From ‘Neverkusen’ to title favorite: Xabi Alonso is Europe’s most wanted coach as Bayer Leverkusen runs away with Bundesliga

From ‘Neverkusen’ to title favorite: Xabi Alonso is Europe’s most wanted coach as Bayer Leverkusen runs away with Bundesliga - Soccer - News

Bayer Leverkusen’s Remarkable Resurgence Under Xabi Alonso: From ‘Neverkusen’ to Bundesliga Frontrunners

Bayer Leverkusen, one of Germany’s most esteemed soccer teams, bearing the nickname ‘Neverkusen,’ is a title that does not bode well for a team renowned for falling short at the final hurdle. This moniker became particularly notable in 2002 when Bayer Leverkusen, featuring the talents of Michael Ballack, Oliver Neuville, Dimitar Berbatov, Lúcio, and Zé Roberto, finished agonizingly close to winning the Bundesliga title, lost the German Cup final, and suffered heartbreak in the Champions League final against Real Madrid due to Zinedine Zidane’s unforgettable volley.

For years, opposition fans have mocked and ridiculed Leverkusen for its inability to clinch major titles, but the club’s fortunes might have finally turned around. Bayer Leverkusen’s renaissance can be attributed to one remarkable figure – Xabi Alonso.

In October 2022, Alonso was appointed as Leverkusen’s head coach, with the team languishing near the bottom of the Bundesliga table. Within just under 18 months, Alonso has steered Leverkusen to the top of the Bundesliga table, captivating fans and reportedly generating significant interest from some of Europe’s elite clubs.

Alonso began his professional soccer career at Real Sociedad before moving to Liverpool in 2004, where he became a crucial figure for the Merseyside club. He played a pivotal role during Liverpool’s historic 2005 Champions League victory in Istanbul. Alonso then spent the following five years at Real Madrid before concluding his playing career with three trophy-filled seasons at Bayern Munich.

Alonso’s international soccer tenure included a decorated career for the Spanish national team, featuring in an illustrious midfield during Spain’s golden era. He earned 114 caps for Spain and won the World Cup once, as well as two contact Championships.

Prior to managing Bayer Leverkusen, Alonso had previously coached Real Madrid’s Under-14 team and Real Sociedad’s B team. Regardless of whether he stays at Leverkusen or moves on at the end of the season, Alonso has already established himself as Europe’s most coveted managerial prospect due to his ability to revitalize Leverkusen and the captivating football exhibited by his players.

Alonso has maintained a steadfast focus on his current job at Leverkusen, assuring the media that “it is normal to have questions but it is not an issue for me.” His team has shown no signs of wavering in their impressive form.

On Sunday, Leverkusen secured a 2-0 victory over rivals Köln in the Rhein derby match, further extending their lead atop the Bundesliga table to 10 points following Bayern’s draw on Friday. The triumph was a testament to Alonso’s impact as his team dominated possession, had the majority of opportunities, and saw two standout players who have flourished under his guidance – defenders Jeremie Frimpong and Alejandro Grimaldo – score the goals.

Grimaldo, who joined in the summer from Benfica with minimal fanfare, has transformed into a potent attacking force, netting nine goals and providing nine assists from his left back position. Frimpong has mirrored Grimaldo’s success with eight goals scored and six assists provided from his right back spot.

Alonso’s tactical deployment of a back three, two defensive midfielders, and adaptable attacking style has left opposing defenses baffled. John Muller of The Athletic described Alonso as wanting “his team to play it short, on the grass and straight up the middle so fast it’ll make your head spin.”

The win marked Leverkusen’s unbeaten run of 34 games in all competitions, leaving the team poised to potentially win its first-ever league title. Leverkusen also advanced to the semifinals of the domestic cup and the round-of-16 stage of the Europa League, providing Alonso with a chance to culminate his second season in first-team management with a hat-trick of trophies.

Despite having 10 games remaining in the Bundesliga season, Leverkusen is the favorite to claim their first league title. With Bayern Munich deciding to part ways with Thomas Tuchel as head coach at the end of the season, Leverkusen’s remarkable resurgence under Xabi Alonso has indeed been a thrilling turn of events.