After last year's second place finish in the Bundesliga, it was always going to be difficult for new coach Robin Dutt to maintain the high standards left by Jupp Heynckes. He departed Bayer Leverkusen for the greener pastures of FC Bayern Munich after a great run of success at Bayer, keeping them in the title hunt until the final weeks of the season.
The 46-year-old's stock rose dramatically last season when he led SC Freiburg to an impressive ninth-place in the Bundesliga, their highest league finish in the top-flight since 2001. Having just taken over from long-serving Volke Finke, Dutt worked wonders to take Freiburg from the second division to the lofty heights of last year. The Breisgau-Brasilianer established themselves in the the top-flight with a 14th place finish in 2009-10 but Dutt's achievements last season made him, arguably, one of the most sought after coaches in German football.
In comparison with other sides around the middle of the Bundesliga, Freiburg had a strange mix of not scoring as many as others and not conceding as many. When you consider VfB Stuttgart netted 60 goals last season as they finished 12th, a total of 41 isn't the best of records. But end of season statistics do not tell the entire story; the most important stat is they finished on 44 points by the third week in May.
An integral part of Freiburg's success was their Senegalese striker Papiss Demba Cisse, who scored 22 goals in 32 games at the Badenova-Stadion. However, the Freiburg hierarchy were back at square one when Dutt decided to join Bayer Leverkusen in the summer and also on the verge of losing star man Cisse to a host of clubs in England.
The first four months of the campaign have required plenty of patience and persistence from the Leverkusen faithful after a largely inconsistent start to Robin Dutt's reign in charge. Bayer have had some frustrating results, especially in the early part of the season, including the 4-1 thrashing by rivals Cologne and a shock cup exit at the hands of Dynamo Dresden. Unsurprisingly, it took Dutt some time to piece together his strongest eleven and the injuries to both Rene Adler and Renato Augusto have not helped the Leverkusen coach.
Sporting director Rudi Voller has already made some hugely positive strides in improving the resources at Robin Dutt's disposal with a number of good additions - all with a large sell-on value in the future. On Wednesday, Voller confirmed Leverkusen had secured the signing of 19-year-old keeper Bernd Leno from Stuttgart for a fee believed to be around £7m. Leno was on a short-term loan from Stuttgart following the injury to German international keeper Rene Adler, who will have a tough fight on his hands to regain the No.1 spot.
The Bundesliga has seen a number of young goalkeepers secure a regular place between the sticks and Leno has impressed alongside the likes of Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Sven Ulreich and Ron-Robert Zieler. In front of Leno, Voller has already secured the signature of FC Nurnberg's highly-rated defender Philipp Wollscheid for a fee around £5m. Wollscheid has impressed at Der Club and it has been reported it was a tug-of-war between Dortmund, Leverkusen and FC Bayern to sign the 22-year-old.
The central defender joins summer signing Omer Toprak, who has missed just one game this season in Leverkusen colours since arriving from Freiburg for nearly £3m. The Bayer head coach has handed another 22-year-old in Lars Bender a place in the spine of the team and the former 1860 Munich midfielder has been of the Bundesliga's star performers this campaign. The German international has been an ever present in the Leverkusen midfield and has worked well alongside the experienced Simon Rolfes.
The Werkself's big signing of the summer transfer window was Mainz's 21-year-old attacker Andre Schurrle, who cost Bayer nearly £8m. Both Schurrle and Sam have brought plenty of potential and creativity to Leverkusen's 4-2-3-1 formation. The aforementioned backbone have an average of 22 and even the likes of Daniel Schwaab (23), Stefan Reinartz (22) and Renato Augusto (23) could have just as big a role to play for Bayer.
Despite their current sixth place position, Leverkusen will have plenty to offer the Bundesliga in the coming season or two if Robin Dutt and Rudi Voller can keep the young core of their current squad at the BayArena. In a league which is becoming widely appreciated for its focus on young players, Leverkusen look to be intent on continuing the trend.