Bundesliga 2022/23: Why Bayer Leverkusen’s disaster start saw a silver lining against FC Augsburg – tactical analysis
Being beaten in the first round of the DFB-Pokal against 3. Liga side SV Elversberg couldn’t have been a worse start for Bayer Leverkusen in the 2022/23 season, especially after an unbeaten pre-season. With another loss in a close match against Borussia Dortmund, Gerardo Seoane desperately needed to get some points on the board with last season’s 14th-placed FC Augsburg travelling to the BayArena.
Yet again though, Bayer Leverkusen finished the match empty-handed, following a smash and grab 1-2 win for Augsburg. Seoane’s team were the dominant side on the day with 2.5 xG to Augsburg’s 0.5. Sadly, for Leverkusen, what matters in football is goals and they could only convert one from their abundance of chances.
This tactical analysis will break down the key components of Bayer Leverkusen’s performance, using analysis to provide clarity on why the current situation of Seoane’s side is not as bad as it looks if they can fix the minor issues from Saturday’s tactics.
Bayer Leverkusen lined up with four changes to the starting eleven against Dortmund, the most explicit being the suspension of Lukáš Hrádecký which gave Lunev the chance to make his first appearance in the Bundesliga. In defence, Piero Hincapié was replaced by Bakker at left-back, but the Ecuador international came on for him in the 65th minute with Leverkusen level at that stage in the game.
With arguably the hottest prospect in the Bundesliga, Florian Wirtz, still injured, Gerardo Seoane is trying to find the perfect combination in attacking midfield to fill in while the 19-year-old is recovering. After the defeat to Edin Terzić’s Dortmund, Seoane swapped out the attacking midfielders of Bellarabi and Demirbay, to aid the height and aerial ability going forward as Sardar Azmoun started in number 10 alongside £12m signing Adam Hložek in left midfield. The rest of the squad has been the usual backbone from previous seasons in the 4-2-3-1.
Enrico Maaßen made three changes to his side following their 4-0 thumping from Freiburg on the opening matchday. The first of the changes saw Gumny preferred to Maximilian Bauer in left centre-back. The next two were similar to the changes made by Leverkusen, with Pedersen replacing Caligiuri at right wing-back and Hahn replaced by goalscorer Jensen in a 3-5-2.
The two managers had clear objectives in their game plans from kick-off with both teams topping PPDA in the Bundesliga. Leverkusen’s average 3.2 is just above the 3.6 average of Augsburg. However, the majority of problems Augsburg caused for Seoane’s side was in their pressing when the Eternal Bridesmaids played out from the back.
Playing out from the back
Bayer Leverkusen have the instruction to pass the ball from the defensive third when playing out from the back, as indicated by their 9% long passes. Coupled with the 4.15 average passes per possession it gave Augsburg the chance to implement their high press. During the entirety of the match, Augsburg only had a PPDA of 11.79. nevertheless, the first goal scored by the Fuggerstädter’s stemmed from Leverkusen attempting to build up from the defence.
The overriding problem with Leverkusen’s build-up play was the lack of options and movement in the shape of the defenders. The formation when in possession in their defensive third is a 4-1-1-3-1 or 4-2-3-1, but there is a huge gap between the defence, midfield and forward line. This causes issues when a team presses high up the pitch tightly man-marking the defensive and midfield players. Even in a situation with no options, Leverkusen were often reluctant to launch the ball down the field, especially in the first half. This would put lots of pressure on the central midfielders and defenders who were opting for risky passes in the hope that the receiver can play a quick ball or shake off their marker.
In the 15th minute, the risk became a reality. Tah received the ball on the edge of his own box while being closed down. Having only two potential options to offload the ball, the first of these was the right back Frimpong who, if he was to receive the ball, was already being closed down and would have no pass other than the second option which Tah already had. This second option for the central midfielder was Tah’s in-game decision. However, the ball went past the intended target to Diaby who was instantly beaten to the ball.
The resulting passage of play enabled Augsburg to get a one-goal lead, through quick thinking and neat finishing. Leverkusen will not take the same point of view with this being an avoidable goal, easily escapable through simple movements in the defensive third. Maaßen will take lots of credit for his team’s press to force the error from Leverkusen, but the majority of the blame falls on Leverkusen.
Sparking the change to have long balls as an option in the build-up was Augsburg’s second goal-scoring opportunity winning the ball high up the pitch as Leverkusen once again overplayed in their defensive third. The initial defending by Leverkusen was perfect, isolating the striker and winning the second ball from the aerial duel.
The mistake from Bakker was the issue after he received the ball from Tapsoba. With lots of time and space, to begin with, the Dutchman looked to find a short pass. With Augsburg already high up the pitch to win back the ball, Bakker quickly found himself under pressure. Stuck in a limbo of kicking the ball upfield and dribbling his way out of the situation, Bakker lost the ball gifting Augsburg a goalscoring opportunity. Luckily for the Dutchman, the shot didn’t hit the back of the net.
