So far, Heiko Herrlich has been unable to reverse Leverkusen′s gradual downhill slide | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 15.09.2017
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So far, Heiko Herrlich has been unable to reverse Leverkusen's gradual downhill slide

Having flirted with the drop for much of last season Bayer Leverkusen have taken but a single point in their first three games of the new campaign. So far, new coach Heiko Herrlich been unable to turn things around.

The second training session of the day is intense – on a shortened pitch with plenty of one-on-one situations and attempts on goal. The players need every short break they get to catch their breath.

The training session is typical of the kind of work Bayer Leverkusen have done this week. The aim is not just to improve their physical condition, ball skills and tactics, but also their mental attitude.

"We have to get back to working hard, fighting hard and then scoring goals again," veteran striker Stefan Kiessling told DW.

Porous defense

Leverkusen have taken just a single point from their first three games, making this their worst start to a season since they won promotion to the Bundesliga in 1979. The Werkself also have the league's worst defensive record, having already conceded eight goals.

Bayer haven't got their offense going either. Although they are tied with RB Leipzig for the most shots on target (37 each), they have only converted 10.8 percent of their chances into goals (Leipzig 16.2 percent) – well below the Bundesliga average.

So it should come as little surprise that head coach Heiko Herrlich's team is the only one in the league to twice fail to secure victory in games in which they had taken.

"We need players on the pitch that go full tilt together. We know that we are capable of this because that's what we did in the last few weeks of last season, when we saved ourselves (from the drop)," Kiessling said. Now though, the deficiencies in Leverkusen's team play are simply too big.

An early wake-up call

After their most recent defeat – in Mainz – in which Leverkusen won just 39 percent of their one-on-one battles, Herrlich attempted to deliver a wake-up call to rouse his troops – at an unusually early point in a season to feel the need to do so.

"We have to avoid slipping into a similar situation as the team found itself in last season," he said. "We have our backs to the wall!"

1. FSV Mainz 05 v Bayer 04 Leverkusen - Bundesliga (Getty Images/M.Hitij)

Not much went right for Julian Brandt and his Bayer Leverkusen teammates in Mainz last Saturday

Last season, they were seldom all that far from the relegation zone and, three games into the current campaign, Herrlich believes the recent lack of success has become a psychological problem.

"We have the players to do the job but the negativity from last season is more deeply ingrained than I thought," Herrlich said. "We are working on changing that mindset."

However, so far the 45-year-old coach hasn't been successful in his attempt to do so.

Under three different coaches, Roger Schmidt, Tayfun Korkut and Herrlich, Leverkusen have lost twice as many games as they have won (10-5) in 2017 – and they have taken just 21 points from 21 Bundesliga games.

Loss of quality

Sporting director Rudi Völler tried to improve the team and address the mentality issue with the signings of Dominik Kohr (from Augsburg) and particularly Sven Bender (ex-Dortmund), but the problems remain.

"This can't be solved by one person alone, they need the kind of support that simply isn't present at the moment. Every one of us needs to take responsibility," Kiessling said.

Leverkusen may have spent €40 million ($48 million) on new signings in the off-season but they took in twice that figure from the sales of key players. Attacking stars Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Hakan Calhanoglu, as well as defender Ömer Toprak, aren't all that easy to replace.

Could Kiessling be the key?

Leverkusen need a strong figure on the pitch to help integrate the new signings and given his experience, time spent at the club, as well as his fighting spirit, Kiessling could be the just man for the job. At the moment, however, the 33-year-old is at best Herrlich's second choice up front.

"Stefan is always an option, but he has to be fit and healthy," Herrlich said.

So it looks like Kiessling hardly fits into Herrlich's plans to try to rejuvenate Leverkusen.

"I not going to start worrying about that now," Kiessling said. "Everyone knows they can count on me when I'm needed. That's the way I have decided to approach my last year as a professional footballer."

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