The Bundesliga has over the years proved to be a platform for a number of wonder-kids that have broken-through their respective first teams and leap-frogged into the limelight for world football to see. Here, we will be talking about Leon Bailey, the 22-year-old left-winger playing for Bayern Leverkusen in the German Bundesliga.
Bailey had a standout season for Leverkusen in the 2017/18 season, which saw him net 12 times in 34 appearances and was a key player in guiding the club to a 5th place finish. His performances that season was lauded and turned eyes in Europe, resulting in strong links with both Bayern Munich and Manchester city in the summer of 2018. The young Jamaican international has 5 goals and 3 assists to his name this season, and while those are numbers one wouldn’t normally associate with a winger, he plays and has had a major role in his team over the years.
In this tactical analysis in the form of a scout report, we would explore what makes Bailey much more than what his numbers show on the page and why he has one of the highest market values amongst players in the German first division.
Bailey plays as a Left-winger under Coach Peter Bosz for Leverkusen, a position he has made his own since his groundbreaking 2017/18 season. While he enjoys making darting runs down the left flank, he can on occasion be seen cutting in from the right and playing his dangerous cross into the penalty area or a shot on goal. Bosz’s tactics usually make use of a wide 4-2-3-1 which encourages the wingers(Bailey and Diaby) to stretch very wide therefore allowing central and forward-thinking players like Havertz and Amiri more freedom to create goal-scoring opportunities. Whilst in a 3-4-3 he usually plays as wing-back allowing him to make overlapping runs within the midfield and with the left-winger. Bailey and the right-winger also frequently switch positions, allowing him to cut in from the right, a position he says “Is my favorite.” His season heatmap below makes this more clear.
Additionally, his wide positioning allows him plenty of room to cut inside or provide an out-swinging cross from the left flank. Opposition players are focused on marking players like Havertz and this allows Bailey more freedom to create attacking chances from the left.
Bailey is also one of the fastest players in the Bundesliga. His quick feet and acceleration help him beat a man in 1-v-1/s very easily, which coupled with his impressive close control and dribbling, provides a great profile for any winger. In wide areas, Bailey loves cutting in and dribbling past the opponent. Another advantage of his incredible pace is difficult to track when he decides to make smart runs in and around the box and ultimately be on the receiving end to a through-ball. Bailey thus proves to be a threat both in possession of the ball and off of it and provides for effective combination play.
On the right-hand side, we see a completely different dimension to Bailey’s game. In the image below we see Bailey operating in the right half-space. Bailey’s marauding runs have garnered comparisons to former Bayern Munich winger Arjen Winger. Here he is free to either whip in a cross or cut in on his preferred left foot and have shot on goal. Unmarked, he shoots and scores. His ability to deliver from both positions and roles makes him an important cog in the Leverkusen side.
Let’s get straight down to Bailey’s biggest asset as a winger; his stellar dribbling and technical ability. Bailey sees a great deal of the ball and is a natural dribbler whenever he sees open spaces to run into. He utilizes a wide range of trickery and his quick feet make him lethal in 1-v-1’s, particularly on the right-hand side where he is able to explode into activity and shoot at will.
Bailey averages 6.37 dribble attempts per 90, which places him 8th among wingers in the league this season with an accuracy of 58.1%, which means he is able to beat his man just over 3 times per game. Bailey is quick to find openings in certain areas of the pitch and his aggressiveness to advance play forward makes him difficult to dispossess given the perfect combination of pace technique and balance he possesses on the ball.
The Jamaican usually has 2 options when he chooses to dribble instead of picking a pass, 1) create chances and space for the team and himself respectively 2) advance forward and progress build-up play. Bailey’s willingness to take on his marker in 1-v-1 situations and create space for himself is also noteworthy. He partakes in around 12.5 duels per 90 minutes and this aspect of his game is even more effective in the final 3rd of the pitch- to create an opening for either a cross or an incisive through ball. Besides, just like any great winger, being fouled more often is a price to pay, and as such he draws 1.49 fouls per game.
The two most traditional dribble scenarios he undertakes are shown below
Bailey is confronted with two players trying to close him down and dispossess him. He has been gifted with time and space to plan his dribble and in turn, beats both while cutting in and dribbling forward.
Bailey’s explosiveness is highlighted even more when he is cutting in from the right-hand side. Of his 5 goals this season, 2 have come from drifting in from the right half-space and shooting. He is quite adventurous in this aspect but lacks decision-making; he chooses to shoot instead of laying it off to Volland and Havertz making a run.
When it comes to progressing play forward, Bailey can sometimes be seen dropping deep near the backline to receive the ball in order to contribute to a build-up. When there is an incoming press applied by the opponent wanting to capitalize on an advantageous position, Bailey, instead motors forward with a sudden surge of pace and successfully carries the ball forward apparent by his 40.9 progressive ball carries per 90 minutes. He is then able to disrupt the opposition defensive lines by quite simply utilizing his dribbling ability and pace and make a run into the middle third of the pitch. While this isn’t what Bailey is often tasked with, it does prove to be a potent weapon when there is a need for building up play quickly, (especially in transitional play) focusing on skill and pace rather than relying on the midfielders to bypass the opposition’s pressing tactics.
