The pressure on certain Bundesliga coaches this season has been well reported, including in this column. Going into Sunday’s games, rumours were rife that defeat for Bayer Leverkusen would result in Heiko Herrlich losing his job.
It was little more than a month ago that Leverkusen Sporting Director Rudi Völler angrily dismissed speculation over his coach’s future, referring to it as “hysteria”. However, it would appear that opinions have begun to shift as results have continued to be disappointing for Die Werkself.
After narrowly missing out on a Champions League place last season, expectations were high for what is a talented Leverkusen squad. It has to be said that it’s perhaps not the most balanced of squads, and the aforementioned talent is predominantly in the midfield and attacking options
Many of Europe’s top clubs will doubtless be monitoring the progress of Julian Brandt, Kai Havertz, and Leon Bailey. Despite the trio being mesmerising at times last campaign, it’s only really Havertz who’s looked on his game this term.
Kai Havertz this season:
Elite talent. pic.twitter.com/ec1JG4Thid
— FootballTalentScout (@FTalentScout) 28 October 2018
With Kevin Volland and Karim Bellarabi also amongst those options when pressing forward, scoring goals was not the main issue for Leverkusen. The brittleness of their defence was a concern and their propensity to concede is probably what cost them the chance to be in this season’s Champions League competition.
Underlying all that have been question marks in many quarters of Herrlich’s tactical nous and ability to take the potential within this Leverkusen squad to the heights it should be capable of reaching.
Leverkusen did make progress last season, whatever anyone thinks of the job done by Herrlich. It’s a combination of that progress and the promising talent in its ranks that has raised expectations; expectations that are failing to be met.
Such is the territory with football at the highest level, the prospect of the axe falling upon Herrlich has not just become a realistic one, but is almost seen as inevitable, leading into an away game to a high-flying and in-form Werder Bremen.
With the pressure so intense, nobody could have expected the unbelievable entertainment we got to witness.
Volland opened the scoring for Leverkusen within 10 minutes, setting the tone for what was to come in this surprisingly open affair. Bremen were unbeaten at home for 16 matches before this game, but that record was lying in tatters as Brandt added a second and Bellarabi a third just before half-time.
The real question is, how will Leverkusen play in the second half?
Always been capable of one good half…
— Jonathan Harding (@JonBloggs66) 28 October 2018
At that stage, you could be forgiven for thinking Bremen were the side scratching around for form and the visitors were the ones in third place. And if you were wondering just why Leverkusen were where they are, then you didn’t have to wait too long to find out.
The fragility of their confidence was all too evident when the hosts grabbed a goal back through the ever-green Claudio Pizarro, who may be 40 years old, but still knows how to finish. Leverkusen lost any shape and organisation as Bremen sensed a chance of salvaging their unbeaten home record.
Within a couple of minutes, Yuya Osako scored another for Bremen, but not without controversy. The goal was initially ruled out for offside, but VAR intervened and ruled a deflection from a Leverkusen player was a deliberate action and the game was poised at 3-2.
As a neutral, the end-to-end action was exhilarating and just as a Bremen equaliser was looking on the cards, up stepped Havertz to restore the two-goal cushion for Leverkusen.
Shortly after, Aleksandar Dragovic put into his own net to make it 5-2, before Havertz added another and complete the eight-goal feast.
Bremen were deflated, Leverkusen elated and Herrlich relieved.
A fantastic open game of attacking football is exactly why we love watching the Bundesliga. In truth, it was probably the openness that undid Bremen and played into the counter-attacking strengths of Leverkusen.
That will rightly not be Herrlich’s concern as, for now, the pressure has relented on him somewhat and helped breathe much-needed confidence into his squad.
That confidence will quickly be tested as Leverkusen’s next two Bundesliga games will be extremely tough and could yet define the future the coach.
This weekend they play host to Hoffenheim in a game that will be intriguing to see what tactical plan Julian Nagelsmann will have in store but expect Hoffenheim to be much less open than Bremen were. The following weekend then sees an unenviable away trip to Leipzig, who are looking strong again this year.
If Herrlich can successfully navigate those two fixtures, his position is likely to be safe until the Winter pause at the very least.
🗣️ Niko #Kovac: "We've advanced, which is what we wanted."
— FC Bayern English (@FCBayernEN) 31 October 2018
Other coaches under scrutiny lately have been Domenico Tedesco at Schalke and, more intensely, Niko Kovac at Bayern. A goalless draw against Leipzig this past weekend saw Schalke get a valuable point, but they still languish at the wrong end of the table.
Hannover sit just below them and the two face off this weekend in a must-win game for the Royal Blues. Tedesco has understandably been relatively immune from any calls over his future up to now, but that cannot last forever.
Tedesco and Schalke impressed many onlookers last year, so their current plight would seem unthinkable six months ago and if it doesn’t change soon, perhaps Tedesco will be the next one under the microscope.
As for Kovac, that all-important win last week at Wolfsburg was followed up with a 2-1 victory away to Mainz. The scoreline might not be quite as convincing as we’d become accustomed to, but the result meant Bayern are now back in second place and just two points behind leaders Dortmund, who drew 2-2 at home to Hertha Berlin.
It sets up Der Klassiker delightfully in a couple of weeks, and also goes to show just how quickly fortunes can change in the Bundesliga.