FC Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund may have established their authority at the top of the German and European football pyramids, but it has also been a season to remember for Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
The Werkself won 2-0 at 1. FC Nürnberg on Saturday to secure third spot in the Bundesliga with two games to spare and guarantee a place in the 2013/14 UEFA Champions League group stage. The exceptional form of striker Stefan Kiessling has been a key factor in their success; the 29-year-old has scored 23 times in 32 appearances to break a club record set by Ulf Kirsten for most goals in league season.
However, the German international was keen to stress the collective achievement over his personal accolades and is already looking ahead to next term. "We completely deserved this and can be proud," he said. "
It was a great moment celebrating with the fans. Everything will start from scratch next season. It will be a completely new challenge, but we can look forward to it."
Coaching duo Sami Hyypiä and Sascha Lewandowski preferred a 4-3-2-1 formation that relied on winning the midfield battle and playing on the counterattack. The pace of André Schürrle, versatility of Gonzalo Castro and trickery of winger Sidney Sam have complimented protection provided by Lars Bender and Stefan Reinartz to make Leverkusen a real handful. "We are extremely relieved," said Lewandowski, whose side can boast the second best home record in the top flight. "There is a lot of pressure off our shoulders now."
Leverkusen might not have a star-studded side but their versatile squad and ability to adapt tactics depending on the opponent has paid dividends this season, and could be crucial in Europe's premier club competition next term. "We did our homework," said sporting director Rudi Völler after the victory against Nürnberg. "Borussia Dortmund and Bayern München are rightly ahead of us, but finishing third should not be taken for granted and it's an impressive feat."
Defender Ömer Toprak added: "We are very happy to clinch third place at this stage of the season. Fourth place would have been a disappointment for us. Our goal was to reach the Champions League directly. We showed our quality throughout the whole season and absolutely deserve to finish third."
Bayer will also be keen eradicate the memory of their last UEFA Champions League outing, a 7-1 round of 16 second-leg defeat at the hands of FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou in March 2012 which sealed a 10-3 aggregate loss. The club's managing director Wolfgang Holzhäuser recalled the occasion and is sure they will be ready for next season: "After the match I went to the Barcelona president [Sandro Rosell] and told him: 'You know what, we'll be back soon and then we'll see if we can't do better than this'."
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