Xabi Alonso has every reason to look happy with how his Bayer Leverkusen team have got on this season. - © Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga
Xabi Alonso has every reason to look happy with how his Bayer Leverkusen team have got on this season. - © Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga

5 reasons why Xabi Alonso's Bayer Leverkusen will win the Bundesliga title


Unbeaten in a record-breaking 36 competitive fixtures and 10 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga, Xabi Alonso's Bayer Leverkusen are in pole position to go all the way. bundesliga.com explains why Die Werkself can land their first Bundesliga title...

1) The Unbeatables

After last season’s march under Alonso from second bottom up to sixth, there was already a positive feeling around the BayArena ahead of a first full campaign under the Spaniard. When the fixture list was released, however, there may have been some nervous looks within the club.

An opening game at home to DFB Cup and Supercup holders RB Leipzig would provide a big first hurdle. And then a visit to local rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach. A home game against promoted Darmstadt will have been viewed as a must-win ahead of the international break, prior to a trip down to Bavaria to face Bayern Munich on Oktoberfest's opening weekend.

It was a first four matchdays that really could go either way and would set the tone for the rest of the season. So far, that has certainly been the case. Statement wins over Leipzig (3-2), Gladbach (3-0) and Darmstadt (5-1) set up a top-of-the-table clash with Bayern.

As ever, a visit to the Allianz Arena is that bit different from most other away games – and we saw a different side to Alonso’s Leverkusen. For the first time this season, they had to contend with falling behind instead of protecting and ultimately building on a lead.

Watch: Bayern 2-2 Leverkusen – highlights

“I think we showed big character today to be down two times here, 1-0 and 2-1. To come back showed big character from the team,” said Granit Xhaka after the dramatic 2-2 draw – a result described as “fair” by players and coaches from both sides.

It kept Leverkusen ahead of Bayern – both still unbeaten – on goal difference and equalled their best tally ever after four games in the Bundesliga (10 points). A stat that would become a theme over this record-breaking campaign.

Moreover, it was the first real example of Die Werkself’s never-say-die attitude this season. Exequiel Palacios's equaliser from the penalty spot came in the 94th minute and is one of four goals this term in the Bundesliga that Alonso’s side have scored in added time. Those four goals have added five points to their tally. Without them, they would be two points behind Bayern.

That was evidenced again at the start of 2024 with the team not quite at its best but still getting results. Palacios was again the hero on 94 minutes with his goal in the 1-0 win at Augsburg. The week after, it was Piero Hincapie in the 91st minute as they twice came from behind to win 3-2 in Leipzig. They did exactly the same in the DFB Cup quarter-final against VfB Stuttgart, and in the 2-1 home victory over Mainz on Matchday 23.

Watch: Leverkusen snatch another late win in Leipzig

So far, the only teams to hold the league leaders are second-placed Bayern in Munich, fourth-placed Borussia Dortmund (1-1) and third-placed Stuttgart (1-1), as well as local rivals Gladbach (0-0) – the only blank the Werkself have drawn all season.

There have been plenty of impressive showings throughout the campaign, like their 3-0 derby success over Cologne, a win by the same score in Bremen, a 4-0 thumping of Bochum. But the pick of the lot is undoubtedly their 3-0 victory at home to Bayern.

Not only was it a statement scoreline, but it didn’t even flatter Alonso’s side. They were dominant at the BayArena, stuck to their plans and restricted the defending champions to next to nothing. Their xG of 0.27 was Bayern’s lowest since the stat was introduced five years ago.

Watch: Leverkusen breeze past Bayern

They followed that up with a workmanlike win in Heidenheim, a battling 2-1 triumph of Mainz on Matchday 23 and a 2-0 victory away at Cologne the week after. Their Matchday 25 triumph over Wolfsburg lifted them to 67 points - 10 clear of Bayern. Both that and their 63 goals scored are club records with 25 games played, while only one team Pep Guardiola's 2013/14 Bayern vintage, have ever had a better points haul at this stage of a Bundesliga season (71).

Impressive in itself, but it does not end there. Add in the fact that Leverkusen also came through the UEFA Europa League group stage with a perfect record of six wins from six – only the 12th club to achieve a 100 percent record in the competition – and are also through to the semi-finals of the DFB Cup after four more victories, then it’s even more remarkable.

Die Werkself remain the only team across Europe’s 54 top divisions yet to lose a competitive fixture in 2023/24, beating the 32-game unbeaten run set by Hansi Flick's treble winning Bayern side in 2019 and 2020. Following their dramatic comeback from 2-0 down against Qarabağ in their Europa League last-16 first leg to draw 2-2, and the Matchday 25 win over Wolfsburg, they're 36 competitive games without loss.

