Bayer Leverkusen has embarked on a dream start to the new Bundesliga season, currently perched atop the league table with a flawless nine points from their first three matches. This achievement marks only the third instance in the club’s history, following the seasons of 2003-04 and 2013-14, where they have initiated a Bundesliga campaign with three consecutive victories.
What sets this season apart is not just their winning streak but also the scintillating attacking style of play orchestrated by Xabi Alonso‘s squad. No other team in the Bundesliga has managed to surpass their impressive tally of 11 goals in the current campaign. Remarkably, this marks the first time in Bayer Leverkusen’s history that they have reached such a goal-scoring milestone within the initial three games of a Bundesliga season.
Bayer Leverkusen’s supporters are understandably optimistic, especially considering the club’s lengthy 31-year wait for a trophy, dating back to their DFB Pokal victory in 1992-93. The strong early form exhibited by the team has ignited hopes of ending this trophy drought. However, the formidable obstacle of Bayern Munich, perennial favorites for the Bundesliga title, looms ahead. Nevertheless, there are promising signs indicating that Leverkusen could emerge as the closest challengers to Bayern Munich in the ongoing season.
Victor Boniface is Supplying Attacking Prowess in the Forward Position
Victor Boniface is supplying attacking prowess in the forward position.
Due to Patrik Schick’s struggles with injuries in the previous season, Bayer Leverkusen often lacked a clinical finisher in the opponent’s penalty area. As a makeshift solution, Florian Wirtz or Amine Adli were occasionally deployed as false nines to address this issue. However, the arrival of Victor Boniface from Union Saint-Gilloise has completely transformed the situation.
The Nigerian, part of a growing contingent of Nigerian talents making an impact in European football, has already notched up four goals and contributed two assists. His total of six goal involvements is the highest among all Bundesliga players after three games this season. When analyzing data dating back to the 2004-05 season, Boniface joins an elite group as only the third Bundesliga player to record six goal involvements in his initial three Bundesliga appearances, following in the footsteps of Dortmund’s Paco Alcácer in 2018 and Erling Haaland in 2020, both of whom managed seven.
The key to Boniface’s rapid success lies in his ability to take a high volume of shots. His 21 shots far surpass any other player in the league, with a seven-shot lead over Bayern’s Harry Kane, who sits in second place with 14 attempts. Notably, in Leverkusen’s 3-0 victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach on Matchday 2, Boniface astonishingly attempted 11 shots, setting a new club record for a Bundesliga match since the 2004-05 season.
With Boniface leading the line, it appears that Xabi Alonso has discovered a dependable source of goals at the forefront of his team’s attack.
Florian Wirtz’s Comeback
Florian Wirtz, who missed the first half of the previous season due to a serious knee injury, made his return at the beginning of 2023. Despite his late start, the exceptionally talented youngster wasted no time and contributed significantly with six assists by the end of the season, making him the top assist provider for Bayer Leverkusen during that period.
Wirtz’s impressive form has carried over into the new season. Alongside his three goal involvements (one goal and two assists), he has already crafted 13 scoring opportunities for his teammates. Among Bundesliga players, only Hoffenheim’s Andrej Kramaric has created more chances, with 15 to his name thus far.
Florian Wirtz’s skill in crafting high-quality opportunities for his teammates will be pivotal if Bayer Leverkusen aims to sustain their impressive beginning. Since his return in January this year, Wirtz has fashioned 13 significant – or clear-cut – chances for his fellow players in the Bundesliga. This tally places him ahead of every other Bundesliga player in this category during that timeframe.
In Midfield, Granit Xhaka is Their New Captain
Seven years after leaving Mönchengladbach for Arsenal, Granit Xhaka has returned to the Bundesliga. He brings with him a wealth of experience, having played 297 competitive matches for Arsenal and won significant trophies. While Arsenal narrowly missed out on the Premier League title to Manchester City last season, Xhaka has won the FA Cup in 2017 and 2020.
Xhaka has smoothly become a part of the Bayer Leverkusen team. He has started in all three of their league matches, playing the full 90 minutes twice and showcasing his leadership abilities on the field.
The former Arsenal player has not only brought his customary defensive prowess to Bayer’s midfield but has also continued to make meaningful contributions in the attacking aspects of the game, much like he did during his time under Mikel Arteta’s management at Arsenal.
Operating as the central midfielder on the left side within Leverkusen’s 3-4-2-1 formation, Granit Xhaka has been granted the freedom to advance and actively contribute to their offensive maneuvers.
Remarkably, within just three games, Xhaka has notched up an impressive four secondary assists, which are the passes leading up to the actual assist. Furthermore, he has executed 52 passes into the attacking third, leading the Bundesliga in both categories. In the midfield category, only Joshua Kimmich has surpassed his 278 passes with 291, and among midfielders who have started in all three matches, Xhaka’s remarkable passing accuracy of 91% is eclipsed only by Bayern Munich’s temporary captain.
A Threat from the Right
Following Moussa Diaby’s departure to Aston Villa, Leverkusen bid farewell to their most prolific contributor in terms of direct goal involvements last season, totaling 17. Alongside Jeremie Frimpong, who frequently operated as a right wing-back, the duo forged an exceptionally potent partnership on Bayer’s right flank.
