Last week the football world was shocked when the news of the sacking of Julian Nagelsman as the manager of Bayern Munich came out. The German giants are through to the quarter-finals of the champions league and are a point behind Dortmund in the Bundesliga. What could have led to this? He only suffered three defeats this season, the last one being to Bayer Leverkusen managed by Xabi Alonso. Xabi might not have been the reason that led to the sacking but he did put the final straw to the event.
Bayer Leverkusen beat defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich 2-1 on March 19, at the Bay Arena. The result was a close one, but it shows that former Spanish international Xabi Alonso has started to make strides at the German outfit.
He signed for the club in October of last year, the team was struggling and was in the fight for relegation. A few months later they are 8th in Bundesliga, fighting for a European spot, and are set to host Union Saint-Gilloise in the quarter-finals of the Europa League. He has turned around a corner at Leverkusen in much less time than he is one of the names being mentioned if Carlo Ancelloti leaves his position at Real Madrid.
Impact On Xabi Alonso’s career
Alonso as a player had an illustrious career winning trophies in England, Spain, and Germany. He was an integral part of the Spanish team that won the Euros in 2008 and 2012, and also their first-ever World Cup in South Africa in 2010. What is one of the most fascinating things about Alonso is the wide range of managers he was managed by in his career, starting from Raynald Denoueix at Socidead who unleashed his potential, to Rafael Benitez who led him to his first taste of European glory, to Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid, and Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich. And not to forget Luis Aragones and Vicente Del Bosque on the Spanish National Team.
The impact of his coaches is evidently visible in his philosophy till now, and the best part is that it’s an amalgamation of all of them. The attacking patterns are similar to Pep Guardiola’s team, the defensive blocks of a Mouriho-esque team, and transition patterns that could be seen under a Benitez or Ancelloti team. The melting pot of styles might lead to a new style which might be called the Alonso ball, and that style was first seen in the victory against Bayern Munich.
Leverkusen had five shots on goal in the first twenty minutes of the game until they went behind to a Joshua Kimmich goal. Xabi Alonso started with an attacking 4-2-3-1 lineup with Wirtz leading the forward line. The off-the-ball pressing approach did not change even though they went behind, but in the second half when they scored twice from the penalty spot to take the lead. Alonso changed the setup to a 3-6-1, and that helped Leverkusen outnumber the Bayern midfield, and develop a shield to protect the backline, yet counterattack to hunt for more goals.
Even though a four-man backline is not the preferred style, Alonso likes a three-man defence which is guarded by a single pivot or double pivot. A 3-4-3, which converts into a 3-1-3-3 when they attack, and a 5-3-2 when they defend. He started his reign in Germany with a 4-0 victory over Schalke, but the next two games against Porto and Frankfurt. He had to wait for six games to get his next victory which was against Union Berlin, and that started a five-match winning streak that stabilized Leverkusen’s season.
One of the best qualities that Xabi Alonso has is his ability to make players better. Moussa Diaby has been a menace under him, and his exploits on the right flank have been incredible. Jeremie Frimpong has also stepped up and has taken both offensive and defensive duties as a right-back and a right-wing-back under Alonso.
Obviously, he has a long way to go, but in a short span, Xabi Alonso has taken a team who were in the relegation battle to a team that is probably going to compete for a European spot, and that talks a lot about him as a coach.
When the German national team sporting director Rudi Voller was asked about who could win the Europa League, he said “Roma can win the Europa League, but watch out for Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen.” Very less people would disagree with this opinion, and winning a European trophy is always difficult but Xabi Alonso does know a few things about winning European Cups.
Two of his former clubs Liverpool and Real Madrid have their managers under pressure, and his name is already on their list. This speaks a lot of how much impact he has had in a short time, and maybe the best is yet to come.