There are those moments, which are rather rare in practice, when a team only has to implement the clearly formulated instructions of their coach – and then it works again. “Don’t play too fast,” Xabi Alonso advised his players during the half-time break in the game against Darmstadt 98. His Leverkusen team wanted too much too quickly and got bogged down in the process. In the second half, Alonso advised them to pull the opponent apart with cross passes and shifts of play – then gaps would automatically open up.
The players did as they were told and played smartly from then on. A 1:1 became a sovereign 5:1 with impressive values: 25:5 shots on goal, 775:300 passes played and 72 percent ball possession. It was the third Leverkusen victory. Before going to FC Bayern Munich after the Bundesliga break on September 15, they greeted from the top of the table with nine points and 11:3 goals.
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It’s going well for Bayer 04 – and that makes you self-confident and courageous. “We’re not afraid and we’re not going to Munich just to defend,” said Granit Xhaka, who is one of the heads of the team. The Swiss makes no secret of the fact that high, maybe even very high, goals are being aimed for this season. “We want to get something even against such a strong team to see where we really stand,” he explained.
Xhaka, the pacesetter in midfield who came from Arsenal, is one of six interesting additions, four of which have one thing in common: They are already fully integrated in terms of play and tactics. There is the former Gladbacher Jonas Hofmann (30), driven by the ambition to be a decisive part of a top team again in the late phase of his career, which is slowly beginning. On the right wing he replaces Moussa Diaby, who was transferred to Aston Villa for 55 million euros. There was also Alejandro Grimaldo (27), an experienced left-back from Benfica Lisbon – and finally Victor Boniface (22), who finally solved the long-simmering center forward problem. The Nigerian, signed by Belgian first division club Union Saint-Gilloise, has already scored four times.
The only Bundesliga team that is really inspiring in the young season is Leverkusen. Xabi Alonso’s team offers everything fans could wish for: a good structure, spectacular moves, a high hit rate – but also a very stable defence. That gives hope before going to Munich, even if it has mostly ended unsuccessfully in recent years. “This time I have the feeling that we are very solid,” said defender Jonathan Tah. He should know: He played with Bayer at Bayern eight times and lost six times.
Xabi Alonso turned things around
But the time seems right to dispel the prejudice that Leverkusen always fails when it matters most. In any case, the coach is cautiously optimistic about the top game on September 15th. “We’re going there at a good moment,” said Alsonso.
The 41-year-old is, there are no two opinions, the decisive figure for the meanwhile quite stable high. He took over from Gerardo Seoane on October 5, Bayer was second to bottom at the time. Alonso initially proceeded cautiously. With a more defensive orientation, he conveyed stability to the insecure team. Step by step the crew climbed out of the basement. After the winter break, he made the team more offensive: Bayer now played more dominantly and made it to the semi-finals of the Europa League.
Aiming high: coach Xabi Alonso
Source: dpa/Bernd Thissen
In the summer, the Basque was then able to implement his personal ideas on the transfer market: the almost 70 million that could be earned through sales were reinvested – and managing director Fernando Carro, who had warned at the beginning of the year that Bayer had to generate transfer income, even put something on on it: Bayer paid more than 80 million euros for reinforcements, including another 23 million for Nathan Tella (24), a fast right winger who came from Southampton FC.
It seems as if those responsible under the Bayer cross have recognized the uniqueness of the opportunity. A lot seems possible with a top coach who is already being considered a candidate for top international clubs. Mainly because Leverkusen have developed a great attraction: all the new arrivals have emphasized that Alonso was an important factor in coming to Leverkusen. Others, such as the sought-after central defender Edmond Tapsoba (24), who extended his contract until 2026 on Monday, are committed to Alonso’s long-term work at the club.
It is the reputation that precedes world champion and double European champion Alonso. His successes like the Champions League victories in 2005 and 2014 are not that long ago – the current generation of professionals can still do something with them.
“The coach deserves the highest praise,” said Boniface, who has quickly become the new crowd favorite. The team also harmonizes so well because the players hang on Alonso’s every word. “It feels like we’ve been playing together forever,” said the goalscorer. That’s what the Leverkusen team actually have ahead of Bayern at the moment.
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