Last weekend Bayer Leverkusen were trailing 1-0 at Hamburg with 18 minutes to go. Just like against Borussia Mönchengladbach, their manager, Roger Schmidt, turned to the bench for some inspiration.

In that fixture, Joel Pohjanpalo was introduced with just over ten minutes to go and equalised within 60 seconds. Within seven minutes of coming on as a substitute against Hamburg, Pohjanpalo pulled one back for the home-side before grabbing a two further goals in injury time to complete a 15-minute hattrick.

The Finnish international now has a 100% strikerate after scoring four goals from four shots on target.

What is even more remarkable is that he is currently the Bundesliga’s top scorer despite only playing 30 minutes of football.

When Bayer signed him from HJK Helsinki in the Summer of 2013, the then 18-year-old had already debuted for Finland and was being scouted by some of Europe’s biggest clubs. However, over the past three seasons he has fallen off the radar due to being loaned out to VfR Aalen and then to Fortuna Düsseldorf both of the 2. Bundesliga.

During his two seasons at Fortuna Düsseldorf, it looked like his career had flat-lined but it looks like the 22-year-old has put that forgettable loan spell behind him. The striker is now part of Bayer’s first team squad and he made his debut on 27 August some three years after signing for them.

His impressive displays as a substitute look to have resurrected his career and it has given Schmidt a selection headache as the Finland international is behind Javier Hernández, Kevin Volland and Stefan Kießling in the pecking order.

However, now is the perfect opportunity for him to grab his chance as Stefan Kießling is still struggling with a hip injury sustained in February, whilst both Hernández and Volland have missed time as well. With four goals in 30 minutes, he is certainly grabbing the opportunity and could turn out to be the Bundesliga’s breakout player this season.


Share this article:


As the Bundesliga resumes for the 2016-17 campaign, talk has inevitably turned to the battle for supremacy between champions Bayern Munich and their nearest challengers, Borussia Dortmund.

Moreover, great intrigue surrounds the transfer business the two clubs have done with one another this summer. Bayern have snatched Dortmund’s captain and star defender Mats Hummels, while BVB have manufactured a Signal Iduna Park return for Mario Götze, who controversially left the club to join the Bavarians in 2013.

Dortmund have also signed reliable 25-year-old central midfielder Sebastian Rode from Bayern for around £10 million.

But aside from these headline grabbing deals, there has been some fantastic work done throughout the Bundesliga this transfer window, and here are the five new signings to keep an eye on as the new season commences.

Kevin Volland – Bayer Leverkusen

After four impressive seasons with Hoffenheim – in which he twice broke double figures for goals scored in a season for Die Kraichgauer – 24-year-old striker Kevin Volland has joined Bayer Leverkusen for €18 million.

The hefty fee has set a new club record for Leverkusen, so what are they getting for their money?

Volland is a strong and powerful striker with a tireless work ethic and a calm finesse in front of goal.

That work ethic will be key to fitting in at the BayArena, as manager Roger Schmidt demands that his team press their opposition relentlessly throughout 90 minutes.

A full international with six caps for Germany, Volland is yet to register a goal for Die Mannschaft. But the former 1860 Munich player’s pedigree was evident at under-21 level, where he netted 11 times in 22 games. He also demonstrated his leadership skills when captaining the German side at the 2015 Under-21 European Championship, where he finished as the second highest scorer and was named in the team of the tournament.

With his industry and creativity, Leverkusen fans will be hoping Volland turns out to be the perfect partner for Javier “Chicharito” Hernández.

Ousmane Dembélé – Borussia Dortmund

Dortmund have been extremely busy in the transfer market this summer; the loss of Hummels, Ilkay Gündoğan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been offset by the arrivals of Götze from Bayern, record signing André Schürrle from Wolfsburg and Marc Bartra from Barcelona.

In addition to the more experienced, ready-made incomings, BVB have also signed a raft of young players with huge future potential. The most exciting of which is French winger Ousmane Dembélé, who has been brought in from Rennes for £12.75 million.

