright being relegated. We play Bustos and Vazquez in the middle, otherwise a fairly normal lineup. Nurnberg break us down and almost score in the first minute, Bunjaku just having a half-step too little space so Adler able to block him. Captain Adler is furious at the ease with which they got in, he's whipping everybody into concentrating as Nurnberg line up the corner. Looks like we've got a perfect sequence around 10 minutes, ending with Derdiyok finding Sam with tons of space charging from the right, but the flag is up. 10 minutes later on the other side, similar for Schürrle, this one is clean but his shot is weak. Another through ball seeks Schürrle but this is too close to the keeper. Troost to Derdiyok who tries to lift it over, but Shaefer is excellent to get up and tip it. We're getting rolling now... but it's not enough to actually break through, scoreless at the half. Troost has had two great chances, but not managed the make the keeper even dive. Right off the kickoff Troost makes moves and this time gets a very good shot off, Shaefer with an excellent diving tip. The first goal comes after a throw, it's thrown back to Sam who immediately sends in a diagonal cross which hits Oczipka in stride as he charges in close to the goal... he's really had a good latter half of the season. His debut goal for the club, actually; he's come through the youth ranks and did score in one of the four years he was out on loan, but this is the first one in a Leverkusen shirt. The other way, Bunjaku to Golasa in a duplicate of the early Derdiyok-to-Sam, and I have to say, if the first was offside then this one was as well... same assistant, different call (yeah, yeah, of course they're not identical). Adler saves it anyway. Just about the world's greatest clearance by Kyle Walker, it looks like he's just desperately getting rid of a ball to break up an attack, but he's put Sukuta-Pasu in on goal at the other end, unfortunately he fires over from in close. There's one more goal in it, Troost has put Sukuta-Pasu clear, but he sees defenders coming and doesn't go straight to goal, rather laterally and then feeds a streaking Pamic who puts it past the keeper. We had a pretty good offensive flow going, 24 shots, 10 on target, but really didn't defend that well or control the ball that much. Okay for the circumstances - a little incentive is always useful and we didn't have much.

We've ended the season with seven consecutive wins, which was a kind of spirit I wanted to see although dented a bit by going out of the Champions Cup in the course of that. Bayern crumbled at the end, but as I said before, the final margin isn't reflective of what had the potential of going down to the last day, it was a fairly tense battle for a good chunk of the season.

In Scotland, the "deciding" match Celtic v Hibernian didn't decide anything, although the scale is tipped even more strongly to Celtic now. It's a 2-2 draw with all the goals in the first half hour, Hibs will be disappointed there as they got the first two. So with the edge in goal difference (by 3), Celtic take the title if they win and their result is not three clear goals worse than Hibs'. If it goes to total goals, Hibs have the edge still.

On the final day of the SPL season, Hibernian beat Aberdeen 3-0, and it's Rangers 2-2 Celtic... Hibernian have won their third title in four years!

The German Cup is won by Dortmund, and Energie Cottbus edge out Nurnberg on away goals in the relegation/promotion playoff, so this time there will be three new sides in the Bundesliga.

Some interesting stuff in the German awards, as we miss out in the voting in several places where we probably shouldn't have. Players' Goalkeeper of the year does not have Adler in the top three; none of our forwards are in striker of the year; Dante does get 2nd for defender of the year and Fernandez is midfielder of the year. Fernandez did have a special year, well beyond his statistical contributions since he left South America and Colo Colo after the 2006 season, he's done overall 14 goals, 10 assists and an excellent rating of 7.28. I'm third for manager of the year, which usually seems to go to the winner. Only Dante and Fernandez are in the First Division team of the year. Seems a case of popularity - I think we're not that well liked around the league, certainly I'd think some others were worthy of recognition.

Olympique Marseille defend their Champions Cup crown, they push Benfica all around the park but it's not until Dzeko goes on a very familiar (Erden Derdiyok-style - another ED come to think of it) break on the right to score the second goal in the 89th before the victory is secure. Good on them, but why aren't we up there?

We've done some work to try to bring midfielder (MC/DMC) Lars Bender back to Leverkusen, and eventually it's been successful. With Ballack retiring, Vanden Borre wanting a transfer out, and questions still about whether I want to keep Bradley or sell him, I wanted Bender in the squad. We get a bit of a discount: we're due 20% of the profit on his sale from when he went to Schalke from Leverkusen (before I arrived). The way this plays out is, we pay €12.5m for Bender, we'll get €3.1m for Vanden Borre who goes to Cesena, we should get back €1.75m as 20% of Schalke's sale profit on Bender, we'll pay him €49,500/week in salary but we're saving €83,000/week in the combination of Ballack and Vanden Borre's salaries. I think we can afford this deal: we pay around €7.5m for the transfer net, and save €33,500/week in salary costs. Yes, Bender had a bit of a "buy German" premium here, esp. since he came from a rival, but it's okay. It would be kind of amusing to bring in his twin brother Sven, currently toiling for Getafe, but according to our scouts he is a bit less of a player than Lars, and he's more expensive. I do have a bunch of young midfielders in the program now - Argentinians Bustos and Vasquez having announced themselves at the end of the year, Moroccan loanee Naciri coming back, Croatian Zvonko Pamic and Frenchman Enzo Reale also around. It's just I want someone more solid and experienced here; Ballack has been a real anchor even as his skills have faded.

I've tried to dump third keeper Benedikt Fernandez per his request, but had no takers. It's a little tricky in the German system, there's not a reserve side per se - the "II" squads have a U23 restriction, and Fernandez is 30, so I can't keep him sharp. Fernandez wants out, but I can't find a taker. I need a young keeper who can ply his trade in the U23 squad and be available as a #3 if whatever strange things should happen. I know who I want for the spot, it's a Bayern youngster whom they rate much less highly than another one of their kids, so he's probably available and he's not very expensive. It ends up costing a cool million, but get Bayern to agree to sell us Peter Nowak and the player to agree to come.

What else does the club need? Not much, really. Of our remaining 6 lowest-rated players (2.5 stars), there's Oczipka and Yahia, defensive substitutes; and my four wide players who aren't named Andre Schürrle: Sidney Sam, Marcel Risse, Nicolai Jorgensen, Piotr Trochowski. And it's true we've had a little trouble making an impact from the wide positions, but I'm not sure it's something we can really improve. We couldn't hang on to Renato Augusto, which was too bad, but players his caliber are expensive, and I don't think we're weak enough here to want to go spend the money it would take. Lewis Holtby (Schalke) is a really promising choice, but he's already expected to cost over 20m; a better known name like Eden Hazard is way more than that. Of course there's more than the two wide players I mentioned available, it's just this seems to be a position where the skill players are expensive and demand huge wages. It may be that Enzo Reale is a factor here eventually, but then again maybe not. It seems with the cross-training he's done and the general growth as he matures, that Schürrle is not only our strongest left winger now, but also the strongest right winger; perhaps "the answer" in another couple of years is Schürrle on the right, with our third Argentine signing, German Biglia, on the left, where he's rated quite a prospect.

There's not much else I'd consider a weakness... we're not in trouble on ages yet, of top line players, Kiessling and Dante are 30, Kadlec 29. There's still some to go before this side starts dropping off, and we are grooming players at two of the three positions, left back may become an area of attention eventually.

Monthly Results
FC Bayern München 2-6 Bayer Leverkusen (Walker o.g. 11, Breno 88 - Jorgensen 22, Bustos 31, 75, Derdiyok 73, Yahia 78, Kiessling 83)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 1.FC Nürnberg (Oczipka 52, Pamic 81)

Final Table (34 pld):

Promoted: Frankfurt, 1860 Munich, Energie Cottbus

We've done very nicely this year, as we go into our break we're actually up €63.5m for the season, a number that will come down a bit. We're now in the top 13 in world richest clubs, #12 just ahead of Juventus and just behind Benfica and OM.

Team Leaders
Appearances: Adler 39, Schürrle 36+3, Fernandez 33+4, Castro 33+1, Botia 32+1. Sam was 26+11.
Goals: Derdiyok 23, Sukuta-Pasu 21, Fernandez 14, Kiessling 13.
Assists: Derdiyok 12, Schürrle and Fernandez 10, Castro 9, Sukuta-Pasu 8
Rating: Derdiyok 7.69, Walker 7.49, Sukuta-Pasu 7.37, Giefer 7.32, Fernandez 7.28
Passing: Ballack 89%, Kiessling 83, Troost 82, Sam 82, Walker 82, Sandro 81, Fernandez 81

Fernandez... at Sporting, he was 63%, 64% and 67% passing his last three years, is it the system that makes the difference?

League Stats
I've had the impression, without spending too much time on statistics, that we've dropped off on our proficiency from set plays. On an end of season totting up, it's somewhat true, but we still did lead - just by a bit though (33 set play goals last year). Yellow cards we also still had the best record, but our number was up a bit. I'm a believer in on-field discipline, knowing some challenges will just come up a bit wrong, or not but we'll meet a fussy referee.

Set play goals: Leverkusen 29 (16c 2p 10i 1d); HSV 27 (16c 2p 7i 2d); Hoffenheim 27 (14c 5p 8i 0d); Bayern 26 (18c 4p 4i 0d); Wolfsburg 23 (8c 4p 5i 3d 3d)
Yellow Cards: 1. Duisburg 75, 2. Koln 65, 3. Hoffenheim 64... 16. Mainz 35, 17 Werder Bremen 34, 18. Leverkusen 31
Attendance: Dortmund 73,741, Bayern 68,247... 13. Leverkusen 29,820
Avg Attendance: Leverkusen 98%, Mainx 98%, Bayern 97%, Schakle 95%

Goals: Privat (HSV) 23, Sukuta-Pasu 17, Gomez (Bayern) 15, Denis (Werder) 15
Assists: Salihovic (Hoff.) 15, Kroos 13, Diego, (Wolf.) 13
Rating: Derdiyok 7.63, Kroos 7.42, Cabaye (Bayern) 7.40

Around Europe
The Euro Cup is won by Sunderland 1-0 over Chelsea.

