Leon Bailey scored his ninth Bundesliga goal of the season and assisted in another as Bayer Leverkusen defeated Eintracht Frankfurt 3-1 at the Bay Arena on Saturday.

Bayern Munich head coach Hansi Flick refused to be drawn on the stand-off between him and the club after their 2-0 victory over Bayer Leverkusen edged them closer to the Bundesliga title.

Flick declared after Saturday's 3-2 win over Wolfsburg that he intends to leave Bayern at the end of this season and has requested for his contract, which runs until 2023, to be terminated.

The 56-year-old has been heavily linked with the Germany national team coaching role as Joachim Low's successor but Bayern have made it clear they will not let him leave without a fee, causing a stand-off.

Bayern's win over Leverkusen on Tuesday moved them within one victory of the 2020-21 Bundesliga title but Flick's future was a hot topic post-game.

"I'm not really thinking about it," Flick said when asked how he will handle talks with the Bayern directors.

"I'm not thinking that far [ahead]. You've been part of the press conferences for a while, you know I never look back or forward further than the next game.

"The next game will be Mainz. I really enjoy when the team performs like today. That's what the coach is here for."

Flick also refused to accept any congratulations despite Bayern all but being champions, with a 10-point buffer from second-placed RB Leipzig with four games to play.

"I told my team before the game that we can make a huge step in the right direction today and that's what we did," Flick said.

"We have another huge game on Saturday at Mainz. We don’t have any points to give away so we also want to win there and after that you can say congratulations."

Eric Choupo-Moting has scored three goals in three games in Robert Lewandowski's absence but Flick indicated the Poland forward has a strong chance to return against Mainz following a knee injury.

"Honestly Robert really was practicing well today," he said. "We're happy he's probably able to come back earlier. He's absolutely an option for Saturday."

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Joshua Kimmich gave Bayern Munich a 2-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen and put them on the brink of a ninth consecutive Bundesliga title.

RB Leipzig's shock 2-1 defeat at relegation-threatened Cologne earlier on Tuesday gave Hansi Flick's side the opportunity to go 10 points clear with four matches remaining.

They did so with the minimum of fuss after Choupo-Moting – again deputising for the injury Robert Lewandowski – opened the scoring in the seventh minute.

A superb second from Kimmich made a response from Leverkusen deeply unlikely, as their struggles during the second half of this season were again laid bare at the Allianz Arena. Hannes Wolf's side are seven points behind four-placed Wolfsburg having played a game more.

Former Schalke and Stoke City forward Choupo-Moting has been much maligned during his stints at Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern, but the striker now has four goals in his past five appearances and smashed home from close range via a deflection off Sven Bender after Thomas Muller's effort was saved.

Once again, Kimmich oozed class in midfield and Leverkusen goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky had no chance when the Germany international let fly form the edge of the box in the 13th minute.

Patrik Schick darted in behind Bayern's high line but could only entertain Manuel Neuer with a routine save, while Hradecky fumbled at the other end when Kimmich tried his luck again.

Leverkusen's number one sharply denied David Alaba before the break but Choupo-Moting rolled a clever finish past him in the 65th minute, only to be denied by a marginal offside call.

Leroy Sane, introduced from the bench with a point to prove, lashed over with 20 minutes remaining.

Another flying winger, Leon Bailey, almost helped to bring Leverkusen back into the contest when his cross was hit into the turf and against the crossbar by substitute Karim Bellarabi.

That prompted something approaching a rally from the visitors, although not one to sufficiently discomfort Bayern as they cantered towards the finish line and another domestic title.

 

Jamaican winger Leon Bailey scored two goals and had an assist as Bayer Leverkusen blanked Cologne 3-0 in the Bundesliga on Saturday.

Jamaica international, Leon Bailey, believes a strong performance at the FIFA World Cup would be the highlight of his career and expressed belief in the current squad’s ability to get to the next edition of the tournament in 2022.

The 23-year-old Bayer Leverkusen winger has been in splendid form for the Bundesliga club so far this season, scoring 12 goals and getting 8 assists in all competitions.  The player is, however, yet to really kick his international career into gear, scoring once in only eight appearances.

