Borussia Dortmund head coach Marco Rose admits he is "angry" after his side spurned a golden opportunity to win a title after crashing out of the DFB-Pokal 2-1 to St Pauli on Tuesday.

DFB-Pokal holders Dortmund conceded twice in the first half before Erling Haaland pulled back a 58th minute penalty but they could not find an equalizer in the last-16 clash.

The defeat means for the first time since 2006-07, neither Dortmund or Bayern Munich will contend in the DFB-Pokal quarter-finals, with Rose admitting it was a major missed opportunity.

"I'm just angry. The cup is a chance for a title and we're generally in good shape," Rose told Sky. "Then we just give the game away in the first 10 minutes.

"The fact that you then get into problems with the ground and the strong opponent under the conditions is inexplicable and cannot be excused."

Dortmund had come into the DFB-Pokal game fresh from beating SC Freiburg 5-1 in the Bundesliga on Friday, as well as coming from behind to win 3-2 over Eintracht Frankfurt.

"It's a pity and a bit stupid of us that after a top performance against Freiburg and the game we played in Frankfurt, we didn't do it again," Rose said.

"Unfortunately, we are again confirming a few things that have been held up to us in the last few weeks, months and years. It's just our fault.

"The end pisses me off because it was a chance for a title and we're just giving the game away."

Erling Haaland's penalty was not enough to rescue Borussia Dortmund as they crashed out of the DFB-Pokal following a shock 2-1 defeat by St Pauli.

The reigning champions' title defence came to an abrupt end at Millerntor-Stadion, where the 2. Bundesliga leaders claimed a memorable victory.

Dortmund arrived in the tie having netted five goals without reply in their opening two matches of this season's DFB-Pokal, defeating Wehen Wiesbaden 3-0 and Ingolstadt 2-0.

Meanwhile, only Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg had beaten them in this competition since 2011.

However, they fell behind to Etienne Amenyido's fourth-minute strike, while an Axel Witsel own goal doubled the hosts' lead before the break.

Haaland halved the deficit from the penalty spot 13 minutes into the second half but ,despite eight shots on goal and 70.4 per cent of the possession, the visitors were unable to avert a shock exit.

Borussia Dortmund boss Marco Rose is "deeply relaxed" about Erling Haaland's future, despite the striker hinting that he is growing frustrated with the Bundesliga side.

Haaland was on target twice in Friday's 5-1 win over Freiburg to make it 15 league goals for the campaign and 55 in 56 games for Dortmund in all competitions since joining.

Only Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski (79 goals in 62 games) has found the net more often over the past two years among players from Europe's top five leagues.

The Norway international has been regularly linked with a move away from Dortmund, with Real Madrid and Barcelona rumoured to be particularly eager to strike a deal.

And Haaland, who reportedly has a €75million release clause in his contract that will activate in July, stated last week a decision on his future will be made soon.

"The last six months I have chosen not to say anything out of respect for Dortmund, but now the club has started to press me into making a decision," Haaland said.

"All I want to do is to play football. But they press me to make a decision now about my future. So that means that I have to make a decision soon.

"They have started to put a lot of pressure on me, I have to accept that. I have chosen not to say anything out of respect for the club and the fans. 

"But now a lot of pressure is coming from the club, so now is the time to get things started. This is what they want. It means that things will happen now."

 

That was seen as Haaland venting his frustration at the speculation regarding his future, but head coach Rose does not see it that way.

"It's not a big issue for us," he said at a news conference previewing Tuesday's DFB-Pokal last-16 tie with St. Pauli.

"We spoke briefly on Sunday, but it was mainly about football. I'm deeply relaxed about this topic because I see Erling here every day.

"Erling is looking forward to the cup game and that's the most important thing for me as a coach."

While Rose has no concerns over Haaland, the Dortmund boss admitted to being worried by Giovanni Reyna's recovery from a hamstring issue.

Reyna has been restricted to just four appearances for BVB this term due to an injury picked up on United States duty in September.

He had been expected to return after the mid-season break this month, but the 19-year-old will once again be missing for the midweek cup tie with St. Pauli.

"Gio Reyna is on the right track overall, but of course, he has lost something over time," Rose said.

"We have to get him playable and fit to play. Without wanting to promise too much, let's aim for the break after the Hoffenheim game [next weekend] to get him fully fit again."

Reyna scored and assisted a combined nine goals in the Bundesliga last season, the fifth-most of any Dortmund player, with Haaland leading the way (33).

Julian Nagelsmann conceded Bayern Munich's 5-0 thrashing by Borussia Monchengladbach will take a while to heal.

Nagelsmann – who was absent again from the touchline for a fourth game due to a positive COVID-19 test – saw his side miss out on the DFB-Pokal last-16 stage after a crushing loss at the hands of Gladbach.

Wednesday's demolition was the first time since December 1978 that Bayern had lost by a five-goal margin as the Bavarian giants look to bounce back against Union Berlin in Saturday's Bundesliga clash.

However, Nagelsmann warned that a defeat of that magnitude will take a while to heal from as they look for a fourth consecutive victory on the road in the German top flight.

"We didn't cry to ourselves on the phone about how bad everything is," said Nagelsmann on Friday.

"It was important to me that the players not only look for mistakes in themselves but also in me. At the end of the conversation, I had the feeling with everyone that we could get this out of their heads – but also that it would take a while.

"Our aim is to solve it playfully, but it is easier on a good day. We need solutions that we will use again and again in the future in order to survive such moments.

"That was one new experience for us. With that we can close the Wednesday book."

 

Nagelsmann will be hoping for improvements against Union Berlin, who have not won any of their first four matches against Bayern in the Bundesliga.

The former RB Leipzig head coach also revealed he held important conversations with some of his key players after the Gladbach game as they quickly looked to resolve issues.

"The conversations were yesterday," he continued. "I won't tell you which players I spoke to. That remains a trade secret. I have tried to send messages that can also be passed on [to other players].