Dembélé only made his senior debut for Rennes in November last year, but the teenager immediately became a key player for the Ligue 1 club, as he went on to net 12 goals and register five assists.

The 19-year-old is genuinely two-footed, and able to play on either wing or centrally as a number 10. With his blistering pace and bamboozling dribbling ability, Dembélé is widely regarded as one of the future stars of the world game. Dortmund’s capture of the youngster represents a real coup and, despite his tender years, he is capable of helping BVB close the gap on Bayern this season.

Breel Embolo – Schalke

Swiss forward Breel Embolo was linked strongly with moves to Manchester United and Bundesliga newcomers RB Leipzig earlier this summer. But, with a bid of €20 million plus add-ons, it was Schalke who secured the signature of the exciting Basel player.

Embolo featured heavily for Switzerland at Euro 2016, playing on the right-wing and demonstrating his pace, directness and impressive physicality. The 19-year-old is equally comfortable playing centrally as a striker, and possesses strong finishing skills and the eye for a pass of a much more experienced player.

Though still in his teens, Embolo has already racked up over 80 senior appearances for Basel, and has scored 30 goals for the Swiss club.

Embolo’s versatility will prove a useful asset for Schalke this season, where he will be expected to play on the right-wing following the loss of Leroy Sané to Manchester City, while also offering an alternative to Dutch veteran Klaas-Jan Huntelaar up front.

Renato Sanches – Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich have not made many moves this summer, with only two new players coming through the door at the Allianz Arena. The first, Mats Hummels, is very much one for the here and now, who will be expected to come straight in to the starting line-up and improve the team.

The other is one for the future, but whose impressive maturity could see him having a big impact much sooner than anticipated.

Renato Sanches has been signed from Benfica for €35 million plus a string off add-ons that could see the eventual cost sky-rocketing beyond the €60 million mark.

But the monumental fee could come to represent a bargain for Bayern if Sanches delivers on his immense early promise. Much like Dembélé, Sanches has less than one full season of senior football under his belt, but he has already played a key role in Benfica’s Portuguese title triumph, as well as his country’s first ever major trophy at Euro 2016.

Sanches, a central midfielder, is blessed with explosive pace over short distances, a rocket of a left foot, and is so positionally aware that it is hard to believe that he has only just turned 19. Although at his best in a box-to-box role, Sanches is also able to fill in out wide or as a dedicated defensive midfielder.

Sanches is set to develop into one of the best midfield players on the planet over the next few years, and at Bayern, under Carlo Ancelotti, there is no better place for him to grow.

Mario Gomez – Wolfsburg

Mario Gomez’s Bundesliga record is outstanding: 63 goals in 121 appearances over six seasons with Stuttgart – including a title win in 2007 – and 75 in 115 for Bayern Munich, with two league titles and a Champions League in four years.

But the veteran poacher struggled to find his best form upon joining Fiorentina for €20 million in 2013, scoring only seven Serie A goals in two seasons.

A loan spell in Turkey last season proved to be the tonic for restoring Gomez to his former glories, however, as he helped Besiktas to Super Lig success, becoming the league’s top scorer with 26 goals in the process.

Now, the man who was once the most expensive player in Bundesliga history after joining Bayern for €35 million in 2009, has moved back to Germany to join Wolfsburg in a deal worth around £6 million.

At 31, Gomez still has plenty of gas in the tank. And although he’ll never be the quickest or most dynamic striker around, the 68-cap Germany international still knows where the net is.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


Share this article:


He has scored 16 goals this season, he’s 1.86 metres tall, he’s Polish, he has great shooting and finishing ability: he may not be Lewandowski, but at 22 years-old he has the potential to be considered amongst the best strikers in Europe.

Milik has developed into a hot prospect since signing for Ajax and he is continuing to show all of the qualities needed to be a top striker for many years to come. His former teams Bayer Leverkusen and Augsburg didn’t believe in him. And two seasons later he is proving them wrong, having just scored against PSV, in the match between two Dutch giants, putting Ajax in pole position to claim the Eredivisie title.