Bailey is expected to feature prominently for the team in the coming months, with Jamaica scheduled to take part in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, before beginning the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers in September.  With potentially four teams able to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, from the region, Jamaica are currently CONCACAF’s 6th best team according to the latest rankings.  The Caribbean team is, however, already in the final round and could have a good chance to qualify.  Several members of the Jamaican national team are, however, embroiled in a protracted dispute with the country’s football federation, which could have an impact on their campaign.

“I think we have a good team. We can really keep up. Go to the World Cup and keep up there. The most important thing is that it would give Jamaica a lot of attention,” Bailey told OneFootball.

Bailey, who hopes to be an inspiration to young players from Jamaica, does not want to simply make up numbers at the tournament, should the team qualify.

“Not just playing at a World Cup for Jamaica, but also asserting yourself at a World Cup with Jamaica. Don't just play the group stage. Keep up. Quarterfinals, semi-finals, even a final. That would be the greatest achievement of all time for me. "

Bayer Leverkusen have sacked head coach Peter Bosz and appointed former Stuttgart boss Hannes Wolf as his replacement until the end of this season.

A 4-0 win over Cologne in mid-December saw Leverkusen go top of the Bundesliga, but their form has collapsed since, with just four wins in their subsequent 18 matches in all competitions.

That prolonged slump has taken in a 6-3 aggregate defeat to Young Boys in the Europa League, which followed a humiliating exit from the DFB-Pokal at the hands of fourth-tier Rot-Weiss Essen in early February.

Following the 3-0 weekend defeat to Hertha Berlin, a result that left Leverkusen sixth in the table, Bosz expressed confidence that he would remain in his post.

However, the club's board had other ideas.

"In view of the development of football in recent weeks, we have come to the conclusion that the separation from Peter Bosz can no longer be avoided," said sporting director Rudi Voller in a statement. 

"The 3-0 defeat at Hertha on Sunday was unfortunately characteristic, our team has recently fallen into the same pattern over and over again. 

"We haven't been able to put an end to the repetitive mistakes and get back on the road to success. 

"After a factual and very open analysis of the sporting situation, we therefore agreed to make a change, despite the great appreciation for Peter Bosz."

Former Ajax head coach Bosz had done much to rehabilitate his reputation at Leverkusen having endured a nightmare half-season in charge of Borussia Dortmund in 2017-18.

A year later, in December 2018, he took over at the BayArena and inspired an upturn that resulted in Champions League qualification.

Leverkusen narrowly missed out on the top four last term, although they appeared to have put the loss of key man Kai Havertz to Chelsea behind them this time around before their post-Christmas disintegration.

Assistant coaches Hendrie Kruzen and Rob Maas and fitness coach Terry Peters have also been relieved of their duties, giving Wolf a surprise opportunity to prove himself again at Bundesliga level.

The 39-year-old was appointed Germany Under-18s coach after his dismissal by Belgian club Genk earlier this season.

Wolf amassed a 46 per cent win ratio when at Stuttgart between September 2016 and January 2018.

He then took charge of Hamburg during the 2018-19 season but was unable to lift the fallen giants out of 2. Bundesliga.

"I am very pleased with the trust that has been placed in me, because Bayer 04 is not just any club for me," Wolf said.

"Leverkusen has been one of the most attractive places in German football for many years. There is a highly ambitious environment here and a very talented, exciting team. 

"We all have opportunities to get into the European positions. It's up to us to get the maximum out of the remaining eight games."

Wolf will be assisted by veteran former Leverkusen player and coach Peter Hermann.

Teenagers Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz have been called up to Germany's senior squad for the first time, but there is still no place for Thomas Muller, Mats Hummels or Jerome Boateng. 

Musiala, 18, pledged his allegiance to Germany last month having previously represented England at every level from Under-15 to Under-21. 

The versatile attacker played in the Chelsea academy from 2011 until 2019 before opting to move back to Germany, where the Stuttgart-born youngster has since made quite the impression at Bayern Munich. 

He has made 18 Bundesliga appearances this term – only four players who are younger than him (18 years, 21 days) have played in more matches across the top five European leagues this term. 

One of those is Wirtz, who has shown immense promise at Bayer Leverkusen since making his debut shortly after his 17th birthday in May last year. 

