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Xabi Alonso’s 2023 Bayer Leverkusen

Xabi Alonso temporada absurda bayer leverkusen amazing season 2023/24

The performance of Bayer Leverkusen in the 2023/24 season under the command of Xabi Alonso has been absolutely astounding.

Here, we’ll address the factors contributing to the success of the German team so far.

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The commander’s path: Xabi Alonso

Everyone in the football world knows the figure of Xabi Alonso.

For those who are a bit younger and perhaps not familiar with his football background, here’s some information.

Alonso played as a midfielder during his career. He was an excellent player in his position, always highly praised by his coaches in various fields, especially in three main aspects: positioning, technique, and leadership.

The midfielder had an astonishing career. Developed in the youth ranks of Real Sociedad, he was bought by Liverpool for €16 million in 2004.

There, under Rafa Benítez’s command, he became a Champions League winner in the historic final against Milan.

He stayed in England until 2009 when he joined another generation of Galácticos at Real Madrid, being purchased for €35 million.

He enjoyed years of success in Spain. In 2014, upon Pep Guardiola’s request, Bayern Munich bought him for €9 million. As customary in his career, he was highly victorious and concluded his professional tenure in Germany in 2017.

This is not to mention his fundamental role leading one of the greatest national team generations in history. Wearing the Fúria’s shirt, he was a two-time Euro winner and a World Cup champion.

What not everyone knows is that Xabi Alonso grew up in a football environment.

His father, Periko Alonso, like his son, was a player for Real Sociedad in the ’70s. He also played for Barcelona in the ’80s.

After his career as an athlete, he was also a coach, with another stint at Real Sociedad.

Hence, this is an inheritance that cannot be erased. Undoubtedly, from his development as a player in childhood, Xabi was guided by his father to observe spaces and understand the game’s dynamics—crucial points that he carries to this day.

Sometimes we need to acknowledge that luck and talent go hand in hand.

The midfielder had an incredibly privileged career concerning the coaches who led him.

He arrived at Liverpool under Rafa Benítez, who had a reactive style of play, often disposing of the ball and applying a transition in speed. Xabi was crucial in this scheme to mark and guide the area’s protection, as well as to vertically pass when recovering the ball – concepts he learned that we’ll see further ahead.

Next, he joined Real Madrid to be coached by José Mourinho. The Portuguese coach needs no introduction, especially when it comes to envisioning game schemes that favor specific characteristics of his squad’s players. Furthermore, a coach who emphasizes dedication and intensity regardless of ball possession, imposing leadership and earning the respect of his athletes – concepts he learned that we’ll see further ahead.

Entre José Mourinho e Xabi Alonso há uma profecia para cumprir | MAISFUTEBOL

Image: Reproduction Mais Futebol

Finally, the one considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, coach in football history, Pep Guardiola. With his compatriot, Xabi learned and executed with mastery the concepts of positional play and the requirements to develop a passing system to find spaces in a fraction of a second.

Not to mention the teachings of the great Vicente del Bosque in the Spanish National Team.

He started his coaching career in the Real Madrid youth ranks. Not bad. He stayed there as a kind of apprenticeship for just one year.

In 2019, he took over Real Sociedad B, the popular Sanse, competing in the third division of the Spanish Championship. He managed 90 games with the team, securing 40 victories, 23 draws, and 35 defeats.

When he took over the team, Sanse was in the third division of the Spanish League. With Xabi, they secured promotion to La Liga B in the 2021/22 season.

However, the team couldn’t maintain a good rhythm and ended the competition in 20th place, being relegated back to the third division.

In the current season, already without Xabi Alonso for 18 months, they are in fourth place in Group A of the third division, eligible for promotion playoffs.

This proves that in football, daring and a project are fundamental. Bayer Leverkusen wanted a fresh start. The bet was a coach who couldn’t even maintain himself in the Spanish second division. But he had ideas, leadership, and a style of play.

The bet was already won in the arrival season. He arrived in Leverkusen in October 2022 to manage the local team.

Alonso replaced coach Gerardo Seoane, who hadn’t been achieving good results with the team.

Right away, Xabi started implementing his style of play, focusing on young players, who form the majority of the team’s base.

The end result was a fantastic 6th place in the Bundesliga, qualifying for the Europa League, and the hope for an illuminated 2023/24.