Some other league results...
English Premier:
ECC: 1. Man City 80, 2. Chelsea 75, 3. Arsenal 74, 4. Aston Villa 73
EC: 5. Spurs 70 +35, 6. Man United 70 +31, 7. Blackburn 63, 13. Sunderland 42 (Holders)
Rel: Bristol City, West Ham, West Brom
Prom: Fulham, Burnley, Leeds
Top Scorers: Rooney 30, Vela 29, Tevez 25, Roux 25

Spanish Liga:
ECC: 1. Real Madrid 85, 2. At.Madrid 76, 3. Barcelona 68, 4. Sevilla 67
EC: 5. Athletic 64, 6. Valencia 61, 7. Deportivo 59
Rel: Recreativo, Tenerife, Levante
Prom: Hercules, Osasuna, Rayo Vallecano
Top Scorers: Falcao 27, Salomon Rondon 24, Ronaldo 24, Llorente 22

Italy Serie A:
ECC: 1. Napoli 90, 2. Roma 81, 3. Juventus 68, 4. Inter 66
EC: 5. Palermo 63, 6. Sampdoria 60 +14, 7. AC Milan 60 +5
Rel: Lecce, Lazio, Chievo
Prom: Bari, Ascoli, Torino
Top Scorers: Cavani 26, Benitez 21, Ibrahimovic 18

ECC: 1. OL 82, 2. Monaco 74, 3. Bordeaux 73, 6. OM (Holders) 59
EC: 4. Grenoble Foot 38 73, 5. Saint-Etienne 61, 7. Stade Malherbe Caen 58, 13. Lens 48 (Coupe winner)
Rel: Dijon, Nancy Lorraine, Stade Brestois
Prom: Valenciennes, Bastia, En Avant de Guingamp
Top scorers: Lopez 20, Andrianantenaina 19, Dzeko 17

ECC: 1. Porto 73, 2. Benfica 71
EC: 3. Sporting 57, 4. Maritimo 51, 5. Braga 50, 6. Academica 49
Rel: Sp. Covilha, Naval
Prom: Leixoes, Santa Clara
Top Scorer: Baba 17

ECC: 1. Hibernian 85, 2. Celtic 83
EC: 3. Aberdeen 67, 4. Rangers 65, 6. Hearts 54 (Scottish Cup)
Rel: Kilmarnock
Prom: Hamilton
Top Scorer: O'Connor 22
June/July/August 2014

The summer break is even less than usual for us, as it's a World Cup year, hosted by Brazil so it's either make the trip and be well away from the club, or stay home - no popping in and out. We ought to have some players in the Germany squad, but the oddities of this particular situation mean we don't - nobody does. Shhhh....

Groups are:
A Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Romania, Egypt
B South Africa, France, Paraguay, Bosnia & Herzegovina
C USA, Scotland, Spain, Cameroon
D Argentina, Australia, Poland, Ghana
E Croatia, Chile, Bahrain, Germany
F South Korea, Portugal, England, Uruguay
G Colombia, Slovakia, Mexico, Turkey
H Canada, Japan, Ivory Coast, Switzerland

Leverkusen players who will be involved are Domagoj Vida and Zvonko Pamic (Croatia), Matias Fernandez (Chile), Michael Bradley (USA), Eren Derdiyok (Switzerland), Alberto Botia (Spain), Kyle Walker (England), Sandro (Brazil). Good luck to them all! Of my former Hibernian players - well, the Scotland squad are dominated by players playing abroad, backup keeper Mark Brown and defender Paul Hanlon represent Hibernian, the only other SPL player in the squad is Celtic's Mark Reynolds.

Leverkusen have moved up to 12th in UEFA club rankings. I was actually hoping to have moved just a little higher, but we have one "bad" year left of the rolling five, 3.6 pts from 2009/10. Preliminary for next ranking is we're around 5th, but to confirm that we'd have to have another good campaign this year. OL are now top over Barca, as two time holders, that shouldn't be a surprise. Germany as a nation have dropped a bit, not because of our poor performance but because how glowing France's results have been. Spain, England and Italy, in that order, retain the three spots with four entrants into the Champions Cup. We're not going to move up, as Germany drop off a good year for the next round, but in no danger of being caught by 6th placed Portugal who are well behind.

We've got coaching contracts coming up for renewal, and won't be renewing them. We brought in two young Germans who'd recently ended their playing career to help with fitness last year, they're now moving on to regular coaching spots. Zvonko Komes, one of the incumbent fitness coaches, is not retained, and Peter Davidson, who was with me at Hibernian and left when I did, has come over to rejoin my staff. The other incumbent fitness coach I may just drop, as we want to keep this part of the staff as strong as it can be.

We made a lot of money for the year, so some goes out to shareholders, €16.75m. It can now be confirmed I guessed wrong on one bit of financial business... from before I arrived, Arturo Vidal had been sold to Zenit St Petersburg, and recently the board negotiated a buyout of the transfer fee - we were due 10% of any sale profit, and the negotiated fee was €678k - meaning break-even was a sale of €17.28m. After it became clear he wasn't going anywhere in the winter, we decided to take the buyout. He's just gone to OM for €21m. Well, can't always guess right. Meanwhile, France are strengthening again... while OM have won the Champions Cup twice in a row, they've trailed a bit in league results, 6th last year, 4th the year before, perhaps they figure this will make them even better. I'd prefer not to play them again, even if there's now a double revenge motive.

Interesting note from Edinburgh, I considered signing free agent Steven Taylor my first year at Hibs but we didn't have the finances to pick up his salary even on a free transfer. He went to Kilmarnock instead, for a lot less money than he asked us for. He then moved on to Reading for two years, and now, with Hibernian facing the probably exit of club stalwart Paul Hanlon (offers from Fulham and Blackburn), Owen Coyle has brought Taylor back to Scotland, where I assume he'll do well again.

We've now had the small ceremony for the opening of the new Leverkusen Stadion, initially with a capacity of 41,262, but designed so it could be expanded all the way to 65,000. They didn't tell me about that part last year, and now the build makes more sense, since the old stadium couldn't be expanded at all beyond its 31,000-ish capacity (some of which was standing room, the new one is an all-seater). Looking forward to the opening match, which will probably have a bigger deal, but don't know the opponent yet.

Finally, we get some club awards related to last season (it's 20 June, doesn't seem late, but...). The fans have voted Matias Fernandez player of the year... not bad for a free signing, is it?

The best XI is "pick of the players" Derdiyok, plus Adler, Botia, Bradley, Castro, Dante, Giefer, Jorgensen, Kadlec, Fernandez, Oczipka, Sam, Sandro, Schürrle, Sukuta-Pasu, Troost, Walker and Yahia.

Anthar Yahia, Richard Sukuta-Pasu, and Domagoj Vida are added to the all-time best XI (out-of-character note: of course this is only for the period since the game began, not truly all-time), which now consists of a starting XI of Adler, Kadlec, Dante, Botia, Castro, Ballack, Schürrle, Augusto, Bradley, Kiessling and Derdiyok and "backups" Giefer, M.Friedrich, Yahia, Vida, Sam, Helmes, Sukuta-Pasu.

Congratulations to all!

Turns out this year there's no Friday early match, all teams will begin play on Saturday 23 August, and we'll be hosting Wolfsburg to open the season. Presumably, since Wolfsburg are an opponent, I can't expect them to gift me a Bugatti Veyron from their patrons Volkswagen Group AG :) We'll visit FC Bayern in the second match of the season, looks like the table will be set early this year, like it was my first season - who will chase whom? Dates a bit odd; last year we opened the league on 9 August, the year before on the 18th, the year before that on the 5th. Looks like we've got a couple more friendlies to work in.

I released youth players with no potential before we looked at who was ready to move up from the academy. More players were then moved on to the U23 squad for age reasons. Now the staff get together and bring up 11 new players.

Now begins the fun part... clubs are going to start coming after our players. OL want Schürrle to replace Michel Bastos, apparently. Chelsea want Alberto Botia... I want to keep this player, but he's not so spectacularly good/consistent that I'd try to force him to stay. Botia's release clause is €29.5m, and for the good of the club, I wouldn't go insane trying to keep that deal from going through. Marijn Troost has been the subject of a €12m bid from Girondins Bordeaux... this is a different story, I don't think there's a young striker of similar quality anywhere in the world right now whom I could plug in as a replacement for the same price. So... that one doesn't seem to have a future (note this was the only real big, the other two were rumors).

One other bit of early transfer business, we have an offer to loan Salaheddine Naciri or 275k for the year. I'm not sure if he's ready to be a factor in the team or not. I think I have a better player for the AMC/MC role when I think of Ivan Bustos.

Odds, for whatever little they matter: we and Bayern are 3-1, then Hoffenheim 5-1, Dortmund 16-1, Schalke 25-1, HSV 33-1. Seems like they think it's a 3-team race, nobody else in the picture really.

We're been approached for another coach, this time Frenchman Ludovic Taillandier, a guy I hired. I don't have a problem if a coach thinks they're getting a better job than I'll offer, we're all in this business to achieve dreams. Leverkusen is a pretty nice family, the club are just goal difference in one season away from being four-time titlists. But... if you think you're going to advance your career better elsewhere, I'm not standing in the way. Time for a 1:1 chat... and the chat goes nowhere, he's off... for 1860 Munchen.