Watch: Xabi Alonso's Leverkusen in pole position

2) The ideal squad in Alonso’s image

It was Bayern who stole the international headlines over the summer transfer window with the signing of England captain Harry Kane. It meant Leverkusen’s excellent work in the market went somewhat under the radar and it was more the departure of last season’s top scorer Moussa Diaby that initially caught the eye.

Yet they still had budget left over from that Diaby deal after completing four of their main transfers in. Switzerland captain Xhaka arrived from Arsenal with a wealth of experience and the ability to act as Alonso’s voice in midfield. Jonas Hofmann is a proven Bundesliga operator with some of the best attacking stats of recent years, including the most Fantasy points of any player in 2022/23 from a middling Gladbach side.

Alejandro Grimaldo came on a free transfer – yes, free! – from Benfica to fill the once unsettled left wing-back berth. And up front, Victor Boniface arrived at the BayArena on the back of top-scoring in the Europa League last year.

Watch: Leverkusen’s new boys in a new light

A tactical look at Alonso’s Leverkusen

All have slotted straight in and made immediate impacts in a team that has gelled together. Alonso fielded the same starting XI in 10 out of the first 16 Bundesliga games up to the winter break, utilising the depth of his squad in the European and cup games, which were also all won. It shows he has cover in every position if required.

Even with the Africa Cup of Nations denying him three players in Odilon KossounouEdmond Tapsoba - two of the three first-choice defenders - and Amine Adli, plus a lengthy injury to Boniface, Alonso still showed he had a plan B that would be the envy of many coach's plan As.

Patrik Schick, joint-top scorer at UEFA Euro 2020, gave a timely reminder of what he’s capable of with his hat-trick against Bochum, although the Czech striker is still yet to get back to his best after a long layoff.

The club then also reacted to Boniface's injury with the loan signing of Spain international striker Borja Iglesias as they prepare to continue their push for trophies on all three fronts.

“We’ve got a couple of really good new players, Granit, Jonas, Grimaldo, that bring a lot of professionalism and a lot of quality,” said captain and goalkeeper Lukáš Hrádecký after the draw in Munich.

3) The X(abi) Factor

Alonso’s impact upon taking charge in October 2022 appeared immediate, beating Schalke 4-0 for the biggest victory ever by a Leverkusen coach on debut, but Die Werkself then failed to win any of the next six. It took some time for the former Real Madrid and Real Sociedad youth coach to make his mark on a team low on confidence, culminating in a two-month unbeaten run across March and April to propel them into European contention.

And now over 18 months into his tenure and boasting a squad more in his image, someone who was so used to winning as a player has now instilled that in his squad as a coach.

Watch: Alonso talks Ancelotti, Leverkusen and his inspiring dad

“I think today we have played on the same level,” the 41-year-old said of the result away at former club Bayern. “We have shown personality. We have shown quality. We have shown mentality, and that’s the main thing that we want to build on. And there will come worse moments and that’s when we need to stick together. That’s part of football and part of the season, but so far, we have a good feeling.”

That good feeling has remained and will be something Alonso and his team will need to carry through the rest of this long season that also includes the remainder of the DFB Cup and Europa League campaigns.

There have been many false dawns before at the BayArena – think back as recently as the Peter Bosz era, when Leverkusen went toe-to-toe with Bayern up to the winter break before their form fell off a cliff.

There was also the time in 2001/02 when they held a five-point lead with three games to go but still failed to hold on against Dortmund. That was part of the overall larger setback of the treble that never was with runners-up finishes at the last in the Bundesliga, DFB Cup and UEFA Champions League.

Can Leverkusen now banish their Neverkusen ghosts?

Two years earlier they’d let the league title slip from their grasp on the final day after a Michael Ballack own goal against Unterhaching. Dubbed ‘Neverkusen’ for those gut-wrenching near misses, the club still bears the mental scars and is something that Alonso, the serial-winner player in his first senior role as a head coach, also has to change – and seemingly has done – if Die Werkself are to finally go one better than their five second-place finishes.

Watch: Bayer Leverkusen - From Hunters to Hunted

Find out more about Leverkusen's history in our Bundesliga60 clubs series

4) Everybody’s contributing

Conquering the mental challenge over a full season will be slow work, but the evidence is already there that Alonso has made an impact. He’s got absolutely everybody onside, as seen by the fans inside the BayArena celebrating the players, the head coach and the entire backroom staff after beating Bayern.

