While Borussia Dortmund have certainly caught the eyes of many across Europe for the business they’ve carried out this summer, that has allowed other clubs to secretly make an impact. One of those clubs is Bayer Leverkusen, who lost Julian Brandt to Dortmund but still managed to pull off some excellent pieces of business.
A team that began playing in Peter Bosz’ Dutch 4-3-3 shape, Leverkusen usually had Brandt playing as a left central midfield player who had the license to move forward. It was Bosz who had decided to play the Germany international in central areas instead of failing to complete even a single take-on in wide areas before the Dutchman arrived. That proved to be a masterclass, as Brandt went onto help Leverkusen finish inside the UEFA Champions League spot, scoring five and creating 12.
But with Brandt gone, a hole opens in midfield for someone who can act as a creative outlet in midfield and make the front three tick. That is why the arrival of Kerem Demirbay from Hoffenheim for €32 million makes sense.
The 25-year-old is perhaps the perfect replacement for Brandt and will operate in the same role that the Germany international took up in the second half of the campaign. Not only because signing Demirbay has costed around €7 million more than how much Dortmund shelled out on Brandt, but because they are very similar players.
While Demirbay is a more complete midfielder who has a higher work rate, he has often done the same things at Hoffenheim as how Brandt operated at Leverkusen. While Brandt’s work is more around the striker and revolves around linking up with him, Demirbay has also played slightly deeper but pops up in advanced positions. That of course, means that Brandt scores and assists more. But Demirbay is a creator.
Last season, Demirbay played 3.1 key passes per game as compared to Brandt’s tally of 2.6. He also attempted more dribbles than Brandt. Because of a higher work rate, Demirbay made more tackles and interceptions per game than his die Mannschaft teammate too.
While he will add more venom and bite to that position, it is the addition of Moussa Diaby that is interesting.
The former Paris Saint-Germain arrived for a fee for €15 million and is a quick and pacy winger by trade. He appeared as many as 25 times in the Ligue 1 for a star-studded PSG side, showing how capable he could be.
Having said that, Leverkusen would be the perfect place for him to take his career forward. Still 19, Diaby can play on either flank like he did this past season for the Parisians.
It is crucial to note that Kai Havertz has also been used on the right flank by Bosz, if not as the right central midfielder in the 4-3-3 or the number ten in a 4-2-3-1. With him being likely to leave either this summer or the next, Diaby will certainly be the perfect replacement for the German on the right flank. And he has time on his side.
While Leon Bailey would certainly be a sure starter on the right if Havertz leaves, Diaby will be a regular on the left. He will only improve from where he is and would certainly be an upgrade on Karim Bellarabi, who is now 29 and not getting any younger.
The third summer signing, Daley Sinkgraven is another interesting case. Not because he’s an interesting player, but because of how Bosz played him during their days together at Ajax.
During Ajax’s impressive 2016/17 campaign, Bosz saw Sinkgraven as a midfield player who was very intelligent and technically adept. He played as a left winger, as an attacking or a central midfielder or as a left-back. It was the intelligence and an impressive football mind that made Bosz play Sinkgraven as a left-back during the later stages of the 2016/17 campaign and he thrived.
Even when he played left-back, he often drifted inside to play as an inverted full-back to help Ajax form a diamond midfield shape that allowed for more defensive structure and organisation. Wendell certainly isn’t someone who can play that role and Sinkgraven is someone who would set the basics right for the system that Bosz plays. Not to say that he should start ahead of the Brazilian, but Sinkgraven gives more options and fluidity to a side that already has it. He adds variety not just at the back but in the midfield too. Every manager who has ‘Total Football’ bred into himself, would love to have a player like him.
While the recent few seasons have seen the Dutchman’s progress get massively hindered by multiple injuries, there is still a very wise player in there. Sinkgraven will be very crucial to Bosz’s system at the Bay Arena next season.
By Kaustubh Pandey.