He’s predominantly an old-style centre forward, however he does possess the technical qualities and versatility to shine in the modern game. He is physically imposing and is a great aerial talent. Not only is he a threat in the air, but he has also scored a number or great volleys.  He has wonderful finishing and passing ability and has contributed 16 goals and 8 assists this season in the Eredivisie. He also displays  good positioning and teamwork,  and is not afraid to help his team defend. An outstanding player for his fair play too: referees have shown to him just 3 yellow card this season.

His only weakness is his mentality: he’s composed and brave, but he has to be more aggressive, to improve his ball stealing qualities and tackling. He could develop some technical attributes such as his free kicks and long range passing, however the main qualities of his role are at his disposal.

Finding the right striker in Soccer Manager to spearhead your attack is crucial

At the age of 20, he outperformed what the former Ajax strikers Ibrahimovic and Suarez did at the same age, proving his fantastic qualities as a forward. Now the rumours about a transfer to Inter Milan are very persistent, assuming, as expected Mauro Icardi moves on to pastures new: would Milik be the ideal replacement? In the recent past Arsenal and Leicester scouted him too.

Don Balòn put him in the best talent list for 2015: as with a lot of Ajax youngsters who have risen from Netherlands’ best academy (and one of Europe’s best too).

Milik has been called by the Polish National team and joined Lewandowski in a sensational attacking duo. He first played for the national team in 2012 at the age of  19 years old. Since then he has played 22 matches and scored 10 goals. This year we’ll surely see him in Euro 2016: in his group are the World Champions (Germany), Ukraine and North Ireland. He has a great chance to show his talent and will be helped by some top players such as Lewandowski, Krychowiak and Blaszczykowski.

He’s young, still underrated and it’s only a matter of time before he will be considered amongst the best forwards in Europe. His qualities as a classical forward mixed with his modern football technical qualities mean he could be the perfect transfer target for an Italian or English team.

At the age of 22, he is ready to play in a top team, although as pointed out he is nowhere near the finished article and has to improve some aspects of his game. Will he stay and continue his development at Ajax or seek a new challenge sooner.  For example, Luis Suarez was 24 when he decided to leave the Dutch giants for the Premier League, in order to complete his development. Zlatan Ibrahimovic decided instead to part from the team at the same age that Milik is now. Which choice would be the best one for the Polish young star? Of course he looks more like Ibrahimovic for his qualities, but may Suarez choice be the best for Arkadiusz?

Good luck for your career, Milik!

About the author – Marco Santanche

Marco was born in Rome and supports Inter because of Luiz Nazario da Lima Ronaldo. He is a Brazilian citizen because of his father’s roots. He played futsal for several years, even in the FIGC (Italian FA) as a winger, playmaker and striker. He is now studying for a degree in finance.



Share this article:


One of the most interesting things about football is the relatively unsmooth way that performances often translate into results: each season features multiple matches in which the better side loses, with the strength of overall displays not necessarily reflected in the scoreline that emerges at the end of the 90 minutes.

One such example could be found at Camp Nou three weeks ago, when Bayer Leverkusen were defeated 2-1 by Barcelona in the Champions League despite outplaying their illustrious opponents for long periods of the game.

That setback has made Leverkusen’s clash with Roma on Tuesday night even more important than it already was: with BATE Borisov set to face Barca home and away in their next two encounters, the Germans’ back-to-back meetings with Rudi Garcia’s side could decide who advances to the knockout round from Group E alongside the tournament’s current holders.

Roger Schmidt has made Leverkusen one of the most watchable teams on the continent, with the Bundesliga outfit committed to a high-tempo, hard-pressing and attacking brand of football. Most other sides would have adapted or diluted such natural tendencies for a trip to Camp Nou, but Leverkusen instead opted to impose themselves on Barcelona and were massively unfortunate to leave Catalonia empty-handed.