"I try to have the best possible influence. As a head coach, being able to hand over responsibilities is a great asset.

"There was a lot received, but that stays between us. Everyone has different issues. In the end we all agreed that this shouldn't happen to us again. Simply because it hurts. It doesn't work about what other people write about us.

"It's not about making amends. Experiences are shaped by uniqueness, you can no longer eradicate something like that in life. The stone from Wednesday will lie there forever."

 

Nagelsmann, who confirmed he will return to the touchline for the Champions League clash on Tuesday against Benfica, also insisted he can handle the pressure of the Bayern role.

"I always feel pressure, it hasn't changed much," he added. "I know how Bayern Munich works. I've prepared myself for it.

"It's not about life and death, but about making good games and learning from them. The pressure is no different now than it was before."

Thomas Muller has apologised to Bayern Munich supporters following his side's "catastrophic" 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday.

Bundesliga champions Bayern were three goals down inside 21 minutes and conceded twice more before the hour mark in the DFB-Pokal second-round tie.

The heavy defeat at Borussia-Park marks the first time Bayern have lost a game by at least five goals since December 1978 in a Bundesliga clash with Fortuna Dusseldorf.

Muller played a full part in the Bavarian giants' heaviest loss in 43 years and was taken aback by the manner of his side's performance, which came despite a strong line-up being fielded.

"We never got to the point where our Bayern engine kicked in," he said. "We can only apologise to the fans and apologise to Gladbach. 

"With the exception of [Manuel] Neuer, it was a catastrophic performance from us.

"I haven't experienced anything like that before. It's difficult to wrap your head round. We have to put it behind us now, because we've got a game on Saturday."

 

Bayern had scored in their previous 83 competitive matches in a run spanning back to February 2020, which includes 60 goals in 15 games in all competitions this season – at least 17 more than any other side in Europe's top five leagues,

The visitors were pulled apart at the back, with Ramy Bensebaini and Breel Embolo helping themselves to a couple of goals each after Kouadio Kone's early opener.

Bayern's loss came in the absence of head coach Julian Nagelsmann, who is continuing to isolate at home after testing positive for coronavirus.

Stand-in boss Dino Toppmoller oversaw Bayern's biggest ever cup defeat and is aware of the importance of hitting back with victory at Union Berlin in Saturday's Bundesliga clash.

"It was an absolutely bad day. I'm sorry that we disappointed our fans today," he said at his post-match news conference.

"We were in constant contact with Julian. We prepared the game plan together and discussed the lineup via FaceTime. 

"I don't think it was a system problem – it was just a dark day and we were late to every ball. It's difficult to accept now but we've to show a reaction."

Bayern have now failed to reach the last 16 of the DFB-Pokal in back-to-back seasons for the first time since between 1994 and 1996, having suffered a shock loss to Holstein Kiel at the same stage last year.

A stunned Hasan Salihamidzic felt Bayern Munich suffered from a "collective blackout" in their "inexplicable" 5-0 DFB-Pokal thrashing at Borussia Monchengladbach.

The Bundesliga champions suffered a humiliating second-round hammering at Borussia-Park, where they were three goals down after 21 minutes on Wednesday.

Ramy Bensebaini scored twice after Kouadio Kone opened the scoring in the second minute and Breel Embolo rubbed salt into Bayern's wounds with a second-half double.

Bayern were a shambles as they were ripped to pieces by Die Fohlen in the absence of head coach Julian Nagelsmann, who had to watch on at home as he isolates after testing positive for coronavirus.

The Bavarian giants' sporting director Salihamidzic was taken aback by such a woeful performance.

Asked for his reaction to the defeat, he told ARD: "Absolutely shocked. We just weren't there. We didn't win a duel in the first half, it was a collective blackout."

He added: "For me, this is inexplicable. We knew how difficult it would be here, we discussed everything. It is difficult to explain."

Dayot Upamecano endured a nightmare outing on his 23rd birthday, looking totally lost and making a poor mistake for the fourth goal from Embolo.

The centre-back was replaced straight after that error, but Salihamidzic says he put a bad night behind him.

"We win together, we lose together. We will rebuild Upa. It's inexplicable because he played really well recently," Salihamidzic said.

Bayern defender Lucas Hernandez also started on a day in which in was revealed he had has avoided jail time for disobeying a restraining order in 2017 after a Madrid court accepted his appeal.

Joshua Kimmich has also been in the headlines recently after stating he had not been vaccinated for COVID-19, but Salihamidzic says off-field issues cannot be used as an excuse.

He said: "[It is] Difficult to say. There were a lot of stories in the past week, but we got along with that in the games before that too. The lack of vaccination was not the reason today that we did not get into the duels and could stop the balls."

Ramy Bensebaini and Breel Embolo scored doubles as Borussia Monchengladbach unceremoniously dumped Bayern Munich out of the DFB-Pokal with a stunning 5-0 victory.

It was a horror show for shambolic Bayern at Borussia-Park on Wednesday as the Bundesliga leaders were put to the sword, conceding three times in the opening 21 minutes.

Bensebaini struck twice after Kouadio Kone opened the scoring with his first goal for Die Fohlen, with Bayern at sixes and sevens as head coach Julian Nagelsmann watched on at home as he isolates after testing positive for coronavirus.

Embolo helped himself to a quickfire brace early in the second half to help Gladbach cruise into the third round, knocking Bayern out at the same stage they were sensationally beaten by Holstein Kiel at last season.

Kone capitalised on slack Bayern defending to open the scoring in the second minute, side-footing in with his right foot after Alphonso Davies gifted Gladbach possession with a poor pass.

Jonas Hofmann should have doubled their lead when he failed to hit the target after racing clear and Manuel Neuer showed great reflexes to tip Embolo's drive over the crossbar, with the Bundesliga champions all over the place at the back.

