Rudi Voller decided to part with Heiko Herrlich’s counter-pressing and counter-attacking 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 for Peter Bosz’ more aesthetically pleasing playing style. Bosz had a short-lived tenure at Borussia Dortmund which started well but crumbled quickly as Bayer Leverkusen’s young squad and experience under Roger Schmidt made the club a better fit. At Ajax’, Bosz warned that his players could take a while to adapt to his playing methods but at Maccaibi Haifa and Bayer Leverkusen, the presence of older players allowed his team to assimilate quicker. Bayer earned a UEFA Champions League place with some breath-taking performances at the end of the season giving the new manager hope for the 2019/20 season.
Bayer Leverkusen three-chain and build-up
Bayer Leverkusen normally build-up as a 3+2 with the two centre-backs and Wendell, the left-back creating the three-chain while their midfield double-pivot will drop in front of the three-chain as options to receive possession. Under Peter Bosz, Lucas Hradecky also has responsibilities in creating overloads and progressing play with his feet. The intriguing aspect is how the team adjusts to the deeper positioning of Wendell, as against Eintracht Frankfurt, Julian Brandt dropped into the space on the left-flank to receive the ball and work it out of pressure. Normally, Kevin Volland moves out to the flank but is positioned high or a midfielder will move into the left lateral zone.
The Werkself’s build-up is focused on one and two touch ball-orientations in between the lines among the defensive three and the midfield two. A spectacular adjustment for Bosz was the positional change of Julian Brandt and Kai Havertz to free eights as the latter moved back to the flank in the latter periods of the season. They have the ability to drop next to the midfield two to create overloads, receive possession and work combinations forward. In the picture below the sub-header, Havertz has dropped next to the double-pivot in order to receive possession.
Under Bosz, the positional play aspect of Leverkusen’s possession phase has improved as in the photo above, they are in their 3-2-4-1 shape with Brandt and Havertz in the midfield box with the deeper double-pivot. Hertha are defending in a 4-1-4-1 shape with pressure triggered by the ball into the double-pivot. However, the Werkself have maintained their width as Brandt and Havertz have an overload on the opposition defensive midfielder as when Hertha’s midfield two move up to press the double pivot, Leverkusen have more access to Brandt and Havertz in between the lines. The presence of a three chain with Wendell remaining deep allows Bosz’ side to adjust to ball-loss better while developing the fullback who is used to making constant forays forward as an auxiliary winger.
Bayer Leverkusen counter-pressing
Bosz uses the ‘5 second rule’ in regard to counter-pressing as his teams seek to regain possession within 5 seconds upon ball loss. The presence of Wendell in the defensive three chain in build-up, allows Bosz’ side to be better prepared in reacting to ball loss as the Brazilian will either move up to press the ball with his centre-backs or wait for the right-back to move into position for Wendell to move out wide. Leverkusen’s centre-backs are aggressive in counter-pressure - as they play early loose balls through the pockets which can be intercepted – so the centre-back duo will push up when their side lose possession to constrain space and win possession. Charles Aranguiz and Julian Baumgartlinger will move up in the same vertical line while Brandt will sometimes lead the counter-press by pushing higher.
Bayer Leverkusen pressing
Bayer Leverkusen press in the traditional Bosz 4-3-3 instead of sitting in the 4-4-2 medium block of the Herrlich tenure or the high 4-2-2-2 press of the Roger Schmidt era. Bosz’ front three will press ferociously in a man-orientated fashion preventing the opponents access through the centre while if the centre-backs move the ball to the goalkeeper, the central striker will move out of the cover shadow of the centre-back to cut out the passing lane from the goalkeeper to the centre-back. At times, Bayer Leverkusen will send two forwards to mark the goalkeeper situationally while if the ball is played out wide, the ball near winger, fullback and midfielder will move out wide to lateral press the wide areas.
Bosz had to change the components in his midfield as he moved Havertz, Brandt and Aranguiz into an ultra-attacking set-up with two free eights. Aranguiz played in defensive midfield providing press security but could be overwhelmed with the positional responsibility of pushing forward in the pressing phase and out wide in the lateral pressing phase. Instead, Bosz partnered Aranguiz with Baumgartlinger in a double-pivot to add two technically refined ball-winners behind Brandt. Havertz is deployed out wide but will move into the centre with Brandt in possession while the fullback creates width.
Bayer positional play in possession
In the final third, the Werkself will have a fullback and an attacker stretching play as they look to play intricate combinations through the centre and around the box to create opportunities. As Lucas Alario found form under Bosz towards the end of the season, Volland also showed scoring form but more pertinently featured out wide which allowed Wendell to work the ball in the centre as he is doing in the photo above. Brandt has moved next to Alario up front as he is capable of dropping into space in the centre, receiving the ball in tight areas and playing neat little flicks and layoffs into teammates. Aranguiz is gifted at playing the ball through the lines while the possibilities of moving the ball to the wide players with Brandt or Havertz moving into the half-spaces to work combinations is always there. Bayer Leverkusen break at pace as they did under Herrlich but have added nuance and tactical organisation in possession under Bosz.
Bosz has shown some growth as a manager for a team that assimilated to his tactical demands quickly as he showed an intelligent use of his players. With Brandt already departed to Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen have done well to sign Kerem Demirbay who could be as close to Hakim Ziyech as possible as a press-resistant, hard-working and possession recovering creative conduit. The Dutch manager did well to qualify for the UEFA Champions League and will look to continue with the progressive style of play with a youthful squad that Rudi Voller craves.