The move on the bench was the element that transformed the Germans, who moved up from 17th to 6th in the table and found themselves in a European semi-final again after twenty-one seasons
A sudden feeling of serenity. A mixture of hope and awareness. Bayer Leverkusen is suddenly the club that plays the most fascinating and at the same time most functional football in Germany. And that’s despite winning just one of the first 8 games of the season and two of the first 12. The reason is simple: in the thirteenth game of this season, something changed that upset the team and the club, the coach.
Xabi Alonso has arrived in place of Gerardo Seoane and the world suddenly turns in the right direction. The one hoped for by the fans and wanted by the managers. It also took the Spanish coach a while, but then he made an impact: in his first 7 games as “Aspirin” coach, he only won one game, so the team arrived in November after 19 games, winning only 3 times the 3 points. It seemed to be the start of a disastrous season, but then the Xabi Alonso effect set in: Suddenly 5 goals in a row, suddenly a good game and enthusiasm. Until he reaches the Europa League semi-finals in which he will play against Mourinhos Roma, who Xabi Alonso played with.
Under Xabi Alonso, Bayer moved up from seventeenth to sixth in the table, beat Bayern and Atletico Madrid with him and reached a European semi-final for the first time since 2002. The Leverkusen goalkeeper Butt, Lucio and Ballack started very well, so that at the end of April he finished first in the Bundesliga, in the semi-finals of the Champions League and in the final of the state cup. The heights were close enough to touch. Then the final slump: In the penultimate championship season, they lost to Nuremberg and were overtaken by Borussia Dortmund just 90 minutes before the end of the championship. He conquered the Champions League final by knocking out Manchester United but lost to Real Madrid in the final act, having also lost to Schalke in the last round of the German Cup. He could have won everything, but every goal was suddenly gone. This year, Leverkusen have rediscovered a belief in the future that they have not really found since 2002. In just six months of work, Alonso has ensured that Bayer is seen by everyone as a tough opponent and the team finally feels strong. “The boys lacked healthy control over the game – explained Alonso –. Previously, Leverkusen had the ball in their hands without really dominating the game. The team didn’t feel as nice as it had been painted in the summer.” Alonso’s tactical principles are easily recognizable in all phases of the game. When in possession, Leverkusen attack and keep the four defenders behind them. Andrich and Palacios, in front of the defence , move without ever staying on the same line. According to Xabi Alonso, it is important that the team has possession of the ball. It is then primarily up to the tactically freer Wirtz to create chances. The German talent moves between midfield and attack, often invents for the wingers and expands the game.When the ball is lost, Alonso urges his team to create density to give even the most attacking players time to return.
Before he went to Germany, Xabi coached Real Sociedad’s second team, but he was followed by different clubs: Real Madrid and Liverpool, from which he wore the shirt, they watch him closely, Gladbach thought of him after Marco Rose (when he was 2021 came to Dortmund). As Bayern managing director, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said openly that he could imagine Xabi Alonso as Bayern coach. However, he wanted to proceed gradually: it was only after a year in Real Madrid’s youth department that he realized he was going to pursue a career as a coach. He then took the job at Real Sociedad to “get to know myself as a coach, to understand how I would interpret this role”. He then moved to Leverkusen in October: “I understand that the time is right, I can feel it.” He has several points of reference: As a footballer, he played for people like Rafa Benitez, José Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Manuel Pellegrini, Carlo Ancelotti, Vicente Del Bosque and Luis Aragones. “I learned from everyone that the most important thing is that the players understand and follow the coach’s ideas,” explained Alonso. You have to believe what the technician says. They must feel that they can improve by following the coach’s ideas. Human relationships come first, then tactics and technique.” But that’s also an important aspect for Xabi: “I want my teams to play modern, dominant and active. You have to have intensity, even without the ball. And you have to be concentrated for 90 minutes, because if you pull the plug after 80 minutes, you’ve lost.” In short: Xabi demands a lot from his team, but the team always conveys a great deal of composure. A mixture of hope and awareness, like he feels it’s a magical time of year.
April 21 – 1:10 p.m
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