Five years after ending a glorious playing career with Bayern Munich, Xabi Alonso took his first head coaching job with Bayer Leverkusen, having spent the past three years in charge of Real Sociedad’s B team. Following an illustrious chapter that would see him win the Champions League with Real Madrid and Liverpool as well as two European Championships and a World Cup with Spain, the former midfielder took charge of a Leverkusen side that sat second from bottom in the table with five points from their first eight matches.
Having played under the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Vicente del Bosque, Carlo Ancelotti, and Rafa Benítez, expectations were high for Alonso, and he delivered, guiding Leverkusen to a sixth-place finish in the league and qualification to the UEFA Europa League group stage. After failing to advance to the knockout round in the Champions League, Leverkusen beat Monaco, Ferencváros, and Union Saint-Gilloise only to narrowly lose to Mourinho’s Roma in the Europa League semifinals.
He replaced Gerardo Seoane — who played a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 at Leverkusen — and changed the team’s setup. In possession, Alonso lines his team up in a 3-4-3 formation, focused on constructing possession and spreading the defense. Alonso’s side builds out of the back with three central defenders, looking to find one of the central dual pivots and break the opposition lines.
The strength of Leverkusen is their center attacking midfielders and Alonso focuses the team to find these players who operate as playmakers helping find teammates and leading them to goalscoring chances. The wide wingbacks, who were Frimpong and Bakker stretch wide forcing the opposition to stretch their defense which opens space and passing channels for central players to operate.
Off the ball, Leverkusen operate in a 5-2-3 and are aggressive at pressing high up the pitch in order to regain possession. By having three attacking forwards, the opposition’s back line is under immediate danger and the wide backs of Leverkusen press the opposition’s wingers or fullbacks. While only being weak defensively in the middle of the pitch with only two midfielders who are often numerically outnumbered. Once they win the ball back, Alonso’s side is deadly on the counter-attack with extremely fast forwards who can spring into attack.
Under Alonso, several players have flourished including Jeremie Frimpong, Moussa Diaby, Florian Wirtz, Piero Hincapie, and Mitchel Bakker. These players have done extremely well and some have even earned a move to other European sides for large sums; Aston Villa paid a club-record £51.9 million to pry Diaby away from Germany and reunite him with former manager Unai Emery. Today, we’ll be taking a look at Leverkusen’s summer business under Director of Sport Simon Rolfes.
Joining Leverkusen for €20.5 million from Union SG, Victor Boniface is hoping to continue his goal-scoring form in the Bundesliga this upcoming season. An amazing goal-scoring talent, Boniface averages 0.70 goals per 90, placing him in the 94th percentile amongst forwards. Boniface had a stellar UEFA Europa League campaign scoring 6 goals in 10 matches.
The Nigerian stands at 6’2, and for his size and stature is a very good dribbler. He’s able to use his physical attributes to hold off opposition defenders to lay off the ball to his teammates or to create a shot opportunity. Boniface is also extremely gifted at viewing the defense and making creative, well-timed runs to break the defense.
After opening the 2022/23 season with five goals in four Champions League playoff matches, the now 22-year-old striker left Bodø/Glimt and joined Union Saint-Gilloise, and racked up 17 goals and 12 assists in 51 matches including six goals in the Europa League, one of which came against Leverkusen. Die Werkself were in need of a center forward — Patrik Schick racked up just three goals in 14 league appearances in an injury-plagued season, Sardar Azmoun picked up four in 23, whilst Adam Hlozek scored five in 29 in his debut campaign.
With the likes of Florian Wirtz, Amine Adli and Exequiel Palacios feeding him passes, Boniface has what it takes to thrive and get into dangerous areas on a consistent basis. After Victor Osimhen, Taiwo Awoniyi, Emmanuel Dennis, and Ademola Lookman, he is yet another Nigerian forward who will try his luck in Germany’s top-flight.
The current captain of Switzerland and the former captain of Arsenal, Xhaka departs North London after seven years and returns to Germany. At 30, he provides plenty of leadership and experience to a young squad that will be looking to make a push on domestic and international fronts next season, and he has the tools to play a pivotal role in the defensive midfielder position.
He is a prolific passer who is amazing at creating goal-scoring opportunities for teammates or scoring from a long-distance strike. Xhaka averages 0.43 goal-creating opportunities per 90 placing him in the 90th percentile amongst all midfielders showcasing his attacking threat.
Xhaka is also no stranger to a tough challenge on defense and will strengthen the defensive ability of the midfield. Leadership and organization are crucial for any team hoping to succeed and he will be able to offer organization for players in front of him and help communicate. Alonso made this signing to add leadership and quality experience to his team.
Another veteran signing, Jonas Hofmann is a direct replacement for Moussa Diaby who makes him move to the Premier League. At 31 years of age, Hofmann has passed his prime but hopes to provide a year or two before Leverkusen can find another young talent or develop current squad members.