Naciri accepts the loan offer after we did.

July 1, the new players arrive, the ones out of contract leave. Unfortunately, Biglia won't be a factor for a while, he's recently been injured and will be unable to play until 2014.

Michael Ballack stays with the club, accepting a coaching role.

World Cup quarter finals are Brazil v Scotland, France v Spain, Germany v Turkey, England v Mexico. Winners are Brazil, France, Germany, England. Semis are Brazil v England, France v Germany. Kyle Walker has been excellent for England, I'm still a little mystified Spurs let him go, but they've got France DR Sebastian Corchia. It's France v Brazil in the final.

We're happy with the squad at the moment, not looking to add. The question is about subtractions. Unwanted striker Valeri Domovchyiski was out on loan last year to Werder Bremen with an option to buy, but unsurprisingly they didn't take up the option - he only appeared four times, one start, with one goal and an average rating of 6.35. We offered him out, and he got one bite - Spanish club Almeria. He should take this gig, they're certainly not the top club in Spain but they're woefully short of attacking options as far as I can see, and Spain is at the moment the world's best league (England will argue, but UEFA rankings put them top of Europe). It's a chance to rebuild a career that unfortunately stalled at Leverkusen. Keeper Benedikt Fernandez I talked about before, promised to try to find him a new club, and we've replaced the spot with a third keeper (Nowak) who's young enough to be eligible to play for the U23's for several years to hone his skills and stay sharp so if we need a third keeper, he'll be ready. He's got a bunch of offers, one is a full transfer offer from Genoa, the rest (13) are year loans. He asked to go, so he's got his pick, hope he takes one. I've got clubs interested in Bustos, Vazquez and Reale. If the former two come good, Reale kind of turns out to be surplus. His offer is a loan, although Schalke prefers it to be a loan with option to buy. Actually, Schalke fished for the two Argentinians too. I'm loath to strengthen a league competitor who had a very good defense, but couldn't score. I could loan them a player such as Reale to increase his skills, game experience, but hopefully he's not so good it bites us, but I'm not selling them one of the Argentinians. If I can avoid it, I'm not selling them to anyone until they've turned into the stars they're expected to be and we wan get €25-40m. Greedy? Yup, I'm trying to build the club, and maybe, just maybe, there will be a time when players don't pull a Renato Augusto and feel like their career needs another "bigger" club to reach where they want it to go. Nobody has followed up on the rumored swoops for players like Schürrle, Derdiyok, etc. We do have too many players right now, but the equation is complicated. Some players could stand to go out on loan, but I don't want that happening too early, it would be horrid to not be able to hold on to, say, Andre Schürrle and have that happen after we've loaned out someone who would then be needed.

I said "complicated"... I like versatile players so I shouldn't sound like I'm complain. So what's complicated? Gonzalo Castro was an absolute star my first year at right back, but after the arrival of Kyle Walker he's a bit grumpy, he sees he's going to end up being the #2 choice behind the current England #1 at that position. But in terms of potential, right back never actually looked like his best position. We've got one coach who thinks he's now our best right midfielder. Another thinks it's Andre Schürrle, who's also our best left midfielder. Mathias Fernandez has been working on playing a wide left position, but he's maybe the top AMC - certainly that was his position last season and that role got him the award for the team's player of the year. I've got basically eight central midfield types, Fernandez, Sandro, Bradley, Bender, Vazquez, Bustos, Pamic, Reale. That's clearly too many - but what if one of them (Fernandez left or Reale right) turns out to become the choice wide - how can I predict whom not to let go on a temporary or permanent basis? Confirmed wide players are Schürrle and Sam, Jorgensen and Risse, and the still disappointing Trochowski. I pruned here last year so the picture is clearer - except if Castro, Fernandez and/or Reale force themselves into the wide midfielder equation?

My assistant thinks we're weakest in defense, meanwhile. Left back is considered the weakest position in the club now, a position manned by the pair of Kadlec and Oczipka (the latter got a new contract just at the end of last year, after he stepped in really well for Kadlec's injury time, and was the better player after Kadlec returned). So I don't necessarily agree there's a weakness there. In central defense, we had some issues with a very solid starting pair - Botia and Dante. It's that both tended to get themselves into positions where they couldn't compete - suspensions, injuries, etc. I'd probably be happier with one mercurial DC and one ultra-stable one, but I seem to have two of the more mercurial type. Yahia is a good backup, but in his last year of his contract and will be 33 by the end of the year. Vida is much younger and while also in his last year, I want to keep him, he's showing he's a versatile player although on the other hand not one who has been able to make one position his own. The youngsters I have don't seem to be ready for a major role - Babacar Dieye (DC/DR) and Mitchell Winter (DC) being the ones who'll get time, both players I brought in.

Contracts are the next issue... the players running out after this season are Yahia, Trochowski, Kadlec, Kiessling, Helmes, Vida, Pamic, Jorgensen and Sam. Based on today's situation, Kadlec, Kiessling, Vida, Jorgensen and Sam are ones I'd want to re-sign for sure. For the others, it depends on performance, and the evolution of other situations. Whether we can afford to re-sign that batch is another question. We've been given an expectation of winning the league, the salary budget is €1.447M of which we're spending €938m - plenty of room because of the departures of Ballack (as a player) and Augusto meaning we have more headroom than one might expect, but we've got a lot of good players whom we'll have to convince to stay so I don't think there's as much space as it looks like once we start working those deals. After all, the idea is to actually reward the players for being one of Europe's top clubs, so they don't think they have to leave for others of Europe's top clubs.

Brief note from Hibernian, whom I've as usual arranged a friendly with: Joleon Lescott has also joined, a shrewd deal it looks like since it was a free transfer. At 31 he's not a spring chicken any longer, and he never did completely break in as a top flight starter at Man City, but it's not going to weaken Hibs' defense to have added Taylor and Lescott. They've also gotten a kid from parent club Liverpool on a year loan, Raul Egea. Frank Simek, yet another defender (USA international on occasion) also joins on a free. That balances the departure of Paul Hanlon and James McCarthy who left for fairly significant fees (the problem of getting good for a Scottish club), as well as Ian Murray and Callum Booth who went free.

Now here's a challenge... the third hot French club, Girondins Bordeaux, have put in an offer for winger Lewis Holtby. A player I covet, honestly... since we seem to end up battling French clubs all the time, can I afford to let him escape Germany? What do I do with the wide-player situation if I spend moderately big for Holtby (assuming he's come). Holtby, as can be inferred from the name, has English parentage, but he's born in Germany and always played there (Gladbach, Aachen, now Schalke which has included loans at Bochum and Mainz). I hedge bets by saying I admire his talent, and it draws an excellent reaction ("Holtby revels in praise"). Hmmm....

Domovchiyski does take the Almeria offer, and I wish him well with his new career. And Fernandez takes the permanent transfer option too, good for him. We've missed out on Holtby, he's taken the offer while we're deciding, thought there might be a day or two more. Hope I didn't blow something.

Brazil win the World Cup; Germany beat England for 3rd place. The Spain job is open after a "terrible" performance (lost in the qtr final on penalties, not so terrible to most of us). They don't offer it to me, though :)

It's July 27, and a very special day: our only home friendly, and thus the first match of any sort in new Leverkusen Stadium. We've already sold 25,857 season tickets. We're hosting AS Roma. We have a pretty good time, but it's not clicking for a lot of goals, we've hit woodwork some, the keeper taps a number over, and Martin O'Neil's defending keeps us from second chances; despite 25 shots, it's only Botia's goal, and a win where the managers say complimentary things about each other. We actually got 30,000 fans to come out for a friendly, not bad.

Our next friendly was a win over PSG in Paris, leaving us with one final friendly, our now-regular with Hibernian, who have just survived a tough Champions Cup 3rd Round qualifying match with Finland's FC Inter, not a noted world power. Scotland had slipped back down in the nation coefficients so the league winner has to enter at qualifying - their ratings are good enough that /next/ year the winner will enter direct into the group stage. Wouldn't say the odds looked great for them on initial indications.

At the moment, we've not developed much of a sense of where the club is, waiting for real matches. Kiessling is banging in goals like mad, Derdiyok looks a lot less interested, we already had a chat about his thinking about a bigger club - I said we still have ambitions here and he was happy with that - for now. Sukuta-Pasu has looked off kilter. Fernandez has not looked very good. Schürrle is looking like maybe he's taken another step forward. Newcomer (returnee) Bender hasn't really looked comfortable, hope I didn't make a mistake here. We'll play the Hibs match based on fitness needs, then we'll open with minnow Lippstadt in the German Cup, where despite last year's failings, I'll go with a reserve lineup.

After the Hibernian match, we find out Fernandez will miss around a month with a groin problem. That kind of exposes that if we're going to play the diamond 4-4-2 (or 4-1-2-1-2 if you prefer), the options aren't ideal after Matias... Bustos and Pamic are not players I have full confidence in for any kind of longer spell... I think they both have the skills, but they're not proven yet. Of course, we can also play our flat 4-4-2, and indeed Bender is here in large part to form a partnership with Bradley when we do that, at least for now, after the retirement of Ballack.

We've got one of the targets for reserve-team strikers to come, young Dutchman Jordy Pool who had some big clubs after him, so I'm pleased he's come. We're expecting more than reserve-team of course, but at 17 that's his role for now, and we have to keep preparing for the aging or possible departure of Kiessling and Derdiyok (and current fifth wheel Helmes is over 30 now).

