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Bayer Leverkusen: Xabi Alonso’s masterpiece

Ten minutes left to play, Bayer Leverkusen was leading 2-0, it was clear to the people in the stadium that Bayern could try their luck for hours and that they would lose this game. Then the guests in the corner sent an evil, musical greeting: “Never German champion, you will never be German champion!”

The recipients, the Bayer 04 fans, listened and were silent for a while. Did they fall silent because of this meanness? Did you feel hurt by the allusion to your history of unsuccessful title hunts? Did they believe in this prophecy? Or did they simply want to pay no attention to fake news, as is advisable in these times?

During the course of the day, reporters and some guests in the ICE on-board bistro had rumored that Bayern would correct the situation and regain their natural position at the top of the table. Now things would get serious for the unbeaten Leverkusen team. From now on it should go downhill.

Class difference between Bayer and Bayern

Things turned out differently. The 30,000 spectators experienced a football evening that felt epochal. Leverkusen’s 3-0 win against hopeless Bayern was probably more than just three points. Bayer 04’s team held their own in this top game because they were much better organized and controlled the game at all times. In terms of team strategy, it was a class difference between Bayer and Bayern.

The time to replace the series champion from Munich is probably not far off. The reason for this is called Xabi Alonso. He prepared his team for the title fight. The ninety minutes against Bayern were his masterpiece.

Leverkusen, inexperienced with these big duels, started cautiously, let Bayern come first and waited for the moments in which the first gaps would appear in Bayern’s alliance.

It didn’t take very long until Florian Wirtz was able to weave his way through for the first time. After about ten minutes, Amine Adli dared a shy shot on goal. From then on Leverkusen was in the game. Another chance for Adli, it was better.

A throw-in followed, which Bayern defended incredibly poorly. Robert Andrich took the initiative and passed Leroy Sané. His pass whizzed through the legs of the weak Dayot Upamecano and past the entire Bayern defense. Josip Stanišić hung around at the second post, a free man. 1-0 in the 18th minute. Not every opponent makes it that easy for Leverkusen.

Embarrassed

After the game, Tuchel felt embarrassed by the goal he conceded. “We slept there,” he said. “A goal like that shouldn’t happen in a five-man chain.” It shouldn’t actually happen with any other chain either. What he might have wanted to say was that it had nothing to do with tactics, i.e. him.

Now the Leverkusen team let the ball circulate, against Bayern a little further back than usual. The midfield became their territory. For better or for worse, Bayern gave them the ball. Leverkusen got closer to making it 2-0.

It came with the first attack after the break. The duo of Alejandro Grimaldo and Nathan Tella blew through the stony Bayern defense. When he shot under the roof of the goal, Grimaldo was not frightened by Manuel Neuer, who left the fist that he had raised high in the air.

2-0 after fifty minutes. Actually long enough for two or three goals. But Bayern’s efforts never gave rise to any signs of danger, even though they were on the ball more often after Kimmich was substituted on. Leverkusen were then concerned with keeping them away from the goal. So she can still do that too.

Leroy Sané was boxed in. Leon Goretzka achieved nothing in a position that was defensive for him. Jamal Musiala lost the comparison with Florian Wirtz. Harry Kane was particularly isolated from the rest this time. Only Tuchel was even less visible, he sat on his bench most of the time and largely avoided coaching.

Angry kicker after the game

FC Bayern, who had won such duels 4-0 or 5-0 in previous years, had no chance to score. Leverkusen defended cleverly as a collective, unfair means were not necessary, not even a good goalkeeper. Lukáš Hrádecký was most in demand at the moment when he climbed the fence after the game to sing the Humba with the fans, some of whom were in costume.

The 3-0 was symptomatic. It was the last, fifth minute of stoppage time when Neuer left his goal at a corner. There was something chivalrous, something Don Quixote-like about it in its hopelessness of doing anything about the defeat. Neuer lost the header duel against Tah, and Frimpong countered an empty net goal. The players did not run to the corner flag or the fan block to celebrate, but rather into the coaching zone.

It was a fair result, as a 2-0 final result would not have adequately expressed the superiority of the leaders. Tuchel referred to the “expected goals” of 1.0, but apparently different data was circulating. And you won’t offend Uli Hoeneß if you say that he places less value on the expected goals and more on the ones scored.

After the game, Thomas Müller gave the anger kicker and spoke of “mentality”. The TV reporter asked him (I have no idea how to think of Tuchel with this keyword) whether that was a criticism of the coach. Müller said no. The coach’s analysis seemed like a puzzle. “I have no explanation as to why we didn’t get Harry into the game today,” said Tuchel, “I’ll have to watch the game first.” That was close to admitting that I couldn’t read the game.

Eleven fragments instead of one team

For Tuchel, who sent eleven fragments onto the pitch instead of a team, the game turned into a lesson. Because what did Alonso make of this team of nameless people? He alone brings out their strengths, the weaknesses become invisible. Robert Andrich, for example, a player without a career in these high altitudes, was an authority in the center. Josip Stanišić, not good enough for Munich, not only played flawlessly in defense, but also with initiative. And anyone who previously believed that Germany didn’t have a strong defender to give a defense support, Jonathan Tah took away the arguments this Saturday.

Alonso was right with the lineup. Tuchel relied on Sacha Boey. He should take out Jeremie Frimpong. But Frimpong didn’t play at all. The chain poker in defense also went to Alonso, who was simply ahead of Tuchel.

But it wasn’t primarily the daily decisions that made the difference. Alonso and his team have worked on a lot over the months in the areas of spatial distribution, passing, game structure and development, which they now use with considerable ease.

Xabi Alonso’s excellent coaching work to convey a modern game idea to everyone can give fans hope. Bayer Leverkusen is not dependent on the form of the day.

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