Leverkusen has a great opportunity to take away Bayern’s title of champions.

Leverkusen has a great opportunity to take away Bayern’s title of champions.


This weekend in the Rhineland marks the carnival, a time of revelry and disorder. It is a world of disguises and ensembles, where individuals can express themselves and explore their potential. On Saturday at the BayArena, there will surely be a plethora of elaborate costumes as Bayer Leverkusen faces off against Bayern Munich in the most important match of the Bundesliga season. It’s a showdown between first and second place, with the challengers taking on the reigning champions and the emerging power challenging the established force. Who are the true contenders? And who is merely putting on a facade?

Xabi Alonso and his team at Leverkusen have been deceiving themselves throughout this campaign. Despite their past failures, which include losing a Champions League final and finishing as runners-up in the Bundesliga four times in six seasons, they have been unable to shake off the nickname “Vizekusen” (a play on the German word for “second”). Despite never winning the title, they currently sit at the top of the table and remain the only unbeaten club in Europe’s top five leagues. They have a chance to extend their lead to five points if they can defeat Bayern under the guidance of Thomas Tuchel.

The two teams are close in points, but their differing mindsets and opportunities set them apart. Bayern has dominated the Bundesliga for the past 11 years and will continue to be top contenders for years to come. On the other hand, Leverkusen cannot make the same guarantees. The same market forces that led to the loss of key players like Kai Havertz and Moussa Diaby in recent years may also result in losing Alonso this summer. Therefore, while Leverkusen has had a successful season, there is also a sense of uncertainty and vulnerability. This could be their best and final opportunity to achieve greatness.

“Might this be the reason for the unique concentration and unity within the Leverkusen team, a collection of individuals fully committed to staying in the moment? No practice runs, no opportunities for do-overs. According to former Leverkusen manager Klaus Toppmöller in his Kicker column this week, “It’s been a while since I’ve seen a team this quick, this aggressive, this tactically sound, and this confident with the ball. Everything is meticulously planned, both offensively and defensively.”

Can you clarify what Alonso, one of the most highly regarded young coaches in Europe, is doing there? It can be difficult to determine at times. His team, Leverkusen, has a complex and ever-changing strategy – a back three that often functions as a four, players switching positions, and a team that excels at both quick attacks and patient possession. Additionally, Alonso himself seems to embody the best coaching techniques from top names in the modern game, having played under Pep Guardiola, José Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Rafa Benítez, and Vicente del Bosque throughout his career.

However, there are certain aspects that cannot be negotiated: technical skills, adaptability, and the use of high wing-backs. There are similarities to Roberto De Zerbi’s tactics at Brighton, as they aim to lure the opposing team in before switching the play elsewhere. Granit Xhaka, who was acquired from Arsenal in the summer, has been a standout performer in the center, making more progressive passes than any other player in Europe. Alongside him, Exequiel Palacios boasts the second-highest dribble success rate in the Bundesliga. In front of them, Florian Wirtz and Adam Hlozek have the freedom to dictate the game, forming a lethal trio with top scorer Victor Boniface.

Xabi Alonso.View image in fullscreen

In Bavaria, there has been a mix of anger and defiance towards the response. Tuchel dismissed it by saying “Two points is not a significant difference,” but he understands more than anyone that this match could determine the success of his career at Bayern. He is aware that the comparisons to Alonso are not meant to be complimentary. Unlike Alonso, Tuchel did not have a notable playing career. His demeanor has been described as curt and distant. There have been reports of tension in the locker room, and his style of play has been criticized for being too reactive (with less possession compared to previous seasons) and relying heavily on Harry Kane’s goals.

However, despite the valid criticism, it can be argued that Tuchel is currently performing better than his predecessor, Julian Nagelsmann, with less resources and against tougher opponents. The team has been greatly affected by injuries, especially in the defense, which resulted in the last-minute signing of Eric Dier in January. Currently, Tuchel is still missing key players such as Alphonso Davies, Kingsley Coman, and Serge Gnabry, while Joshua Kimmich is still recovering from an injury and Manuel Neuer’s availability is uncertain.

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Bayern currently hold a seven-point lead over Nagelsmann’s team from the same time last year. Leverkusen, who have been facing challenges with international call-ups and injuries, have been struggling to replicate their fluid performance from earlier in the season. The loss of Boniface until April is a significant setback for them. Additionally, it is uncertain how the constant rumors surrounding Alonso’s future will affect the team’s well-functioning dynamic and chemistry, as there are potential openings for a new manager at Liverpool, Real Madrid, and Bayern themselves in the summer.

Our past experiences give us insight into what we can anticipate. Bayern will consistently be held to a greater expectation due to their ability to consistently surpass it. They embody the role of champions and it suits them well. This institutional knowledge has enabled them to defeat all rivals for the past 11 years. On the other hand, for Leverkusen, history is not a source of reassurance but rather a challenge to overcome and a facade to discard.

The outcome of Saturday’s match will not determine the championship. However, it may reveal if these two teams are true to their beliefs.

Source: theguardian.com