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Done Deal: Leicester City sign Bayer Leverkusen’s Aleksander Dragovic on season-long loan

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Leicester City manager Craig Shakespeare certainly left his transfer dealings to the very end of deadline day today and the Foxes announced the arrival of Aleksander Dragovic on a season loan.

The Bayer Leverkusen defender was one of two deals pushed to the 11pm deadline by the 2016 Premier League champions as they provided a dramatic climax to a pulsating day of transfer activity.

Who is Aleksander Dragovic?

The 26-year-old has spent most of his footballing career to date with Swiss side FC Basel, moving from his native Austria Vienna in 2011 and winning three consecutive domestic titles in Switzerland.

After the third triumph he decided to test his metal out with Ukrainian side Dynamo Kiev, making over 50 appearances across three seasons and establishing himself as an Austrian international too.

Since his international debut in 2009 – during his first season at Austria Vienna – Dragovic has continuously been a big part of the Austrian side, making 54 appearances in the past eight years.

What is the deal?

According to Leicester City’s official website, Dragovic has arrived at the King Power on a season-long loan deal and will switch back to Bundesliga outfit Bayer Leverkusen once the campaign ends.

Where will the Austrian fit at the King Power?

The Austrian international is an interesting addition to the ranks at the King Power, with little speculation made before deadline day, and Shakespeare’s thinking must be to add further cover.

The 26-year-old is more at home in a central defensive position, with his height and physical strength lending him well to tough battles, whilst he likes to drive with the ball like Harry Maguire.

He’s also made a bit of a name for himself by being a composed member of the Bayer Leverkusen team – with his awareness of game scenarios part of the reason he warranted a move from Dynamo Kiev  – and his excellent ability in the air will no doubt become a useful asset in the top-flight.

Will is a Multimedia Journalism graduate from the University of Salford, specialising in the art of sports. Long-time suffering Northampton Town fan who once saw us win a league title. Find him on Twitter - @96PearsonW.

Bayern Leverkusen

Tottenham Hotspur vs Bayer Leverkusen: Match preview and predicted line-ups

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The last Champions League tie between these two was only two weeks ago – a 0-0 draw in Leverkusen’s Bay Arena. This will be Spurs’ second Champions League tie at Wembley Stadium, and they will be aiming to go one better than their debut 1-2 defeat to Monaco, as victory against the German side will make qualification for the knockout stages of the Europa League at least seem a formality, but will also be one step closer to Champions League knockout stages.

Leverkusen are floundering in 10th position in the Bundesliga, and will want the Champions League to provide a positive distraction from average domestic form. The only previous meeting between the two sides, before October’s 0-0 stalemate, came in the UEFA Cup in 2006 when Spurs triumphed by a goal to nil. Mauricio Pochettino will want to continue Spurs’ undefeated record against the side from the Ruhr, to help escape Group E, which many fans of the North London side expect as a minimum.

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Recent form

Spurs find themselves in 5th position in the Premier League, but are only three points off of the summit, due to the congested nature of the upper echelons of English football. Despite this, Spurs will rue some points dropped such as a 0-0 draw away at Bournemouth and a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane against Leicester. These results (as well as the corresponding fixture in Leverkusen) convey the reliance of the Lilywhites on the goals of Harry Kane.

As alluded to above, Leverkusen have not exactly set the world alight so far this season. Roger Schmidt’s side won three and lost four of eight Bundesliga fixtures, as well as losing in the second round of the German Cup to third division side Sportfreunde Lotte, who last year were playing in the regionalised German fourth tier. Three draws from three Champions League matches epitomises the mediocre nature of their start to this campaign. However, with players in their side such as Javier Hernandez, Stefan Kiesling and Hakan Calhanoglu the German side will always present a threat going forward, and now with the Champions League arguably the top priority for Schmidt, expect Leverkusen to come out swinging.

Predicted line ups

Tottenham Hotspur predicted line up:

Bayer Leverkusen predicted line up:

Suspensions and injuries

It has been reported that Toby Alderweireld and Harry Kane are ‘close’ to returning to the first XI fold for Spurs. Pochettino admitted it is touch and go whether the duo are fit enough to feature against Leverkusen, so if in doubt, expect the Argentine to air on the side of caution and not rush back two of his star players.