With four goals and as many assists in 21 Bundesliga games, Wirtz – a technically gifted attacking midfielder – is one of only two players under the age of 20 (along with Arnaud Kalimuendo) across the top European leagues to be involved in eight league goals. 

Similarly, across those same leagues, Adil Aouchiche (46) is the only individual yet to turn 20 with more key passes than Wirtz's tally of 37.

Joachim Low, who earlier this month confirmed he will leave his post later this year, is urging both players to relax despite the added pressures that come with international recognition. 

"We are excited to get to know Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz even better," he told the German Football Association (DFB). "They earned the nomination with their recent good performances. 

"But especially with such young players, our responsibility is to be careful with them and lead them step by step to the highest level. 

"Both have huge potential, and I am sure that we will have a lot of fun with them in the next few years, but at the moment it is important not to rush into anything, they should take it easy and develop carefree. I think the next few days will be a good experience for Jamal and Florian." 

Amin Younes, who has been impressing with Eintracht Frankfurt this term, has earned his first call-up since October 2017, while Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Emre Can, Lukas Klostermann and Kai Havertz all return after missing the November internationals, which included a 6-0 humiliation by Spain. 

However, there is still no recall for Bayern duo Muller and Boateng, nor Borussia Dortmund centre-back Hummels. 

All three World Cup winners were cast aside by Low in March last year as he looked to refresh the squad in the wake of the 2018 World Cup failure. 

Earlier this month, Low did not rule out potentially bringing them back into the fold given their solid form at club level, yet he has ignored them again on this occasion as Germany begin their World Cup qualification campaign with games against Iceland, Romania and North Macedonia.

English Premier League club Manchester United has reportedly contacted agents of Jamaica international Leon Bailey with a view to potentially securing the services of the player this summer.

The 23-year-old winger is under contract with German club Bayern Leverkusen until 2023 but rumors have run rife that the player could be set for a move away from the Bundesliga this transfer window.

With United in the marketplace for more attacking options, the Jamaica winger, who is valued somewhere in the region of £50 million, could be a solid bet.  According to reports, the Reds Devils have sent scouts to keep an eye on his development in the past 18 months.  Initially, the club was thought to be interested in Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho but the clubs remain far apart on valuation numbers.

The Jamaican has had a strong season for the German club in both the Bundesliga and European League.  In the Europa League, the player scored five times and provide 4 assists in 6 appearances, while so far, he has scored 6 league goals and dished 6 assists in 20 appearances.

Will Kalidou Koulibaly leave Serie A's Napoli?

Koulibaly is one of Europe's finest defenders and the 29-year-old has attracted interest from across Europe.

Bayern Munich are reportedly eyeing the Senegal international.

 

TOP STORY – BAYERN FRONTRUNNERS FOR NAPOLI STAR

Bayern Munich are leading the race to sign Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, according to Il Mattino.

Koulibaly has long been linked with a move away from Napoli, though the club's valuation has deterred suitors.

But Koulibaly's asking price has reportedly dropped to €45million (£39m), alerting Bayern, as well as Manchester United and Liverpool.

Bild, however, claims Bundesliga champions Bayern have not made an offer for the Napoli star.

 

ROUND-UP

- Bild reports Manchester City are favourites to sign Erling Haaland if Borussia Dortmund sanction an off-season exit. Haaland has been linked with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Liverpool, ChelseaUnited and Bayern.

- As City target Haaland, Sport Mediaset says Serie A champions Juve are considering a move for veteran forward Sergio Aguero. The Argentina international is out of contract at season's end.

Barca have been offered Bayer Leverkusen star Edmond Tapsoba, claims Sport. Tapsoba is valued at around €40m.

- Wolves are open to selling Adama Traore at a reduced price, according to the Daily Mail. Barca, Liverpool and City have been linked with Traore previously.

- The Sun reports United are considering the sale of star goalkeeper David de Gea. It comes as Dean Henderson expects to become number one next season. The Transfer Window podcast, meanwhile, says United are seeking a new number one amid links to Milan star Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Chelsea remain interested in RB Leipzig centre-back Ibrahima Konate, according to Bild. Konate is not short of admirers, linked to the likes of United and Arsenal.

