In soccer, every means is used to gain an advantage. At Leverkusen, even the substitute balls create pressure. However, unlike other clubs, Bayer 04 has not yet fully exploited the tactical potential that lies within them
Bayer 04 Leverkusen is a team that likes to wear down its opponents. Xabi Alonso’s team use possession soccer and high passing speed to wear down their opponents, letting them run until a space or passing corridor opens up. And then the league leaders strike with their high individual quality
Destructive approach failed
Lately, some teams have tried a destructive approach against the Werkself, like Freiburg (2:1) or most recently Union Berlin (4:0), they have tried to block all paths, disrupt the rhythm of the game and interrupt it time and again. This approach has yet to be truly successful because Bayer have been able to keep turning the cruise control until their opponents, tired out by their extremely elaborate defensive work, allow themselves to make mistakes
In order to keep this stress as high as possible for its opponents, Bayer 04 uses a total of 30 spare balls during the game, which are placed on cones every few meters along the touchline. If a ball goes out of play, the game can continue with the shortest possible delay
Typical of Xabi Alonso, you think? Because the Basque leaves nothing to chance? Not at all. “It wasn’t my idea, but it’s a good one, no matter who it comes from,” said the Leverkusen coach after the win against Union, explaining that it wasn’t his suggestion. However, the Spaniard recognizes an important component in the handling, which has been optional for the clubs since Corona times, when no ball children were allowed into the stadium.
“I like it because it gives us the opportunity to keep the tempo high and put our opponents under as much pressure as possible and not give them the chance to recover,” says the Basque, whose team has more net playing time available to tire out their opponents
Future tactical tool?
A detail that helps Bayer. However, the works club is far from exhausting the possibilities of this stylistic device. For example, during the second division match between Holstein Kiel and HSV (4:2) on Saturday, it was possible to observe how three balls were placed a few meters apart on the touchline near the Hamburg penalty area in the first half to allow the Holstein professionals to continue the game quickly. After the break and with the score 2:0 in favor of the hosts, only one ball was available there – quite sufficient.
In Leverkusen, the ball was distributed evenly throughout the 90 minutes, regardless of the score. It remains to be seen whether Bayer and Xabi Alonso will also resort to this tactic against stronger opponents