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Xabi Alonso is Working Wonders With Bayer Leverkusen

5 minute read Published December 21, 2023

In the top 5 leagues there’s one team that’s still unbeaten, like completely unbeaten. No losses in league or cups, 25 games in. Yesterday, they won again, against Bochum. We’ve touched on the German team twice before, both in our article about unbeaten teams and in our article about the bundesliga. But it’s time we focused solely on the best team in the Bundesliga – Bayer Leverkusen

Now we all know Bayern Munich runs the Bundesliga. It’s been ten years since anyone but them won the league title. RB Leipzig and Dortmund have been the teams to push the German giants the most. Last season Dortmund even led the league on the final match day of the season but couldn’t handle the pressure and drew against Mainz, handing the trophy to Bayern yet again.

This season Bayer Leverkusen have entered the challenger race for real. Still undefeated in the league, the fewest goals conceded and second most goals scored. Their three draws have come against last year's almost-winner Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Stuttgart, the other surprise Bundesliga team of the season, currently fourth. So they’re winning against easier opposition and they keep the tough ones to a draw.

Team GP W D L Pts
Bayer Leverkusen 16 13 3 0 42
Bayern Munich 15 12 2 1 38
Stuttgart 16 11 1 4 34
Leipzig 16 10 3 3 33

Xabi Alonso

Alonso as a player embodied the “midfield maestro” role. Not very quick, not very skillful but incredibly cool under pressure, a great eye for the game and inch perfect passing which brought him to the top teams in the world.

Playing for top teams means playing for top managers and few have had better bosses than Xabi Alonso. During his time in Liverpool, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munchen he played for Carlo Ancelotti, Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez. Mourinho even predicted Alonso's success as a manager back in 2019.

When Alonso joined Leverkusen last season, they were in 17th. He managed to completely turn their season around, eventually finishing as high as sixth. Before Leverkusen, Alonso coached Real Madrid's youth team and Real Sociedad's B team, so Leverkusen took a bit of a risk giving the Spaniard his first head coaching appointment.

Intelligent transfer business

So after a very successful start to his time at the club, there’s no wonder Leverkusen decided to back his style of play in the summer transfer window, bringing in players perfectly suited to his system. Very cheaply too.

The biggest name to join was arguably Granit Xhaka who had fallen out of favour with the Arsenal fans last season. The Swiss centre mid plays as a holding midfielder in a very dynamic centre mid partnership with Exequiel Palacios where both has the freedom to roam between the lines to create spaces for each other.

A big part of the attacking creativity for Alonso last season was Moussa Diaby who was sold to Aston Villa in the summer for a club record fee of €55 million. In his place, to carry the creative torch, Jonas Hoffman was bought from Mönchengladbach at just €10 million.

Victor Boniface, the Nigerian striker who has been their top scorer this season was bought for €20 million from Belgian side Royale Union Saint-Gilloise.

Alejandro Grimaldo joined on a free after his contract with Benfica ran out and reported Barcelona interest faded out.

Xhaka, Hoffman, Boniface and Grimaldo have played practically every game and have had a huge part in Leverkusen's success so far this season.

How do they play?

Xabi Alonso's and Leverkusen's style is a combination of the fast transitions of Mourinho and Klopp and the patient build up that Pep Guardiola plays. 

Leverkusen tend to build their play through the middle of the pitch where Xhaka and Palacios combine with the centre halfs and full backs to create opportunities for one-twos to break the pressing lines of the opponents, much like De Zerbi’s Brighton are doing. 

From here they have a number of options, switching sides to create a quick attack in the open space or play patient build up to find the line breaking pass through the middle. Leverkusen has the highest number of passes per game in the Bundesliga, much like Alonso's former boss Pep usually has.

However, when they regain the ball they have strict instructions to first look for the counter attack. Last season, before they had a summer to work on their more intricate passing strategies, this was a tactic that resulted in many goals, and still does to this day.

Risks and looking ahead

So far, the team has been spared any major injuries. Alonso doesn’t like to switch up his starting XI too much but likes to use his subs each game, both to change the game but also to give some players a bit of rest. They’re still in the Europa League so there’ll be a lot of games to play in the spring, hopefully the players can keep fit.

Additionally, with every team going through a break through season like this there’s the risk of it ending with the team being picked apart. Xabi Alonso is already rumoured for a number of major jobs around Europe, like Real Madrid, Liverpool (when Klopp’s contract is up) and Bayern Munich. Florian Wirz is rumoured to be going to Bayern Munich, Boniface has been connected with most top Premier League teams at this point and Frimpong is said to be the target of a few teams in the upcoming winter transfer window.

Hopefully the team can be kept together at least through this winter transfer window and give Alonso and Leverkusen a fair chance to keep going for the title. Breaking up such a dominant winning streak would be great for the perception of competitiveness in the Bundesliga.

If you haven’t seen any Leverkusen games this season, give them a go, they’re a very fun team to watch!

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