Bayer Leverkusen Are German Champions

Xabi Alonso’s side were crowned Bundesliga Champions after their 5-0 victory over Werder Bremen, their first title in 120 years.

Two years ago, Bayer 04 Leverkusen struggled in the bottom half of the Bundesliga table, sitting second bottom. The club was in complete disarray, underachieving with a good squad and needing a complete tactical and cultural reset; the Leverkusen hierarchy went all in on former Liverpool, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich midfielder Xabi Alonso. 

It was a risky decision by the board, as Alonso had been coaching La Liga side Real Sociedad’s second team. But during Alonso’s fruitful spell in Spain, he slowly became recognized as an excellent tactician and man manager. He guided Real Sociedad B to promotion to the Segunda Division in the lower ranks of Spanish football, their first appearance in the league in over 50 years. 

Alonso stepped into Leverkusen during a tumultuous period, with the team struggling to find footing. 

Bayer began the 21/22 season losing its first seven games, failing to win their first match in all competitions until September 13, when they defeated Atlético Madrid 2-0 in the Champions League. But the poor form continued, as Leverkusen went on a winless run until Alono’s first match in charge, which resulted in a 4-0 thrashing of Schalke on Oct. 8, 2022. 

Under Alonso’s guidance, Leverkusen underwent a remarkable transformation, culminating in an impressive sixth-place finish at the end of the season. In addition to Alonso’s stellar footballing Acumen and interesting tactical setup, he brought in players who perfectly suit his system. 

Bayer Leverkusen set up in a native 3-4-2-1 formation.

Leverkusen is one of the best sides in Europe this season in exploiting space in calm, concentrated build-up plays. Alonso’s teams invite opposition pressure and use the spaces left behind them to exploit. Players in the team, like Jeremie Frimpong and Alejandro Grimaldo, have become crucial in finding these spaces. Their pace and ability to see these transitional spaces have created one of Europe’s most dynamic wing-back duos. 

Alonso sets his side up midfield with a ‘3-2’ box formation. These five midfielders flood the middle of the pitch and push the opposition wide, setting up defensive, counter-pressing traps with their marauding wing-backs. Bayer has become one of the best counter-pressing sides in Europe’s top five divisions. 

Alonso’s tactics are flexible. 

Leverkusen often dominate matches with possession, break down their opposition, and find unique ways to score. However, defensively, they can sit deep, absorb pressure, and hit teams on the break. Alonso has created a system where everyone knows their roles and is comfortable possessing the ball in critical moments and finding/creating the right moment to pass or score the ball. 

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Alonso has further showcased his ability to find the right players to match his system. In his first summer transfer window last year, Leverkusen brought in three players who have been critical to the side’s success this season. 

Switzerland captain Granit Xhaka was brought in from English Premier League side Arsenal. Xhaka was seen as a “hot-headed” player who lacked discipline and enjoyed a tumultuous time in London. However, the midfielder has been an absolute revelation in Germany, showcasing his talents and becoming the centerpiece of Alonso’s midfield. 

Spanish defender Alejandro Grimaldo and Nigerian forward Victor Boniface have also been brilliant signings. Grimaldo is leading the Bundesliga in assists this season, and Boniface has scored 18 goals in all competitions. 

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Alonso has also showcased that he’s made the players who were already at the club even better. In the span of a season, Alonso has turned Leverkusen into one of the most sought-after clubs that hold talent within their ranks. 

Florian Wirtz, who’s been linked with some of Europe’s top clubs this summer, has been brilliant for Leverkusen. He’s been seen as the primary creator of Leverkusen’s attacking play, scoring 17 goals and assisting 18 in all competitions. 

Young defenders Edmond Tapsoba, Piero Hincapie, Nathan Tella, and Jeremie Frimpong have all been cogs to Leverkusen’s brilliant defense this season, conceding only 19 goals in 29 matches.

Leverkusen has been doing this all season without losing a single match. Bayer is undefeated in the Bundesliga, DFB Pokal, and Europa League, still competing on all three fronts and on course to win a historic treble. 

“For sure the expectations, we have overcome the expectations and to play and to win Bundesliga, five games to go with our numbers, with the way we have played, with the way we have deserved most of the results, it’s unbelievable. It’s difficult to put in words, but all the credit goes to so many people, and I’m really happy to be part of it,” stated Alonso in an interview with ESPN after their title win on Sunday.

Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

In 18 months, Alonso shifted the power dynamic in German football, dethroning the nation’s most successful club, Bayern Munich, in his first season. Bayern has won the Bundesliga title 11 times in a row since the 2012/2013 season, becoming the inevitable champions every summer, before the season even begins. 

The former German champions have undergone a difficult season. 

The signing of Harry Kane from Tottenham Hotspur last summer was supposed to be the signing that finally had Bayern replace their former talisman, Robert Lewandowski, and lead the club to a 12th consecutive Bundesliga trophy.

As brilliant as Kane has been in Germany, Bayern needs to improve.

Shocking losses to FC Heidenheim, Bochum, Borussia Dortmund, and Eintracht Frankfurt this season keep Bayern 2nd in the table but an unacceptable 16 points behind Leverkusen. With Thomas Tuchel announcing that he will be stepping down at the end of the season as Bayern boss, rumors within the media pushed the narrative that Alonso would take the job. 

Alonso quickly shot down any rumors that he would be leaving Leverkusen for Munich and Liverpool this summer, as both managers have announced that they will be stepping down at the end of the season. Alonso remains committed to Leverkusen. 

“This is the right place for me to be, to develop as a coach. They gave me so many reasons to keep believing in the team, for their commitment, for their desire, for their hunger to have a great season. I feel that my job is not over here,” stated Alonso in a press conference last month. 

Tom Weller/AP

Bayer Leverkusen remains in the hunt for two more trophies this season. 

Bayer secured their chances of more silverware in the DFB Pokal, dismantling Fortuna Düsseldorf 4-0 at home in the semi-final. The German champions will face Bundesliga 2 side FC Kaiserslautern in the final on May 25. Bayer Leverkusen last won the DFB Pokal in the 92/93 season, defeating Hertha Berlin 1-0. 

Lastly, the Europa League. 

Bayer’s only European silverware was won in 1988, winning the UEFA Cup in a thrilling, two-legged affair against Spanish side Espanyol. 

Alonos’s side leads their quarter-final tie against West Ham United 2-0. They will play the return leg in London and could face AC Milan or AS Roma in the semi-final. 

With Liverpool’s shocking loss against Atalanta last Thursday, Leverkusen is now the favorite to win the Europa League, rated 11/10. All betting odds are courtesy of BetMGM. 

Bayer Leverkusen could be on the verge of a historic treble. Only a handful of matches are left before Xabi Alonso and his side etch themselves further into Leverkusen fan folklore. 

Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters


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