Match: SV Lippstadt 08 - Bayer Leverkusen (German CUp Rnd 1)
Score: 1-5 (Jorgensen 2, Troost 3, Vida 58, 62, Sukuta-Pasu 87)
Summary: We've gone with the diamond with Sandro and Bustos, and we're also trialing Castro as the right midfielder. Kiessling is still carrying a knock and Derdiyok is unhappy with me again, so neither is in for this one - but I wanted to give time to some others anyway. Troost and Helmes start. We've got two goals inside four minutes, not sure if we'll be able to keep the intensity going. We don't; it's 2-1 at the break after we carelessly let in a corner at the end. We score a corner just before the hour to make it safer - played well so far, but Lippstadt have been packing the box, beginning with five in the back, after their early adjustment we weren't breaking them down. Vida gets his second in five minutes the same way. The final 35 minutes of the game we got our groove and were very dangerous. Maybe I shouldn't be having any of those doubts about Bustos, he just completely bossed the midfield once he got over some apparent early jitters. Four assists? Seriously? Not exactly an all-backup lineup, three of the back four (Castro still recovering from a cold) and Sandro were in there, overall a decent show as we get ready for the league opener in a week.

Since we draw a decent side, 2nd division Hannover, we for once aren't forced to play away in the 2nd round.

Our other young striker arrives, Czech Peter Mares.

My worries about Hibernian going through to ECC Group play were apparently unfounded - in the Champions playoff first leg they've traveled to Karaburma, Belgrade, Serbia to face OFK Beograd, and come away with a stunning 7-0 away leg win. Celtic have it tougher, they've drawn French side Girondins Bordeaux.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - VfL Wolfsburg
Score: 2-1 (Botia 62, 67 - Shaqiri 43)
League Position: 1st
Summary: A Wolfsburg side with some new faces, they spent big, to the tune of €37m, although balanced by sales of €24.5m (mainly Simon Kjaer at €18.25m to Inter, and Per Ciljan Skjlebred at €5.5m to Schalke)... new names are Dalton (€9.5m from Gladbach), Michael Lumb (€10.5m from Stoke), Royston Drenthe (€6.75m from Celtic), Xherdan Shaqiri (€4.7m from Man City) and Fredy Guarin (€2.6m from Hertha Berlin). We have a good, but not great start but then let Wolfsburg into the match, and late in the half Shaqiri gets a debut goal. The leveler comes on the hour, crunch-time hero Botia again getting in for a corner. It takes six minutes to get a lead, Derdiyok looping in a free kick, Botia again on the end of it. If your forwards can't get it untracked, use your centre halves!!!! (Remember a brace for Vida in the cup match a week ago). We've eventually seen out what was a tougher win than I'd have liked. I question my decision to go to the flat 4-4-2 with the Bradley/Bender setup, and now have to decide what we'll do in a week in Munich. We've nearly sold out the new stadium in the official opener, 39,193 fans!

After completion of the first round, it looks like someone has inverted part of the table, perennial bottom feeders Aachen and new boys Cottbus top the table with their 3-0 wins; Bayern are 16th after losing 2-0 to Schalke. We're slotted in 5th as the best of the 3-point, 1+ clubs. Doesn't mean much at this stage - except for our relative position with Bayern, going into the big clash next week. It's always a question: do you want a match like that when the season is already rolling and it has great significance, or do you want it early like this year and two years ago when it's a factor in early-season momentum.

One of our Argentinian youngsters has gone out on loan, Nestor Vazquez will spend the year at Rennes. Unlike the earlier loan offer, from Fiorentina, this one involves a belief he'll be a starter.

Hibernian move on to the ECC group stage, they could have won the second leg by a lot more than 1-0, but it's plenty as it is despite dominance and missed chances.

For the group stage draw, we're in the 2nd pot, just missing out on the first, which is a prestigious OL, Barca, OM, Bayern, At.Madrid, R.Madrid, Inter and Juventus. We're within reach of the last two in that group; we're the 9th best rated club in the draw, just ahead of Arsenal. It's getting into rarefied air, here... I don't want to hear from anyone else that we're not a "big club". We get the Real Madrid group, there's a time they would invoke panic, but you only have to finish 2nd to go through, so the concern mainly is Napoli - what can we do with them.

A - Barcelona, Arsenal, Panthinaikos, Standard Liege
B - Juventus, CSKA Moscow, AZ Alkmaar, Djurgarden
C - Bayern, Bordeaux, Sevilla, Besiktas
D - OL, Roma, Dortmund, Hibernian
E - At.Madrid, Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Rapid Wien
F - OM, Rubin Kazan, Man City, Slavia Prague
F - Inter Milan, Chelsea, Galatasaray, Monaco
G - R.Madrid, Leverkusen, Napoli, Brondby

Match: FC Bayern München - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-4 (Babacar 45+1 - Derdiyok 6, Kiessling 21, 22, Vida 87)
League Position: 3rd (goal diff. behind Dortmund, Werder Bremen, ahead of Gladbach, Frankfurt)
Summary: We're putting a beating on Bayern again, I don't think these guys understand what's going on. Derdiyok gets an early goal. Kiessling follows it up halfway through the period. With the pressure off, we go to counterattack mode instead, and it's only moments before it pays off and Kiessling scores again. 3-0 in only 22 minutes of play! Babacar gets one back with a decisive header off a corner in stoppage time. We're battling a period of Bayern supremacy in the second half, but hold them off. The ever dangerous Derdiyok almost scores, then Vida pokes one in on a corner, should have been 4-1 but the assistant has spotted a bogus foul and the referee goes along, so it's waved off. Vida does get a late goal off a corner after we've battled off more Bayern pressure. Really lovely sequence of forward play, including Helmes who's in at an AMR role, but Derdiyok's shot just misses the goal and catches side netting. Still, a 4-1 away win in Munich is nothing to sneeze at. So a part answer to the question I raised is, if you get just the right results, early is great... we're showing Bayern our taillights, 6 point lead after one two played, AND their home match vs. us is gone, so their only chance to snatch points back on us in a big way is the much harder route, at the new Leverkusen Stadium on Jan 24, 2015. We've had an astonishing run against our chief rivals, we've won eight in a row on an aggregate score of 27-8. And I've got an interesting dilemma, Fernandez won't be out many more games - we've got an international break pending - but Bustos laid down a marker in the cup match, then I gave Pamic a shot in this one and he laid down his own marker - against a vastly superior opponent. A nice problem to have - who plays in Fernandez' absence?

A bit more in the way of injury trouble, Kiessling will be out for 2-3 weeks. We're not at all short of striker options now, though - I've strengthened nicely here so we now have the same four senior forwards, plus Schürrle and Jorgensen who are reasonable fill ins, plus two good youngsters in the reserve/U23 team.

And a nice story... we have a Turkish kid, Baris Solmaz, whom everyone rates an excellent prospect as a left midfielder/winger. Arsenal came trying to offer a contract, and he turned them down!

A little summary of transfer activity... here are the biggest deals of the summer. The news is dominated by one massive move... Cesc Fabregas €71m Arsenal to Barca; Joao Moutinho €25.5m Porto to Barcelona; Arturo Vidal €21m Zenit to OM; Ron Vlaar €21m Twente to Dynamo Kyiv; Samir Nasri €20m Bordeaux to Valencia; Adrien €20m Genoa to Palermo; Gabby Agbonlahor €19.5m Aston Villa to Man City; Simon Kjaer €18.25m Wolfsburg to Inter; Alex Teixeira €18.25m Udinese to Catania; Steven Defour €18.25m Rubin Kazan to Inter; Salvatore Bocchetti €19m Rubin to Spurs; Felipe Caicedo €18.5m Lokomotiv Moscow to Man United; Cornel Rapa €15.5m Newcastle to Arsenal; Vedran Corluka €15.25m Everton to Chelsea; Federico Macheda €15.25m Man United to Spurs; Charles N'Zogbia €15.25m Bolton to Zenit.

Out of that... I notice two players I rate very highly for their midfield skills, Moutinho and Defour, have changed clubs and thus are probably out of our price range - and certainly unavailable for a while in any case. The others on that list have not been even remotely targets of mine, for all that I'm sure they're all very good players. There was one other significant player on the transfer lists but under my cutoff for the above - Schalke's Lewis Holtby has gone to Bordeuax for €12.25m. He never seemed interested in joining us anyway, but he's the only appropriate winger upgrade I've seen around and now he's off the market as well.

Wolfsburg probably made the biggest effort to strengthen, they lost Kjaer but added Michael Lumb, Dalton, Royston Drenthe, Xherdan Shaqiri, Soren Witt, Fredy Guarin and Markus Henriksen. Bayern stood almost still; nobody at all added and four less significant players going out. Dortmund have added a couple of bigger names, Gojko Kacar from HSV and Dennis Aogo from Mainz. Schalke have added several players after losing Bender and Holtby gave them €25m to work with - for €20m they bring in Baiano, Per Siljan Skjelbred, Jeffrey Bruma, Sascha Kljestan and Radja Nainggolan. Actually looks like a fairly reasonable bit of business.