Bayern were caught napping again in the 15th minute and Bensebaini made them pay, bursting into the penalty area unmarked and sweeping in Hofmann's cutback with his right foot.

Things went from bad to worse for the Bavarian giants when Lucas Hernandez was adjudged to have fouled Embolo and Bensebaini nonchalantly slotted into the back of the net from the spot.

Dayot Upamecano was enduring a nightmare on his 23rd birthday, and he gifted Gladbach a fourth goal six minutes into the second half, failing to deal with a high ball down the middle and allowing Embolo to get on the scoresheet.

Upamecano was hauled off after that mistake, but there was no improvement in the Bayern defending as Embolo struck again soon after, beating a stunned Neuer after Luca Netz sent him clear.

Yann Sommer denied Serge Gnabry with a brilliant save after keeping out a Robert Lewandowski header and Josip Stanisic blazed over the crossbar as Bayern were unable to salvage some pride.

Julian Nagelsmann claimed Kingsley Coman is "one of the top wingers in the world" when fit and said the Frenchman must remain patient for a chance at Bayern Munich.

Coman, 25, joined Bayern initially on a two-year loan from Juventus in 2015 and subsequently made the move permanent.

The France international underwent a minor heart operation in September and has managed just 84 minutes in the Bundesliga this term with the Bavarian giants.

Nagelsmann, however, insisted that Coman ranks among the best in his position on his day as he addressed questions over his rotational policy ahead of Bayern's DFB-Pokal clash with Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday.

"I've emphasised many times that King [Coman] is an amazing person who I really enjoy working with," Nagelsmann, who is self-isolating due to a positive COVID-19 test, told reporters on Tuesday.

"I think he's one of the top wingers in the world when he's fit. I would like to work with him for many years to come."

Among Bayern players, Coman leads the charts for dribbles completed across all competitions (500) since his debut on September 12, 2015 – Thiago Alcantara ranks second on that list, some 124 behind the Frenchman.

Indeed, the former Juventus attacker has attempted 276 more dribbles than any of his other team-mates in that same period while scoring 42 times and recording 40 assists.

 

Coman also ranks fifth at the club in this time-span when it comes to chances created, sitting behind Thiago (279), Robert Lewandowski (305), Joshua Kimmich (521) and Thomas Muller (605), with the 274 opportunities he has worked for Bayern.

However, starting chances under Hansi Flick and subsequently Nagelsmann have diminished as Coman seemingly falls behind Serge Gnabry, Muller, Leroy Sane and now Jamal Musiala.

Nagelsmann appreciates the quality of depth he has in that position with his new side, as he attempts to utilise the abundance of talent he has at his disposal.

"We're very well positioned on the wing positions," Nagelsmann said.

"All the players are in exceptional form. It takes a lot of courage, everyone plays or with a certain workload control. Not everyone agrees. I can understand that. But they are all healthy and we want to take advantage of that.

"In the last few years this has not always been the case, so we mustn't complain now. And maybe they will play at the same time."

Julian Nagelsmann revealed he contacted Joshua Kimmich after the Germany midfielder hit the headlines as he admitted he had not been vaccinated for COVID-19.

Bayern Munich, who are preparing to face Borussia Monchengladbach in the DFB-Pokal second round, have been without Nagelsmann after the former RB Leipzig head coach tested positive for coronavirus.

However, it was Kimmich who was the main point of interest after Bayern defeated Hoffenheim 4-0 as the 26-year-old explained he had not been vaccinated because he wanted further research to be conducted first.

Former Bayern president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was quick to assure Kimmich should do the responsible thing and get vaccinated, though Nagelsmann attempted to put an end to the saga at Tuesday's pre-match news conference.

"A lot of topics are often chewed through," Nagelsmann told reporters from his home during his virtual conference. "It is important that there is an exchange of views. Everyone then has to decide for themselves whether they have to give their mustard to everything.

"There are experts, they should express their opinion. Whether the federal government has to do that now, it has to know for itself. I am happy when everyone can concentrate on their job again."

Nagelsmann, who has been operating from his homemade "data centre", then revealed he had contacted Kimmich to discuss the interview while admitting it was up to the individual whether they should get vaccinated or not.

"I wrote to him after the interview," he continued. "I told him that there are certainly easier interview topics. That is the price you pay when you are in public.

"Enough has been said about it now. I also gave my opinion of what I thought about the vaccination – I now know how the symptoms progress.

"From this and in exchange with doctors I also noticed that the disease behaves differently after the vaccination. Nevertheless, it is up to you to decide whether he can be vaccinated."

Nagelsmann will not be fit enough to return for the visit to Gladbach, though he could return against Union Berlin on Saturday.

His side have won all three games in his absence, dispatching Leverkusen, Benfica and Hoffenheim by an aggregate score of 13-1.

However, the 34-year-old revealed he finds comments that Bayern do not need a coach in his absence disrespectful, pointing towards the crucial interventions that are sometimes required on the touchline.

"The team is very good, no question about it," he added.

"I also have a very well-functioning coaching team. They are a tight-knit bunch, and we know each other very well.

"But I don't lie around at home and don't work on anything. I think it is sometimes a bit disrespectful when you claim that the team doesn't need a coach. There are always moments when you should intervene."

Marco Rose is under no illusions as to the importance of Erling Haaland to his team, but insisted Borussia Dortmund will not "whine" about the star striker's absence.

Dortmund coach Rose confirmed last Friday that Haaland would be out for several weeks due to a hip flexor injury.

Haaland has scored 13 goals in 10 appearances across all competitions so far this season, having missed three matches due to a muscular problem. He returned to feature in a 3-1 win over Mainz on October 16, netting twice.

The 21-year-old's absence was not felt as Dortmund claimed a 3-1 win at Armenia Bielefeld on Saturday, with Rose's team sitting second in the Bundesliga.

A home match against Ingolstadt in the DFB-Pokal comes up next on Tuesday, though Haaland was the main subject of Rose's pre-match news conference.