United have not contacted Eintracht Frankfurt's Andre Silva as an alternative to Haaland, claims Bild.

Two of the Bundesliga's brightest young stars were on target on Saturday and made history in the process.

Florian Wirtz struck for Bayer Leverkusen in their 5-2 defeat of Stuttgart, while Youssoufa Moukoko scored for Borussia Dortmund in a 2-1 loss at Freiburg.

Wirtz netted Leverkusen's fourth goal in a win that took them fourth, with debutant Demarai Gray adding the fifth.

It was Wirtz's fifth Bundesliga goal and at 17 years, nine months and three days he became the youngest ever player to that mark.

Indeed, no player in Germany's top flight has previously reached five league goals before their 18th birthday.

Wirtz became the youngest scorer in Bundesliga history when he got up and running with a goal against Bayern Munich late last season, then 17 years and 34 days.

But that record was subsequently taken by Moukoko in December, the Dortmund forward 16 years and 28 days old when he hit the net in a 2-1 defeat to Union Berlin.

Moukoko had not scored again until Saturday when another loss by the same scoreline at Freiburg included a consolation strike after replacing Marco Reus on the hour mark.

He consequently became the youngest player to score two Bundesliga goals, getting there when 505 days younger than former record holder Christian Pulisic.

Peter Bosz admitted there were no excuses for Bayer Leverkusen's shock DFB-Pokal defeat at Rot-Weiss Essen, declaring: "We must never lose here."

After holders Bayern Munich were stunned by Holstein Kiel in the previous round, Essen produced another cup shock as they overcame Bundesliga opponents with a 2-1 triumph after extra time on Tuesday.

The first goal of the tie did not arrive until the 105th minute, Leon Bailey's low shot eventually edging dominant Leverkusen - who had 27 attempts and 69.2 per cent of possession - in front.

However, the hosts hit back to level through Oguzhan Kefkir and, just as a penalty shoot-out appeared to be necessary to decide who would progress, Simon Engelmann struck a dramatic winner three minutes from the end.

The upset means that for the second time in as many seasons, a fourth-tier side will be in the quarter-finals of the competition.

Head coach Bosz did offer praise for Bayer's opponents but was critical of his own players for failing to see out the game once they had taken the lead.

"We played against a good team, you have to say that. But we must never lose here," Bosz told Sky Sports Germany.

"We had the chances, especially in the second half. The opportunities were there. Then we take the lead in extra time and can play the game out. Don't give up our position. That's our mistake.

"We are a Bundesliga team and we must never lose here. Never."

It is the sixth time Essen have made it to the last eight in the DFB-Pokal, though this is the first occasion since the 1993-94 season. They have lifted the trophy once before in their history, back in 1953.

"You can't write a better script for a game like this. We're really proud of the boys," coach Christian Neidhart said, according to Kicker.

Bayer Leverkusen have confirmed the signing of winger Demarai Gray from Premier League side Leicester City.

Gray joined Leicester from Birmingham City midway through 2015-16 and went on to help the Foxes to a sensational title triumph that season.

He went on to feature 133 times in the top flight, scoring 10 goals and providing nine assists, but never really established himself as a first-team regular under Brendan Rodgers.

With his contract at Leicester having been set to expire at the end of 2020-21, Gray – who was linked with a number of Premier League clubs – has made the move to Germany.

The 24-year-old made just one league appearance this term, totalling 18 minutes, and joins a Leverkusen side who sit fourth in the Bundesliga.

Leverkusen had looked ready to mount a title challenge this season, but a run of just one win in seven games has seen them drop off the pace.

Gray has only committed to Leverkusen until June 2022 but is confident he will flourish in the Bundesliga – a league in which English talents have fared well in recent years.

Jadon Sancho has become a star at Borussia Dortmund, where Jude Bellingham, another former Birmingham youngster, is also impressing, while Reiss Nelson and Ademola Lookman have shone in loan spells at Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig respectively. Lookman struggled after a permanent move, however.

"I saw Bayer playing attacking football, going forward aggressively and dictating the game with possession," Gray said.

"I'll fit in well. I can and would like to develop myself further here and be successful with this attractive team."

WHERE WILL HE FIT IN?

