Tactics Corner: Leverkusen's Florian Wirtz and Victor Boniface combining in style


Bayer Leverkusen are currently enjoying a fantastic season. While a strong collective unit has contributed heavily to their success, creative magician Florian Wirtz and striking sensation Victor Boniface, in particular, have set the Bundesliga alight.

Before the summer of 2023, up-and-coming superstar Wirtz was already at the heart of Leverkusen’s attack. However, the signing of Boniface has arguably unlocked the full potential of the Germany international’s offensive ability, with the two now forming a special chemistry in the final third.

The Nigerian’s power and dominance allows him to hold on to searching balls and bring the playmakers – one of whom is Wirtz – into play. The latter, though, is not happy only providing for his teammates and often likes to take aim himself. It’s no wonder, therefore, that Boniface has now produced the assist for each of Wirtz’s last three goals.

One passage of play in the 3-0 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 15 underlined the duo’s formidable understanding. Die Werkself won the ball close to their own goal and beat their opponents’ high press with a long pass to Boniface. Tightly marked by Robin Koch, the centre-forward turned the defender before releasing Wirtz, who beat Tuta for pace before finding the back of the net with a sublime finish.

Victor Boniface picks up possession and releases Florian Wirtz into space. - DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga

Boniface is also a strong runner. His top speed of 32.93 km/h (20.46 m/h) only puts him 161st in the Bundesliga this season, but he is very quick over five yards and, as a result, is particularly agile. Aided by his physicality, his initial pace has regularly helped Leverkusen create goalscoring opportunities.

The 23-year-old is also a talented dribbler and is not afraid to show it. His 53 attempted dribbles are second only to Leroy Sané in the German top flight, while his 64.2% success rate is nothing to be sniffed at. Again, though, it is Boniface’s teammates that allow the former Union St. Gilloise ace to frequently beat opposition defenders. Wirtz and Co. repeatedly draw defenders out of position with their clever running, creating room for Boniface to enter one-on-one situations.

This occurred against Heidenheim, a match Leverkusen won 4-1 on Matchday 5: Wirtz picked up the ball in between the lines, drawing a defender out of position. As a result, Boniface was left facing a direct duel with Patrick Mainka. Within a flash, the striker had beaten the centre-back and driven into the penalty area before finishing with aplomb.

Florian Wirtz releases Victor Boniface into a one-one-one which ultimately resulted in a goal for Bayer Leverkusen versus Heidenheim. - DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga

Pass king Wirtz frees Boniface

Xabi Alonso’s clinical finisher, though, is often not required to bamboozle the backline to get into goalscoring positions. Wirtz has attempted 285 difficult passes, landing an impressive 63%, and Boniface has been on the end of many of them.

The team makes full use of the 20-year-old’s proficiency in this area. Boniface can often be found positioning himself to the side of his marker, blocking them with his body and subsequently opening gaps for Wirtz to thread through. His aforementioned early speed allows him to shake off defenders, run in behind and finish with more freedom.

This phenomenon can be seen in almost every Leverkusen game. For example, Wirtz again picked up the ball in a half-space against Bochum on Matchday 16, the final game of 2023, and, under no pressure, he turned and found Boniface. A pin-point pass released the 6ft3in ace, who kept his cool against Manuel Riemann to make it 4-0 and complete the scoring.

Pass king Florian Wirtz sends Victor Boniface through on goal. - DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga

One-two masters

The one-two is another weapon Wirtz possesses in his arsenal, completing a league-leading 23 already this term. Six of those came with Boniface as his passing partner – no other Werkself duo has combined more often in this manner.

The two frequently create top chances when they link up, and they do not always restrict themselves to just the one double pass. Against Bayern Munich, as the two sides shared the spoils in a 2-2 draw on Matchday 4, they created a fantastic opportunity. Dropping in behind Noussair Mazraoui, Boniface eliminated Dayot Upamecano courtesy of an interchange with Wirtz and drove into the box, attracting the attention of several Bayern players along the way.

This enabled him to find his partner in crime in space, and had the former Cologne academy product had a little more composure, he may have struck the bottom corner rather than Manuel Neuer’s left-hand post.

Florian Wirtz and Victor Boniface combine to create a great opportunity against Bayern Munich. - DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga

Duo’s versatility a recipe for danger

Although Boniface and Wirtz have been lethal in unison when occupying their traditional positions, their versatility is just as crucial. With 10 Bundesliga goals, the former is Leverkusen’s leading scorer this campaign, while Wirtz has five himself. They also have seven assists apiece, a number bettered only by Sané, meaning they have been directly involved in 22 of their outfit’s 46 strikes amongst the domestic elite. If you ignore Patrik Schick’s hat-trick versus Bochim – Boniface was not on the pitch as Alonso prepared for his star forward’s absence due to the African Cup of Nations – four of Leverkusen’s last five Bundesliga goals have involved the two top talents.

This is because they are easily able to swap roles. Boniface’s plethora of qualities ensure he can help others grab the headlines, while Wirtz’s high football IQ means he can move up front and apply the finishing touch.

In addition to Wirtz’s goal against Frankfurt, Boniface has provided the attacking midfielder with an assist on two other occasions, with one coming against Stuttgart after a pass from Granit Xhaka. However, the second, which came versus Hoffenheim, especially caught the eye. Similar to the opening against Bayern, the combination started down the left flank, but this time with Wirtz in possession. Boniface is not at his most deadly in tight spaces and therefore ran in behind. He was found near the byline with a lovely ball and immediately drove towards the middle of the box as he looked for the return pass, which he duly delivered. The perfect combination meant Wirtz could tap home from close range.

Florian Wirtz sends Victor Boniface to the byline before tapping home the return ball against TSG Hoffenheim. - DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga

Can Leverkusen adjust?

After such a strong first half of the season, the AFCON comes at an unwelcome time for Alonso, who will be without one of his leading players for the whole of January, and potentially parts of February depending on how the Super Eagles perform.

Schick’s dress rehearsal versus Bochum, though, suggested Leverkusen will be able to deal with the loss. The Czech Republic international is also a talented goal-getter, but only returned from a long-term injury a few weeks ago and is a different player to Boniface.

For the first of those three strikes against Die Unabsteigbaren, Schick and Wirtz showed a sign of things to come. The number 10 picked up the ball in the middle of park before dribbling his way through and sliding a pass between the central defender and the right-back. Like Boniface, his replacement stayed close to the centre-back and obstructed him before bursting into the penalty area and being brought down by Riemann. From the subsequent spot-kick, Schick made no mistake. Should the 27-year-old take full advantage of the opportunity presented to him over the coming matchdays, Alonso may need to try and turn his dream duo into a trio when Boniface returns.