Hofmann had an impressive campaign last season, scoring 12 goals and getting 9 assists in 31 appearances at Borussia Monchengladbach, and he is yet another key player who leaves Die Fohlen this summer alongside Marcus Thuram and Ramy Bensebaini. Unlike the aforementioned two, who joined Inter and Borussia Dortmund on frees, Gladbach received a fee of €10 million for Hofmann.
The right winger or attacking mid also has an amazing work rate on defense and with Alonso’s pressing identity this is an amazing signing. Hofmann’s ability to track back from advanced positions and win the ball back or force the opposition to make mistakes make him a valuable member of the squad. His assist numbers are phenomenal and will help other members of the squad prosper.
Another young Brazilian talent is making his way to Leverkusen, Arthur joins from America-MG from €7.00m. The right back is very attacking-minded, and will be perfect for the right wingback position in Alonso’s 3-4-3 formation. Jeremie Frimpong is one of the biggest right back talents in the world currently and this signing provides him with a good backup for a season or two, before Frimpong likely moves onto another club, giving Arthur the position to thrive in.
After capping off a 7.5-year spell at Benfica by scoring five goals and 11 assists in 33 league appearances and guiding them to their first league title since 2019, Alejandro Grimaldo joins Leverkusen on a free transfer and replaces Mitchel Bakker, who has joined Atalanta for €10 million. An attack-minded left back, Grimaldo excels at taking players on, getting high up the pitch, receiving passes in dangerous areas and whipping in crosses.
The 27-year-old has the right profile to thrive in a high and wide position in Alonso’s 3-4-3, ranking in the 99th percentile for fullbacks in terms of progressive passes received and expected assisted goals as well as the 93rd for progressive passes. After Dani Carvajal, Andres Palop, and Iker Bravo, he is the third Spanish player to join Leverkusen. Whilst Bravo and Palop combined for two brief appearances between them, and whilst Carvajal spent just the 2012/13 season in Germany, Grimaldo has what it takes to carve out a legacy in the short-term and long-term at BayArena, penning a four-year contract at the club.
An electric winger, Diaby departs after the best season of his career which would see him score 14 goals and assist 11 times in 48 appearances. Diaby is a pacey winger who can play on either flank and also possesses the ability to play as an attacking forward. The 24-year-old is deadly on the counter and uses his blistering pace to destroy the opponents’ defense.
The France international is very successful in creating shot opportunities and then converting them. He averages 1.22 shots per game putting him in the 93rd percentile of all wingers. Aston Villa can expect a prolific winger who can play any of the attacking positions and provide a spark in attack for Unai Emery’s side. Whether it is scoring or assisting, Diaby loves to put his fingerprint on the game and help his side win. Partnered with players like Ollie Watkins, Emiliano Buendia, and Leon Bailey Aston Villa’s attack is in safe hands.
Two years after Diaby left the Parc de Princes for Leverkusen, Mitchel Bakker departed PSG for Leverkusen for €7 million rising to €10m with add-ons. He impressed as an attack-minded left wingback in Alonso’s system, averaging 0.14 non-penalty goals per 90 — putting him in the 91st percentile among fullbacks — and 1.07 shots (83rd percentile). The 23-year-old Dutchman excels in term of pressing and closing down opponents in order to win the ball back, and he has the tools to thrive under Gian Piero Gasperini in Bergamo.
Four-and-a-half years after joining Leverkusen — with Vasco receiving a club-record €20 million — Paulinho returned to Brazil after a relatively unremarkable spell and joined Atlético Mineiro on loan until the end of the season, before joining on a free transfer this summer. He impressed in the Copa Libertadores with seven goals and four assists, and he’ll be looking to continue his progression and get his career back on track for the Galo under Luiz Felipe Scolari.
The Brasileirão is back for another season, with the likes of Fluminense, Internacional and Corinthians seeking to end their title droughts, and Palmeiras looking to repeat their title.
— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) April 18, 2023
With a few key departures, Xabi Alonso and Leverkusen have done a good job filling the holes in the squad. While Moussa Diaby is a player who is very hard to replace, Alonso has realized this and found a replacement who can fulfill the duties and has proven production in Jonas Hofmann. After losing left back Mitchel Bakker, he has found a replacement who may be even more suited for the role in Alex Grimaldo.
Signing Victor Boniface will offer this side more attacking depth and allow them to be even more competitive in all their competitions. If Alonso is able to keep his tactical genius and get his players to buy into his style, Leverkusen could very well make a deep run in the DFB-Pokal and the Europa League as well as return to the top four in his first full season at the top level of management.
By: Jackson Maynard / @JacksonMaynar17
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Carlos Rodrigues – Getty Images