'Health comes first' - Leverkusen star Bailey insists fan-less games strange but necessary

By Sports Desk March 12, 2020

Bayern Leverkusen star Leon Bailey has admitted it is a different feeling for players to compete in an empty stadium but agrees it is a necessary evil in light of the threat posed by COVID19.

The 22-year-old Jamaica international is expected to play a key role when the in-form German outfit takes on Scottish club Rangers, at Leverkusen's Bay Arena.  The match will, however, be missing a key element as it will be played behind closed doors, becoming a part of Europe's struggles to arrest the spread of the coronavirus.

With over 1000 people having tested positive for the coronavirus in the country, the German Football League (DFL) decided to close games on a case by case basis.  The trend has already strongly taken root across Europe with many leagues opting for fan free matches.  It has already been confirmed that the second leg of the tie, in Scotland, will also be played behind closed doors.

“It affects us because football is for the fans.  Playing behind closed doors is always a different type of feeling,” Bailey told BBC Sports Scotland.

“But I mean we also have to think about the safety of others, and we have to do what we have to do,” he added.

“Our health come first.  Without health, there is no life.”

 

 

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    Roland Nilsson, now Sweden's Under-21 coach, has worked with Kulusevski since he was just 15. "I worked with him with the Under-16s and I could see he was a very good player," he told Stats Perform News. "We knew straight away that clubs from abroad had been there watching and I could understand why.

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    "It was going to be tough but his mind was set to do the job and being focused on it, which has been a strength of his through the years," Nilsson continued. "You're always surprised when it goes that quickly [for a player], but at the same time, with the skills he has, his mental strength as well and the awareness of what he needs to be doing, those are the key things for him, and the work rate he puts in on the pitch shows he's serious about what he's doing."

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    There was never any doubt about Kulusevski's ability – technically gifted and a fine dribbler, but he wasn't without fault, as Engelmark explained: "The first time I coached him I was like, 'this guy has a great skill set but he's not working hard enough, not defending, he needs to use his team-mates more'."

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    "His work rate got higher and higher, but when we played good opponents he worked even harder," Engelmark continued. "In the last six months to a year with me, I think something happened – he started working harder than everyone else. He was our best player offensively, but he was also the guy who worked the most."

    Nilsson also noticed that improvement. "He knows that has been a bit of his weakness before, but he's taken that along with everything else and that's what he shows today – he does everything up and down [the wing]."

     

    Such observations are backed up by the fact Kulusevski managed 5.25 ball recoveries and 4.22 dribbles per 90 minutes last term, both well above the respective averages for his position (4.1 and 0.92).

    Kulusevski has just a single full season of Serie A experience under hit belt, though there was a maturity to his performances while on loan at Parma last term that belies his fledgling status.

    With 10 goals and eight assists in Serie A, he was the youngest player across Europe's top five leagues to reach at least eight in both metrics and the first foreign under-21 talent to net 10 times in Italy's top flight since 2012-13.

    Similarly, of all players in Europe's top five leagues to accumulate 15 goal involvements in 2019-20, only Erling Haaland was younger – by three months – than Kulusevski.

    Nevertheless, Engelmark feels Kulusevski will be challenged by transitioning – both mentality and performance-wise – from the expectations he has previously experienced, to those at perennial-winners Juventus.

    "He has everything necessary to be a success at that level, but what will be interesting is his consistency," he mused. "At Parma obviously his team-mates were good, but not top-level like at Juve now. At Parma they were defending a lot and they get out on the counter, so obviously he can go in and out of the game and it doesn't really matter.

    "For them, dominating isn't so important, it's about being smart and taking your chances, but at Juventus obviously they dominate teams, so it'll be important to be consistent for 90 minutes and be involved more."

    Kulu the craftsman

    With Parma, Kulusevski was one of the revelations of the 2019-20 season, his creative talents earmarking him as among the best.

    His 78 key passes worked out at 2.17 per match, more than double the average for players in his position (1.02). In turn, he averaged 0.22 assists every 90 minutes, but the norm for others in similar roles was 0.09.

    One of Kulusevski's most obvious strengths is his ability on the ball, with his close control aided by the fact he is strong on both feet (four goals came with his weaker right foot).

    He completed 77 dribbles last season, 2.14 every 90 minutes, which is also a major increase on the 0.92 average for Kulusevksi's position.

    Similarly, the young Swede proved himself a notable threat in front of goal. While players in comparable roles would expect 0.35 shots on target every game, Kulusevski's record was 0.72.

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