Bundesliga is going to have a competitive title race this season courtesy of Xabi Alonso. This is a sentence that has been hardly used for the German league. The reason being Bayern Munich’s domination in the league since 2013. The Bavarians have won the last 11 seasons, facing only a few challenges during this period. This time, though, something has changed. Bayern Munich is third in the table, and the two teams above them, Stuttgart and Bayer Leverkusen, have played some brilliant football. While Stuttgart have been heavily reliant on goal-scoring phenom Serhou Guirassy, Bayer Leverkusen have a far more balanced squad, which is being led by Xabi Alonso, who is slowly making his name in the managerial circuit across Europe.
Even before he took charge at the BayArena, Alonso had a fairly limited career as a manager, with his only stint coming with Real Sociedad’s youth and B team. However, he has taken like a duck to water since taking charge in October 2022.
So, how did the talented Spaniard do it in a span of one year?
Bayer Leverkusen stats and playing style
When Alonso took charge of the club, they were second from bottom. Alonso made an immediate impact, winning six of his first ten games. In fact, Alonso took Bayer Leverkusen on two five-game winning streaks in the season. Bayer Leverkusen was the fourth-best team in the league.
After ending the season in sixth place, the club strengthened their squad over the summer, adding players such as Nathan Tella, Granit Xhaka, and Jonas Hofman. However, their best buy was Victor Boniface, one of the most in-form players across the continent.
And the results have been massive. Alonso is a big proponent of Gegenpress, especially in the opposition’s half. This is a quality that he admired about Pep Guardiola when he played under him at Bayern Munich.
This is why they have been consistently pressing their opponent. Data from Soccerment show that Leverkusen has a Gegenpressing Intensity % (GPI) of 61.38, the second-best in Europe. They are also one of the best teams in terms of Field Tilt, which measures the percentage of possession a team has in their opponents’ half.
This high press style suffocates their rivals, forcing them to commit mistakes and give the ball away close to their goal. Winning the ball high up the pitch also ensures a team has a high chance of creating goal-scoring opportunities. No team has created more big chances in the top five leagues than Leverkusen.
Another great area where Leverkusen have improved massively is the midfield, and that has been largely down to the addition of Granit Xhaka. The experienced Swiss international has brought steel to the midfield and ensured the team aren’t dominated in the middle of the park.
Analysing Bayer Leverkusen tactics
Under Xabi Alonso, Bayer Leverkusen play a 3-4-2-1. The motive of this formation is simple: use the wing backs to stretch the field as large as possible, while Boniface is aided by two attacking players who play in the two inside channels.
However, while this system may be effective, it requires a lot of effort from the players. This requires squad depth, which is what Leverkusen achieved at the end of the transfer market. So, while the back three may consist of talented players such as Odilon Kossounou, Jonathan Tah, and Edmond Tapsoba, should anything happen to them, they have an adequate replacement in Piero Hincapie.
Similarly, in midfield, Xhaka and Exequiel Palacios keep things simple, retaining the ball and creating multiple passing options, especially to Florian Wirtz, who is a number ten, or to the two backs in Alex Grimaldo and Jeremier Frimpong.
Grimaldo has especially been give the licence to go up the pitch and ping the ball into the box. The other scoring opportunities are created by the smartly made turns by Jonas Hofmann and Florian Wirtz duo. These two form a deadly passing partnership with Xhaka and Palacios.
The quartet forms various passing lines through their vision and quick movement, which leaves the opponent usually chasing shadows. Wirtz, who missed last season due to an injury, has stepped up massively being the creator-in-chief for the team. He and Hofman have created 42 chances for the team, more than any duo across the top five leagues, which is why Leverkusen has been scoring goals plenty.
Bayer Leverkusen key players in squad: Goals and Assists
One great thing about Leverkusen’s squad is that they are not over-reliant on any single player. While Boniface provides the goal, Hofmann and Wirtz create it. In fact, Xhaka and Palacios have also massively improved their attacking game this season. Palacios has won 18 fouls for his team, the joint-most in the league, while Xhaka has delivered the second-most through balls in the league.
In defence, the triumvirate of Tah, Kossounou, and Tapsoba have kept things simple, starting the play from the back and expertly breaking the opposition’s high press. And once the ball reaches the midfield, it is tough for the opposition to regain possession.
Moreover, the squad also has quality replacements on the bench, which ensures that even in the event of an injury or suspension, the quality of the team does not take a hit.
Leverkusen possesses all the qualities that a team requires to stop the Bayern Munich juggernaut. Whatever happens, come May this season, the Bundesliga will have one heck of a race to xbe crowned champions.