Michael Ballack’s return to the Bundesliga has so far been nothing to write home about. The midfield general has been plagued by injury, and he’s rarely had a chance to showcase the phenomenal talent we all remember him for. Finally, though, Ballack has returned to first-team training and it could be at the perfect time for Bayer Leverkusen.
Leverkusen are currently third in the race for the Bundesliga title, but it’s still a lot farther than it sounds. Borussia Dortmund, who currently lead the pack, are a whole 11 points ahead of Ballack’s side, but if anyone can help make up the difference it’s the veteran midfielder. The reason, I think, that Leverkusen are still so far away from the summit is because of their home form. It’s not been as strong as it should be, and that could be down to Leverkusen not scoring enough in front of their home support. Just 11 goals in 7 home matches isn’t good enough, especially when a goal or two extra could have put Leverkusen right up there with Mainz and Dortmund.
A midfield containing Simon Rolfes, Arturo Vidal, Renato Augusto, Tranquillo Barnetta and Sidney Sam is fantastic on paper, but it lacks that little bit of creativity and passing ability that a side needs to carve open a defense and feed the main striker. Michael Ballack can bring that to Leverkusen, and it could really lift them.
Ballack still has all the quality and class that made him the top player that he is, but it’s how Leverkusen manager Jupp Heynckes uses him that will determine how effective he is in that midfield. He has the creativity and vision as well as the finishing ability to play just behind the main striker, but he also has a great long-range pass and a work-rate that could be really useful in deeper areas of the midfield.
Still, wherever Heynckes ends up employing the veteran midfielder, his extra bit of quality and leadership on the pitch could be a big boost for Leverkusen, and he could be the x-factor for them as the season progresses.
“It was a bit of a surprise for me to return to the training pitch already. But I’m absolutely delighted to have kicked a ball again after a long spell on the sidelines.”