LEVERKUSEN GERMANY - JANUARY 14:The fans of Leverkusen show scarves during the Bundesliga match between Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund at BayArena on January 14 2011 in Leverkusen Germany. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Leverkusen couldn't build upon their second place finish two seasons ago and fell to fifth. Can they find their way back in the Champions League this season?
Team: Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Manager: Sami Hyypiä
Key Additions: Philipp Wollscheid, Junior Fernandes
2011-2012 Finish: Bundesliga 5th
2012-2013 Prediction: With Jupp Heynckes leaving for Bayern Munich last summer, the Bayer Leverkusen board moved quickly appointing Robin Dutt as the new manager. Dutt was with SC Freiburg at the time and had just taken them to their highest table finish in a decade. Large numbers of supporters turned on Dutt before the winter break, because the club was playing poorly and failing to live up to the expectations set the previous season.
The club turned the reigns over to Sami Hyypiä. The former player retired the previous season, earned his coaching badges, and was an assistant on Dutt's staff. Under Hyypiä the club won four and drew two in their last six matches before finding their way to a fifth place finish.
Hyypiä began to rid the club of players he wasn't interested in keeping any longer. With the emergence of Bernd Leno, long time goalkeeper Rene Adler was allowed to leave on a free transfer. Tranquillo Barnetta, another veteran player on the books since 2004, left the club on a free transfer signing with Schalke. The release of Michael Ballack was expected. The club was finally ready to move forward with a younger generation of players.
Leverkusen have two interesting, young transfers in this summer with 23 year olds Chilean Junior Fernandes and Philipp Wollscheid. Fernandes will be competing for starting time with Stefan Kießling for minutes. Kießling was resurgent last year after a season that was disappointing by his standards. Wollscheid is an accomplished young defender making the move over from Nürnberg. He should be a starting centerback from day one. He's a very talented defender and should help strengthen a Leverkusen defense that shipped 44 goals last season. They'll need to tighten up if they have plans on moving into a Champions League place.
The player to watch in the upcoming season is 21 year old Andre Schürrle. He was the subject of a very high bid from Chelsea for his services, but Leverkusen turned the bid down. Schürrle struggled last season compared to his form the year before at Mainz. His struggles coincided with a generally poor offensive performance all season from Leverkusen. Schürrle needs to get his goal total into double digits this season. Barring an injury, anything less would be disappointing. His going to have his difficulties with continuity due to his youth, but he should become a more well-rounded player this season.
It will be interesting to see how long of a leash Sami Hyypiä has this season if things start to go south. It's going to be a battle for Leverkusen to find their way back into the Champions League places next season. They will likely be in direct competition with Borussia Mönchengladbach, Stuttgart, Hannover 96, and Wolfsburg for that final spot. While "Neverkusen" won't find themselves competing for the title next season like the supporters want, they should be more competitive with the elite clubs throughout the season.