Xabi Alonso’s dismantling of Bayern shows Leverkusen can ‘end tyranny’

<span>Xabi Alonso allows himself a wry smile as <a class=The players of Bayer Leverkusen go crazy after Jeremy Frimpong eliminates Bayern.Photo: Martin Meissner/AP” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/UmtyOOBJo8ewR9o6D_FvNw–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/d8620d3c424feca4a612d6 98b3b58b4a” data-src= “https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/UmtyOOBJo8ewR9o6D_FvNw–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/d8620d3c424feca4a612d698b3 b58b4a”/>

The Bundesliga had been waiting for this for a long time. On the rare occasion that a contender emerges to truly challenge Bayern Munich, we are left wincing at the moment of impact. If it seems too good to be true, it has normally been a run of eleven consecutive titles. Yet this time Bayer Leverkusen was not alone ready to compete. They were willing to dominate on their terms, to dictate, and to emphasize their excellence in bold print. This time it seems like it’s real.

This takes us back in time almost 13 years, to February 26, 2011. Another Saturday evening TopSpiel and another title contender’s statement about late winter’s intention on the big stage. On the night Jürgen Klopp’s young Borussia Dortmund took to the Allianz Arena and swept aside the hosts with verve – ending Louis van Gaal’s success on the spot – they announced themselves to Planet Football. They were not just a curiosity, not a few lines with a distracting football overview, but serious players.

Related: Stanisic and Grimaldo stun Bayern and extend Leverkusen’s lead in Bundesliga

This weekend was Leverkusen’s coming out party. As well as dedicated Bundesliga viewers, there were also looks of recognition shot at Xabi Alonso, especially in the aftermath of the unfolding coda to Klopp’s year-long triumph at Liverpool. However, this showed the world exactly what Leverkusen stands for under Alonso; the complete brochure in glossy color, PowerPoint presentation with champagne brunch, accompanying light show and fireworks finale on the forecourt. Leverkusen is not only the pacesetter in this Bundesliga title race. They are the leaders, they are still undefeated and they are simply the best team in Germany.

The quality of football in Leverkusen’s season was so good, and not just the results, that Bayern’s visit had been expected for months. When the moment came, Leverkusen was ready, and the champions were not. This was a glorious procession, a dismantling, a demolition from beginning to end. At the end of the carnival week in the region (in case you needed a reminder: the parents of the irrepressible Florian Wirtz were in the stands in green wigs) this was carnival football from Leverkusen.

Of course it was carnival all week and you can’t underestimate how important Tuesday evening’s thrilling 3-2 win over Stuttgart in the DfB Pokal quarter-final, via Jonathan Tah’s last-minute winner, had been – beating one of the best players. There are teams in the area right now, who have twice come from behind, blazed a clear path to silverware (with two second-tier teams and possibly a third-tier team in the final four) and managed to get into the moment instead of focusing on the bogeyman looming on Saturday’s horizon. Nothing describes more clearly the change in equilibrium under Alonso. From Neverkusen to Neverlosen perhaps.

You can be forgiven for not anticipating this. It was not cynical to imagine that Leverkusen simply could not maintain the pace of the early season, hit by the loss of a number of players for the Africa Cup of Nations and, subsequently, the prolonged absence of their centre-forward Victor. Boniface. Instead, these setbacks have allowed Alonso to explicitly underline his own wisdom and versatility, as highlighted in this exuberant victory. Nathan Tella, who was given sparing minutes by Alonso before Christmas but given more control in 2024, has been keen to take advantage of opportunities since. Preferred over Jeremy Frimpong, one of the mainstays of the season, he justified the belief, remained lively and created the second goal for Alex Grimaldo with a clever pass.

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There was Frimpong himself, who sat on the bench and started as a finisher, running a tired Bayern even more ragged in the closing stages before closing the game with the final touch, leaving a trio of defenders behind him and leveling the score. made 3-0. from far out, with Manuel Neuer stranded a few acres behind him after desperately advancing for a corner. Alonso had chosen to start the match without an orthodox striker, as he was confident he would receive attacking threats all over the pitch. As with most tactical decisions he makes, it worked to perfection.

Poor Thomas Tuchel paled in comparison. He switched to an unfamiliar back three, presumably to try and match the home side’s form, and it was largely a shambles. Sacha Boey, a surprisingly sensible signing in January brought in to secure the long term at right-back, found himself in a makeshift left-back role on his first start in the Bundesliga, and Bayern were uncertain and reactive across the globe. Perhaps the fact that the opposition is overthinking things and tying themselves in knots is another acknowledgment of Alonso’s growing charisma. “We were,” admitted Robert Andrich, who provided the opener for Josip Stanisic (scoring against his parent club), “a bit surprised by Bayern’s formation.”

However, this was not just about tactics, but also about the appetite for big matches. “We are missing, if I may quote Oliver Kahn, a few balls,” a visibly furious Thomas Müller told Sky. Bayern were not only disjointed, but also lacked intensity. They were pedestrians. Noussair Mazraoui had the only attempt on target, but it was so innocuous that Lukas Hradecky could hardly get a catch. Harry Kane was chained and only got eighteen touches.

Tuchel, who has never minced his words since his arrival, complained that “we made incredibly bad decisions, especially after we won the ball”. This was the kind of result and performance that would have cost previous Bayern coaches their jobs, although there is unlikely to be the stability above to pose an immediate threat to him. Bild got into the spirit of things by reporting on Sunday that José Mourinho is learning German. Bayern lacks direction on and off the field.

As for Leverkusen’s now five-point lead, Bayern was five points behind Dortmund at exactly this point five years ago, a year in which the perennial champions recovered to win the title by two points on the final day. The numbers may be the same at this point, but the flow of momentum is very different. All this means that Leverkusen is “on the right track to end tyranny,” as Hradecky said in an interview with Philipp Selldorf of the Süddeutsche Zeitung last week. And in terms of points, it is not even necessary that Bayern lost its excellence. It has been the same, as they showed the world on Saturday, that Leverkusen is extraordinary.

Hoffenheim 1-1 Cologne, Stuttgart 3-1 Mainz, Leverkusen 3-0 Bayern, Augsburg 2-2 RB Leipzig, Eintracht Frankfurt 1-1 VfL Bochum, Borussia Mönchengladbach 0-0 Darmstadt, Union Berlin 1-0 Wolfsburg, Werder Bremen 1 -2 Heidenheim, Dortmund 3-0 Freiburg.

Discussion points

• After weeks of disruption, anti-investor protests have gone up a notch as Bundesliga fans in the top two divisions continue to make clear their opposition to public equity investments. Friday evenings Nordduell between Hamburg and Hannover was almost abandoned – with a particularly invigorating banner from Hannover MD Martin Kind in the crosshairs – and several lengthy stoppages followed on Saturday, including Danilho Doekhi scoring Union’s winner against Wolfsburg in the 25th minute of stoppage time of the first half after a break to collect tennis balls from the court. Players and coaches are conflicted between sympathizing with the fans and recognizing that this situation cannot continue. “Protest should hurt,” Union’s suspended captain Christopher Trimmel told Sky during the break, “otherwise you won’t hear it. From a player’s perspective, this is not ideal for rhythm.”

• Finally, some very good news on Dortmund’s 3-0 win over Freiburg, with Mateu Morey making a long-awaited comeback from persistent knee problems with a late substitute, his first appearance since May 2021.







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Werder Bremen






VfL Bochum


Borussia M’gladbach


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