Leverkusen will be without skipper Lars Bender through injury and first-choice centre-backs Jonathan Tah and Omer Toprak are both struggling with match fitness.

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Our prediction

This is a fixture between two evenly matched sides, and ‘home’ advantage may well be the deciding factor. Spurs will be keen not to lose again at Wembley following the slip up against Monaco, and considering they fought for a hard earned point in Leverkusen, they know they can go toe to toe with the Germans. Whilst a point would be on the face of it a good result for Leverkusen, the more ambitious fans will want three points to alleviate pressure in the Group E table. Our prediction Spurs to win 2-1.

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Five Bundesliga youngsters Premier League teams should be signing

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In an era, where the total net worth of squads in the Premier League (4.4billion Euros) is double that of the Bundesliga teams (2.38 billion), and the third richest/most valuable clubs in Germany (Leverkusen and Schalke are around 200 million Euros) would barely crack the top 10 in England (West Ham and Newcastle are tied for 9th at 182 mil each) moving to the English top flight after one or two great seasons has increasingly become the norm for Bundesliga talents.

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The recent influx of young Bundesliga talent into the Barclay’s Premier League has by and large been a success. It can take some adjustment, Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg) needed two bites at the cherry after a false start with Chelsea, while for others like Tottenham’s Heung-Min Son (Leverkusen) and Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim) have taken time to bed in at their respective clubs. Even teams like Stoke City are able to spend close to 10 million Euros each on 22-25 year olds, Xherdan Shaqiri (Bayern via Inter), Marko Arnautovic (Werder Bremen) and Joselu (Hannover 96 and Hoffenheim before that). Liverpool have already locked up Schalke’s 24-year-old center back Joel Matip and look to be favorites to snap up his teammate, 20-year-old wunderkind Leroy Sané to the tune of 60 million. Gladbach’s 25 million Euro man, the tough-tackling Granit Xhaka, Wolfsburg’s Julian Draxler and Ricardo Rodriguez (combined transfer value = 50 million Euros) are all 22-23 years old and virtual locks for summer transfers to England as well.

So, those are the obvious candidates, now let’s take a look at five players (under the age of 23) that could be next to make the switch from the German league to the English one.

Mahmoud Dahoud – Borussia Mönchengladbach

The Syrian born playmaker has seen his value skyrocket from 600,000 Euros to a whopping 8 million since July, thanks to a breakout first Bundesliga season. Having played exactly 1 minute prior to the current campaign, Dahoud was mostly a substitute (50 minutes in 4 games) under Lucien Favre, who promptly got fired for losing the first five matches of the season. Since then, he has orchestrated the Gladbach renaissance with 2 goals and 4 assists in around 1100 minutes, as the Foals have earned 32 points, third only to Bayern’s 44 and Dortmund’s 36 in just 17 games. Despite his inexperience (turning 20 in January), he is a rare breed of a modern central midfielder, capable of winning tackles in the midfield and launching an immediate counter-attack and finding the right pass, just as he did in the buildup to the first goal of a 5-1 win over Werder Bremen. It should perhaps come as no surprise then, that he has been put on new Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola’s wishlist.

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Timo Horn – FC Cologne and Loris Karius – FSV Mainz 05

The 22-year-old goalkeepers for the 6th and 9th place Bundesliga teams are nearly identical in age (1 month apart) and in most statistical categories. Both have exactly 59 saves and save percentages of 77%, second only to Manuel Neuer, with Karius edging Horn with 6 clean sheets to 5, having conceded 25 goals to 27 in the Bundesliga’s 21 games so far. Horn is the better distributor with a weakish 64%, but Karius (58%) also boots the ball 43 meters on average, and comparing them to Manuel Neuer, benefiting from a bevy of great options to receive the ball from his at 86%, is unfair. With both netminders enjoying stellar seasons for two teams who struggle to score (Cologne 24 and Mainz 27 goals in 21 games respectively) and are valued at around 65 million Euros, Karius for 7 million, or Horn for 8 million would be terrific options. If only there was a former Mainz manager in the Premier League, whose goalkeeper has just signed an extension despite struggling mightily. Oh wait…