Schmidt’s charges came flying out of the traps, making their intentions clear by aggressively pushing forward in the opening stages. They almost got off to the perfect start, Javier Hernandez testing goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen 67 seconds in after some fine work down the right by the terrific Karim Bellarabi.

Lining up in an ambitious 4-4-2 formation – Bellarabi, usually deployed on the wing, was pushed up top just behind Hernandez, with Kevin Kampl and Hakan Calhanoglu manning the flanks – Leverkusen closed down Barcelona high up the pitch and sprang forward quickly whenever the ball was turned over. The average age of the starting XI was just over 23, with the team’s youthfulness helping them to carry out their high-octane approach.

The visitors’ pressing was excellent throughout the first half, with passing options for the man in possession routinely shut off. Barcelona were also forced to play the ball out wide rather than through the centre as they prefer, with Sergio Busquets dropping so deep that the Catalans’ formation resembled a 3-4-3, the Spain international tucked in between Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano at centre-back.

Leverkusen thoroughly deserved the lead that was given to them by Kyriakos Papadopoulos midway through the first period, and continued to dominate for the remainder of the half. Although their attacks became more sporadic after the interval, they were desperately unlucky to lose to goals from Sergi Roberto and Luis Suarez in the final 10 minutes.

Schmidt’s side’s fate is still in their own hands, with Tuesday’s encounter with Roma likely to be pivotal to their chances of progressing:  a win would put Leverkusen five points clear of the Italians, with BATE unlikely to add to the three points they have hitherto collected against Barcelona.

It will be interesting to see how Roma adjust to the challenge posed by the Bundesliga outfit. Leverkusen’s faith in their own philosophy and principles saw them make very few adaptations to their usual game at Camp Nou, meaning they are unlikely to change their approach for a home game against Garcia’s men. Leverkusen deserved more than they got in Catalonia last time out, and will be desperate to ensure they pick up a positive result as well as performance at BayArena this midweek.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.

Twitter @GregLeaFootball



Share this article:


Roger Schmidt, Bayer Leverkusen’s charismatic manager, would’ve seen his side’s enormous Champions League clash with Barcelona as a magnificent opportunity to test his dynamic brand of football against one of the world’s best units.

The match would’ve surely also held extra significance for Schmidt, who confesses so much of his philosophy has been derived from the Spanish game. “Most of my training exercises are influenced by those in Spain,” he says.

Luis Enrique was clearly wary of the threat Bayer posed, stating: “Leverkusen is a very intense team, they press excellently, defend very well. It will be very complicated for us tomorrow.”

While playing against last season’s Champions League winners was ultimately a test Leverkusen couldn’t quite overcome, losing 2-1 courtesy of two goals from Sergi Roberto and Luis Suarez in the last 10 minutes, the German side deserved to be applauded for their application and delivery of their manager’s game plan.

Schmidt would’ve been thinking that if only those final few minutes hadn’t been played he would’ve been hailed as a hero. But against the enormous individual talent of Barca, no result is ever safe until the final whistle blows.

“Obviously we are sad, I think we played an excellent match. We deserved a point against the best team in the world in their stadium.

“We defended with passion. But we were exhausted – then Suárez scored a world-class goal,” explained the dejected manager.

Schmidt, formerly of Red Bull Salzburg, used the word “brave” when describing his team’s efforts, which was especially apt when you consider the potential pitfalls attached to Schmidt’s high pressure approach. Leaving oceans of space in behind due to the combination of playing a high line and pressing so aggressively was always going to be a worry against a talented Barcelona.

In the first half, particularly, though, Leverkusen’s implementation of their pressing game was breathtaking. They pressed beautifully as a collective, never allowing their opposition a moment’s rest, and, as a consequence, managed to limit Barcelona’s clear cut chances by virtue of being able to win the ball back so high up the pitch.

Such coordination and cohesion in their pressing served as a testament to Schmidt’s masterful work on the training pitch.

“You need to have conviction to play the way we do, you have to give it your all, all the time, and there are few moments of relaxation,” Schmidt explains.

