Xabi Alonso’s penultimate step towards Leverkusen glory

Tuesday, May 21, 2024, 17:57 | Updated 8:23 p.m.


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Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen faces the penultimate step of its dizzying ladder to glory. Without a trace of defeat in 51 official matches this season, a historical record, the aspirin club has been shedding its losing reputation through victories and impossible comebacks. Little remains of that ‘Neverkusen’ that in the spring of 2002 left the Bundesliga, the German Cup and the Champions League against Real Madrid in Glasgow in just two weeks.

Today, more than two decades later, the team from North Rhine-Westphalia already has the long-awaited German throne in its showcases, the pinnacle of success it had never achieved, although it still seeks to crown the best season in its history in a dream week with two endings. The first takes Xabi Alonso’s team to Dublin, where another of the year’s revelations awaits, Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta.

Not even the greatest of gurus could predict at the beginning of the campaign this Europa League final between two of the teams with the most author seal in the Old Continent. What can we say about Leverkusen, which the arrival of Xabi Alonso in October 2022 changed from top to bottom. It was a team in crisis, wandering through the Bundesliga, penultimate in the German championship and under threat of relegation. A little more than a year and a half later, it is on the verge of winning more titles in a single year than in its previous 119 years of history.

Matej Kovar, the goalkeeper of the Europa League and the German Cup, three untouchable central defenders -Tapsoba, Tah and Hincapie-, two wingers with a lot of venom -Frimpong and Grimaldo-, the pillars of the midfield -Andrich and Xhaka- and the Wirtz’s differentiating talent between the lines forms the backbone of the eleven with which Xabi Alonso aims to emulate the UEFA Cup that Leverkusen took from Espanyol in 1988.

Face another signature ensemble, Gasperini’s surprising Atalanta. Until the arrival of the Piedmontese coach to the La Dea bench, this club, traditionally halfway between Serie A and Serie B, the second category of Italian football, had participated four times in European competitions, with the semi-finals of the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1988. as a major milestone.

A mirror

Since 2016, when the era that is still in force in the Lombard club began, the Bergamo team has accumulated seven forays into the Old Continent, three of them in the prestigious Champions League. In these years of wine and roses, he reached the quarterfinals in the top continental competition in 2020 and in the Europa League in 2022. Gasperini was missing a final in Europe and he already has one.

Facing a rival that is heading towards history, La Dea will respond like a mirror, through another three-center system and the deep lanes of Zappacosta and Ruggeri. Koopmeiners’ compass, Charles de Ketelaere’s quality and Scamacca’s goal look like weapons for a team that in this edition of the tournament already boasts illustrious victims such as Sporting de Portugal, champion of the Portuguese league; Klopp’s Liverpool, on paper the great favorite; or the Olympique de Marseille.

Three days after this European final, Bayer Leverkusen faces another one, the German Cup against Kaiserlautern, a rival from the German second category. If they win the assault against Atalanta in Dublin, on Saturday in Berlin they would have the opportunity to close the circle with a hat-trick for history under the condition of an undefeated team on all fronts this season, something unprecedented in Old Town football. Continent.

-Probable alignments:

Atalanta: Musso, Zappacosta, Djimsiti, Hien, Scalvini, Ruggeri, Koopmeiners, Ederson, De Ketelare, Scamacca and Lookman.

Bayer Leverkusen: Kovar, Frimpong, Tapsoba, Tah, Hincapie, Grimaldo, Andrich, Xhaka, Hofmann, Wirtz and Schick.

Referee: István Kovács (Romania).

Time and TV: 9:00 p.m. Movistar Champions League.

Stadium: Dublin Arena.

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2024-05-21 18:23:58
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