For a side brimming with attacking talent, Bayer Leverkusen have been curiously struggling for goals in the Bundesliga this season.
They boast one of world football’s biggest talents in Kai Havertz, a seasoned goal-getter in Kevin Volland and one of the league’s livewires in Leon Bailey.
Yet, eleven of the Bundesliga’s other 17 teams boast a better scoring record than Leverkusen’s 23 goals at present.
Where Heart Meets Mind: Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Defensively, they boast the joint-second best defensive record in the entire competition, so it is obvious that the only thing hindering their quest to qualify for the UEFA Champions League for a second consecutive season is purely their impotence up front.
It should not be the case given the names mentioned above although Havertz has really struggled for form this term, netting just twice after a 17-goal haul in 2018/19, while Bailey’s indiscipline has seen him shown straight red cards on two separate occasions already.
Instead, most of the heavy lifting has been done by Volland although his tally of five goals is one matched by Lucas Alario, who continues to have to bide his time mainly from the bench despite his relatively prolific record.
Peter Bosz deserves plenty of credit for the work he has done at the BayArena since taking over in 2018, but he cannot rest on the laurels of last season’s fourth-place finish.
Nonetheless, that achievement came off the back of a Ruckrunde charge with Leverkusen really finding form after the mid-season break, the exact stage they find themselves at ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Fortuna Dusseldorf.
THE HEART – KEVIN VOLLAND
With 15 goals in all competition in 2019, Volland was one of the in-form strikers of German football last year.
If Leverkusen are to once again challenge for a top-four finish, they will need their talismanic spearhead to be equally clinical.
The 27-year-old rarely wastes his chances in the final third and it is somewhat surprising that he has not managed to force his way back into the Germany setup, especially considering how much he also offers his team when they are not in possession with his tireless pressing.
Volland’s ability to bring his team-mates into play also bodes well for Leverkusen as they look to get the likes of Havertz and Bailey back in form.
THE MIND – SVEN BENDER
While the long-serving Lars Bender leads the team as captain, Jonathan Tah often catches the eye with his all-action style of defending, while Wendell is one of the league’s most-exciting full-backs, it is Sven Bender – perhaps the least spoken-about member of the Leverkusen backline – that arguably holds them together.
A two-time Bundesliga champion with Borussia Dortmund, Sven decided to join twin brother Lars at the BayArena in the summer of 2017 and has established himself as an influential figure since.
Originally a midfielder like Lars, Sven has reinvented himself as a centre-back in recent times but still puts his old skills to good use – boasting the competition’s third-highest pass completion rate of 94 per cent.
His intelligence on the ball means Leverkusen often rely on him to initiate attacks from the back, although his reading of the game has also seen him become a real tough nut for opposition attackers to crack.