"Erling is incredibly important for us and we miss him, no question," said Rose.

"I once said that we would have to reinvent ourselves [in his absence]. But we don't have to do so by that much. We will not start all over again.

"We might not have Erling's physique up front now, but we have other types of players. In Bielefeld, we played with three strikers and had different ideas.

"We'll be happy when Erling does come back. But again, we have to get used to [his absence] for a few games now. So we shouldn't whine about it but find solutions and we are currently working on that right now."

 

Replacing Haaland?

Haaland has scored nine league goals already this season, averaging a strike every 60 minutes in the Bundesliga.

The Norway international has had 30 shots, registering a 30 per cent conversion rate, outperforming his xG of 6.13 by some distance. Haaland has also stepped up creatively, already providing three assists, the joint-highest in Rose's squad alongside Marco Reus.

Donyell Malen replaced Haaland up top against Bielefeld, though failed to get on the scoresheet from two attempts, one of which was a missed opportunity in the eighth minute from what was Dortmund's second-best chance of the game from open play, according to Opta (xG value of 0.232).

Malen arrived from PSV in the close-season, but in nine Bundesliga games, he is yet to find the net, from 11 attempts in total. 

Reus is another option in a central role, though the Dortmund captain is usually at his best deployed as one of the wide attackers in Rose's 3-4-3 or 4-3-3 systems.

The experienced forward leads Dortmund for chances created (16) but has scored just two goals, slightly underperforming his xG (2.26) in his eight Bundesliga appearances so far.

Youssoufa Moukoko could be utilised, however, he has only played 78 minutes across five league matches under Rose. The teenager became the youngest ever Bundesliga player when he made his debut in November last season, before becoming the competition's most junior scorer the next month.

"If you have the ambition and quality, we count on you and give you the chance to develop. With development, there is also performance. That's why it's a great story for Florian but also for us as a club," Simon Rolfes told Stats Perform.

Bayer Leverkusen had money to splash after Chelsea paid a club-record fee to prise German star Kai Havertz from BayArena at the start of 2020-21. His absence was supposed to leave a glaring hole in North Rhine-Westphalia and prompt a frantic search in the transfer market.

But sporting director Rolfes and Leverkusen had other ideas. Rather than use the money recouped in the blockbuster Havertz transfer, Die Werkself opted to look in their own backyard for a replacement – 18-year-old teenage sensation Florian Wirtz.

Leverkusen's faith in youth and their clearly defined philosophy has served them well previously, and they're being rewarded once again by the club's latest wonderkid, who has put Havertz well and truly in the rear-view mirror as Europe's elite queue for his signature.

At home in the number 10 role behind a striker or even as a deep-lying playmaker, Wirtz can do it all on the pitch – as next opponents Bayern Munich may find out on Sunday.

Leverkusen prised Wirtz from Cologne in 2020. Dubbed "the best midfielder to come through the club in 30 years" by local newspaper Kolner Express, Bayern, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Liverpool were all circling after Wirtz captained boyhood team Cologne to Under-17 German Championship glory in 2019, but Leverkusen eventually won the race.

Rolfes had first watched Wirtz at the age of 13. He was immediately mesmerised by the Brauweiler-born sensation, who has firmly established himself in the Leverkusen XI, quickly becoming the new face of Die Werkself.

 

From his junior days, Wirtz has been great at exploiting gaps and creating space in midfield while churning out goalscoring chances with his devastating awareness. Not to mention his defence-splitting passing ability. Five years on and nothing has changed on the international stage.

"Extraordinary player," Rolfes told Stats Perform prior to the international break, after which Leverkusen now prepare to face champions Bayern in a top-of-the-table Bundesliga clash. "I saw him the first time when he was 13 and followed him all the time. Spoke with him before he moved to us, with the parents a lot of times and tried to convince them that it was the right step to come to us and accelerate his development. I and the whole club are very happy that he is with us. That's the interesting thing, I watched him the first time at 13 and he is still playing the same. 14,15, 16, always in that kind of style."

When a player breaks a record held by Havertz at Leverkusen, it is a sign to sit up and take notice.

Wirtz was swiftly thrust into the first team, becoming Leverkusen's youngest-ever debutant at the age of 17 years and 16 days, eclipsing Havertz's record, in last season's 4-1 rout of Werder Bremen in 2019-20. After a handful of appearances in the coronavirus-hit campaign, Wirtz played 29 Bundesliga games, which yielded five goals and as many assists in the post-Havertz era in 2020-21. In February 2021, Wirtz became the first player in the league's history to score five goals before celebrating his 18th birthday.

So, when it comes to comparing Wirtz to Havertz through their first 42 Bundesliga appearances with Leverkusen, how do they stack up against each other?

Wirtz has an equal split between goals and assists (10 each), averaging his 20 goal involvements once every 148 minutes across his top-flight career so far. That's quicker than Havertz managed at the same stage of his Bundesliga career, with his 16 goal involvements in his first 42 apps coming at an average of 165 minutes.

Wirtz also proved a shade more productive in front of goal, with an expected goals per 90 average of 0.16 compared to Havertz's 0.14, but the now-Chelsea forward was able to get more involved in the average game with 65 touches per 90 compared to Wirtz's 58 per 90.

"I wouldn't say they're similar. They're for sure similar in terms of extraordinary qualities and potential for really big careers," Rolfes said. "I would say at the end, Kai plays a little bit more forward and is very good in going deep with a lot of speed. Sometimes it doesn’t look like it because he is so tall but he is incredibly fast. Very direct, fantastic shot with his left foot and a good header. With his height, a very good header of the ball.

"With Florian, I think from a positional sense he is a little bit deeper. More technique in small spaces I would say. Kai likes to use his speed. They are quite different. They unfortunately only played/trained half a year together. It would be nice to have them both together in the squad at the moment because one right foot, one left. They would fit very good together."