Jonathan Tah – Bayer Leverkusen

Another recent member of the twenty-something club, and more importantly a key reason why his team are second only to Bayern in goals allowed with 22. At 1,94 meters and 204 lbs the German U21 international has tremendous size, and his 1 yellow card despite playing every minute this season suggests he has the disciple to succeed as well. In a comparison with top Bundesliga defenders, Joel Matip (18 million Euros), Jerome Boateng (40 million), Mats Hummels (32 million), the Hamburg native comes out looking like a stud: His Squawka defensive score is higher than any of those three, he has more interceptions and only Matip has more clearances than Tah does. The one improvement he can make is in pass completion, where his 78% is a bit below par. The good news is that in the Champions League and in last year’s Bundesliga those numbers were at 83%, so at just 10 million, he would be an ideal fit for a team struggling to find a central defender, like Manchester United, but could also be a replacement for Per Mertesacker at Arsenal.

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Filip Kostic – VfB Stuttgart

This youngster is the poster boy for Stuttgart’s Jekyll and Hyde season. Under manager Alexander Zorniger, the 22-year-old Serbian left-winger was a borderline disaster, with no goals, no assists and a pass completion percentage close to 60%. Sure, bad luck played a part in it, as Stuttgart lost a game in the last 5 minutes to HSV, outshot Cologne 29 to 8 and lost 3-1 and somehow lost 4-1 to Frankfurt despite allowing 6 shots and taking 15.

New coach Jürgen Kramny eased back on the manic pressing of Stuttgart and moved Serey Die behind a flat 4 in midfield, moves that were no longer putting insane pressure on a shaky defence, and Stuttgart were no longer behind all the time. (If you want to get technical, the Swabians were behind 40% of the time in games up to late November, a huge discrepancy from a normal 25-25-50 split – ahead/behind/tied). Call it a coincidence, but in Kramny’s first game, a 4-1 beating from Dortmund, Kostic registered his first assist, to be followed by another one the week after in a draw versus Werder. Stuttgart of course have won five straight games, and Kostic has contributed three goals (tying last year’s total), one assist while collecting two man of the match performances.

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In the eight games since the coaching change VfB’s 17 points are only trailing Bayern and Dortmund’s 19. His obvious flaw is the low passing percentage, but it’s actually the same 62% as Leicester hero Marc Albrighton. Aside from both being speedy left-wingers with a penchant for counterattacking, the two are completely different players, as Kostic is tall and bulky at 1.84m and 83kgs, while the former Villa man is 1.75m and 67 kgs. Unlike one of the best early ball strikers in the BPL in Albrighton, Kostic is notoriously inaccurate with his crosses, (his 114 is nearly double that of 2nd place Konstantin Rausch’s 64), but gets the job done in other ways: His 45 key passes are second only to the great Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Borussia Dortmund, who is largely considered the best attacking midfielder in the league. It’s perhaps worth mentioning that while most experts consider Dortmund to be an offensive juggernaut and 52 goals are certainly a testament to that, Stuttgart have actually generated more shots 312 to 308, and Kostic has been a huge reason behind that. If he improves his passing to 70% and wins more of his duels (42% is not great) he could be a great young asset at 8 million Euros. Although, as far as his personality, he might not be a great fit at Leicester, but if they lose Riyadh Mahrez, the Serbian should get some consideration.

Pascal Groß – FC Ingolstadt

As one of the unknown heroes of the Bundesliga, being the leader in chances created, the reason you might not have heard about him is that, despite creating 57 chances in 19 games, his team have just scored 14 goals in 21 games. Ingolstadt sport a 20% shooting percentage, which is the same as Aston Villa, but sit in 12th place thanks to a stingy defence that has conceded only 23 times. The 24-year-old Mannheim native has somehow never played a single Bundesliga minute up to this season and is a bargain at just four million Euros. Don’t be fooled by his low pass completion percentage (his team is 2nd worst in possession), he measures really well against elite central attacking midfielders like last year’s Kevin De Bruyne, or this season’s Ross Barkley, Christian Eriksen and Dmitri Payet. Teams like West Ham (playing with Payet!), Southampton or Watford should be throwing money at him.


