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regular-article-logo Saturday, 18 May 2024

Unbeaten Leverkusen execute flawless plan to win maiden Bundesliga title

The team made sure of their first trophy in 31 years with five matches left in the season, snapping Bayern Munich's 11-year stranglehold on the Bundesliga

Reuters Published 14.04.24, 11:12 PM
Xabi Alonso.

Xabi Alonso. Twitter/@FabrizioRomano

Bayer Leverkusen's record-breaking run to their first Bundesliga title was no fluke, with a 16-month plan coming to fruition.

The team made sure of their first trophy in 31 years with five matches left in the season, snapping Bayern Munich's 11-year stranglehold on the Bundesliga.

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Sunday's 5-0 home victory over Werder Bremen further stretched Leverkusen's Bundesliga record unbeaten run to 29 games - 25 wins and four draws to chalk up 79 points.

Coach Xabi Alonso took over a struggling Leverkusen side in October 2022 with the team second-bottom after eight Bundesliga games, having their worst start to a season since 1979.

After a few months it became clear the Spaniard had successfully injected a winning mentality, with his team racing up the table to finish in sixth place.

But it was during that rise in form in late 2022 when Alonso and the club set the foundations for this season's success.

With all eyes on the World Cup in Qatar, club bosses in Leverkusen sat down with Alonso to map out their transfer plans and put them into action early.

By July 2023 Leverkusen had assembled their full squad and went into pre-season training with no late additions in August or September, as is regularly the case with most teams.

These transfers included experienced Switzerland captain Granit Xhaka, who added steel in midfield, Germany international Jonas Hofmann, Alejandro Grimaldo, who provided nine goals and 11 assists as an attacking left-back having joined on a free transfer, and 23-year-old Nigeria striker Victor Boniface.

Leverkusen took the season by storm from the start, racking up 11 wins in their first 12 league matches with Boniface seemingly scoring at will with 10 goals and seven assists until his injury in January while on international duty.

WINNING FORM

Pundits who had predicted an instant dip in form due to Boniface's absence were proven wrong, with Leverkusen winning all but one league match in his absence to gradually pull away from Bayern.

With the Bavarians' erratic domestic form leading to their decision to part ways with coach Thomas Tuchel at the end of the season, Leverkusen kept on winning with Germany international Florian Wirtz in scintillating form that earned him a widely expected starting spot on the national team for Euro 2024.

Robert Andrich was equally important in their solid midfield and the 29-year-old's performance this season saw him earn his first international caps for Germany.

Long derided as 'Neverkusen' for their failure to win major titles despite coming close in the Bundesliga and also reaching the 2002 Champions League final, Leverkusen this season were anything but floundering in key moments.

Their comeback ability under Alonso has been impressive and never as evident as in March when they twice came from two goals down in their two legs against Qarabag to qualify 5-4 on aggregate in the Europa League round of 16.

They also staged another comeback on March 30 to beat Hoffenheim in the league and underscore their status as champions-in-waiting.

Leverkusen are, however, far from done this season, having reached the German Cup final and taken a 2-0 first-leg lead in their Europa League quarter-final against West Ham United.

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