With so much attention from a very young age, it is easy for some players to get swept up amid the hype and interest. Not Wirtz.

Wirtz has continued to shatter records and dazzle in the Bundesliga. Against Mainz on matchday six of this season, the Germany international became the youngest player to score 10 goals in Germany’s top-flight, doing so 208 days younger than Lukas Podolski (18 years, 353 days for Cologne in 2004).

No player in the Bundesliga this season has more assists than Wirtz (five) through seven rounds.

With four league goals in just six appearances, he is already only one goal shy of matching last season's haul, despite an expected goals (xG) goal value of 1.0 – no other player has such a large difference between his goals and expected goals.

His nine goal involvements in this season's Bundesliga are only surpassed by Dortmund star Erling Haaland (10), while Wirtz has the best shot conversion rate (36.4 per cent) among all players with at least three goals in 2021-22.

As Wirtz goes from prospect to genuine star, it all comes down to his mindset.

"The attitude is very good. With players and we could see it with Kai Havertz, they know their quality. They are 18 and self-confident because they know about their quality. Special players have that – they can feel that, feel it directly on the pitch. Playing with other good players, they're able to handle it and adapt to the different speed of the game," said Rolfes.

"In that case, they are quite far [developed] and they know there's interest in them because also with 14, 15, 16 it's normal big clubs watched him play. With Florian and Kai, it's quite the same. They always know they’re interesting and extraordinary players."

In all competitions in 2021-22, Wirtz (11) is the only player in Europe's big-five leagues 18 or younger to be involved in seven or more goals, having already found the back of the net twice in the Europa League.

 

Wirtz has been involved in a goal across all competitions every 47 minutes so far this term – at least up until the international break, it was the best rate of all players in Europe's top five leagues with at least 500 minutes, ahead of Haaland (51 mins), Real Madrid's Karim Benzema (52 mins), Bayern talisman Robert Lewandowski (60 mins) and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah (65 mins).

"In the youth teams, the difference in the quality between him and others was much higher. The game in the youth is around them. Now, he also has a big influence on the game, but he has to position himself better to get the ball and use his quality. Players with extraordinary quality have the ability to find the right spaces but in professional teams they have to wait a little bit in their position and then use their quality," former Leverkusen midfielder Rolfes said. "Compared to the youth where they are doing everything."

It's a frightening thought when you remember Wirtz only celebrated his 18th birthday in May and consider how much growth there is to come from Leverkusen’s prized asset.

Despite being so young, Wirtz is already important in Leverkusen's attacking production – he's been involved in 26 open-play attacking sequences in the Bundesliga this season, with only two players at the club involved in more. Of those 26, 12 have come as the creator of the chance, which is more than any Leverkusen team-mate.

"He will improve year by year. Although he already has a high level. His biggest strength and you could see that in all the years in the youth team, is that he gives his best in each game," added Rolfes. "Doesn't matter where he was playing or which team-mates he was playing with. The first team, U19, U13 etc, he was always giving his best. That is a key element in his development that he is able to adapt at higher levels but he has ambition to always improve and you have to improve.

"Sometimes improvement is also a little bit about changing your game. For sure the opponents want to defend him and watch him, so improvement is sometimes changing a little bit. I'm totally convinced he will have a great career because he has the right mindset to develop. If he keeps that, he is 18 and young, it's a really young guy and he has strengthen his personality etc – that’s normal. We all know how we've been at 18 but if he keeps his mindset and development, he will have a fantastic career."

"If you have the ambition and quality, we count on you and give you the chance to develop. With development, there is also performance. That's why it's a great story for Florian but also for us as a club," Simon Rolfes told Stats Perform.

Bayer Leverkusen had money to splash after Chelsea paid a club-record fee to prise German star Kai Havertz from BayArena at the start of 2020-21. His absence was supposed to leave a glaring hole in North Rhine-Westphalia and prompt a frantic search in the transfer market.

But sporting director Rolfes and Leverkusen had other ideas. Rather than use the money recouped in the blockbuster Havertz transfer, Die Werkself opted to look in their own backyard for a replacement – 18-year-old teenage sensation Florian Wirtz.

Leverkusen's faith in youth and their clearly defined philosophy has served them well previously, and they're being rewarded once again by the club's latest wonderkid, who has put Havertz well and truly in the rear-view mirror as Europe's elite queue for his signature.

At home in the number 10 role behind a striker or even as a deep-lying playmaker, Wirtz can do it all on the pitch.

Leverkusen prised Wirtz from Cologne in 2020. Dubbed "the best midfielder to come through the club in 30 years" by local newspaper Kolner Express, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Liverpool were all circling after Wirtz captained boyhood team Cologne to Under-17 German Championship glory in 2019, but Leverkusen eventually won the race.

Rolfes had first watched Wirtz at the age of 13. He was immediately mesmerised by the Brauweiler-born sensation, who has firmly established himself in the Leverkusen XI, quickly becoming the new face of Die Werkself.

 

From his junior days, Wirtz has been great at exploiting gaps and creating space in midfield while churning out goalscoring chances with his devastating awareness. Not to mention his defence-splitting passing ability. Five years on and nothing has changed on the international stage.

"Extraordinary player," Rolfes told Stats Perform. "I saw him the first time when he was 13 and followed him all the time. Spoke with him before he moved to us, with the parents a lot of times and tried to convince them that it was the right step to come to us and accelerate his development. I and the whole club are very happy that he is with us. That's the interesting thing, I watched him the first time at 13 and he is still playing the same. 14,15, 16, always in that kind of style."

When a player breaks a record held by Kai at Leverkusen, it is a sign to stand up and take notice.

Wirtz was swiftly thrust into the first team, becoming Leverkusen's youngest-ever debutant at the age of 17 years and 16 days, eclipsing Havertz's record, in last season's 4-1 rout of Werder Bremen in 2019-20. After a handful of appearances in the coronavirus-hit campaign, Wirtz played 29 Bundesliga games, which yielded five goals and as many assists in the post-Havertz era in 2020-21. In February 2021, Wirtz became the first player in the league's history to score five goals before celebrating his 18th birthday.