Leverkusen only lost the ball 12 times in their defensive third for the entire match, which is half that from their previous two matches of the 2022/23 season. This will be simple to eradicate as Bayer 04 displayed in the second half finally using the height of their forward line with long balls. Apart from the uncertainty in the build-up, Bayer 04 were defensively strong conceding just 6 shots. The second goal they conceded was from a superb finish and quick reactions from Hahn to intercept Tah’s flicked attempt to clear the ball, with it falling to Augsburg winger.
Because of the way Leverkusen lost, it will be difficult for them to be positive after such a result. However, the defensive stability and success of the build-up in the second half demonstrated the signs of a strong team. The 23 shots from Bayer 04 will be encouraging for Gerardo Seoane as his team dominated the wide channels in attack, which could have made up for their defensive frailties.
Attacking from the wide channel
Leverkusen have always been a team who have excelled in the wide channels of the pitch, and have some of the best wingers in the league. Therefore, this is obviously where the majority of the attacks for Bayer 04 were created. The first goal in the 42nd minute is a great example of how Leverkusen look to utilise the aggressive full-backs with speed and movement down the wing.
Leverkusen had built up the play nicely from the back and had progressed to the halfway line. Tah then played the ball to Frimpong who had occupied the half space so that the subsequent pass to Diaby was not in a straight line. After passing the ball to Diaby, Frimpong darted in between the wing back and centre back of Augsburg, dragging in a central midfielder. Once the Man City academy graduate had seen that Diaby had played the ball back into the half-space for Aránguiz, the Dutchman rotated with Diaby to slot into the now vacant wide channel. Using some 1v1 trickery Frimpong crossed the ball into the box. The first shot was blocked, but the ball bounced perfectly for Aránguiz to volley an equaliser into the bottom right corner of the net.
The class that Leverkusen possess will overwhelm the majority of teams they face, much as it did against Augsburg. The obstacle for the Bayer 04 attack is converting the chances into goals from the quality players in these positions.
There are two main ways of scoring goals from the wide channel, both of which Leverkusen showed they are capable of implementing. The first of these options is for the winger or wide player to carry the ball inside the pitch towards the penalty area. Ex-PSG winger Diaby, who is left-footed playing on the right wing, performed the exact move Seoane will be looking for as he cut inside hitting a shot towards goal.
Unfortunately for Leverkusen, the shot was saved by Gikiewicz, who had a superb performance in between the sticks. The threat of Diaby and the opposite attacking midfielder, who is currently undecided at the moment for Seoane, provides another potentially lethal alternative to crossing the ball into the box.
With 6 foot 3 target man Patrick Schick as number 9 playing in front of 6 foot 1 Sardar Azmoun, crossing the ball into the box is Leverkusen’s predominant tactic for goalscoring. Bayer 04 are second in the Bundesliga for crosses per 90 with 19 and completed 27 against Augsburg. Linked with a success rate of 33%, the fourth best in the Bundesliga, Leverkusen caused tons of problems for Augsburg’s defence. Unsurprisingly, Leverkusen’s only goal came from a cross which found its way to the edge of the box but there were plenty of chances later in the match to get another.
The first of the significant goalscoring opportunities from a cross came with the final attacking sequence of the first half. Bakker threw the ball to Tapsoba who had a delayed response to cross the ball in but, following a one-two with Bakker, whipped the ball towards the back post from just inside the final third. Azmoun had perfectly timed his movement to get himself unmarked onto the end of the cross, connecting with it just outside the six-yard box. With what looked like a certain shot on target, the Iranian made the correct decision to go back across goal in case the ball came back out for a teammate, but only slightly misdirected his header as he saw the shot go wide of the post.
The next chance that Leverkusen had was very similar as, with Demirbay now on the pitch, the ball found its way to the edge of the box following a poor first cross. Demirbay received the ball at waist height and therefore decided to volley the cross to the back post as it floated towards the head of Tah. Having rushed forward for the last few minutes of the match, Tah did everything right apart from adding the finishing touch to the cross as it struck the top of the goal signalling the end of Leverkusen’s chances.
These are the opportunities that Leverkusen should have taken in the match, and as highlighted by their xG of 2.5, would have been enough to obtain a point on the day. Having created so many opportunities to score, it should put the worries in front of goal at ease for future matches because the chances have not dried up. Once the finishing touch is added, Seoane will have no problems winning games and kicking off Bayer 04’s campaign.
For a team who are consistently towards the top of the table, starting the season with three losses would usually send warning signs across the team, but after dissecting Leverkusen’s performance against Augsburg, there should not be too many problems for Seoane’s team going forward. Once the issues in the build-up are fixed, there is already the solution highlighted which they utilised in the second half. Leverkusen’s opponents may have a hard time scoring.
In attack, besides some excellent goalkeeping by Augsburg’s Gikiewicz, it is just the finishing touch that is missing from Leverkusen’s power going forward. The next match for Bayer 04 will be an interesting test against Hoffenheim but could be exactly the match Leverkusen need to commence their potentially great campaign.