Following a somewhat inconsistent start to life under the new management team of Sami Hyppiä and Sascha Lewandoski, Bayer 04 Leverkusen's form has taken on a more predictable format. The Rhineland side appear to have developed a knack for defending well at one end and taking their chances at the other.
Until Sunday's tired-looking 3-1 Bundesliga reverse at VfL Wolfsburg, Leverkusen had been on a five-match winning streak. The sequence began and ended with commanding Group K victories over SK Rapid Wien that sealed progress to the UEFA Europa League round of 32 with two games to spare – and, tellingly, included an eye-catching 2-1 triumph at German league leaders FC Bayern München. That was not just the only Bundesliga match this campaign the Bavarians have failed to win, but Bayer's first success in the fixture in 23 years.
Forward André Schürrle believes a strong team ethic, from management down to players, has underpinned the upturn in fortunes. "Generally, things are going well and everyone's playing their part, both the team out there on the pitch and the coaching staff," said the 22-year-old German international, scorer of the stunning second goal against Rapid on matchday four. "They're providing us with a great deal of support and it is paying off. I think we've found our rhythm, our playing style, and we are consistently improving as a team."
A key cause for optimism for Hyppiä and Lewandowski must be the defensive steel their side have displayed this season: Leverkusen are the only club in both the UEFA Europa League and the UEFA Champions League yet to concede a goal. Throw in the fact that the team have scored on average two goals a game in competitive action this term, and a formidable picture starts to emerge.
Captain Simon Rolfes acknowledges that the recent run has sent confidence soaring. "All in all, things are going well for us at the moment and, with every good result, our self-belief is growing," the 30-year-old said. "In Europe in particular, we've been defending really well and that's important for any good team. You have to work hard as a unit and, overall, that applies to us at the moment." Such a capacity for graft already makes Bayer's Bundesliga-opening sequence of one win in four a distant memory.
However Rolfes, in his eighth season at the BayArena, is reluctant to predict how far Leverkusen – with ten points from a possible 12 – can go in the UEFA Europa League; the priority remains securing top spot in Group K ahead of FC Metalist Kharkiv. He said: "We can't take anything for granted. We know we are through to the next round, but we're not thinking about the knockout games yet."
With Leverkusen's next continental assignment coming away to Metalist on 22 November, the Germany player went on: "We want to win the group and, to do that, we have to beat [Metalist] Kharkiv. That's our focus now and we're looking forward to it."
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