So, when it comes to comparing Wirtz to Havertz through their first 42 Bundesliga appearances with Leverkusen, how do they stack up against each other?

Wirtz has an equal split between goals and assists (10 each), averaging his 20 goal involvements once every 148 minutes across his top-flight career so far. That's quicker than Havertz managed at the same stage of his Bundesliga career, with his 16 goal involvements in his first 42 apps coming at an average of 165 minutes.

Wirtz also proved a shade more productive in front of goal, with an expected goals per 90 average of 0.16 compared to Havertz's 0.14, but the now-Chelsea forward was able to get more involved in the average game with 65 touches per 90 compared to Wirtz's 58 per 90.

"I wouldn't say they're similar. They're for sure similar in terms of extraordinary qualities and potential for really big careers," Rolfes said. "I would say at the end, Kai plays a little bit more forward and is very good in going deep with a lot of speed. Sometimes it doesn’t look like it because he is so tall but he is incredibly fast. Very direct, fantastic shot with his left foot and a good header. With his height, a very good header of the ball.

"With Florian, I think from a positional sense he is a little bit deeper. More technique in small spaces I would say. Kai likes to use his speed. They are quite different. They unfortunately only played/trained half a year together. It would be nice to have them both together in the squad at the moment because one right foot, one left. They would fit very good together."

With so much attention from a very young age, it is easy for some players to get swept up amid the hype and interest. Not Wirtz.

Wirtz has continue to shatter records and dazzle in the Bundesliga. Against Mainz on matchday six of this season, the Germany international became the youngest player to score 10 goals in Germany’s top-flight, doing so 208 days younger than Lukas Podolski (18 years, 353 days for Cologne in 2004).

No player in the Bundesliga this season has more assists than Wirtz (five) through seven rounds.

With four league goals in just six appearances, he is already only one goal shy of matching last season's haul, despite an expected goals (xG) goal value of 1.0 – no other player has such a large difference between his goals and expected goals.

His nine goal involvements in this season's Bundesliga are only surpassed by Dortmund star Erling Haaland (10), while Wirtz has the best shot conversion rate (36.4 per cent) among all players with at least three goals in 2021-22.

As Wirtz goes from prospect to genuine star, it all comes down to his mindset.

"The attitude is very good. With players and we could see it with Kai Havertz, they know their quality. They are 18 and self-confident because they know about their quality. Special players have that – they can feel that, feel it directly on the pitch. Playing with other good players, they're able to handle it and adapt to the different speed of the game," said Rolfes.

"In that case, they are quite far [developed] and they know there's interest in them because also with 14, 15, 16 it's normal big clubs watched him play. With Florian and Kai, it's quite the same. They always know they’re interesting and extraordinary players."

In all competitions in 2021-22, Wirtz (11) is the only player in Europe's big-five leagues 18 or younger to be involved in seven or more goals, having already found the back of the net twice in the Europa League.

 

Wirtz has been involved in a goal across all competitions every 47 minutes so far this term – it is the best ratio of minutes per goal involvement of all players in Europe's top-five leagues with at least 500 minutes, ahead of Haaland (51 mins), Real Madrid's Karim Benzema (52 mins), Bayern talisman Robert Lewandowski (60 mins) and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah (65 mins).

"In the youth teams, the difference in the quality between him and others was much higher. The game in the youth is around them. Now, he also has a big influence on the game, but he has to position himself better to get the ball and use his quality. Players with extraordinary quality have the ability to find the right spaces but in professional teams they have to wait a little bit in their position and then use their quality," former Leverkusen midfielder Rolfes said. "Compared to the youth where they are doing everything."

It's a frightening thought when you remember Wirtz only celebrated his 18th birthday in May and how much growth there is to come from Leverkusen’s prized asset.

Despite being so young, Wirtz is already important in Leverkusen's attacking production – he's been involved in 26 open-play attacking sequences in the Bundesliga this season, with only two players at the club involved in more. Of those 26, 12 have come as the creator of the chance, which is more than any Leverkusen team-mate.

"He will improve year by year. Although he already has a high level. His biggest strength and you could see that in all the years in the youth team, is that he gives his best in each game," added Rolfes. "Doesn't matter where he was playing or which team-mates he was playing with. The first team, U19, U13 etc, he was always giving his best. That is a key element in his development that he is able to adapt at higher levels but he has ambition to always improve and you have to improve.

"Sometimes improvement is also a little bit about changing your game. For sure the opponents want to defend him and watch him, so improvement is sometimes changing a little bit. I'm totally convinced he will have a great career because he has the right mindset to develop. If he keeps that, he is 18 and young, it's a really young guy and he has strengthen his personality etc – that’s normal. We all know how we've been at 18 but if he keeps his mindset and development, he will have a fantastic career."

After another busy off-season at Bayer Leverkusen, many would have tipped a slow start with a new face in the dugout.

With Peter Bosz relieved of his duties, Simon Rolfes and Leverkusen turned to Gerardo Seoane on the back of three consecutive Swiss Super League titles at the helm of Young Boys.

Star winger Leon Bailey also headlined the departures at BayArena, a year on from Kai Havertz's big-money move to Chelsea. Factor in major international tournaments prior to the 2021-22 campaign – Euro 2020, the Copa America and the Olympic Games – and it made for a challenging pre-season.

But Leverkusen have hit the ground running in the Bundesliga – a 4-0 rout of Borussia Monchengladbach and wins over Augsburg (4-1), Stuttgart (3-1) and Mainz (1-0) helping Die Werkself to second place through six games, three points behind leaders and champions Bayern Munich.

