Bayer Leverkusen are looking to shake their infamous ‘Neverkusen’ nickname and finally win a major title. Xabi Alonso is the man responsible for the belief flowing through the team at the moment.
The ‘X’ Factor
Xabi Alonso is arguably one of the ‘sexiest’ footballers of all time in terms of looks and technique. Alonso played for three of the world’s biggest clubs Liverpool and Real Madrid before retiring at Bayern Munich. Whilst at these clubs Alonso worked under some of the brightest managers of this generation and in the history of football. He was also part of the Spain squad for the World Cup sandwiched between consecutive European Championships.
His distinguished playing career may be over, but it is looking like his managerial career could be revolutionary. He took over at Bayer Leverkusen when the club was 17th in the Bundesliga with five points from eight matches. The appointment was seen as a surprise to many because of his inexperience in senior-level management. However, due to his success at Real Sociedad’s B team, he has been given this task on merit.
He quickly turned things around and didn’t look back after the World Cup break going on a 6-win streak in the league and adjusting to his team’s needs rather than sticking to his philosophy. The team started to rise eventually finishing the season in 6th place enough to qualify for the Europa League. A competition in which he guided the team to a semi-final the previous year – not a bad end to a season that started so dire for the Rhine club.
Xabi Alonso had to wait until summer to assemble a squad of players he needed to implement his style of football in the Bundesliga. In the summer, he brought in eight players to complement the side. Four of whom are starters in the squad. With the players he needed to fit his system, he has transformed the club into the most efficient gegenpressing team in the Bundesliga per Football Meta.
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Goals aren’t a thing that Leverkusen have come short of this season with the main goal scorer Victor Boniface scoring 11 goals in 16 matches. In the league, he has seven goals which only sits him 6th in the standings. Only Bayern has scored more goals across the league campaign, but it is a credit to Alonso that his team is scoring goals throughout the team. Left-back Alejandro Grimaldo has six league goals this season and inside forward Jonas Hoffman has five.
Florian Wirtz has thrived under Alonso’s management and has been so exciting to watch this season. He has three goals in the league so far but has chipped in with five assists alongside other Leverkusen players Boniface, Jeremie Frimpong, and Hoffman. Many of the players have started every single league match but due to the structure of Alonso’s side, any players coming into the team know exactly what to do.
It is about time Bayern Munich were knocked off their perch, having won the league in 11 successive campaigns. The league isn’t even halfway through its campaign yet but Alonso’s team has the early sign of champions. It may prove difficult to keep all their players in January. If any team is looking to bolster their attacking options Boniface and Wirtz will be seen as viable options. However, Leverkusen will not let them go for cheap, especially in January.
The team has matched Bayern Munich’s record in the league and sits two points ahead of the Bavarian giants. Since 2000, the Bundesliga title has been won by seven teams (Bayern Munich-17, Borussia Dortmund-3, VfB Stuttgart-1, VfL Wolfsburg-1, and Werder Bremen-1). Leverkusen have come runners-up numerous times over this period but have yet to get their hands on a Bundesliga title.
This season feels different Bayer Leverkusen is playing such high-quality football and blowing away teams in the league. In all competitions, the German side has won 16 out of their 17 matches. Only dropping points away at Bayern Munich in the league. All this whilst scoring an average of 3.09 goals per game in the Bundesliga. Additionally, they are conceding less than a goal per game which is why experts are touting them to at least push Munich all the way.