Bernd Leno Scout Report
Although the recent club announcement on shirt number changes ahead of next season confirms Petr Cech’s move to number one, a new goalkeeper is still required and Bernd Leno is one of a few to be linked with a move. The German currently plies his trade in the Bundesliga for Bayer Leverkusen and has been a stalwart in their XI for a fair few years now, and has gone onto score a place in the preliminary German national squad for this month’s World Cup, sitting behind Manuel Neuer in the pecking order. It has been a long time since the Gunners bought in a top goalkeeper for big bucks, with Jens Lehmann being the only big transfer in the Premier League era. Petr Cech has proved this season that although he still has something to offer, he cannot compete at the top level every game, whilst the last few seasons have also proved that David Ospina’s continental style is not a great fit with the English game.
Who is Bernd Leno?
Born in Bietigheim-Bissingen, approximately nineteen kilometers north of Stuttgart, in March 1992, Bernd Leno was originally drafted through the academy of VfB Stuttgart from 2003-2009 before signing a professional deal with the club later in 2009. He went on to make only fifty-six appearances for Stuttgart’s second team in a two year stint before signing a new deal at the club in May 2011. This though, led him to a loan at Bayer 04 Leverkusen for the first half of the 2011/12 season with the deal being made permanent a month before expiry in November 2011, six weeks after he became the youngest goalkeeper to ever play in a Champions League match (against Chelsea in the 2011/12 group stage). After stringing together a number of back-to-back performances he eventually claimed the number one spot – where he’s stayed ever since. Potentially important news is that Leverkusen have recently announced the signing of twenty-eight year old Finnish goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky – potentially making Leno available for transfer.
At twenty-six years of age, Leno does still have plenty to learn but is fairly experienced across all domestic, European and International competitions offering Arsenal a quality, long term solution. Bernd Leno and Petr Cech as the Gunners goalkeeping 1-2 for next season has a great ring to it, and with Cech having seen it all – Leno would have a great role model to learn from.
Positionally, Leno is excellent. His ability to locate the perfect position quickly and efficiently is a valuable strength. In the Premier League, we are graced with a number mavericks who love to shoot from all angles, and being able to deter these by adapting to the right saving position will only hold him in good stead. Finishing joint second in the race for the Bundesliga Golden Glove, Leno kept ten clean sheets in his thirty-three league appearances. What is also impressive to analyse is that Leno only conceded forty goals in these thirty three games…suggesting that perhaps Leverkusen’s issues lie in the attacking third of the pitch. Having taken a total of one-hundred and fifteen shots throughout the league season, forty goals conceded is no mean feat, especially having finished fifth in the table behind the likes of Bayern and Dortmund.
A right-footer by trade, Leno looks to be a good passer too. Kicking and passing for a goalkeeper is important enough – Ederson has shown this season what a great footballing goalkeeper can do – let alone at Arsenal, especially under Wenger’s tenure of pass, pass, pass. Ederson almost single handedly turned Man City’s defence around with his on the deck ability. Whilst on the contrary, Cech has showed us Gunners this season that a bit of rust and a clunky footballing technique gets you nowhere and it in fact leads to and causes opposition goals. Leno would be a significant upgrade on Cech and Ospina actually, with both failing to be accurate with kicks and passes, consistently. Before arriving at Arsenal, Cech had a decent pass completion percentage, however the lie there is that he made far fewer passes in his Chelsea days than he does at Arsenal. Arsenal’s pre-Emery style uses the goalkeeper as an eleventh outfielder – potentially exposing a weak technique. Leno is able to deliver an accurate and well-paced long or short pass from both dead ball kicks and live play. However, one key area of note is that, unlike Ospina and Cech who both look to pick a pass out under pressure (and get it oh so wrong), Leno will not mess about and will regularly ‘just get rid’.
Leverkusen were graced with a pretty mean defence this season, in terms of goals conceded. Therefore, as much as Leno played a key part in this reasonable success, he may have not had as much to do as say Timo Horn at Cologne (who ended the season relegated). A mean defence will always distort stats and as well, an extremely weak defence will often expose goalie stats a lot more – either giving them the opportunity to post fantastic save percentages or get absolutely ruined by hundreds of shots a season. Jordan Pickford is a prime example of this, where during Sunderland’s relegation two season ago, he still amassed some pretty impressive performances and statistics due to the fact that he faced far too many shots. Concentration is key here, and the way Arsenal have been playing over the last few seasons, our goalkeeper also faces a number of shots per game. Although, by being a possession based team, there are long spells between these opposition shots which requires the utmost concentration. Leno certainly fits the bill.