While Gray has had little chance to show his quality this season, he will bring an extra option to a vibrant, youthful Leverkusen attack and could be vying for a place with Leon Bailey.

After struggling for consistency last season, Bailey has enjoyed something of a resurgence this term, scoring four goals and creating five more in 18 Bundesliga games.

Bailey's 26 chances created rank fourth in Leverkusen's squad, with 17-year-old sensation Florian Wirtz (31), Moussa Diaby and Nadiem Amiri (both 27) ahead of him.

Gray may also find himself going up against former Paris Saint-Germain forward Diaby for a starting berth.

The 21-year-old has created a team-high seven big chances for Leverkusen in the Bundesliga, however, with his rapid pace a major outlet for Peter Bosz's side.

Gray is Leverkusen's third signing of the January window, following defenders Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Jeremie Frimpong, signed from Manchester United and Celtic respectively.

Chelsea are reportedly interested in Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland and Bayern Munich defender David Alaba. 

Haaland and Alaba have been linked with moves, with the latter almost certain to leave Bayern when his contract expires at the end of the season. 

Chelsea spent big last year – but they are apparently eyeing the pair.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA INTERESTED IN HAALAND AND ALABA

Chelsea are interested in signing Dortmund star Haaland and Bayern defender Alaba ahead of 2021-22, according to Sky Sports.

Real Madrid have been strongly linked with the duo, while Alaba is said to be a target for several other European giants.

Thomas Tuchel has replaced Frank Lampard at the helm for Chelsea, who are eighth in the Premier League.

 

ROUND-UP

- Jesse Lingard could join West Ham. Sky Sports reports they have offered a £1.5million loan fee and to pay Lingard's wages for the rest of the season to land him on loan from Manchester United.

- Amid reports Lucas Torreira could leave Atletico Madrid, where he is on loan from Arsenal, to join Monaco, it seems that may not be the case. Fabrizio Romano reports Monaco are not negotiating for Torreira.

- Bayer Leverkusen are confident of completing a deal for Leicester City midfielder Demarai Gray, according to Sky Sports.

- Struggling for game time at Arsenal, Ainsley Maitland-Niles could make a move. The Athletic reports West Brom are looking at the 23-year-old for a potential loan deal.

Kai Havertz has all the qualities to be "world class" but was always likely to need time to settle in at Chelsea, according to Bayer Leverkusen's sporting director Simon Rolfes.  

The Blues spent a reported £72million (€80m) to bring the Germany international from Leverkusen in September, yet he has so far struggled to justify the hefty price tag.  

The attacking midfielder was one of several big-money signings during a busy close-reason recruitment drive, with compatriot Timo Werner - who arrived from RB Leipzig - also enduring a difficult start to life at Stamford Bridge. 

Havertz has managed five goals and five assists, as well as 23 chances created (1.4 per 90 minutes) and five big chances created (0.3 per 90) in 25 appearances so far in 2020-21.  

For comparison, during his final season at Leverkusen, he registered 18 goals (0.43 per 90), nine assists (0.21 per 90), 84 chances created (1.99 per 90), 20 big chances created (0.47 per 90) from 45 appearances.  

Chelsea's struggles on the pitch this term saw club legend Frank Lampard sacked and replaced by Thomas Tuchel, and Rolfes feels it is unfair to focus purely on Havertz, who he is backing to show his true abilities in the Premier League.

"It's always difficult if you change country and a little bit of a different style. That's the same if we sign players," Rolfes told Stats Perform News. 

"Some players need two days, some guys need half a year. For example, Moussa Diaby needs three-four months to adapt from France, although he was playing for PSG, to adapt to the Bundesliga.  

"You have to have in mind when you sign players, that not everybody is directly from the first day there.  

"I've followed Chelsea a little bit from a distance, but it's not only Kai or Timo Werner struggling a little bit, it's also the team – they expected more from the whole squad.  

"That's not so easy if it's not working in the team and you come in as a new player. It's much easier if the team is working and you step in your best position.  

"That's a process for Kai, to adapt to England and the Premier League. There is no doubt Kai is a fantastic player and has all the ability to play on the world-class level and although it's probably not his best six months, there is no doubt in my opinion."

"There is a spirit in the team but also the club – a dynamic in the last months and last years. That should lead us one day to a title, that's our big goal."

