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Confident Bayer Leverkusen show their potential

A goal and a man down in the second half against RasenBallsport Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen refused to abandon their attacking style and were rewarded. The club are heading in the right direction.

"We have the potential to be where they are," said Bayer Leverkusen defender Jonathan Tah of second-placed RB Leipzig ahead of the meeting between the two sides on Matchday 12. It is certainly a bold statement.

The Red Bull franchise club are the Bundesliga's latest Champions League representatives – a status Leverkusen have long claimed for themselves. And rightly so after four knock-out stage appearances in the competition since 2012.

But a tumultuous campaign under first Roger Schmidt and then Tayfun Korkut saw them surrender their place at Europe's top table this season, responsibility falling to new coach Heiko Herrlich to take them back to where they feel they belong.

Even first half

The methods Herrlich wants to use to achieve that aim have long since been mastered by RB Leipzig, specifically a commitment to attacking football reliant on individual pace and quality. And while it was the more experienced visitors who understandably settled quicker, taking the lead through a Timo Werner penalty, Leverkusen stuck stubbornly to their philosophy.

Leverkusen drove at Leipzig's midfield and were rewarded when Leon Bailey slotted home after a good through-ball from Dominik Kohr. The Jamaican is perhaps the best example of what is growing in Leverkusen and against RB Leipzig, he was as impressive going forward as he was tracking back.

Even in the face of individual setbacks, Herrlich stuck to his plan. When Admir Mehmedi gave away the penalty and had a generally disappointing first half, Herrlich reacted positively, replacing the Swiss international with Benjamin Henrichs who made an instant, if short-lived, impact. 

Bayer's belief

When Henrichs was sent off just seven minutes later into the second half for elbowing the ball off the line and Emil Forsberg restored Leipzig's lead from the spot, it looked like Leverkusen were making life difficult for themselves again.  

But Herrlich still wasn't deterred and waved his team forward, Kevin Volland, Kai Havertz and Tah all coming close in a furious second half. The home fans responded to their team's positive attitude with loud support of their own and when Volland finally volleyed home at the back post after Leipzig failed to clear, it was no more than they deserved.

"You've got to take your hat off to the team for how they played when a man down," Volland told Sky post-match. "We really put the pressure on in the second half and believed in ourselves for 90 minutes."

It's a belief that comes from the coach. A goal and a man down against the second-best team in the country, Herrlich could have been forgiven for adapting to a more defensive formation and hoping for a chance on the break. In choosing not to, Herrlich demonstrated just how much confidence he has in his philosophy and in his players' ability to implement it on the field.

Such is the positive mentality that Herrlich has instilled in a team who have now scored in each of their last 17 Bundesliga games that Volland even sounded a little disappointed with the result.

"Both teams have quality," the forward added. "We're two teams on the same level." 

Whether that really is the case will become clear at the end of the season, and the two clubs still have very different ambitions. But Bayer Leverkusen certainly showed their potential on Matchday 12.

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