Xabi Alonso fala do poder de Guardiola nas partidas

Image: AFP

The 2023/24 season of Bayer Leverkusen

Team formation

For the 2023/24 season, Leverkusen lost important and highly promising players. Especially Dutchman Bakker, sold to Atalanta for €10 million, and Moussa Diaby, bought by Aston Villa for €55 million.

With cash in hand, the German team, its coach, and scouting department did a spectacular job.

They sought three young players with a lot of future prospects: Tella from Southampton; Boniface from Union SG, and Arthur from América-MG.

The first two had immediate success, especially Boniface. The centre-forward had a sensational last season for the Belgian team, with excellent performances in the Europa League. He fitted seamlessly into Xabi Alonso’s system.

To blend with the youngsters, he brought in the experience of Xhaka, Grimaldo, and Hofmann. The synergy between the new signings and the existing players was impressive.

The team has an original formation based on the 5-2-3. Uncommon, isn’t it?

The defensive trio is formed by Kossounou, Tah (central), and Tapsoba. On the flanks, the unlikely “stars” of the team, Frimpong and Grimaldo.

In midfield, the double pivot, Palacios and Xhaka. Upfront, the false wingers Wirtz and Hofmann, finishing with Boniface as the centre-forward.

Despite this team being considered the starting lineup, Xabi promotes significant rotation within the squad, utilizing many players and giving them considerable playing time, primarily distributed among cup matches, both domestic and international.

And the so-called reserves have performed as well as the starters. Players like Tella, Adli, and Hlozek stand out in this rotation between cups and leagues. Even with the coach’s complex playing style, they and the whole team have managed to understand the demanded mechanisms well.

Thus, Leverkusen was the only team to finish the Europa League group stage with a 100% record.

Granit Xhaka: Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen's unsung hero | Bundesliga

Image: DFL

Tactical variation and style of play

We can confidently say that Xabi Alonso is revolutionizing football.

Using the word ‘revolutionize’ might seem strange, but we use it in the sense of bringing something new, never seen before, in an extremely innovative way.

As mentioned, the team is set up in a 5-2-3, a highly atypical scheme, especially in the era of the eternal 4-3-3.

In attack, Alonso’s clear intention is to widen the field as much as possible. To achieve this, he assigns very specific roles to the full-backs, who assume a unique role in the team’s scheme.

What’s most impressive is that, in recent times, the full-back position has been neglected, leading players in that position to play monotonous roles, causing a general deficiency in that area of the field.

Thus, Frimpong and Grimaldo, along with Wirtz and Hofmann, are open in their respective wings, causing the opponent’s midfield to stretch to meet the demands coming from the flanks.

When this happens, there’s space in the midfield and the area’s entry for Xhaka and Palacios to act. When involved, they don’t only have the centre-forward, Boniface, to serve, but also the wingers and full-backs.

In other words, Grimaldo and Frimpong are involved in almost all team actions. For this reason, they respectively have 9 goals and 7 assists, and 7 goals and 9 assists.

These numbers are astounding. Top-tier European full-backs spend entire careers with goal involvements lower than theirs in this season, which isn’t even halfway through.

Other very interesting aspects are the marks of the coaches who trained Alonso throughout his career. Widening the field requires a lot of positional awareness and discipline, acquired from Guardiola.

On the other hand, he highly values defensive consistency. In the current season, in 24 games, Leverkusen has scored 77 goals and conceded only 18.

To avoid exposing the defensive system, the team’s block, whether low, medium, or high, is always very compact. But not just that, he innovates once again.

When pressing the opponent’s ball exit, he mirrors the full-backs’ marking. In other words, instead of waiting for the marking in line with their defenders, Grimaldo and Frimpong surpass the line of their own attackers, marking the opposition full-backs.

This way, the team achieves numerical superiority in defense, and if recovered, there will also be numerical superiority in attack. A splendid mark of compactness, marking, and intensity learned from José Mourinho’s school.

Currently, Leverkusen leads the Bundesliga with 39 points, followed by Bayern Munich with 35, but with a game in hand.

Do you believe Leverkusen will secure their long-awaited Bundesliga title? And the Europa League? And the Pokal? They are alive and playing leading roles in all competitions.

How Grimaldo and Frimpong are helping Leverkusen overwhelm Bundesliga defences - The Athletic

Image: Reproduction The Athletic

Written by Vitor F L Miller.

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Tags: Bundesliga

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