Monthly Results
SV Lippstadt 08 1-5 Bayer Leverkusen (German CUp Rnd 1) (Jorgensen 2, Troost 3, Vida 58, 62, Sukuta-Pasu 87)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 VfL Wolfsburg (Botia 62, 67 - Shaqiri 43)
FC Bayern München 1-4 Bayer Leverkusen (Babacar 45+1 - Derdiyok 6, Kiessling 21, 22, Vida 87)

End of Month Table Summary (2 pld):
1. Dortmund 6 +5 5gf
2. Werder Bremen 6 +5 5gf
3. Leverkusen 6 +4
4. Gladbach 6 +3
5. Frankfurt 6 +2
14. Bochum 0 -2 1gf
15. HSV 0 -2 1gf
16. Mainz 0 -2 1gf
17. Bayern 0 -5
18. 1860 Munich 0 -6

Both Munich clubs in the relegation spots? Well, one will probably not stay there :)

Basically, break-even for the month. And we're in excellent financial shape at the moment, despite the money spent on the new stadium.
September 2014

Window closed, another season of not much real action. Next year won't be like this, we'll have players starting to age, we'll have ones who want out, I'll have to accommodate evolving youngsters or sell them off... and based on this year's results, I'll have to go for serious upgrades at a few positions to progress or keep up which what's going on in the league and in Europe.

Not too unusual, the top transfers have been out of the league, Kjaer and Holtby. Our buy of Bender is in there, but with an asterisk: we got 20% of the price back. Bayern were apparently happy with what they had, they brought in not a single player, and so their zero points from first two matches return must have been very disappointing.

Adler's got a sports hernia, which complicates things a bit. But we've got a ways until we play next, 13 Sept, and really there are no serious worries on the fitness front - Fernandez back soon, Kiessling too.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - FC Schalke 04
Score: 2-1 (Schurrle 1, Derdiyok 59 - Chermiti 31)
League Position: 2nd (g.d. behind Dortmund)
Summary: I set up this one a little cautiously despite being home - generally, don't score much on Schalke. And as if to make a mockery of that, Pamic has found Schurrle for a goal on 25 seconds. Or maybe it's that the setup was just right! We manage physical parts of the game very well until Chermiti just plain beats Kadlec on the right (our left) and scores to level it. It takes until the hour for Derdiyok to head in a corner to give us a lead. It's enough for a win in a game that was anything but the best we've played over my three seasons. Schalke didn't play it terribly clear either, we've had a lot of players kicked in the shins - Helmes (sub), Dante, Kadlec, Walker. Waiting for injury reports... it's only Helmes who will miss time, and that's not a huge problem for us. Nice debut for the young goalkeeper Nowak, and well played by Zvonko Pamic. We've filled the stadium for this one!

Schedule's about to heat up... From 17 Sep to 30 Sep, we play five times, two in the Champions Cup.

I'm a little less than pleased over our defending, in four outings that count we've not had a clean sheet yet.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Brøndbyernes Idrætsforening (ECC Group H)
Score: 1-0 (Sam 68)
Group Position: 2nd (total goals behind Napoli)
Summary: It's a very poor first half, and I'm not having it, as a message we make three subs at the break. Won't do that every time we're playing poorly but it's early in the year and I want it really clear nobody is immune. Brondby aren't faring well either, their play is poor and they've had to make three injury subs by 52 minutes - and have other players banged up. One of the subs, Sam, has gotten into good positions three times, which I like, and failed to score all three, which I don't. Then it happens a 4th time, and the little guy heads it in, getting over a taller defender, go figure! We end up looking statistically dominant, but I'm very displeased at the performance, and if we keep doing this kind of thing, it's going to be a long difficult year. New forms of motivation needed? Indicating what a tough group this is likely to be, Napoli have beaten Real Madrid in Spain. Bender has the only knock that will cost time, he'll be out 10 days. Which, with this schedule, could mean he's unavailable for three matches, actually.

Renato Augusto has had a superb start to his Barcelona career, and at the same time has become a regular in the Brazil squad that is now World Champions. Perhaps despite the big fee we got, we should have asked for more! In the second half of last year, after the transfer, 16 league appearances @7.44; he's started this season @8.75 for the first two matches of Barca's season, a more plebeian 7.5 in the one ECC match they've had. Not bad.

Match: Borussia Mönchengladbach - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 2-2 (Schahin 45, 79 - Sukuta-Pasu 1, Sam 58)
League Position: 2nd
Summary: Early goal again, Sukuta-Pasu fires, Szczesny blocks it but it's right back to the striker who doesn't miss the 2nd time. Can we keep it going this time? And the answer is largely no: we're playing decently, but Gladbach seem to be edging proceedings as the half goes on. Goal conceded late in the half as we blunder: first Bustos is trying to buy a foul and just lying around waiting for the call, then the break is 4v5 but we can't defend that advantage. Poor. Troost comes on for the injured Sukuta-Pasu and creates a play quickly, I think it's for Derdiyok but he leaves it go through and Sam taps it in. Sam seems energized by the the opportunity to keep the right wing spot away from Gonzalo Castro... Dante has fallen down and let Schahin through, but Giefer saves, then he's behind and scores but it's flagged offside. Not sure about that, but we seemingly need the help. Troost is being an utter pest, what I want to see fro ma substitute. However, after getting off the hook those two times, we do let Schahin score again. We've hung on for the draw, even that wasn't a given. Disappointing again. We've dropped out first points and we're in 2nd - Dortmund lost, but expected bottom dwellers Frankfurt have won their 4th of the season to stay 100%.

Prior to our Wednesday matchup at Aachen, the Tuesday matches take place, and Frankfurt win another low scoring deal to say top for sure. We'll start our match 3rd, Werder Bremen have passed us at least for the moment. Frankfurt have scored only six in five matches, but conceded only one, the key to their success so far.

Match: TSV Alemannia Aachen - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 1-4 (Ivan 27 - Kiessling 2, Derdiyok 34, 51, Fernandez 82)
League Position: 2nd
Summary: Yet again we've got an early goal, Kiessling coming back from injury scores in the 2nd minute. This time... nope. Aachen level on 27 as we look a shadow of our usual selves, it's been very poor since the international break. And really, I'm out of things to say, I can't just keep yelling at them. We get a break as Aachen don't seem to set up their wall right and Derdiyok drills in a free kick. Vilar rescues from Derdiyok early in the 2nd - I'd like to see a raft of goals here. He bangs in the corner though. Schurrle's header later isn't solid enough. Derdiyok just can't close out his hat trick, despite several tries. Fernandez, whom I've tried to work in late a couple of games to get fitness back, scores one from a left wing position. So... good enough I guess, we worked it for a nice 4-1 away win. Still, yet another goal conceded.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Hamburger SV
Score: 1-0 (Botia 63)
League Position: 2nd
Summary: There's some nice fluid stuff, but not enough of it, nothing in the first half hour. Somehow we can't get comfortable at our fancy new stadium. Just before the break, another injury to our somewhat beleaguered midfield corps, Bradly finally got a start and lasted a half. Pamic has fired off the crossbar, second one we've had. Finally, Botia rescues our doldrums from a corner just past the hour mark. Not much to choose between the two sides in this one, and that's a problem - we should have been way better. At least it's a league clean sheet. Unbeatable Frankfurt win again - where's this coming from? Dortmund beat Werder Bremen and vault over them into 3rd.

Match: Napoli - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group H)
Score: 2-2 (Matri 57, 81 - Botia 19, Patricio o.g. 30)
Group Position: 1st (level with Napoli)
Summary: Are we getting a break with Napoli missing some big guns? Lavezzi, Cavani, Sakho and Afellay are out injured. We tried to align our selections over the last couple of weeks to have a strong squad here, but injuries made it a little less straightforward than it could have been. There's some history here, in Feb/April of 2012 Napoli were the side who knocked Leverkusen out of the Champions Cup (1st knockout round) with a 2-1 aggregate victory. Giefer makes a great save off Paulo Henrique, who was offside anyway, then Paulo Henrique jukes like mad and ends up running into a solid tackle from Sandro... he's got to go off so that's one more big gun out for Napoli, who still have plenty of firepower. Fernandez with a long bending free kick, and there's that man Botia yet again, he's headed in on 19 minutes. Dante has waited too long and gotten caught on the ball, Giefer has to bail us out. Dante's looked slow and a bit indecisive this year in general, and I'd say he's close to outright losing one of the DC spots to Vida. We're playing well enough to mostly disrupt Napoli's flow - and here's another goal, Derdiyok this time on a corner, for the second time keeper Patricio has gotten his hands on it but can't keep it out. This time they've called it an own-goal actually, a little unfair to Derdiyok. His desperate one-handed deflection changed the course of a ball that was headed straight in, the rule says that's supposed to be a goal for that attacker. As the 2nd opens, Dante may be slower but he's placed for a great defensive header on a shot that looks like it might curl in. Giefer performs an Adler-like rescue when we're out of shape so a ball ends up through without being offside. But shortly after we break down again and there's no rescuing this one, 2-1 a bit short of the hour. We're not moving the ball quickly enough to avoid Napoli's pressure. And we can't hold off the Napoli comeback, Alessandro Natri scores his second on a play where we're clearly got heavier legs. Not sure we can even keep the point here... With five minutes left, it's nearly gone... shot is just wide. We do hold on to the draw. Would have liked better, but we were outplayed here, and I continue to be worried. Real Madrid recover with a win in Denmark, so the top three are separated by one point. We couldn't protect a two-goal lead after 30 minutes, and we've been badly out-shot, out-possessed, out-quicked and all kind of other out's, but at least not out-scored.

Still, this is not an ideal result for us: normally I'd have thought if we could secure draw-win against Napoli, that should leave a path to qualifying from the group stage. But Napoli upset the order by winning at Real Madrid, so there's three points for them you wouldn't have expected. Now we'll have to work very hard in every match and probably have to take some points off Real Madrid, the two-time defending Spanish champions.