As a result, Leverkusen have been scintillating in attack so far this season, with 63 goals scored after 25 matchdays just the headline stat as a new club record.

Apart from the two 1-1 draws with Dortmund and Stuttgart, plus the tight victory in Augsburg, Die Werkself had scored two goals or more in every league fixture prior to drawing a first blank in any fixture this season in the 0-0 draw with Gladbach on Matchday 19. On another day, they would've won that comfortably, having had 28 shots and an xG of 2.64 compared to Borussia's 0.21.

Yet they have still learned to win by any means possible, as mentioned with those late goals – without which they would not be top even after beating Bayern, who, by the way, have two more points than at this stage last campaign when they went on to win an 11th successive Meisterschale.

Read how Wirtz was crucial to Leverkusen’s win over Bayern

But boasting German playmakers Hofmann and Florian Wirtz working in tandem behind the bullish Boniface, Bayer are no longer just playing the pretty football we’ve seen in the recent past but are making it count.

They trail only Bayern – the benchmark for any Germany club – for shots on goal (440 vs. 490), while only Gladbach (somewhat of a statistical outlier) have been more clinical with their chances with a shot efficiency of +6.7 (that means they have scored six goals more than their xG) than Bayer (+5.7). In terms of xG, only Bayern (62.2) rank above Alonso’s men (55.4).

Some five Werkself players have at least six assists so far this season: Grimaldo (10), Wirtz (10), Boniface (seven), Hofmann and Frimpong (both six). Only a handful of players in the league boast more - Thomas Müller, Franck Honorat, Chris FührichVincenzo Grifo (all seven), Julian BrandtJan-Niklas Beste, Niclas Füllkrug, Ermedin Demirović and Xavi Simons (eight) and Leroy Sané (11).

Watch: The best of Grimaldo in the Bundesliga

5) Solid throughout

Alonso the player was a playmaker in teams built to dominate, with the midfielder acting as the beating heart and link between attack and defence. He knows that if you have quality in the final third and a constant supply line, then the goals will come. Much of his efforts, at least initially, at the BayArena had to focus on shoring things up elsewhere.

It took a bit of time to find both the system and the personnel, but Alonso has now got the balance he wants in his 3-4-3, which sees five designated defenders and five attackers. At the heart of all of that is Xhaka, Alonso’s right-hand man on the field.

The Switzerland captain leads the Bundesliga for touches and passes, boasts a pass completion rate of almost 93 percent (ranks third), and comes out on top across the division for distance covered this season. Everything goes through Xhaka, and it’s he who both organises the defensive setup as well as signalling when to attack.

“I am not a very skilful player. I try to communicate with my teammates and play it simple – I will let the guys up front produce the magic moments,” the 31-year-old midfielder explained.

Watch: Leverkusen playing the Alonso way

With Alonso’s general on the pitch, Die Werkself rank second for possession (57.9 per cent) – up slightly on last season’s proportion and ranking (fifth) – but the real difference is in what they do with the ball. They are relentless in moving it around the pitch and lead the way for touches, while their overall pass completion rate stands at 89.6 percent, level with the usually dominant Bayern.

All their passing stats are up on 2022/23, showing the impact that the former pass master has had both on the style of play and confidence. “He inspires every day with his passion and ideas, how he passes them on, and he’s taking Leverkusen upwards,” compatriot Grimaldo told bundesliga.com of working under the former Bundesliga, UEFA Champions League and FIFA World Cup winner.

Watch: Alonso steering Leverkusen towards title glory

Another case in point is Jonathan Tah. The centre-back looked on his way out last season but is now the main man in the back three and produced a top-quality performance against Bayern on Matchday 4 that saw him record a 100 per cent pass completion (from 56 passes).

The Germany international now tops the division for successful distribution and leads the team ranking for the proportion of challenges won. Add in his four goals – the most by any centre-back in Germany’s top flight – and he’s more than played his part.

And when it comes to actual defending, Tah has helped shepherd a backline that has let in a league-low 16 goals and only nine from open play in 2023/24. Captain Hrádecký has also done his bit by saving over 80 percent of shots he's faced - the best proportion of any first-choice goalkeeper in the division.

Hard work is at the core of everything Alonso is trying to instil. Leverkusen outran Bayern by some 3.7 kilometres (2.3 miles) at the BayArena and lead last season’s top six by some margin when it comes to sprints towards the opposition goal.

Vote: Will Leverkusen be champions this year?

With two-thirds of the season now behind them, Alonso and Co. are in pole position to end Bayern's dominance. Will they go all the way?