Florian Wirtz will look to lead the Leverkusen charge past Roma and onto the Europa League final. - © IMAGO/Domenico Cippitelli/IMAGO/NurPhoto
Florian Wirtz will look to lead the Leverkusen charge past Roma and onto the Europa League final. - © IMAGO/Domenico Cippitelli/IMAGO/NurPhoto

5 reasons Bayer Leverkusen will STILL beat Roma in the UEFA Europa League


Bayer Leverkusen have a European final in sight as they take on Roma in Thursday's UEFA Europa League semi-final second leg. Xabi Alonso's men must overturn a one-goal deficit, but the likes of Florian Wirtz and Moussa Diaby coupled with their great home record stand them in good stead...

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1) The Alonso factor

Roma coach Jose Mourinho may be known as a wily old fox in the dugout, but his former pupil Xabi Alonso is proving he is a natural tactician too. The Spaniard took over in October 2022 with Leverkusen second bottom of the Bundesliga table. Since then he has overseen 34 games in all competitions, winning 17, drawing eight and losing nine, giving him a win ratio of over 50 percent.

It should also be noted that three of those defeats were in Alonso’s first six games in charge, with the 41-year-old still adapting to his players and new surroundings. So impressive have Leverkusen been, in fact, that only Bayern Munich (50) and Borussia Dortmund (49) have earned more Bundesliga points than Leverkusen’s 44 since Alonso has been at the helm.


Xabi Alonso has rejuvenated Leverkusen as they go in search of European silverware. - IMAGO/pepphoto / Horst Mauelshagen/IMAGO/pepphoto

Any doubters wondering whether someone of Mourinho’s reputation might be a step too far for Leverkusen’s rookie are way off the mark. Alonso has already held his own against the likes of Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, AS Monaco and Bayern. His team also showed in the first leg in Rome they had a strategy to counter the Portuguese coach's favoured low defensive block, with pacy attacks bringing Leverkusen several chances as they went toe-to-toe with the Italians amid a raucous atmosphere at the Stadio Olimpico.

2) Wizard Wirtz

Anyone who has watched Wirtz since his introduction to the Leverkusen first-team fold will know Die Werkself are a better side when the 20-year-old is available. The Germany international's cruciate ligament rupture, suffered towards the end of last season, threatened to derail his development, but he has had a quantifiable impact on his side's Bundesliga results since completing his recovery: Leverkusen have averaged 1.85 points per game with Wirtz compared to 1.41 without this term.

The North-Rhine Westphalia outfit succumbed to a disappointing early UEFA Champions League exit, finishing third in a group that included Atletico, Club Brugge and Porto. Wirtz's injury kept him out of all six matches, but he returned in time to make a difference in the Europa League and has played a considerable role in Leverkusen's progression. He has found the net three times in the thus far seven knockout matches, providing a further two assists, and was particularly important as his team turned around a 3-2 loss at the hands of Monaco in the first leg of their play-off round clash to ultimately progress on penalties.

Watch: All of Wirtz's Bundesliga goals and assists in 2022/23

Wirtz was his usual lively self in the semi-final, first leg at the Stadio Olimpico, sending an early chance just wide and crossing for Jeremie Frimpong to have a late effort cleared off the line. He will every hope of making even more of an impact back in the BayArena this week.

3) Diaby and a strong attack ready to shine

As impressive as Wirtz has been, he is far from the only player Roma need to keep quiet in the decisive second leg. Leverkusen possess an array of attacking talent to call upon, having scored 14 times in seven Europa League knockout matches this campaign, while only Bayern, Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Wolfsburg have scored more than their 55 Bundesliga strikes.

Moussa Diaby is undeniably the pick of the supporting cast, netting 14 in all competitions - including five in European competition - as well as five assists. Fellow Frenchman Amine Adli has shone, too, scoring against Monaco and Ferencvaros in the round of 16 triumph, while Adam Hlozek has slowly started to settle following his summer move from Sparta Prague and scored and assisted as Leverkusen hammered Royal Union Saint-Gilloise 4-1 in the second leg of their continental European quarter-final earlier in April.

Watch: Diaby - one of the Bundesliga's Best


There is also star offensive talent further back: only Diaby (nine) has more Bundesliga goals for Leverkusen this season than right-back Jeremie Frimpong (eight), and left-back Mitchel Bakker has found the back of the net on three occasions himself. There is danger wherever you look in this squad, and any one of a number of players could make the difference when it comes down to the wire in front of their own fans this Thursday.

4) Strong home form

Leverkusen's BayArena may not quite boast fortress status in recent weeks, as a 2-1 defeat to Cologne on their last home engagement showed, but Xabi Alonso's side definitely know how to turn it on in front of their home supporters in big games.

A 2-0 victory against Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League in September set the tone in that regard. A 5-0 win over Union Berlin in November was another highlight, while a series of four wins on the bounce at their own ground this spring - against Hertha Berlin (4-1), Bayern Munich (2-1), Eintracht Frankfurt (3-1) and Leipzig (2-0) - raised levels even further.

Still not convinced? Roma's away form in the Europa League has been distinctly iffy of late. A 1-0 defeat in Salzburg was followed by a 0-0 draw at Real Socieded and 1-0 loss to Feyenoord. If you throw in the fact that Roma were beaten 2-1 at Bulgaria's Ludogorets in the group stage, there is plenty of reason to believe Leverkusen can enjoy a dream night in front of their fans on Thursday.

5) Mourinho and Roma's German woes

Mourinho has enjoyed great success at almost each of his coaching stations, but in 22 matches against German opposition, the Special One has won only eight, enduring defeat 11 times (with three draws).

In fact, of the five Bundesliga clubs he has previously faced, Mourinho has only won against Schalke, with the Portuguese tactician losing out to Bayern, Dortmund, Werder Bremen and Leipzig over the years.

AS Roma manager Jose Mourinho has rarely got the better of German opposition throughout his long and illustrious career. - IMAGO/Speed Media/Icon Sportswire/IMAGO/Icon Sportswire

Roma have also struggled against Germany's best in recent years. While they did secure a 3-2 win over Leverkusen in 2015, they won just one other encounter against German teams in 10 attempts, also losing 3-1 to this week's opponents back in 2004.

Of course, that was almost two decades ago, but such a result could well play on Giallorossi minds in the build-up to kick-off on Thursday. The same scoreline as that 2004 encounter would see Leverkusen through to the final this time around, after all.