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 FC Schalke 04 (Schurrle 1, Derdiyok 59 - Chermiti 31)
Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 Brøndbyernes Idrætsforening (ECC Group H) (Sam 68)
Borussia Mönchengladbach 2-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Schahin 45, 79 - Sukuta-Pasu 1, Sam 58)
TSV Alemannia Aachen 1-4 Bayer Leverkusen (Ivan 27 - Kiessling 2, Derdiyok 34, 51, Fernandez 82)
Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 Hamburger SV (Botia 63)
Napoli 2-2 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group H) (Matri 57, 81 - Botia 19, Patricio o.g. 30)

End of Month Table Summary (6 pld):
1. Frankfurt 18
2. Leverkusen 16
3. Dortmund 13
4. Werder Bremen 12 +5
5. Bayern 12 +3
15. Bochum 4 -3
16. Kaiserslautern 4 -7
17. 1860 Munchen 3
18. Mainz 1

For the month, €2.47m loss - turnover down almost €6m from the month before, while expenses down about €3m. Things are doing just fine for the time of year, etc.
October 2014

I don't know if I'm worrying too much here... it's the curse of the manager to tend to worry. We've gone 10 matches in all comps, 8 wins and two draws, but I don't feel comfortable, there are shaky signs almost every time out. We've got one more from our crowded run of matches, then another international break. We lost something at the first one, which is not that unusual really; maybe we can get something back the second one?

Match: Vfl Bochum - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-3 (Troost 22, Jorgensen 31, Sukuta-Pasu 54)
League Position: 1st (goal difference over Frankfurt)
Summary: We keep Adler out for one more match, hopefully we'll be able to have him fully fit when we return from the break. Bochum have had a poor start to the season, but they tend to start matches well. This seems to be the case, as we've not managed much success with a patchwork lineup. Troost, however, spots a seam, sneaks through, and slots a shot under the keeper on about 20. The man who just can't get going is Sukuta-Pasu, the player who's been second in the league in scoring for two years running. He's got a ball on the left that it seems last year he would have beaten the man on, but again he's closed down. We come very close to a goal from a corner, one header off the bar, a second cleared by a man on the post, then a third try slithering just wide. Hope we don't regret that missed opportunity. Maybe not; the goal kick is poor, and here's Jorgensen, working into the middle instead of passing to Sukuta-Pasu who looked like he could break open, but saving some complaints when he drills the shot in. After half time, we've finally got Sukuta-Pasu through and he scores, that should help his confidence. Bochum work a sequence very well just after, but Korkmaz fires over. We've had several chances to add to the lead, but can't cash in. Lars Bender, who can't get his second Leverkusen career really off the ground, played well but took a knock - fortunately it seems it's not serious. Frankfurt keep another clean sheet but can't score, the draw sees up go top on goal difference.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FC Kaiserslautern
Score: 3-1 (Derdiyok 32, Kiessling 43, Bradley 47 - Lakic 68)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We've set this one up pretty similarly to the final match before the break, because that went pretty well and because we've got the daunting prospect of Real Madrid mid week. We've played well enough to deserve a lead which eventually comes on a very opportunistic left-footed shot from Derdiyok. The second goal is Jorgensen to Oczipka to Kiessling and a lovely thing to see. A good sequence at the start of the 2nd ends with Reale looking at an open net after a save, but he's a ways out and a bit of a tough angle, and puts it in the side netting (should have scored though). Bradley nails one in from distance a minute later though. Now the confidence is flowing, Reale would have been through on a cheeky back-heel if he wasn't held back. Dante makes another horrid mistake, completely misjudging a long high ball, and Nemec has fed Lakic who scores. Sukuta-Pasu is about to break through, and is tripped from behind, the referee doesn't look like he'll take kindly to this one. Red for Simunek. We can't work the advantage for another goal, though. For the time being we've gone clear at the top; however surprise package Frankfurt win Sunday to get back level on points - we still have the goal difference lead.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Real Madrid C.F. (ECC Group H)
Score: 3-2 (Kiessling pen 21, pen 36, Derdiyok 27 - Kaka 60, Ronaldo 67)
Group Position: 1st (joint)
Summary: Real Madrid's front six always look scary, here they're lining up with Khedira and Rakitic; Ozil, Kaka and Ronaldo; and Higuain. Real start looking very composed, but we're the first to get a decent shot, Derdiyok receives in traffic, gets it off cleanly anyway but Casillas makes a great save. We build a spell of pressure from that. Higuain turns on one which Adler has to stop, then Derdiyok gets some daylight but goes wide with it. 20 minutes in, Pamic feeds Derdiyok down the right of the box and he trips over Marcelo... might have gone down a bit theatrically, but a penalty it is. Kiessling scores it cleanly. Clearance by Casillas is in between two players, and his fullback steps back instead of contesting, and we're 2, maybe 3, maybe it will even be a 4v1... before it really fully develops, Derdiyok chips, and it was a good choice, Casillas is nowhere and it goes in the net. Through the middle goes Derdiyok again, this time he's failed to score with a direct shot, but the long deflection comes to Kiessling, and he goes down just inside the box. He converts the penalty himself, in the space of 16 minutes it's gone from 0-0 to 3-0, and Real Madrid will certainly be feeling aggrieved with two penalties awarded against them. Higuain and Ronaldo nearly combine on one but Botia hoofs it away, then it's Derdiyok again but he's again failed to convert after going clear, to be honest he could (maybe <i>should</i> have four at this point. Derdiyok's been a complete pain to Real, though. Real start the second period with gusto, and we're on the back foot for a while. Then Ozil, whose incessant juking has not been very useful so far, gets in a cross from the corner and while Adler gets in the way of Ronaldo's header, Kaka has no trouble poking in the loose ball, 3-1 on the hour. Six minutes later, Real have potted a second, it's a corner, Adler comes for it but slips - was there a foul? and the ball comes loose as he hits the ground, Ronaldo happily poking in the goal. Now it's hairy, 25 minutes plus stoppage to hold on... and our first-half flow seems well gone. Kiessling puts the most astonishing long diagonal pass on the foot of Derdiyok, who again fails to score, to be a bit sympathetic the way the play unfolded he received on the run with no room to make a move around Casillas. Still... Derdiyok gets into more open positions than any striker I've even seen, which is great credit to him. He sometimes leaves us groaning that he doesn't convert a higher percentage of those, but it looks so easy to us not on the pitch once he makes that space... The good news is we've gotten a hold back in the match. Sub Lukaku is inside, he should have at least gotten it on target. With only a dozen minutes left there are some possibilities for a break, and Pamic has gotten behind. He shoots savagely, but Casillas, who has come out, doesn't even have to move - which is a good thing for him, as he would not have had a chance to react to anything to either side. Kiessling has gotten yards behind on a long ball just after an Adler save from Ronaldo, but he makes what in retrospect looks like the wrong choice sliding into the center. Casillas is after all one of the world's great keepers and if you give him more time and let the defenders recover... Here's Kiessling again, this shot is blocked, Derdiyok set to blast the follow, the whole ground is sure he's going to score but some defender has gotten over to get just a bit of a deflection. All this is eating time, and we're not in a hurry taking the corner. We've seen this one out.

We share 1st with Napoli pending the second head-to-head match, from the first one we have two away goals but only a draw. They have the better overall goal difference if it came to that.

Strange doings in Group D, Hibernian have gone to Germany and snatched three points off Dortmund. Halfway through the group stage Barca and Arsenal lead in A; CSKA lead in B with Juventus and AZ battling for 2nd; Sevilla, Bordeaux and Bayern neck and neck in C; OL and Roma lead Hibs in D; At.Madrid and Shakhtar comfortable in E (with Porto in trouble); Man City lead F followed by OM and Rubin; Inter and Chelsea out in front in G; Leverkusen and Napoli joint top in H with R.Madrid in some danger since they're 4 pts behind both of us and have a loss to each to make up for in terms of head-to-head (their home loss to Napoli with three away goals in the book for Napoli is the more damaging result).

Listening to scouting reports, we played a bit of an odd formation - it's not one of the three we train regularly for, a 4-3-1-2. As a result our regular wide players got another game off and so did Fernandez, with Pamic getting the AMC nod. We expect to go back to our regular formation for Cottbus so those players don't lose form.

Match: FC Energie Cottbus - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-1 (Fernandez 5)
League Position: 1st
Summary: I've taken a mildly cautious setup - ball control focused rather than attack. We score early but it's not necessarily down to that: it's Fernandez drilling in a free kick, finally, he's been hitting the wall, missing penalties, taking shots wide - all problems with confidence/concentration. So instead, Kiessling when he has a chance to double the lead, shoots wildly. He should be confident with his scoring record this year (six goals from five appearances). Then he's left not paying attention, a header would have sprung him behind but he wasn't watching. 1-0 at the break. We've come close several times, but Cottbus have some very good last ditch defending and rescue the situations - mostly our players not quite reaching rebounds. Not our most impressive show but a win is a win is three more points. We've had to make a very early goal stand up, and have done so by controlling proceedings: 19-3 shots, 60/40% possession, not bad for an away match, but perhaps not enough impetus going to goal. I'm not going to criticize, but we'll talk about it in a team meeting, maybe let the players comment on what they thought was good/bad. We've gained points on Bayern who drew in their local derby at 1860 Munchen 1-1. Dante took a knock and will miss 2-3 weeks.

Frankfurt's unbeaten run on their return to the Bundesliga ends at the hands of #5 Hoffenheim (who move up to #3 based on their win). Eight in a row (7-1-0) certainly isn't bad for a newcomer expected to be in the relegation battle (picked for 16th).

Renato Augusto continues to play well for Barca - he's scored five goals for them which is halfway to triggering his transfer clause that will pay us €1m (we've got another €1.5m coming when he hits 50 league games, which he could hit this season although probably early next - or we could take the buyout clause for a bit less money).

