After two wins in eight games, Bayer Leverkusen have the fifth-worst defensive record in the league and have only scored nine. With tough fixtures to come, DW’s Matt Ford wonders how long Heiko Herrlich can hold on.When Karim Bellarabi's left-footed effort hit the back of the net in the fourth minute of injury time, the relief was palpable among the Bayer Leverkusen fans who hadn't already left the BayArena.
But not everyone was happy that Leverkusen had rescued a 2-2 draw against struggling Hannover. "That goal has probably kept Herrlich in a job," scoffed this writer's Werkself-supporting German colleague, before penning a scathing critique of his club's start to the season.
"A timid and uninspired excuse for football with no sparkling ideas," is how he described his team's performances so far this season. "Disorganized, fainthearted and abject."
Are they really that bad?
This is a Bayer Leverkusen side which only missed out on the Champions League on goal difference last season and which, on paper at least, boasts one of the exciting-looking attacks in the league: Leon Bailey, Julian Brandt, Kai Havertz, Kevin Volland, Lucas Alario, Karim Bellarabi.
They may only have managed nine goals in eight Bundesliga games this season – but two of them did give them a two-goal lead over Borussia Dortmund last month, and Volland hit the post – plus they've added another seven in two Europa League outings.
There are some good goals, too. Lars Bender's first equalizer against Hannover on Saturday came after neat combination play involving Brandt and Havertz, who also helped create Mitchell Weiser's opener against Dortmund last month and set up Volland's second away at Fortuna Düsseldorf.
But highlights reels can be deceiving. Düsseldorf missed a string of first-half chances in that Rhine derby while Dortmund eventually came back to win 4-2. And as for those Europa League successes, continental giants Ludogorets and Larnaka both took the lead against Leverkusen and both scored twice.
Indeed, no other Bundesliga side has conceded as many chances as Leverkusen and they've only kept three clean sheets – against fifth-division Pforzheim in the cup, against a hapless Mainz side who are averaging one goal every two games, and in a goalless draw in Freiburg.
'Change is not good'
Yet nothing appears to have changed – and this is what is irritating Leverkusen fans most. Because nothing ever happens quickly at the BayArena. Not under sporting director Rudi Völler, anyway.
Two seasons ago, Roger Schmidt remained in a job long after losing the dressing room, suggesting at one point that a 6-2 thrashing in Dortmund was a "step in the right direction." His replacement Tayfun Korkut barely kept them in the league.
Now, three weeks after German tabloid Bild reported that Leverkusen had made contact with former RB Leipzig coach Ralph Hasenhüttl, Herrlich still retains the backing of the board. "We're not about to lose our nerve," assured Völler, "there are no ultimatums; Heiko can continue to work in peace."
But his task isn't about to get any easier with Werder Bremen, Hoffenheim and RB to come in the league and trips to Borussia Mönchengladbach and FC Zürich in the cups. "We need to start delivering," acknowledged Herrlich – and soon, because patience is wearing thin.
Sven Bender and several of his teammates were engaged in tense discussions with some of Bayer Leverkusen's hardcore ultras at the bottom of the Nordkurve at full-time, exchanges which lasted for a good five minutes before the team was applauded off, as DW's Jonathan Harding reported.
The fans will continue to stand behind their team – but how long will they stand behind the coach?