Can Bayer Leverkusen Win Their First Bundesliga Title Under Xabi Alonso?

Having won each of the last 11 Bundesliga titles, Bayern Munich’s dynasty is under threat with Bayer Leverkusen pushing for their first-ever league title under Spanish manager Xabi Alonso. They are the sole team in Europe who have yet to suffer defeat in all competitions, and they sit five points clear of Bayern in first place and are the odds-on favorite to take home the championship with 13 matches left. Today, we’re diving deep into the tactics behind Leverkusen’s invincible start to the season and whether or not they can sustain their treble charge.


Bayer Leverkusen typically builds in a 3-4-2-1 set up with two wing backs and two 10s just residing in the half spaces. The two holding midfielders receive from the center backs and play quick, direct passes into the 10s in the half spaces or the wingbacks. The wide players’ high positioning during possession allows the dynamic wing-backs to surge forward with pace allowing for a variety of passing options. They control their games majorly off and on the ball. 


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Leverkusen constantly bait the opposition press and hereby create a large majority of their chances through the middle when the opposition start to leave too many gaps. There is space for their 10s to play through to the striker or the wing backs who would be in advanced situations.


Their wingbacks benefit a lot offensively as a result of this method since they can both cross really well and hit the ball efficiently. The left wing back specifically also benefits from switches of play into zones he can arrive at. Their wingbacks have a total of 31 goal contributions amongst themselves in the league only. Quick yet patient direct passing is the key attacking style of Bayer Leverkusen and the team is able to embody just that with the type of players they have.


Out of possession, their shape is outstanding. They often use a 5-4-1 with the centre backs  going man-to-man against the opposition while the front three do it against the opposition defence. However, they have also defended in a 5-2-3 shape or even a 4-4-2 depending on the opposition. Alonso utilises a counter-press to put opponents under threat on the ball and generate turnovers high up the pitch. 



Xabi Alonso is flexible with the way Bayer Leverkusen set up without the ball. We saw this with the way he set his front 6 to press in a way that blocked progression from Bayern’s center backs. Amine Adli, Nathan Tella and Florian Wirtz kept them on their toes all game and Granit Xhaka- RobertAndrich recovered and intercepted the ball whenever Bayern tried to force a pass through when they got impatient. It was a bane to Thomas Tuchel’s tactical ideas.


However, the defensive shape while being solid can easily be bypassed at times by teams who have big and strong target men who can win aerial duels from long balls. This is the method by which RB Leipzig hurt them in their recent 3-2 win. It also appears that they are a bit weak defending set pieces. At other times, due to the Bundesliga having some of the best teams in transition, the wingbacks cannot cover ground on time to get into shape to stop attacks. The pros of this system outweigh the cons still. Xabi’s style gives them the best chance of winning games reliably and with dominance.


The Personnel


“Tactics is which type of players we have, their skills, and you adapt to the quality” – Pep Guardiola, 2023.


As much as the manager sets up his team, the players have to play. This current crop of Bayer Leverkusen players are fighters. A proper blend of technical quality and physical dominance all around. Alex Grimaldo, Florian Wirtz, Exequiel Palacios, Victor Boniface, Granit Xhaka, Jonathan Tah, Jeremie Frimpong, Piero Hincapie, Odilon Kossonou and the rest. A great team with a system that brings the best of the strength of the individuals in it and masks most of their flaws. Florian Wirtz and Jonas Hoffman excel in the half spaces where it brings the best of Wirtz’s creativity and Hoffman’s desire to be close to the box.


 Victor Okoh Boniface, a striker with the technical and physical profile to hold and link up play as well as score frequently too. From, this is how Boniface has played this season in comparison to the league’s best striker, Harry Kane.



Granit Xhaka and Exequiel Palacios, the first-choice central midfielders are the biggest pieces of this puzzle. Their strength  in duels, the way one of them constantly joins in attacking rotations while the other sits, the progression from Xhaka and the press resistance of Palacios.



 Even players who have regularly come off the bench like Josip Stanisic or Robert Andrich have played to the best of their abilities and look like naturals in this side, with Andrich scoring a cracker in their 3-2 win vs. Stuttgart in the cup, whilst Stanisic opened the scoring against his parent club in a 3-0 win vs. Bayern. It’s a major reason why Leverkusen are still firing on all fronts despite injuries to their starters as well as international duty taking some of their players. Grimaldo, the best at what he does in the world this season. His ball striking, crossing, set pieces, dribbling and overall efficiency have been out of this world.



Whilst Grimaldo has instantly adapted to life in Germany, Jeremie Frimpong has put in a shift as a right wingback, chipping in 8 goals and 10 assists in 27 appearances, coming off the bench and scoring in their win against Bayern. Players like Nathan Tella and Amine Adli all performing well with limited opportunities. Lukas Hradecky putting in a shift as well. Xabi Alonso’s system is well tailored to these individuals and this gives them the best possible chance of winning games reliably.




It has been 22 years since Bayer Leverkusen came within inches of securing a treble, only to lose in the UEFA Champions League Final, the DFB-Pokal Final and miss out on the league title by a point to Borussia Dortmund. Today, they have a golden opportunity to wipe away the Neverkusen tag and not only come away with their first-ever Bundesliga title, but their first European trophy in 36 years. Leverkusen are the only team that emerged with six wins from six in the Europa League group stage, and they’ll be dreaming of a trip to the final in Dublin, having come within inches of doing so in 2023 only to lose 1-0 on aggregate Roma in the semifinals.


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Xabi Alonso’s side will be facing off against second-tier Fortuna Dusseldorf in the DFB-Pokal semifinal on April 3, and if they can win, they’ll be one step closer to winning their first major silverware since the 1992/93 DFB-Pokal. Their potential opponents in the final: second-tier Kaiserslauten, third-tier Saarbrucken, or Gladbach (13th in the Bundesliga).


By: @princerequiem7

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / BSR Agency – Getty Images