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

Leverkusen have come close on numerous occasions in the Bundesliga – runners-up in 1997, 1999, 2000, 20002 and 2011, while they also reached the 2002 Champions League final, succumbing to Zinedine Zidane's iconic volley in Glasgow.

There were also runners-up appearances in the DFB-Pokal – 20002, 2009 and 2020. But an exciting and entertaining Leverkusen, even in the post-Kai Havertz era, are on the right track amid Bayern Munich's domestic and European dominance.

Leverkusen sporting director Simon Rolfes told Stats Perform News: "It's not easy if you're playing with the best team in the world – Bayern – but we have made a step forward and quite close to the top. We want to go forward. If it happens this year, fantastic. But we want to proceed and develop the squad, and mentality."

When star Havertz left for Chelsea at the start of the season in a transfer that could rise to €100million, and Kevin Volland joined Monaco, it left a noticeable hole at BayArena, where the pair scored 30 goals across all competitions in 2019-20.

But led by prodigy Florian Wirtz and a thrilling core of players, including Moussa Diaby, Leon Bailey and Nadiem Amiri, Leverkusen are continuing to challenge this term.

Leverkusen are third in the Bundesliga – three points behind RB Leipzig and 10 adrift of reigning champions Bayern – while Peter Bosz's side are preparing to face Young Boys in the Europa League last 32 and Rot-Weiss Essen in the DFB-Pokal round of 16.

With Havertz having departed, Leverkusen have a better goals/game ratio (2.5) through 26 games across all competitions this season, compared to 1.8 in 2019-20. The club have also improved defensively – goals conceded/game (1.0) and expected goals against (1.0) are better than last term (1.3) and (1.4) respectively.

Collecting 32 points, Leverkusen have played the best first half of a Bundesliga season for seven years – they collected 37 points at this stage in 2013-14.

Leverkusen have also exceeded their xG value of 23.1 to almost nine goals (8.9) – only Bayern have a greater margin between goals and xG (13.9). 

"In general yes because it's a chance for other players to develop and take more responsibility in the team and on the pitch," Rolfes, who was appointed in 2018, said when asked if he was always confident following the exits of Havertz and Volland. "We had the view that there could be other players who could take a step forward. The only thing for sure is Havertz is a world-class player, a fantastic guy and player. It's very difficult to replace him, so we said, it's not our direction to find a replacement for Kai because you will never find that replacement.

"We said okay, we will give our own players the chance to grow, this strategy works out very fast. It's always a risk for sure, but we have the confidence in those players to make a step forward, and also the team. If your superstar is gone, everyone knows we have to give more.

"We try to build-up, play offensive with ball possession, straightforward – the kind of style we showed against Borussia Dortmund [2-1 on January 19] is what we want. We want to have the ball, a lot of clubs and trainers are speaking to play without the ball, in Germany it's very popular, but we want to have the ball and want players who want the ball."

The emergence of teenage sensation Wirtz, and development of Diaby, Bailey, Edmond Tapsoba and Amiri, has further highlighted Leverkusen's successful recruitment and philosophy, which has become synonymous with German clubs.

"You have to have a clear strategy," Rolfes, who made almost 400 appearances for Leverkusen between 2005 and 2015, said. "A clear strategy of recruitment but also your playing style. That's really important for players but also the success of a club – both are strongly connected. For your playing style, you have to sign the right players. Then you have the chance that the players adapt quicker and develop better in your system because they feel comfortable in the way of playing. That's crucial.

"We know the Bundesliga, financially solid, but we are not at the top that we can sign every player, we have to develop players. The strategy is to recruit good players for our style and develop them to the top. Some clubs in Germany are quite successful with this."

"We are focusing on that talent and try to find them," he said. "We analyse millions of data with artificial intelligence, to pre-select and be early. It's not because we know players other clubs do not know, maybe 20 years ago, but everything is transparent. But you have to find them a bit quicker, but also clear in your playing style and what can they develop with your training work, in which areas they can develop in weak points. Because we are not signing players where everything is 100 per cent, we know they have weak points, but we know we have to work with them on that."