It's German cup action for us next. Hannover, now in their fourth season after dropping out of the top flight. We're still in a run of matches where we play twice a week, this is the fourth of the seven matches in the run, and we have to go to Madrid in a week, so rotating makes plenty of sense to me. Hannover shouldn't be a terribly tough opponent, but we have plenty of worries about letting the concentration down, so it's not going to be just a team of pushovers (assuming we have such a side!). As a cup match, we also have the EU-native restrictions, a little less choice then usual of players.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Hannover 96 (German Cup 2nd Rnd)
Score: 3-0 (Jorgensen 28, Pool 61, Winter 88)
Summary: It's a confident performance, although not one that utterly excites the public as we have trouble putting the ball in the net. We struggle in the first half until Jorgensen scores just before the half hour. Youngster Jordy Pool scores a breakaway goal on the hour, then we miss a bunch of chances, especially Sukuta-Pasu until another youngster, defender Mitchell Winter (who's considered the best header of the ball on the entire squad) knocks in a corner for the final score. The second half was better football than the first, in the end we've outshot them 28-3 (16 on target - in all a busy keeper) and had a 59/41 possession edge, after trailing in the latter category for a good chunk of the first half.

The attendance of 34,729 is the lowest of matches that counted since the opening of the new stadium (we had 30,000 for the Roma friendly) - so all seven home appearances have been well above the capacity of the old stadium, you'd have to say the board made the right choice on this one. I'm quite pleased that they moved so proactively, often these things seem to drag on and everybody *knows* an expansion would be a good idea but things can't be made to happen. The city of Leverkusen isn't that big itself, 160,000, but it sits in the most populous state in Germany, North Rhein-Westphalia. Leverkusen under that name isn't very old; the area was centered around the town of Wiesdorf which dates back to the 1100's, however. In 1860, Wiesdorf was chosen by the apothecary Carl Leverkus for establishing a dye factory. The factory was taken over by the Bayer company in 1891. Bayer moved its office to Wiesdorf in 1912. Leverkusen was founded in 1930 by merging a number of towns, and others were merged in in 1975. The present city is made up of several villages, originally called Wiesdorf, Opladen, Schlebusch, Lützenkirchen, Steinbüchel, Rheindorf and Bergisch-Neukirchen. Well, anyway... clearly we're drawing fans from surrounding areas, which is interesting as Cologne (Koln) and Dusseldorf have their own clubs, as do other cities within 50km such as Dortmund (another big rival), Bochum, Gelsenkirchen, Duisburg, Mönchengladbach and Wuppertal. The biggest rival as noted before is Koln with whom the city shares a border.

There are no real surprises in day 1 of the 2nd round (D1 #17 Kaiserslautern losing to Paderborn is an upset but maybe not a massive surprise), but in day 2, HSV lose to Union Berlin after extra time and Wolfsburg lose to Nurnberg - top division teams going out to a lower team. Hamburg and Wolfsburg are decent clubs, although not having great seasons. In Hamburg's case, the result costs the coach his job (obviously not in isolation, but as a last straw). The draw for the 3rd rnd is moderately kind to us: we get Stuttgart, a fellow top division team, but struggling a bit and currently 14th. There are 10 top division clubs in the field of 16 at this point. The press point out we met Stuttgart in the final in 2011, a match Leverkusen won.

Monthly Results
Vfl Bochum 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (Troost 22, Jorgensen 31, Sukuta-Pasu 54)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 1.FC Kaiserslautern (Derdiyok 32, Kiessling 43, Bradley 47 - Lakic 68)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 Real Madrid C.F. (ECC Group H) (Kiessling pen 21, pen 36, Derdiyok 27 - Kaka 60, Ronaldo 67)
FC Energie Cottbus 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Fernandez 5)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 Hannover 96 (German Cup 2nd Rnd) (Jorgensen 28, Pool 61, Winter 88)

Note: Nicolai Jorgensen is awarded goal of the month for his strike v Bochum, the one I commented on at the time (thought he should have passed to his striker, but off the hook because it's just such a lovely goal). And Bradley's stunner v. Kaiserslautern is 3rd... we don't often seem to be awarded for our goals this way.

End of Month Table Summary (9 pld):
1. Leverkusen 25
2. Frankfurt 22
3. Hoffenheim 19
4. Werder Bremen 17 +6
5. FC Bayern 17 +5
6. Dortmund 15
15. Koln 8
16. Bochum 7
17. Kaiserslautern 5
18. Mainz 3

Decent. We've lost €3m overall; turnover down slightly at €5.49m with expenses up just a hair at €8.5m. As usual, I'm praised for "extremely tight control of the payroll" but the club will eventually have to pay players more or the drain of top talent to elsewhere - which I've kept in check pretty well so far - will resume/accelerate. We've got budget for €1.45m/week and are spending €917k. Players going out of contract on the senior squad are Yahia, Trochowski, Kadlec, Kiessling, Helmes, Vida, Pamic, Jorgensen, Sam, Risse - and youngster Melzer (DC). Kadlec, Kiessling, Vida, and based off this year's evolution, Pamic and Jorgensen are important players. The others I won't be held for ransom over... Yahia is getting older, Trochowski has never played well under me, Risse has also failed to establish, Sam is a replaceable piece if necessary, and Helmes could go, he makes 32,500 and isn't solid enough to force himself into the top four forwards - and now we've got two more in the reserves who'll start pushing for senior time. The next batch of players - the ones who'll start their final contract year in the summer, also need to be looked at. That class is Dante, Bradley, Sandro, Sukuta-Pasu, Botia, Derdiyok, Schürrle and Vazquez, and younger players Naciri, Winter and Dieye. That's a lot of players where we have to look at contract situations, and the "low" salary level is going to be a thing of the past.
November 2014

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - 1.FSV Mainz 05
Score: 3-0 (Botia 34, Schürrle 77, Sandro 90)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We play well throughout the first half hour, but can't quite make the chances work, then Botia heads in a corner. Fernandez has a lane to feed Sukuta-Pasu through, but sees he's offside and so has to wait, when the pass comes there's no opening any longer. We've aborted several attacks with fouls in the offensive end. It's only a 1-0 halftime lead. A snooze-fest for a half hour, finally sub Pamic finds Schürrle, who's moved forward into a more attacking role, and he scores. Worryingly, Fernandez takes a knock late. And then just at the end of the 90, Sandro gets up on a corner and heads in, his first ever Leverkusen goal. Not inspired, but a Mainz club lacking confidence eventually ran out of answers and 1-0 turned to 3-0, which looks a lot more impressive on paper. We got goals from players we don't normally expect to be scorers, although Schürrle should perhaps get more than he does and Botia has in face been a good scorer for us, just it's not his particular job. Frankfurt keep pace with a win (1-0, naturally - they've still only scored 11 in 10 matches), but Werder Bremen, their victims, dropped three points and Hoffenheim, Bayern and Dortmund dropped two (Bayern and Dortmund took the points off each other with a draw).

Strangely, Hoffenheim have the same goals record as Frankfurt now: 10 played, 11 for, 4 conceded. We have both yet to play, initial meetings will be Hoffenheim the 29th of this month and Frankfurt the 13th of December. It will be interesting to see how our top-scoring attack fares against the two stingiest defenses.

Match: Real Madrid C.F. - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group H)
Score: 2-0 (Ronaldo pen 21, 42)
Group Position: 2nd
Summary: Real come with five of the same fearsome attacking six, Lukaku the lone change at forward for Higuain. He's got the first two chances, one missed, then a corner headed off the crossbar as we're struggling to stay with them the first 20. And then the weirdness of this series continues as Vida is whistled for a penalty that leaves me the chance to do a Mourinho after the match... Ronaldo doesn't miss from the spot and we've gone down here the way Real did in our park. My heart jumps when there's a whistle as Ronaldo cavorts to avoid a tackle, but he was offside before there was any chance to call a foul. Ronaldo dances through defenders late in the half and scores; this is probably too high a mountain now. We improve in the second half - in the sense that we cut out Real's chances, we still didn't make anything of our own. Some very poor performances there, I'll accept a loss here but not so happy at the raft of poor play. Five shots, not a single one on target; five players with ratings under 6.0 after they're graded out. Napoli have no problem with Brondby, so the group is now Napoli 10, Leverkusen 7, Real Madrid 6, Brondby 0. Our task is straightforward: we need to win the last two - that will for sure put us ahead of Napoli, since with a win over them we'll have won the head-to-head. If we draw with Napoli, it depends on factors not yet written, assuming Real Madrid win their last two (not a given either, I think). And should it come to that, Real have the head-to-head over us on goal difference.

Match: TSV 1860 München - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-0
League Position: 1st
Summary: There's no real sign of a goal in the first period. I make two chances in irritation, and we've played the first 15 minutes looking a little more likely - when we can get hold of the ball which is rarely. However, there's nothing more after that, we didn't recover at all from Real Madrid's beating, and we've gone two in a row without scoring. Not a good way to prepare for Dortmund, but at least this time we've got a week. Stumbling Bayern are worse off than we are, they've lost to fall 11 pts behind (haven't won in three matches now). Frankfurt's win, though, bring them back to just a point behind us.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Borussia Dortmund
Score: 3-1 (Kiessling 58, Schürrle 72, 78 - Trasch 76)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We've started well, but the hole we're in is emphasized when a failed gamble on defense lets Kiessling through - and he misses wide when you'd be sure he would score. Scoreless at the half, that's five periods in a row now. Finally Kiessling catches the far post with a placed shot and it goes in just before the hour. Schuyler's got a break going, he's going to get closed down so feeds an open Kiessling, he's off the post again but this time it comes out, however Schürrle kept working and finishes the rebound off. Odjidja almost brings one back, he's denied by the woodwork and no Dortmund player can get to the ball. But Dortmund score from the sequence anyway, after the throw Trasch fires in a rocket. Tense final 15 minutes coming.... Schürrle gets a second just two minutes later, after good play from him, Jorgensen and Pamic. Maybe not so tense! Guilherme almost brings that one back the next minute, Adler barely deflects it and it glances off the bar. He gets one near the end, wait - it's offside! Whew They go close again. We've finally heard the whistle, and it's good to be back on the winning track, seems we broke ourselves out of the slump after going 238 minutes scoreless.

