Bundesliga: Leverkusen's win over Bayern gives them 5 point lead; can they truly have an invincible season?
Bayer Leverkusen, under the guidance of Xabi Alonso, outclasses Bayern Munich with tactical brilliance, extending their Bundesliga lead.
Amidst the highs and lows of Bayern Munich’s season, the criticism, setbacks, and the impressive form of Bayer Leverkusen, a fundamental belief persisted. The notion that Thomas Tuchel's squad, seasoned in securing their 12th consecutive Bundesliga title, would eventually reveal their true prowess in crucial matches. However, their display against Leverkusen defied expectations, constituting not merely a defeat but a humbling experience that struck at Bayern’s core identity.
Bayer Leverkusen outperformed Bayern, showcasing greater speed, hunger, and creativity. Xabi Alonso, Leverkusen's coach, outsmarted Tuchel with inventive player selections, tactical nuances, and strategic use of substitutes. The widening gap at the top of the league to five points, though significant, will be overshadowed by discussions in Germany about Bayern's apparent crisis and frustration.
Thomas Müller expressed his displeasure in a post-match interview, stating, “To be honest, I’m pissed off. To quote Oliver Kahn: what’s missing is balls. It’s OK to feel pressure, but there needs to be energy and freedom. It’s not just about the coach. Sometimes we have to speak about the players.”
Leverkusen, maintaining their belief, seized the moment with Josip Stanisic opening the scoring, Álex Grimaldo securing the game with a goal early in the second half, and Florian Wirtz and Granit Xhaka delivering exceptional performances in midfield. Jeremie Frimpong spectacularly sealed the victory in injury time. Notably, Leverkusen's strength lies in their collective effort rather than individual brilliance. The team operates cohesively, employing interchangeable players with relentless pressing.
Xabi Alonso's unconventional tactics featured a lineup without a recognised striker, with Amine Adli playing as a false nine and Nathan Tella on the right. Stanisic's inclusion over Frimpong further exemplified Alonso's emphasis on flexibility. The team's performance, characterised by artistry, elusiveness, rehearsed strategies, and resilience in critical areas, highlights why Leverkusen stands out in the Bundesliga.
Leverkusen remains unbeaten this season, winning 26 out of 30 matches and scoring an impressive 90 goals. The clash against Bayern, Germany's biggest club, was considered their ultimate test, a challenge to their title aspirations. However, contrary to expectations, Harry Kane faced difficulties, and Thomas Tuchel's side was efficiently dismantled at the BayArena by Alonso's well-drilled team, living up to their 'Werkself' moniker and securing a five-point lead at the league's summit.
Alonso expressed his satisfaction, stating, "We did a great job. The discipline and compactness of the team were excellent. The whole performance was great, with all players delivering top performances. We had numerous chances, while they had almost none. I have a great team, great players - I can't do it alone. We have great energy, and that's the key. There is no secret; the players believe, and that's what we want."
In an ironic twist, the opening goal came from on-loan defender Josip Stanisic, who found the net after 18 minutes against his parent club, turning home Robert Andrich’s driven effort from close range. With Joshua Kimmich absent from the midfield, Bayern's performance lacked flair, despite possessing significant possession. Tuchel's decision to mirror Bayer's back three wasn't effective, forcing Kane to drop deeper to get involved, while Granit Xhaka dictated the play for the hosts, overshadowing his former North London rival.
"We did a great job," said Alonso. "The discipline and compactness of the team was great. The whole performance was great. All players showed top performances. We had enough chances and they had almost no chances.
"I have a great team, great players - I can't do it alone. We have great energy and that's the key. There is no secret. The players believe and that's what we want." said Xavi Alonso