While Diaby may have moved on, Leverkusen has secured a robust replacement in Jonas Hofmann, who arrived from Borussia Mönchengladbach. Since the commencement of the previous season, Hofmann has directly contributed to 24 Bundesliga goals (13 goals and 11 assists) – a tally surpassed only by Randal Kolo Muani (27). Hofmann has been directly involved in at least two goals in six distinct Bundesliga matches during this period, with only his new teammate Frimpong achieving this feat more frequently (seven times).
In the early stages of the current season, both Frimpong (one goal and three assists) and Hofmann (one goal and two assists) have already played pivotal roles in Leverkusen’s attack, as they aim to continue their success down the right-wing.
A Fresh Playing Approach Introduced by Xabi Alonso
During the 2022-23 season, when Xabi Alonso took charge of Bayer Leverkusen, the team was in a challenging situation, being second from the bottom in the standings. To tackle this, Alonso implemented a practical strategy, mainly concentrating on strengthening the defense. Under his guidance, Leverkusen adopted a deep-lying defensive formation and prioritized launching quick counter-attacks, especially through their fast and direct wingers.
Their pressing was not a constant feature of their play, but when executed, it proved highly effective. Alonso’s team recorded the second-fewest high turnovers (217) in the Bundesliga last season, trailing only Borussia Mönchengladbach (201). However, Leverkusen ranked third in the league for shot-ending turnovers. This was particularly notable as Bayer Leverkusen converted 20% of their high turnovers into shots, the highest percentage in the league. This indicated that while they didn’t engage in high-pressing frequently, they capitalized effectively on the opportunities to do so.
However, this style of play has undergone a significant transformation in the current year. With the departure of Moussa Diaby, who provided a swift outlet on the wing, and the increased comfort of their new signings in possession, Alonso has adjusted his team’s playing style during the summer.
The most striking change is how Bayer Leverkusen has significantly increased their positioning higher up the pitch. Their pressing is now a more consistent feature, and they initiate their attacking phases almost five meters higher on the field compared to the previous season.
Furthermore, their approach to possession has undergone substantial alterations. They now heavily rely on extended passing sequences to disrupt their opponents’ defensive formations. In the current 2023-24 season, Leverkusen has successfully executed 65 open-play sequences comprising at least 10 passes, a figure that clearly leads the league in this category. Their average of 640 passes per match also underscores their commitment to this new style of play.
These statistics are surely a source of satisfaction for Xabi Alonso. The Spanish coach, known for his impressive record as one of just three Bundesliga players in recorded history to have made over 200 passes in a single Bundesliga match, is well-acquainted with controlling possession.
After already displaying his managerial skills by leading his team to a 2-1 win against his former club in March, Alonso will certainly be eager to demonstrate, on his initial return to Munich, that his team can play a significant role in the title race this season.
Xabi Alonso’s Rise as a Potential Real Madrid Manager
With Carlo Ancelotti set to leave the Bernabeu this summer, the Blancos’ former midfielder is putting himself in the frame to step into his shoes.
Turning the Tide at Bayer Leverkusen
A closer look at how Xabi Alonso transformed Bayer Leverkusen into a Bundesliga contender.
In a recent video from Bayer Leverkusen’s training session, Xabi Alonso showcased his leadership skills, both as a manager and a player. This moment epitomizes his tenure at the club since taking over in October 2022. Under his guidance, Leverkusen has experienced a remarkable turnaround, rising from the lower ranks of the Bundesliga to becoming a serious challenger to Bayern Munich. This transformation has not only seen a shift in results but also in the style of play and defensive stability.
A Surprising Start
When Xabi Alonso was appointed as the manager of Bayer Leverkusen, expectations were modest. He had limited managerial experience, primarily overseeing Real Sociedad’s reserve team. However, his pedigree as a player under top-tier coaches like Rafa Benitez, Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, and Carlo Ancelotti quickly became evident. Leverkusen’s initial results were mixed, but they showed glimpses of promise, particularly in games against Union Berlin, Koln, and Atletico Madrid.
Moussa Diaby and Jeremie Frimpong emerged as key players, and the team’s defensive performance significantly improved under Alonso’s guidance. His tactical acumen was on full display as he introduced a three-man defense that bolstered Leverkusen’s backline.
A Dominant Spring
The turning point in Leverkusen’s season came in the spring of 2022-23. Despite exiting the Champions League group stage, Alonso’s team displayed their mettle by defeating Monaco in the Europa League and putting four goals past Union Saint-Gilloise. The highlight was a memorable victory over Bayern Munich, signaling Leverkusen’s resurgence and their ability to compete at the highest level.
Smart Tactical Adjustments and Transfer Activity
Recognizing the need for squad restructuring, Alonso made astute signings like Granit Xhaka, Nathaniel Tella, Josip Stanisic, and Victor Boniface. He also adjusted his tactical approach, deploying a 3-4-2-1 system that played to the team’s strengths, ensuring both defensive solidity and attacking potency.
Not in Germany for Long
While Alonso’s success at Leverkusen bodes well for the club’s future, it raises questions about his long-term stay. Despite signing a contract extension until 2026, his name is already being linked to top managerial positions, including a potential role at Real Madrid, where Carlo Ancelotti is set to depart this summer.
Xabi Alonso’s journey from an untested manager to a potential candidate for one of the most prestigious coaching positions in football is a testament to his talent and adaptability. His time at Bayer Leverkusen has been marked by remarkable improvements, both in results and team dynamics, making him a rising star in the managerial world.