In another dramatic weekend of Bundesliga action all eyes were on two things: Borussia Dortmund once again dropping points to a mid-table rival and RB Leipzig going toe-to-toe with Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena and earning a point for their heroic display.
However, once the dust had settled and the league table had been updated at the end of the weekend, there was one team that had managed to sneak into second place and now sit just one point behind Bayern without a single defeat to their name this season: Bayer Leverkusen.
Despite a fortunate own goal from defender Malick Thiaw just 10 minutes into the game, Peter Bosz’s side ended up winning their clash with Schalke pretty comfortably on Sunday with a 3-0 scoreline. And while the three goals may suggest Leverkusen have reached such heights with free-scoring football, it’s in fact the clean sheet - a fourth in 10 games - that offers a better example of where their success has come from.
Leverkusen's ever-improving defence
Indeed, so far this season Leverkusen have the best defensive record in the Bundesliga when it comes to goals conceded per match and the third best average when it comes to shots against per match. And not only have they dropped just two points from winning positions in the league this season but they have also gone behind in games just three times - in comparison Bayern and Dortmund have done so five times.
At the heart of this stubborn defence is a back line that Bosz has mostly inherited since joining the club in 2018 but undoubtedly improved upon. In 2018/19 the Dutch manager joined a club that was conceding 1.53 goals per Bundesliga match. He got that down to 1.29 conceded goals per game last season and this time around it stands at just 0.9.
This is mostly because Bosz’s backline have all played together and know each other’s game inside out. In goals he has 31-year-old keeper Lukas Hradecky, who joined the club in 2018. In front of him the manager has Aleksandar Dragovic (joined in 2016), Sven Bender (2017), Jonathan Tah (2015) and Lars Bender, who has been at the club since he was a youth player.
Add experienced defensive midfielder Julian Baumgartlinger (2016) to the mix and you have something of a rarity in modern football: a defensive unit that has been allowed to develop and get better together without players coming or going.
Top performing Bundesliga defenders
Our own ratings for Bundesliga players in this season’s competition only backs up this point. Among the top 10 performing central defenders in the German top flight, no less than three from Leverkusen make the grade. Dragovic currently sits second with an average rating of 7.4, Edmond Tapsoba sits fifth on 7.2 and Jonathan Tah comes in eighth with a rating of 7.0. Similarly, Baumgartlinger is fourth among the division’s defensive midfielders with a rating of 7.2.
That’s not to say Leverkusen are a dull, defensive team and not much else. In the middle of the park they have an exciting pair in 17-year-old Florian Wirtz and Nadiem Amiri, who already have eight goals and assists between them.
Then, on the wing Leon Bailey and Moussa Diaby offer a huge amount of immediate talent and even more promise. And while Lucas Alario, with seven goals in seven league appearances this season, may not be Robert Lewandowski or Erling Haaland, the senior Argentine striker is also no push over either.
Yet, while Bosz has got Leverkusen’s attack ticking along as well as any team in the Bundesliga, it is his defensive unit that is grinding out results and outperforming their rivals and putting porous back lines in Munich and Dortmund to shame.