Figures from Graham Hunter’s fine match report on indicated the away side “out-ran Barcelona by almost 5km in the first half.” A staggering number really, but unfortunately all that exertion took its toll, as by game’s end, Leverkusen had only run 2.5kms more than Barca.

One man who deserved plenty of veneration for his relentless effort was Leverkusen’s high-octane attacker, Karim Bellarabi.

Deployed upfront alongside Javier Hernandez, the Germany international had a profound impact on the contest.

To start with, his incessant pressing proved hugely frustrating for Barcelona in their quest to pass out from the back. He and Hernandez worked brilliantly in tandem, ensuring they always marked two of Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano and Sergio Busquets. By always having two of the above men marked, in combination with Bayer’s central midfielders, Kevin Kampl and Christoph Kramer, tightly marking Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic, Leverkusen made it hugely difficult for Barca to get their possession phases going. This forced Barca to either pass wide or play back to the keeper, thus successfully guaranteeing Barcelona’s gifted central players struggled to stamp their mark on the contest.

Luis Enrique’s side just couldn’t get going amidst this persistent and aggressive pressure. It seemed wherever they went, a Leverkusen player was there to intervene. The players’ adherence to Schmidt’s plans made certain Barca couldn’t relax one bit. In terms of execution and effectiveness, Leverkusen’s first half pressing game bordered on perfection.

Bellarabi, a key cog in this pressing machine, epitomised his team’s desire to win the ball back. It all started from the front, and his intensity and work-rate set the tone for his side in the best possible way. Moreover, the long limbs of Bellarabi also ably assisted him in winning back possession when nipping into challenges.

On the attacking end, the ex-Eintracht Braunschweig star inflicted plenty of pain on the Barca backline. Using his wicked blend of pace, trickery and his ability to read the game, the 25-year-old provided a multifaceted threat that formed the basis for so much of his side’s best attacking work.

In situations when Leverkusen won the ball back and hit Barcelona on the counter, Bellarabi’s speed and skill saw him flourish throughout. The man who made 156 successful dribbles in the Bundesliga last season (only Eden Hazard (181) and Lionel Messi (174) had more in the Europe’s top 5 leagues) gave Pique an especially torrid time. One moment in particular, on 36 minutes, encapsulated Pique’s troubles in dealing with Leverkusen’s number 38. Here, after making a scintillating run in behind Dani Alves, Bellarabi beautifully latched onto a well hit Wendell pass. Pique was forced to shift across and track the slippery Bellarabi. But while the Spaniard tried his best to stop him, Bellarabi emphatically scorched past him, before cunningly cutting inside to unleash a stinging shot on target. Sadly for him, though, his German international teammate, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, came up with a super save to deny him.

This moment definitely wasn’t a one off – Bellarabi wreaked havoc in this manner on numerous occasions. In fact, Bayer’s goal arrived following a similar run down the left, where he used his scintillating skillset to win the corner from which Kyriakos Papadopoulos scored.

If only Hernandez could’ve finished off the multiple chances Bellarabi laid on for him in general play, the match just might’ve ended in favour of the German club.

His languid, awkward dribbling style, which makes him a highly unpredictable adversary, saw him complete a damaging three successful dribbles. His underrated passing ability, meanwhile, both aerially and along the carpet, propelled him to complete two key passes.

A cerebral reader of the play, Bellarabi would take up good positions all across the frontline that allowed him to scan for openings and then embark on his lethal runs in behind. Plus, his anticipation of headed flick-ons from Hernandez, and later Stefan Kiessling, following Leno’s goal kicks meant he constantly found himself creating opportunities for his side.

Although Leverkusen eventually succumbed to the might of Barca, their application couldn’t be faulted, on a night in which their attacker of Moroccan heritage showcased just what a formidable component of Schmidt’s side he really is.

“He has made our game idea his game idea”, accurately stated Schmidt.

He couldn’t be more right. Bellarabi’s amalgamation of pace, mobility, agility and intensity combine to make him a perfect player for his manager’s system, on both sides of the ball.

