Leverkusen, Germany. “The diamond with the capital B blows on the westerly wind,” read the display from the travelling Borussia Mönchengladbach supporters in south-west corner of the BayArena, amid a sea of green, white and black flags.
A fresh wind had indeed arrived in Leverkusen ahead of the start of the Bundesliga Rückrunde - the second half of the season – but it came from further west than Mönchengladbach.
After the dismissal of Heiko Herrlich, Dutchman Peter Bosz had arrived in the Rhineland promising to lead struggling Bayer Leverkusen back into Europe with the offensive brand of football that saw him get off to such an electric start as Borussia Dortmund coach last season.
"[Bosz] stands for offensive and attractive football," said former Leverkusen midfielder and current sporting director Simon Rolfes at the 55-year-old’s unveiling. "And we have a lot of players who that will suit."
Five of those players all started against the high-flying Foals with German internationals Julian Brandt and Kai Havertz sat behind a front three of Leon Bailey, Karim Bellarabi and Kevin Volland, while Lucas Alario settled for a place on the bench.
It was a typically attacking Bosz line-up and it took only 20 seconds for the Werkself to launch their first assault, but Bellarabi’s cross from the left was hooked away from the lurking Volland.
“Quick combinations and a good passing game – that’s the football that suits Bayer 04,” Rolfes had said. “We want to have the ball, we want to be creative and we want to put opponents under pressure.”
Gladbach stand firm
And Leverkusen did have the ball – over 70 per cent of it in the opening stages – but they weren’t particularly creative and they didn’t put the visitors under a great deal of pressure.
“We’ve been well warned about the way Peter Bosz likes to play football,” Gladbach defender Matthias Ginter had said pre-match. “It will be a big challenge for us.”
It was a challenge that he and his teammates rose to. Sat in a disciplined 4-5-1 without the ball, Gladbach were happy to concede possession and let Leverkusen shoot from distance, with Brandt, Havertz and Bailey all trying in vain.
“We sat deep on purpose,” said Gladbach manager Dieter Hecking post-match. “We didn’t want to give them room or let them counter-attack.”
But Hecking’s men aren’t third in the Bundesliga by accident; the Foals boast considerable firepower of their own, as they demonstrated when Alassane Plea fired them into the lead with their first shot on goal ten minutes before the break, arrowing a first-time effort into the bottom corner.
“He’s been absolutely clinical in training over the past few days,” said captain Lars Stindl, who helped set up the goal with a neat turn and pass on the edge of the box. “We were all hoping he’d be able to replicate that today and he did it brilliantly.”
Sporting director Rolfes had bemoaned Leverkusen’s inability to “control the game with the ball” under Heiko Herrlich and had demanded “footballing solutions to different situations.”
That’s the challenge that Bosz has been set at the BayArena and he responded in the only way he knows how: more attack. Havertz and Brandt pushed even further forward, Bellarabi switched to the right and Alario replaced the ineffective Bailey.
It almost worked. Two half-hearted penalty claims were rightly dismissed, Bellarabi struck the post and Yann Sommer saved twice from Havertz, first from a close-range stab at goal from a corner and then from a header after the teenager arrived late in the box.
Fine margins that, on another day, might have gone Leverkusen’s way - although Gladbach also wasted a golden opportunity to make the points secure when Jonas Hofmann dragged his shot wide at the end of a flowing Gladbach counter-attack which exploited Leverkusen’s high line, contradicting Bosz’s claim that he has “learnt from the mistakes [he] made in Dortmund.”
“We really stepped it up in the second half and put Gladbach under pressure,” said Bosz, insisting that his team is “on the right path” and promising to play “even more offensively – absolutely.”
The westerly winds are sweeping through Leverkusen but Bosz is refusing to be blown off course.
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