Having watched Leno a few times, a generalisation to make about weaknesses is saving long range shots. In today’s game, a combination of the ball itself and a player’s technique mean that the ball will swerve, dip and spin randomly through the air but there is a still a precedent all goalkeepers should deliver – save first, catch later. So many keepers are caught floundering whilst attempting to catch when the safest option is to punch away or out. Leno has been caught a couple times in similar situations this season, and in prior seasons too – but who hasn’t? It’s a sign of the modern game…I hate to say. A certain David Seaman even got caught floundering once or twice in his career, and he was certainly one of the best in his era. Concentration does play a part in this too, and although concentration is flagged as one of Leno’s strengths, he does still have a weakness in saving long shots. This weakness though lies in his decision making (whether to punch or not, whether to dive or not, whether to catch or not), rather than is positioning and concentration which are both pretty good.
Bernd Leno could also be flagged for lack of reflexes. The best goalkeeping reflexes in the world are without doubt owned by David De Gea. He eclipses Manuel Neuer, Gigi Buffon, and all others in this department. However, a goalkeeper’s traits and skillset are so closely linked – you think of positioning, reflexes, diving, saving and concentration are all required to make one save. Whereas an outfield player maybe pretty average at tackling but is unbelievably accurate at shooting – this is not the case with keepers. And in Leno’s case this certainly rings true reflexes come into play with everything he does. How can he have two or three strengths yet reflexes be a weakness? The way goalies develop is like a fine wine – age and experience brings quality. Honed skills worked on daily for ten years will take an eighteen year old prospect into his or her prime years fully tuned. Usually peaking around twenty-eight for four or five optimum seasons, goalies are still learning through their early-to-mid-twenties, giving Leno much to learn. His reflexes will only improve, the older he gets – and the more he plays.
How Would Leno Fit in At Arsenal?
Any Arsenal formation that has a back four would suit Leno. Having played this 4-2-3-1 formation regularly at Leverkusen this past season, Leno has a solid back four stationed in front with pacey, young (highly coveted) wingers Leon Bailey and Julian Brandt in the wide areas to pick out with long passes. Should Arsenal stack the wide areas with the likes of Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan, Welbeck, Nelson then pace is the order of the day – something Leno clearly likes.
Arsenal’s go-to formation of recent seasons…the back three. Any formation utilising a back three should also suit Leno providing there are true stay-at-home defenders in place. Elneny as a CB may not work with an unsure and unfamiliar goalie but out-and-out defenders like Sokratis, Koscielny and Holding should mean that Leno would gel pretty easily.
Leverkusen play possession football with a multitude of short passes, relying on dynamism and flair in the wide areas to make things happen. Arsenal are much like this in ways too but a fit and firing Mesut Ozil would beg to differ, liking to control and dictate from the #10 position. He would still feed the wide areas like Leverkusen do but the build up may not come via the flanks the way Leno currently sees. This is all immaterial for now though as ultimately, a good player can fit in anywhere; any formation and under any manager. Leno is no different and should the Gunners sign him this summer, he is more than capable of playing in any formation that Unai Emery deploys.
In today’s games circa £25million is not expensive. I don’t like it but that’s the way it is. Should Arsenal bid for Bernd Leno, I’d expect to see an offer in this region of numbers as for the player, Arsenal is certainly a set up.
Would he want to join Arsenal? Why would Leno not want to join? He would need number one assurances yes but surely if Arsenal stump up big money for a new goalkeeper then he must be the new number one. Financially, Arsenal are able to offer a better package for the player than Bayer Leverkusen currently can. Still a selling club really, Leverkusen may struggle to hold onto their other prized playing assets having not qualified for the Champions League again. The Premier League is the best in the world so surely Leno wants to test himself against the best. Also, Manuel Neuer is no spring chicken so Leno should be looking to push on and become the next German national number one; the Premier League is the perfect platform for him to execute this plan.
It is exciting times at Arsenal Football Club now, with no Champions League football being the only negative in a fairly bright looking future. The club would be in a far greater position with Leno on the roster and it’s not like Leverkusen aren’t prepared for his departure either. This is certainly one to keep an eye on this summer as Mislintat, Sanllehi and co go to work on strengthening the team. So Bernd Leno, get yourself over the Ashburton Grove and make it official!