Leverkusen sporting director Rolfes told Stats Perform: "We're happy with the start of the season because it was a difficult summer for us but also the other teams who have a lot of international players. This summer with the Copa America, Euros, Olympic Games... there were a lot of players from us involved. A player from us won the Copa America and Olympics, so only the Euros we missed.

"That's why the pre-season was really difficult. The players step in, week by week, and I think one week before the start of the season, we had our final squad together. The transfer market due to coronavirus was also very different and late. That's why I'm very happy. We had good opponents."

"We were not happy with the last season," said Rolfes, whose Leverkusen finished sixth in 2020-21 while losing in the DFB-Pokal last 16 and Europa League round of 32. "A very good start but the end was difficult. We reached international competition okay, but we are ambitious and want more this season. You can imagine the Champions League is a big goal but also the DFB-Pokal and Europa League to go further.

"What's very important for our club is development. One thing is performance and also the result at the end of the season, but development is very important. Develop the players, make them better. Then we have the chance to also perform today in the best way. We have a lot of young players – we want to develop them to their best level. That's also good for the performance today."

 

Seoane's 13 points after six Bundesliga matches represent the best record of any Leverkusen head coach since Sami Hyypia (15) in 2013. For the North Rhine-Westphalia outfit, it is their best start to a top-flight season since 2019-20 (also 13), while they have only scored more goals after six matches in 2008-09 (18) than in the current campaign (16).

Leverkusen have exceeded their expected goals (xG) tally by almost eight goals this Bundesliga campaign – 7.7 (16 goals at 8.3 xG), a league best.

"One important point is football knowledge," Rolfes replied when asked what attracted Leverkusen to 42-year-old Swiss coach Seoane. "Also the leadership, that's very interesting. The leadership of the group as a head coach is very important. If you're in training, the assistant coaches can do things. If you don't feel so comfortable or don't have so many qualities, you can find the right team.

"The leadership as a head coach, you must have. That's a big strength, besides the football knowledge he has. He speaks six different languages – very good for an international squad to speak with the players in their language. That helps a lot to get the right connection to take them on their way and development."

Under Seoane, Leverkusen play a more patient brand of football, allowing their opposition more time on the ball in the Bundesliga rather than consistently pressing high up the field.

Through the first six games last season, Leverkusen allowed 11.1 passes per defensive action, compared to 12.2 with Seoane in charge, as Leverkusen look to instead create counter-attacks from deeper positions – their averaging starting distance at 38.6 metres from their own goal, compared to 42.2m previously. Their 17 direct attacks this term dwarf last year's six at the same stage.

Leverkusen recorded 8.7 high turnovers per match through six rounds last season, compared to 5.3 this time around, but they have scored four goals from such situations already in the Bundesliga – at least twice as many as any other side and more than any other team in Europe's top five leagues in 2021-22. They actually had fewer goals (three) from high turnovers after six games last time out, proving more ruthless this term.

Still, Leverkusen's philosophy remains the same, despite a new coach and altered approach, and it will continue to be the case with Seoane and beyond under Rolfes.

"We choose players, signing as a club," Rolfes said as he discussed the need to adopt a clear vision, instead of changing philosophy with every coach. "We sign the players for a specific style to get the most out of the squad, the player and to develop them in the best way. If you play in the totally other direction than you want to develop the players, you will not succeed. That's important to have a clear vision as a club. How you want to play and then choose the right coach in the best case.

"Every head coach of a pro team has their specific style. That's not the problem, but the main direction has to be clear. That's my task at the end to choose the right coach for the main direction. And then, the individual approach or quality of the coach, it's important you get something fresh in the club, team. The main direction is important and the club has to define the vision."

Leverkusen are one of Germany's biggest clubs, but not since the 1993 DFB-Pokal have they celebrated silverware.

They have come close on numerous occasions in the Bundesliga – runners-up in 1996-97, 1998-99, 1999-2000, 2001-02 and 2010-11 – while they also reached the 2001-02 Champions League final, succumbing to Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane's iconic volley in Glasgow. There were Pokal final appearances in 2001-02, 2008-09 and 2019-20, too.

But an exciting and entertaining Leverkusen, even in the post-Havertz era, are on the right track amid Bayern's domestic and European dominance.

And that is thanks to teenage sensation Florian Wirtz.

The 18-year-old prodigy has continued to shine, filling the huge void left by countryman Havertz, amid rave reviews from across Europe.

Wirtz, who was prised from boyhood club Cologne last year, is the youngest player in Bundesliga history to reach 10 goals.

Leverkusen's Wirtz has already been directly involved in eight Bundesliga goals (four goals, four assists) in 292 minutes across the first six matchdays in 2021-22. Only Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland has had more direct goal involvements this term than the teenager.

Since Opta's detailed data collection began in 2004-05, only Patrick Helmes in 2008-09 and Stefan Kiessling in 2013-14 had previously registered as many direct goal involvements for Leverkusen after the first six matches to a Bundesliga season

Setting the standard across Europe, the new face of Leverkusen averages 37 minutes per goal involvement, which ranks best among players in the top five leagues (minimum 100 minutes played), ahead of Madrid superstar Karim Benzema (41 minutes). The 34-year-old Frenchman is the only one of those players to have exceeded his xG by a larger margin (4.8) than Wirtz (3.2) this season.

Already capped three times at international level, Wirtz has scored in four straight games, including Leverkusen's Europa League win against Ferencvaros on matchday one.

 

As Wirtz soars to new heights, Leverkusen are reaping the rewards of a unified philosophy and their faith in the midfielder.

"I think it's a real good example of how the club is working and how the club is thinking," Rolfes, who made almost 400 appearances for Leverkusen between 2005 and 2015, said. "The situation with Kai and Florian. Florian was here or came in the winter [of 2020] and made eight appearances after the lockdown with the first team. Then at the end of the [2019-20] season, Kai went to Chelsea.