 

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Hyypiä Hyypiä Hooray: Sami is sacked by Leverkusen

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It’s Friday the 4th of April. Leverkusen have travelled to relegation threatened Hamburg, with both teams needing an absolutely essential three points to keep themselves alive in the fight for either Bundesliga survival or the Champions League fourth spot. Manager Sami Hyypiä has gifted a first Bundesliga start to seventeen year old winger Julian Brandt. It was a good choice – Brandt scoring his first ever first team goal for the club, with a large hand from a calamitous example of goalkeeping by Hamburg’s René Adler – but that is the luck of a club pushing for Europe, isn’t it?

Except it’s not. Hamburg scored either side of that goal – through Hakan Çalhano?lu and Heiko Westermann – to seal a vital victory for themselves and, with the help of a terrible run of form, consign Hyypiä to the dreaded sack. Sitting in a handsome-looking second place after the Hinrunde, with an excellent 37 points from 17 games, Bayer Leverkusen have duly managed to fluff their lines, amassing a mere 11 from 12 games since the winter break. That was quite clearly enough for the club, whose European ambitions are no secret whatsoever, and after that poor 2-1 defeat away in Hamburg, the previously heralded Hyypiä was sacked to general agreement everywhere. Replacing him now is the man he managed the club in tandem with last season, Sascha Lewandowski – but that’s a story for another article. Where did it all go wrong for Sami Hyypiä?

The answer: many places. The Finn was seemingly unable to defeat some lower half teams, falling to 1-0 losses even before the winter break at the hands of Bremen, Frankfurt and, probably most shocking, Braunschweig. He managed the big games well enough – beating an injury stricken Dortmund, and joining a club of only four teams to not cede all three points to Bayern, but this inconsistency in the club’s results didn’t help whatsoever. It had looked for so long that there was another horse in the race for the title, with Leverkusen maintaining touching distance for so long, but the horse collapsed quickly.

What didn’t help Hyypiä’s cause was the strength of the chasing pack. Dortmund and Schalke, who both had forgettable first halves of the season, still managed to remain in with a shout of automatic Champions League qualification, and have since kicked on, losing only three games between them thus far. Behind them at Christmas, a further group of clubs – Borussia Mönchengladbach, VfL Wolfsburg and Mainz – have all strung together enough results to be, essentially, level with Leverkusen currently. Despite their terrible 9-game winless slump, Mönchengladbach have still managed to gain the four point swing they needed to level up with Leverkusen, and have a better goal difference. Wolfsburg have, by and large, chugged along consistently all season, with a few consecutive losses since Christmas being cancelled out by a few wins in a row, too. Mainz are perhaps the form team of the three, at least since Christmas, gaining nine points on Leverkusen since then.

In that view, it’s understandable why Leverkusen cut their losses. European qualification of some kind is essential for the club if they’re to push on, and in reality they should be aiming for the Champions League. Hyypiä’s awful Rückrunde form was in danger of losing even any hopes of the Europa League, with the teams behind them still in touching distance, and in much better form. With five games to go, Leverkusen now only need to scrape together two or three wins to qualify for Europe, and the new manager effect that handing Lewandowski the reign until the end of the season could quite easily account for that.

Europe, though, has been the cause of a lot of Leverkusen’s problems this season. As you’ll surely be aware, Leverkusen got thumped twice by Manchester United in the group stages (still edging through a tough group also containing Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Sociedad, it must be said) and over two legs by Paris Saint Germain in the knockouts, but that’s not the main problem – those results were arguably to be expected, and the club’s aim was to progress from the groups. They did that. The Leverkusen squad was and is, though, arguably too thin to consistently push on both fronts, with players quickly getting tired and needing rest. There’s no better example of this than Hyypiä’s perhaps most telling error. In mid-February, heading into a midweek tie against PSG, Hyypiä chose to rest key player Sidney Sam for the weekend game against Schalke – an absolutely crucial game in the Champions League race at the time. What complicated things even further was that Sidney Sam had recently opted to join Schalke at the end of the season, making Hyypiä’s decision look ridiculous both at the time and in hindsight. Sam was probably fit enough to play in both games, and equally Hyypiä’s management of the squad was quite clearly sub-par, especially at that moment.

That is, on a basic level, why Hyypiä lost the job so catastrophically. His man-management of the dressing room was quite clearly not enough to keep the job, and for a manager whose man-management skills are the main draw, his tactical nous being questionable at times, it’s completely understandable why Leverkusen cut their losses. Hyypiä no doubt has a future in the game, but it’s not now, and it’s not at Leverkusen either.

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