The 2023/24 Bundesliga season was not expected to turn out in the manner it has. After an enormously successful off-season for the German champions, Bayern Munich, everyone prepared for the Bavarian juggernaut to steamroll the league as it had done previously. With the acquisition of Kim Min Jae and Harry Kane to bolster their ranks, it was guaranteed to pan out like it had previously done. Apart from the anomaly that has been Bayer Leverkusen.
Die Werkself have surpassed all expectations as the season enters its second leg. They sit pretty at the top of the Bundesliga, unbeaten, with 42 points from 16 games, four points ahead of Bayern. But is their hype and success warranted? Or is it a stroke of luck has blessed them at the right point of time to guide them to the top, potentially jeopardizing the consecutive dynasty of the Bavarian giants?
The prodigal coach
One of their best dealings in the past couple of years was expected to be the Kai Havertz sale to Chelsea. But with the latest arrival of Xabi Alonso and what he has brought to this team, there is hardly anyone who will disagree that he is the masterstroke acquisition in recent memory. Having taken over in the first half of 2022/23, he has managed to guide the team past their tricky beginnings and find firm footing in the league.
Their stability was also reflected in the fact that Bayer Leverkusen managed to reach the semi-finals of the UEFA Europa League, losing out to José Mourinho’s Roma. But the real blessing that he has brought to this team is visible in the underlying numbers of this team.
So far, from their 16 games this season, Leverkusen have put up an XG of 33.7, while conceding an XG against of just 15.5. This depicts their ability to starve out opponents without blunting their attack. When compared to the actual numbers, it also highlights the potent ability of the squad he has at his helm, as this Leverkusen side has scored 46 goals while conceding just 12.
While his tactics and methods have worked wonders for the team, some credit does lie on the shoulders of the players leading the title charge.
Exorbitant youth prospects
Xabi Alonso has quite the talent pool at his disposal to work with. Alongside the experienced heads of Álex Grimaldo, Jonas Hoffman, Lukáš Hrádecký, and Granit Xhaka, he has exuberant talents like Florian Wirtz, Victor Boniface, and Jeremie Frimpong. Boniface leads the line for Leverkusen with 10 goals and 7 assists in just 16 games and 1,276 mins. Beyond Boniface, four more players have more than five assists so far this season, aiding Bayer Leverkusen’s attack.
The blend of extremely talented youth and experienced heads has allowed Xabi Alonso to bring out the best in his team. While also ensuring the quality and his methods are exercised to the fullest, as is depicted in the fact that they haven’t lost a single game this season, domestically or in continental play.
While it is just been the first half of the season, signs are promising enough for Bayer Leverkusen and Xabi Alonso to suggest that it’s more than just sheer luck. Whether they can maintain it for a stretch of a whole season will be the true test of their depth as the season grows longer.