Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen are in fine fettle ahead of the this season's UEFA Europa League final against Atalanta. - © Imago
Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen are in fine fettle ahead of the this season's UEFA Europa League final against Atalanta. - © Imago

5 reasons Bayer Leverkusen will beat Atalanta and win the UEFA Europa League


Xabi Alonso's Bayer Leverkusen have reached the 2023/24 UEFA Europa League final without losing a single game in all competitions. bundesliga.com explains why they ain't about to break the habit of a lifeline with European silverware on the line against Atalanta on 22 May...

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1) Bayer Neverlusen

It's already the stuff of legend: Alonso's Leverkusen are a European record 51 competitive games unbeaten in 2023/24. They've just become the first team to go through an entire Bundesliga season without defeat (W28, D6); have won all four of their DFB Cup fixtures inside 90 minutes ahead of this weekend's final; and have only failed to win three of 12 Europa League games on the road to Dublin. Alonso's team have also scored a whopping 135 goals during that incredible run, whilst conceding just 39. In contrast, Atalanta are fresh off losing for the 13th time so far this season, in the pressure-cooker environment of a Coppa Italia final no less. So, just how do you stop Leverkusen? The simple answer is: you don't.

Watch: Bayer Leverkusen: No More Neverkusen

2) Better Late than Neverkusen

Leverkusen set the tone by topping Europa League Group H on maximum points. They trailed Qarabağ 2-0 in both last-16 fixtures, only to hit back in now trademark fashion and advance. Patrik Schick was the hero, scoring a 92nd-minute equaliser in Azerbaijan, before levelling and firing a winner even deeper into stoppage time at the BayArena. First-leg wins in the ensuing rounds put them on course, though West Ham United and Roma each threatened to at least end Leverkusen's proud unbeaten run in the return ties. Happily, 'panic' is not part of the Bayer vocabulary. Down 1-0 in London and 2-0 at home to Roma, more late goals snatched positive results from the jaws of defeat to preserve the streak. Die Werkself have done it over and over again in the league, too - sometimes levelling as late as the 97th minute. Once or twice is good luck, but seven times is freakish, unadulterated self-belief. That in itself is another gigantic, if not insurmountable, psychological hurdle for Atalanta.

Watch: Bayer Leverkusen's late goals in 2023/24

3) The Alonso factor

Alonso has been quick to highlight the unwavering belief he has in his squad, after witnessing remarkable comebacks against the likes of Borussia Dortmund, VfB Stuttgart, Qarabağ and Roma - but the feeling is mutual. To a man, the Leverkusen players are only too happy to learn from and, crucially, implement the game plan of one of the great midfield strategists of his generation. At his peak, Alonso won UEFA Champions League titles with Liverpool and Real Madrid, as well as the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship in the colours of Spain. The Basque conductor also helped Bayern Munich win three successive titles between 2014 and 2017. Seven years on - and a first full season into his maiden top-flight coaching role - he has already broken his former employer's 11-year grip on the Bundesliga, whilst steering Leverkusen to within two wins of a continental treble. World-class players rarely make world-class coaches, but Alonso is proving himself to be the exception to the rule.

Leverkusen were struggling near the foot of the Bundesliga when Xabi Alonso took charge. Now they're one win from adding the UEFA Europa League to this season's Meisterschale. - IMAGO/Weis/TEAM2

4) The right-hand men

The achievements of Alonso's Leverkusen are very much a collective effort, but there are, inevitably, some standout individuals that help make the whole operation sing. Midfielder Granit Xhaka is the on-field extension of his coach - the team's pacemaker and pass master. Wing-backs Jeremie Frimpong and Álex Grimaldo are more like rapier-like wingers of old, with a combined goal contribution of plus-50, while Florian Wirtz has bounced back from a serious ACL tear to make the role of creator-in-chief his own. The 21-year-old Germany international has produced 18 goals and 19 assists in all competitions, despite being given the cotton-wool treatment since sewing up the Bundesliga title with a hat-trick from the bench against Werder Bremen on 14 April. Centre-back Jonathan Tah and midfielder enforcer Robert Andrich can also be expected to have big parts to play in seeing off Atalanta before they join up with Germany's squad for UEFA Euro 2024.

Granit Xhaka (l.) and Florian Wirtz (r.) are among Alonso's (c.) raft of star peformers. - IMAGO/Gladys Chai von der Laage

5) All for one, one for all

That said, Leverkusen's quality extends far beyond the starting XI, which is why Alonso has been able to juggle domestic and European commitments - not to mention player workloads - so effectively. Schick has come in to grab some big goals; Victor Boniface has his mojo back after missing the first three months of 2024 through injury; Bayern loanee Josip Stanišić can defend and score; 2022 World Cup winner Exequiel Palacios is a proven alternative to Xhaka and Andrich; Jonas Hofmann and Amine Adli are a nuisance for opposition defenders - the list goes on. Alonso has even handed back-up goalkeeper Matěj Kovář, signed in the summer from Manchester United, the gloves in cup competition this season, underlining his superb man-management skills whilst emphasising the value of every player at his disposal. Put simply, Leverkusen have an answer for everything, and that should be no different in the Europa League final.