Bayer Leverkusen Speedster Leon Bailey Continues to Highlight His Potential

baileyLeon Bailey continues to show that he’s a difference maker. Last Friday night, in Bayer Leverkusen’s 2-0 win over Stuttgart, he supplied the two assists. The first was the real feature, and as Bailey beat a man out on the byline and outpointed another, dribbling beyond the opposition markers with typically tricky feet, it wasn’t hard to see why he’s been keeping the likes of Karim Bellerabi out of the side in recent times.

In truth, it wasn’t even Bailey’s best performance. He was occasionally sloppy in possession, and given the fact that Leverkusen opted to sit back once they went ahead early, he didn’t have too much time on the ball. He couldn’t use his pace, power and crossing as often as he would have liked, but when you can play a somewhat unspectucular game and still produce a couple of assists, it’s a pretty good thing.

In fact, Bailey’s season, on the whole, has been a pretty good thing. He’s become a fixture in Leverkusen’s team, having made nine starts and a further three appearances off the bench in the Bundesliga, and he’s getting better and better. The 20-year-old has four goals and four assists so far, and his excellent wingplay has enabled him to feature as a wingback in Leverkusen’s 3-4-3 formation. He tends to play on the left-hand side, and though he probably still needs to build upon his defensive game, his attacking qualities are beyond question.

The first thing that one notices with Bailey is his pace. He’s so quick that Ajax youth coach Ronald De Boer quipped that, “He’s so fast it’s not normal.” He’s applied that zip ever since arriving from Belgian club Genk last January, and though he had to wait until this season before truly breaking into the team, his speed has been super impressive to Bundesliga observers since he moved to Germany. It helps him to get up and down the touchlines, especially now that he’s playing at wingback, and it helps him to breeze by opposition defenders as well.

Bailey averages 1.7 successful dribbles per game, which ranks him an impressive 11th in the Bundesliga, and many of these involve either pushing the ball to one side and sprinting by an opponent or simply using some sharp footwork. He loves to try something tricky, but he also realises it’s more about doing something efficiently than doing something with an element of flair. That means he uses his sheer speed to beat defenders most of the time, and given how quickly he eases by his rivals, that’s the right approach.

Equally, Bailey aims to make it hard for his markers. “I can go down [the outside], cut inside and shoot, but for me it’s about more than that,” the Jamaican insists. “I can make defenders think more.” That speaks to his wingplay, as he has all of the ability to both cut inside and stay out near the touchline. The key is to ensure that he mixes it up, so as to avoid becoming predictable to those he plays against.

Of course, there’s an element of the obvious in that, when Bailey plays on the right and can therefore cut inside onto his preferred left foot, he tends to do that a little more often, and when he’s on the other side, as he is now at left-wingback, he crosses more often. That is just natural, but the way he can do both makes him a true wide man. Against Hamburg, for instance, he whipped in an absolute belter of a cross, one so low and hard that it left Alario with the easiest of close-range goals. Hamburg’s defence didn’t anticipate it at all, and the speed of the delivery ensured they couldn’t recover.

On the other side of the field, meanwhile, Bailey has shown that ability to cut inside, shoot and score. Perhaps the most prominent example of this came a little earlier in the campaign, against Borussia Monchengladbach, when he received the ball out wide on the right, and lined up the nearest defender. That man was Oscar Wendt, and when he saw Bailey coming towards him, you could almost sense his concern. The young Jamaican then cut inside, almost in the style of Arjen Robben, and propelled a punchy drive at goal. It powered into the far side of the target, eventually settling in the bottom left-hand corner, and it highlighted Bailey’s talents: speed, tricky feet and powerful finishing.

In truth, Bailey likes to bring that power to his crossing as well, and in generating his second assist against Stuttgart, which came from a corner kick, he did just that. He whipped an impressive curler into the danger zone, and with both Sven and Lars Bender rising to meet it, Leverkusen probably would’ve liked their chances. Lars would eventually be the man to nod it in, and at that point in time, Leverkusen were 2-0 up and cruising.

That ability to hit wicked deliveries from set-pieces is another of Bailey’s talents, and given just how quickly he has settled in Germany, it’s easy to see how the likes of Bellerabi might be worried. The Kingston native, who looks up to fellow Jamaica product Raheem Sterling, is looking like an increasingly reliable member of Leverkusen’s youth brigade, which features the talents of Julian Brandt, Kai Havertz and Jonathan Tah.

Those guys may have been on the radar for longer, but as it stands, Bailey appears to be just as promising. He wears Leverkusen’s No. 9 jersey with the confidence and authority that one might expect, and the way he’s playing right now indicates that there’s still plenty more to come. Under Heiko Herrlich, Leverkusen are starting to move up the Bundesliga ladder, and if they’re hoping to continue with that, they’ll be wanting their jet-heeled Jamaican to build upon his current form in order to become an even bigger contributor to that process.