Data and AI continue to play a huge role in football, with Rolfes adding: "It's very important and because the data will be better and better, it will become much more important in the future because you will get better results. We are working with our own team on scouting, preparing for next matches – just in our daily work."

The likes of Michael Ballack, Toni Kroos, Bernd Leno and Havertz have all made names for themselves at Leverkusen, and Rolfes continued: "We count on the young players [at Leverkusen]. We give them trust and the opportunity to play. For example, Wirtz, we give him the chance to replace Havertz and not sign another star to put in front of him. That is one thing.

"We have a very professional environment, we really take care of the guys – try to develop them, work on the pitch and prepare them for top football. We have an advantage that the media surrounding is not so big here. That's good for young players to have a familiar environment where they feel very comfortable and less stressful, then try to reach the best level on the pitch."

Wirtz is the heir apparent to Havertz, having made an immediate impact after the 17-year-old swapped Cologne for Leverkusen in 2020.

Having made his debut in May 2020, Wirtz became the youngest goalscorer in Bundesliga history the following month, finding the net in a 4-2 defeat to Bayern after coming on as a substitute. Dortmund's Youssoufa Moukoko has since snatched that record.

Among all players with at least 50 dribbles in this season's Bundesliga, only Augsburg's Daniel Caligiuri has a better dribbles success rate (70 per cent) than Wirtz (65 per cent). 

Wirtz is one of 50 players born in 2003 or earlier to appear in Europe's top five leagues this season. Those 50 players have collected a total of 14 goal involvements – with seven of them coming from Wirtz. 

Among all players in Europe's top five leagues born in 2003 or earlier, Wirtz played the most minutes in all competitions this season (1,579) and had the most goal involvements in all comps (11 – six goals and five assists). 

"I saw him for the first time at 13. Now I have to say, he is playing Bundesliga the same way he was playing at 13, 14, 15, 16 – I followed him all the years. I always said okay, that's the player for us, the player for Leverkusen. That was not a surprise for me when he came to us and adapted very quick to our style," former Germany international Rolfes said.

"It was also one argument I said to him during the transfer. I said, 'you are a player for us, you will develop your skills and strengths much better because that's what we need in our style'. His development is fantastic."

Like Havertz, Bailey could be the next Leverkusen star to leave amid constant speculation over his future.

The 23-year-old winger, who has scored four goals and supplied five assists in the 2020-21 Bundesliga so far, has been linked with the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City and Rolfes is unwilling to sell the Jamaican to just any club.

"He's played a fantastic season," Rolfes said. "He struggled a bit last season, but he is performing at a very high level. A good guy in the squad. He has a chance to score goals for sure. A fantastic technique. That's part of lives also, to sell players but we want to sell to the top eight clubs in the world, but not to other clubs. Sometimes a player will leave us. We have a contract with Bailey but we are quite relaxed."

Diaby is another prime example for Leverkusen, where the accelerating Frenchman has 561 sprints in the league this season, more than any other player. 

The former Paris Saint-Germain speedster has been involved in 15 goals in all competitions in this season (in 26 games) – with his next goal involvement the 21-year-old would already reach his value from his first season in Leverkusen (16 in 39 games). 

"When we extended the contract until 2025, that was a really nice Christmas present to extend the contracts of Diaby, Tapsoba and Wirtz," Rolfes said. "[Diaby] is a key player of our squad. His acceleration and speed is outstanding. He has developed on scoring and assisting. To use his acceleration on a top, top level. He has potential to develop further. I'm very, very happy he is part of our squad."

Meanwhile, Timothy Fosu-Mensah could be the latest success story for Leverkusen, who also completed the signing of Netherlands Under-20 international Jeremie Frimpong from Celtic on Wednesday.

After joining Manchester United's academy in 2014, the 23-year-old called time on his Old Trafford stay in January, and Rolfes said: "He is not so young but the last two years, you had the feeling there was more in the box than there was in the last two years. That's interesting for us, to sign that kind of player where you have the feeling they can reach more. We want to help him.

"Timothy is a really good guy, ambitious guy. I like this. He has the ability, the physicality, very fast, a good technique. A lot of fundamental things that are important for our playing style. Then if the mentality and ambition isn't right, then let's work on that to develop you. I'm convinced Timothy can be the next example for our club."

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