The manager of Roma, whom we battled in the first knockout round of the ECC last year, Martin O'Neil, is sacked. A lot of respect for him, and the sacking seems a little harsh - they're winning their ECC Group (the one Hibernian are in, as a matter of fact) and while they're 8th in the Serie A table they've got a game in hand which if won would leave them joint 3rd on points.

There's a mini-international break this week, which will affect our selection pattern, for when we have to play three in eight days: first the derby with our neighbors Koln - in their park - then a must win matchup in Denmark, then home to current #4 side Hoffenheim. I can't really make decisions until I see who comes back in what condition. Our defensive record has improved; we're now #2 in goals conceded - we've actually only let in two in the last seven in the league. With the European matches distracting me, I hadn't actually noticed - there we've shipped six goals in the last three.

Derdiyok comes back injured, he'll miss maybe three weeks. Fernandez was carrying a bit of a knock (he missed Dortmund) and isn't quite ready yet. Kadlec, Jorgensen, Bradley and Troost are a bit tired but can play if needed, otherwise we're healthy.

Match: 1.FC Köln - Bayer Leverkusen
Score: 0-1 (Sukuta-Pasu 46)
League Position: 1st
Summary: In this emotional game, it's Koln who come out with all the emotion early. Some early adjustments helped, but then Koln start to take over again. Scoreless at the break. But we get a nice goal right away, Reale breaking clear on the right, Sukuta-Pasu is in the middle and would be offside but the pass is just slightly backwards, and so valid. The struggling Sukuta-Pasu converts this one, maybe Derdiyok's injury is his chance to get back on track. On the hour, I have another nervous moment as the referee blows for a foul in our box... it's on striker Montero however. We're starting to make some chances, but the keeper is up to the task - and in one case, when he isn't, he's saved by the crossbar. Montero's forgotten about for a moment (how can you do that?) but Adler makes a superb reaction save. Schürrle is robbed (probably fouled) and it looks dangerous, but Dante steps in to rescue and there's a break our way - there's a great chance for Sam but he can't keep the header down. It's been a very solid defensive show, and sub Vida (playing in a midfield role) nearly seals it with a pretty shot that unfortunately catches woodwork. We've run out the stoppage time, it was tense the whole way really. Frankfurt's magic is leaking out, a 3-3 draw, and Bayern stumble yet again. Once more, we've built a huge early lead on them, they've shown in the past two years a very strong finish (although last year they faded at the very end), so we'll see if we end up having built enough of a lead - 14 points after 13 played.

Match: Brøndbyernes Idrætsforening - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group H)
Score: 0-3 (Sam 24, Kiessling 56, 63)
Group Position: joint 1st
Summary: The search for a right midfielder goes on, today it's the incumbent, Sidney Sam, who makes his case with a nice goal to open the scoring. That's the angled shot he pretty much always puts into the side netting, trying to go near-side. Made it this time! After Brondby's bright start, we've completely taken over, and Sam nearly gets a second as we approach the end of the half - this time he did try to go far post. After the restart, very nifty stuff from Brondby that Adler snuffs out with something from his bag of magic tricks. Then it looks like we've scored on a corner, but a foul is whistled on Botia. We've put together a highlight-worthy attack for a goal by Kiessling on 55 minutes though, that one was a thing of beauty! Oh, dear, he's behind the defense and sets things up to score again. This one should be in the bag. We've taken advantage of the group minnows, shots are 25-6. Real Madrid avenge their loss at home by winning 2-0 in Napoli.

So the table is set for a dramatic last round of group games. At the moment we see Leverkusen 10 pts, 9gf, 6ga, +3; Napoli 10 pts, 12gf, 6ga, +6; Real Madrid 9 pts, 11gf, 6ga, +5. The matches are: Leverkusen v Napoli; Real Madrid v Brondby. There are several permutations... We're through and top the group with a win; Real are through with a win and will top it if we also draw with Napoli; Napoli are through and top the group with a win. If we draw with Napoli, we win the tie-break on away goals if it's 0-0 or 1-1; if it's 2-2 they win on group goal difference; if it's 3-3 or more they win on away goals. If we lose and Real Madrid draw, they hold the tie-break, 4-3 on aggregate. If Napoli lose and Real Madrid draw, Real hold that tie-break as well, 4-3 on aggregate. Real's path through looks the easiest now, it's hard to see them not beating Brondby at home, and they win tie-breaks if they draw.

Hibernian have pulled a fourth consecutive surprise result, they've battled to a 3-3 draw in Rome. This means that while they're sure not to go through (OL and Roma are through in D), they're also sure to finish ahead of Dortmund, and thus move on into the Euro Cup knockout play, so they're still alive in Europe. The Hibernian results have been: Hibs 1-2 Roma; OL 2-2 Hibs; Dortmund 1-2 Hibs; Hibs 0-0 Dortmund; Roma 3-3 Hibs. Very nice showing for the side.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
Score: 2-1 (Kiessling 9. 61 - Dzsudzsak 45+1)
League Position: 1st
Summary: The dilemma of football... last year's player of the year, Matias Fernandez... I've just not been able to get him going. He's had a couple of knocks, missing five weeks with a groin problem off the first match, then a strained wrist earlier this month. He hasn't gotten enough playing time to really be in peak match condition, he can't get a run of games when Pamic is playing so well, effectively the 23-year old Croatian is making the attacking midfield spot his own. But I still need Fernandez to get going, he's the pick today. We're not paying enough attention early and Chinedu Obasi has scored... wait, again a late whistle, he's offside. Kiessling behind... and he chooses to lob, Goal!!! I think he could have gone around the keeper easily enough, but his choice worked. Turnaround; when we're playing well, as we seem to be again now, we do this to people - take an opportunity; could have been 0-1 and minutes later it's 1-0. But... maybe we're not playing so well, because we fail to put a spike in the heart of the opponent, and then stupidly let in a tying goal in first-half stoppage. Grrrr. I am not complimentary at the break, and the team respond... lethargically. Opposite of what I hoped. However, Kiessling slides to poke in a cross that should never have reached him, we've got a lead back at the hour. That's enough to see it out; I'm going to end up being complimentary because we picked up the win, Hoffenheim had dropped off the pace a bit with a lot of draws, but they were 3rd and looking dangerous last month; this was a chance for them to get back in the title picture a bit but we've shut that down, even if they've still only lost three. Bayern host Frankfurt and win 2-1, at the moment at least that's a good result (see table summary below) as a lower side took points off the #2 side. Long term we'll see: Bayern ought to be the more dangerous club certainly.

Among teams I keep an eye out on elsewhere, if Hibernian win their makeup game Wed (3 Dec) they'll top the table on g.d. ahead of city rival Hearts... but at that point Celtic will have two in hand and the potential to be top if both were won. Hibs' record through 14 is 7-5-2, lowest losses in the SPL but a few too many draws (draw better than loss though). And Chelsea are not having a good time in the EPL, 6-3-6 and sitting 8th, a whopping 17 points behind Man City and Liverpool who each have dropped only seven points from their first 15 matches. Expect some rumblings about that job to start coming from London. If it did open up, I don't know if I'd show interest in it or not. I think I have the credentials; third year here at Leverkusen; two titles, suddenly it looks promising for a third; and based on in-progress UEFA coefficients for the next cycle we're up to 6th in Europe, just hundredths of a point behind the two Madrid clubs. I've seen in the new stadium and even with an increase in capacity of 10,000 seats we're still second in the league in average attendance by capacity %, so we're providing good entertainment I guess. Am I done here, if another offer comes during the season? After the season? After is easier, I'd be starting the last contract year, and we'd know if this year we can get back to the ECC finals, or whether that's a dream which is getting more distant - as noted, qualification for the knockout phase is not yet assured, we've had a very tough group and haven't exactly cruised through it. During the season I might feel like there's work undone. Well, I don't have to cross that bridge unless it appears... right now, only speculation.

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 1.FSV Mainz 05 (Botia 34, Schürrle 77, Sandro 90)
Real Madrid C.F. 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group H) 2-0 (Ronaldo pen 21, 42)
TSV 1860 München 0-0 Bayer Leverkusen
Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 Borussia Dortmund (Kiessling 58, Schürrle 72, 78 - Trasch 76)
1.FC Köln 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Sukuta-Pasu 46)
Brøndbyernes Idrætsforening 0-3 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group H) (Sam 24, Kiessling 56, 63)
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (Kiessling 9. 61 - Dzsudzsak 45+1)

End of Month Table Summary (14 pld):
1. Leverkusen 38
2. Frankfurt 29
3. Dortmund 25
4. Bayern 24
5. Schalke 22
... relegation danger is grave for many:
11. 1860 Munchen 16 -7
12. Aachen 16 -8
13. Gladbach 15 -5
14. Koln 14 -7
15. Bochum 14 -8
16. HSV 14 -8
17. Mainz 11
18. Kaiserslautern 9

More cash leakage, turnover is €5.16m down from €5.49m; expenses rose from €8.5m to €10m for a net loss of €4.83m. We did have 3 of the seven matches at home, but both of the ECC matches were away, and they're usually big money-makers.

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