Get the lowdown on German giants Bayer Leverkusen, who visit St Mary’s on Saturday 9th August.
Leverkusen’s rise to prominence in Germany started upon promotion into the Bundesliga in time for the 1979/80 season.
Many notable names in Germany and abroad have represented them over the years including Rudi Völler, Lúcio, Zé Roberto, Michael Ballack, Ulf Kirsten, Oliver Neuville, and Dimitar Berbatov. German legend Völler is back at the club in a Sporting Director role, and has previously coached the team on two occasions as well.
Jupp Heynckes coached Leverkusen in his last job before taking over as Bayern Munich manager with whom he won the Champions League in 2013.
Leverkusen landed their first and only European trophy to-date with a 1988 UEFA Cup win over Espanyol, a success which laid the foundations for a prolonged stay in Germany’s top-flight, which has brought with it regular involvement in European competitions.
The German title remains elusive, with Leverkusen having often been the Bridesmaid by finishing as runners-up on five occasions, three of which came in close succession at the turn of the millennium.
Their most recent brush with the title came in 2010/11, but they remain a regular top end team, after taking fourth place last season to make the Champions League play-off qualification for next year.
It was a close call though, as they pipped VfL Wolfsburg to the last Champions League qualifying position by a point after coming from behind to beat Werder Bremen 2-1 on the final day of last season.
Leverkusen, who had parted company with recently installed Brighton manager Sami Hyypiä before the end of the season, ultimately finished three points behind Schalke 04 in third, with Bayern Munich taking the title ahead of Borussia Dortmund.
Manager Sascha Lewandowski with the Leverkusen fans [Credit: Sascha Schuermann/AFP/Getty Images]
They also reached Champions League last season, with Hyypiä’s side qualifying from the group stage by beating Saints’ pre-season opponents from last year, Real Sociedad 2-1 and 1-0, but despite losing twice to Manchester United, they made it to the last 16 alongside the Red Devils, before exiting at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain.
Following Hyypiä’s departure from the BayArena in April, former youth team manager Sascha Lewandowski took control of the first team.
He was replaced by Red Bull Salzburg boss Roger Schmidt during the summer, who will take charge of the German side for the first ever meeting between these two clubs.
Last summer they sold star striker André Schürrle to Chelsea for €23m,but used part of that money to sign Son Heung-Min from Hamburg with the fee paid reported to be a club record €10m. The striker who turns 22 in July scored ten goals in 31 games during his debut season for Leverkusen.
Heung-Min will represent South Korea at this summer’s World Cup finals, whilst two other Leverkusen players are also out in Brazil. Left sided winger Andrés Guardado on loan from Spanish side Deportivo is in the Mexico squad, whilst centre half Emir Spahić is in the Bosnia 23-man selection.
Son Heung-Min celebrates [Credit: Sascha Schuermann/AFP/Getty Images]
German midfielder Lars Bender was in his country’s 30-man squad before succumbing to a thigh injury which ruled him out of the trip to South America.
Other stories of note surrounding Leverkusen at present include the transfer of Turkish German midfielder Emre Can, who is reportedly set to move to Liverpool on 1st July.
Meanwhile, long-serving striker Stefan Kießling – Leverkusen’s second all-time leading goalscorer - is about to emabark on his ninth season with the team. The 30-year-old frontman has netted 111 goals in 247 competitive games for the German side.