Crossing and passing
Whenever Bailey gets possession of the ball, his first instinct is to either run through to the touch side. As a consequence, during non-transitional play, the opposition’s defensive backline is stretched and players converge on him, leaving a great deal of space near the penalty area. Bailey exploits this situation by delivering his deadly crosses. Being a left-footed left-winger, Bailey cuts in on the inside of his left foot but doesn’t always choose to dribble; rather his body opens up towards the near post and he crosses the ball as shown below.
Bailey’s crosses per 90 are around 4.32 and sit 13th in the league among wingers. In saying that, he is 3rd among wingers for crosses delivered from the left per game with a 28.85% accuracy, only behind Phillip Kostic and Ivan Perisic. Bailey has a wide range of crosses in his arsenal. He can either deliver flighted balls from deeper areas or the regular laser-guided cross from either flank. He suits his final delivery according to the types of runs and the players inside the box and can choose to either pick a flighted ball for heading opportunities or to the feet.
When it comes to passing, Bailey doesn’t have much to show for, he completes close to 40 passes per game with an accuracy of 67.8%. While that does not look all that impressive, Bailey’s job as a winger is to be as penetrative as possible with high-risk maneuvers rather than a direct (and safe) option. As a whole, Bailey’s passing can be mostly highlighted in either the final ball when he needs to break through the lines with a piercing through-ball, the overlapping runs he makes in presence of a teammate, and while receiving and making swift one-twos in the middle to advance play forward.
As Bailey gets closer to the penalty area, he gets more and more dangerous. He makes 2.2 deep completions per game, which is 6th in the Bundesliga among wingers. He is also ranked 10th among wingers for passes into the penalty area, 4.56 per 90. His activity near the edge of the box can also be shown by the fact that he records most of his touches (28.5) per 90 in the attacking third.
Below we see an instance where he demonstrates his skill of finding openings even when passing lanes seem blocked. This perfectly underscores his skill to maneuver the ball to his teammates to threaten the opposition keeper from the penalty area.
Bailey seems to be an extremely direct player but his swift off the ball movement is liable to choke his opponent’s shape very quickly and very effectively. Bailey will often be seen receiving the ball in the middle, consequently drifting inside taking his marker with him making space for an overlap. This link-up of play is crucial for disrupting the opponent’s middle lines with both underlapping and overlapping runs. We see this exact scenario below.
Set pieces and shooting
Bailey is Leverkusen’s main set-piece taker, whether it being a Free kick or corner, the Jamaican is on the delivering end of all of the team’s set-pieces. 16% of Leverkusen’s goals (10) this season have come from set-pieces, in which Bailey has been involved in a total of 5. A lot of his chances created come from right-sided corners, in which he is able to provide an accurate inswinging ball and takes close to 1.81 corners per 90. It makes him even more lethal as can combine precision with power in his deliveries.
Bailey’s 5 goals and 3 assists this season are numbers that certainly do not define his caliber. With an xG of 4.19, he sits 10th in the league among wingers, a sign that he does have clear cut scoring chances. He also has an xA of 2.64 which is a fair number too. Bailey has a lot of shots on goal to his name as well, he sits 8th among forwards this season with 30 shots and completes 2.36 shots per 90. He is also ranked 4th in non-penalty expected goals this season, with 0.39 per game. When it comes to creating real chances for his teammates that translate to goals, Bailey’s second assists per 90 are 0.16 and is ranked 4th in the Bundesliga this season for the same, a sign that he gets into good positions to lass it to another teammate who in sets up a goal for another.
One of his stand out traits is running seamlessly with the ball to his feet on the right-hand side, drifting inside and creating a shot off his dribble. The defensive line is pushed so far behind during counter-attacks that he gets a sizable amount of space to place his shots.
There are, however, departments the Jamaican would want to improve to be really considered in the world-class bracket. For starters, his discipline. Any young winger should know how to conduct himself on a football pitch; Bailey has two red cards to his name this season and on many occasions, his spats with opponents on the field have made headlines. Second, he needs to improve his defensive game. Bailey has left his team vulnerable on the counter by not tracking back, which is especially important when he plays in a 3-4-3. His attacking output and decision making at times should also step-up several notches now that Kai Havertz, Leverkusen’s main goal-scoring threat currently might be moving on to greener pastures, with strong links to Chelsea.
Leon Bailey, still only 22, is already his country’s biggest ever prospect and has a long way to go in his career. He has a massive career choice to make at this stage, whether to stay at the club and take up the responsibility to be manager Peter Bosz’s s main player or move on to a bigger club and upgrade his game. Ever since his breakout 2017/18 season he has been subject to strong links with clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea. From this analysis, it is clear that Bailey does have the mold of a solid and adventurous winger that enjoys taking risks but at the same time, there is a scope of improvement in a few areas as well.
Whatever the case may be, the future looks bright for the young Jamaican and his high ceiling will take far in his career.