"For sure, we got a lot of money for Kai, but we decided to focus on Florian Wirtz for the number 10 position. We don't sign any player as a replacement for Kai. For sure, we had some money to spend on an experienced player in the number 10 position, but we didn't do that. We said okay, the young guy will be the future and has the potential to replace or play very good in that position. We have him already in the club, so we trust him and try to develop him. That's why we sign players in other positions, where we needed improvement.

"That was a big sign for the player and for the chance you have as a young player in Leverkusen. If you have the ambition and quality, we count on you and give you the chance to develop. With development, there is also performance. That's why it's a great story for Florian but also for us as a club."

Wirtz's exploits have not gone unnoticed, however, with Bayern reportedly trying to sign the Germany international, while the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal have also been linked.

But Leverkusen have no plans to sell as Rolfes – who first watched Wirtz as a 13-year-old – added: "He has a long contract until 2026. We do not have to sell players early. We want to develop him, develop our team and club with him.

"So, there are rumours, okay. You cannot avoid that, but it's not our goal to sell him. The players at one time or point in their career make the next step to world-class level, that's okay for us, but not too early. He is a really young player. That was also with Kai – he was also extraordinary and some years with us and then maybe there's the next step. But not too early.

In February, Leverkusen extended their partnership with Stats Perform for the use of Edge Analysis – the most sophisticated football match preparation tool available.

Powered by tracking and event data, Edge Analysis applies unique AI models to unlock objective, dynamic and predictive insights to enhance pre and post-match analysis processes, delivering unique performance insights on all upcoming opponents. The platform uses over 100 AI-driven KPIs to deliver eight unique patented AI models, delivering objective insights within seconds, all linked to video.

"Data/sport technology is very important for us because I think there's huge potential in the future," Rolfes said of the deal. "Data will be better and better because the cameras/GPS tracking provides more precise data.

"We have now not only data in the computer and no one has the time to analyse it, we have the tools with AI, and find the right KPIs for you. That's very important for the match preparation and for the scouting process to be fast, really precise. That's why we invest in that topic here. That's through partnership and investing in our staff to get knowledge, to develop because, at the moment, we are only at the beginning. That's why you have to invest, to be a pioneer or leader in that topic."

Bayern Munich's merciless 12-0 demolition of Bremer in the DFB-Pokal left the minnows' player-coach Sebastien Kmiec watching with "one eye crying and one eye lit up".

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting hit four goals as a strong Bayern side that included Thomas Muller, Leroy Sane and Joshua Kimmich tore apart their fifth-tier opponents with "brutal" efficiency.

Bayern had 37 shots, which is the most they have had since also having 37 in a Bundesliga clash with Darmstadt in February 2016, a game in which the Bavarian giants came from behind at the interval to seal a 3-1 win.

There were no such difficulties this time, with Wednesday's deadly dozen capped by Colentin Tolisso late on.

The French midfielder had a team-high nine goal attempts and got his reward last of all by grabbing the 12th goal in the 88th minute.

Jamal Musiala also grabbed a double as Bayern put their foot down and crushed Bremer beneath their might.

Kmiec, who is an assistant to head coach Benjamin Eta, played the first 58 minutes and departed the scene with Bremer 7-0 in arrears.

"The quality is brutal, of course. We had very little to counter with. We didn't get into the 50-50s and just ran after every ball," Kmiec said, quoted on Bayern's website.

"You see it with one eye crying and one eye lit up, because it's just brutal.

"They made substitutions, but even the ones who came on wanted to put themselves forward and played their part.

"Here on the pitch you can see how fast they are, but also how quickly they think. You just have to say: outstanding."

 

Bayern had an 89.9 per cent passing accuracy and 68 per cent of possession against their outclassed hosts at the Weserstadion. That is now Werder Bremen's home, but was once shared by Bremer.

Bremer substituted goalkeeper Malte Seemann after 70 minutes, giving deputy Ole Bahr the final 20 minutes against the rampant Bundesliga champions. The score moved on from 8-0 to 12-0 after the switch.

In the face of Bayern's brilliance, Seemann was determined not to be deflated, labelling the game as "unbelievable" and "an indescribable feeling".

Seemann even added: "It was fun. Our boys were great and the Bayern players were all nice. That's something we'll remember."

Julian Nagelsmann insisted there is more to come from Jamal Musiala following the teenager's brace in Bayern Munich's 12-0 DFB-Pokal demolition of Bremer.

Musiala scored twice on his first start of the season as Bundesliga champions Bayern put 12 past their helpless fifth-tier opponents at the Weserstadion on Wednesday.

The 18-year-old brilliantly executed a neat one-two with four-goal star Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting for his opener, while rifling home a 20-yard thunderbolt for his second just after half-time.

Germany sensation Musiala carried a constant threat with his pace and ball retention down the right flank, and would have claimed a hat-trick had his goal-bound first-half shot not been turned over his own line by Jan-Luca Warm.

Bayern head coach Nagelsmann is certainly excited by what the academy graduate has to offer.

"Jamal is incredibly good in possession, but there's more to him," Nagelsmann told the official club website post-match after Bayern secured their second-highest winning margin in all competitions since their promotion to the Bundesliga in 1965 – they defeated DJK Waldberg 16-1 in the DFB-Pokal.

"There's a lot of potential in Jamal. The way he handles the ball; it does seem as if he has magnets in his boots. 

"He's got great quality. No doubt, this is a very talented 18-year-old."

Nagelsmann also hailed the performance levels of Leroy Sane, who scored a goal for the German giants and provided seven key passes including two assists.

One of four survivors in a much-changed side from Sunday's win over Cologne, the former Manchester City attacker also successfully completed 30 of his 38 attempted passes.

"He was super involved; he defended extremely well and scored a goal," Nagelsmann added.

"I think he could have scored three more if other players had passed the ball to him; he was in a very good position several times. 

"What some people accuse him of doing is not going to the limit, but today it was really obvious that he went to the limit. He gave it his all and I'm super happy."

Page 1 of 3
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.