Watching him develop at Leverkusen has been as fascinating as it has been exhilarating. His multi-dimensional display against the reigning Champions of Europe demonstrated just how far he’s come.

Under Schmidt’s masterful tutelage, expect his spectacular upward spiral of improvement to continue. Bellarabi’s unquestionably the ideal weapon for Schmidt’s chaotic, yet incredibly organised system.

Frighteningly, at only 25, his best may be still yet to come.

About the author – Edward Stratmann

Edward Stratmann writes regularly about the on-field aspects of the game, with a particular focus on tactics and analysis. In addition to featuring on These Football Times, Inside Spanish Football, Anfield Index, Just Football, The Eagles Beak, Think Football Ideas and JuveFC, you can also find Edward’s work at Licence to Roam, a football blog he started with his brother in 2013.



Share this article:


Joshua Kimmich, Bayern Munich

Germany ultimately fell short in this summer’s European Under-21 Championship in the Czech Republic, unceremoniously dumped out by a rampant Portugal side in the semi-final. Nevertheless, there were plenty of positives to take from Horst Hrubesch’s outfit’s prior showings, with Kimmich among their best players at the tournament.

The 20-year-old has spent the last two seasons on loan at RB Leipzig from Stuttgart, with the upcoming campaign set to be his first taste of top-flight football. Regardless of his lack of experience at the highest level, Pep Guardiola and Bayern have clearly seen enough in the holding midfielder, tying him down to a five-year deal after a €7m move was finalised earlier this year.

Kimmich is an energetic ball-winner who is comfortable in possession and likes to set the tempo of his team from deep. Bayern have plenty of options in central midfield, with new addition Arturo Vidal joining the likes of Thiago, Xabi Alonso, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and David Alaba and Philipp Lahm – full-backs who have previously been deployed in the engine room by Guardiola – in the Bavarians’ squad. With Bayern looking to compete on multiple fronts, though, Kimmich should get a few chances to impress in the first team.

Leroy Sane, Schalke

Despite being linked with a switch to the Premier League and Tottenham Hotspur in recent weeks, Sane remains in the Bundesliga and could be a key player for Schalke as they attempt to secure a top-four spot this season.

The 19-year-old is a versatile forward who has played on the right, left, behind the striker and even right up top. Quick, tricky and in possession a fine left foot, Sane is full of craft and a player who looks capable of making something happen whenever he has the ball at his feet. A powerful and accurate shot is another weapon that Schalke will be looking for him to utilise in the coming months.

With fellow attacker Julian Draxler potentially on the way to Juventus, who are thought to be seeking a creative presence in the final third, Sane could step up to play an even more prominent role. He will certainly look to have a bigger impact than last season when, while shining at times, he only started seven Bundesliga games. His fantastic display against Real Madrid in the Champions League in March was evidence of his exciting potential.

Hakan Calhanoglu, Bayer Leverkusen

Being a fellow Turkish-born German is not the only reason Calhanoglu has been likened to Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil. The attacking midfielder enjoyed an impressive debut campaign at Leverkusen last term, scoring eight goals and recording six assists as Roger Schmidt’s side finished in the top four and qualified for this year’s Champions League.

2015-16 will be Calhanoglu’s fifth campaign as a senior professional, which makes it easy to forget he is still just 21 years of age. He began his career at Karlsruher SC in 2011, before some promising performances earned him a move to Hamburg after a year. Calhanoglu has since improved year-on- year, adding consistency and a better end product to his game.

Creative and energetic with a fine range of passing, Calhanoglu operates best as a number 10 but is also comfortable playing deeper in the field, as he did on occasion last season. The playmaker, who has nine caps and three goals for Turkey, is also a superb free-kick taker and dead-ball specialist capable of testing any keeper from almost any distance. With a good deal of experience under his belt and another year of Champions League football to look forward to, Calhanoglu is certainly one to watch this season.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.
Twitter @GregLeaFootball


Share this article: