- © DFL
- © DFL

Wirtz, Xhaka and the other key players in Leverkusen's Bundesliga triumph


Bayer Leverkusen have finally got their hands on a first ever Bundesliga title. It was a team effort from Xabi Alonso's men, but a handful of players stood out nonetheless…

Leverkusen, so often the bridesmaid, beat Werder Bremen 5-0 on Sunday to seal the title in front of their home fans. From Neverkusen to never losing, it was a German record 43rd game undefeated across all competitions.

It has been a team effort from Alonso's side, with as many 23 players featuring to varying degrees over the long and highly successful season. Highlighting the key players among them might be unfair, but some stars have shone particularly bright for Die Werkself, for whom a continental treble remains on.

bundesliga.com looks at five of the best of them.

All stats correct after Matchday 28

Álex Grimaldo
Position: Left wing-back
Age: 28
Country: Spain (2 caps)
Key stat: 21 direct goal involvements! 

Grimaldo has been Leverkusen's most potent attacking asset this season, with nine goals and 11 assists despite lining up as a nominal left-back. Granted, Alonso plays a 3-4-2-1 formation with wing-backs, but Grimaldo's output is still astounding.

He's no flat-track bully either. Grimaldo has made key contributions, scoring against now-deposed champions Bayern Munich home and away - the first a sumptuous free-kick in a 2-2 draw in September, the second a finish from a tight angle in a comprehensive 3-0 win in February.

Watch: Grimaldo - a revelation in Alonso's system

A 91st minute-assist for Piero Hincapié turned a draw against RB Leipzig into a 3-2 win between those two fixtures, and a first Spain cap in November was richly deserved. Not bad for a player signed on a free transfer from Benfica last summer!

"I'd have loved to have had a coach like [Alonso] when I was 20 years old," Grimaldo told The Athletic last month. Leverkusen might not have been waiting so long for a title if they'd been united sooner.

Florian Wirtz
Position: Attacking midfielder
Age: 20
Country: Germany (16 caps/1 goal)
Key stat: 21 direct goal involvements 

Wirtz was the youngest scorer in Bundesliga history when he steered the ball beyond Manuel Neuer in a 4-2 loss to Bayern back in June 2020 a month past his 17th birthday, and although he has since been overtaken by Youssoufa Moukoko, there has been little outflanking him since.

Speaking of flanks, Wirtz rarely hugs the left one any more, instead being the first of two No.10s, most often with Jonas Hofmann for company but sometimes Amine Adli or Nathan Tella domestically or Adam Hložek in Europe. Alonso puts him in exalted company off the pitch...

- Lars Baron/Getty Images

"Why's Messi so good? Because he knows how and when to play simple passes," Alonso reflected recently. "Messi says: 'you're in a better position? Here, have the ball!' It's not always about making the most brilliant move, but the best and smartest. Florian can do that. That's why he's so good." 

That Wirtz is the least rotated player in his position at 20 years old speaks to his talent, and he has backed it up with cold, hard numbers: 11 goals and 10 assists in the Bundesliga, and another six and eight in each column in the cup competitions. 

Granit Xhaka
Position: Central midfielder
Age: 31
Country: Switzerland (123 caps/14 goals)
Key stat: 3,145 touches 

Xhaka developed a bit of a reputation as a midfield bruiser at Arsenal, but the former Gunners captain has been showing his more refined side in Alonso's engine room, with his 3,145 touches - of the ball, not an opponent's leg - a Bundesliga high.

His 317.9km covered is also a Bundesliga-best mark, Xhaka's willingness and ability to get around the pitch belying the fact that he turned 31 a month into the 2023/24 season.

Watch: Analysing Xhaka's impact at Leverkusen

The left-footed Swiss, who could have played for Albania like his brother Taulant, lines up on the right of Alonso's central midfield, from where he can scan play and act as the Spaniard's on-field lieutenant. Not that he's always responsible in his behaviour…

"I know Granit's done it before in training and it made me nervous then," Alonso explained after Xhaka celebrated scoring against Mainz February by feigning a hamstring injury. "The physio came to me but I just said 'relax.'" Capping off his incredible season fittingly, Xhaka even scored to clinch the title in a 2-0 win over Werder Bremen.

Jonathan Tah
Position: Centre-back
Age: 28
Country: Germany (23 caps)
Key stat: 97% pass completion 

Tah is perennially linked with a move to the Premier League by the English press, and pressure on his central defensive place from Edmond Tapsoba and Odilon Kossounou in recent seasons has added fuel to their fire. But Alonso has found a way to keep all three happy.

Tah is at the heart of his back three, and has started more games this season than any other defender on the books. From there, he has a pass completion of nearly 97 per cent. Cynics might suggest that's because he only passes to one of the other two aforementioned, but an average of four per game are progressive.

Tah (l.) and Rüdiger (r.) - Germany's central defensive partnership at Euro '24? - IMAGO / Eibner

The former Hamburg man leads Leverkusen out when goalkeeper Lukáš Hrádecký is rested, and looks to have played his way into being first choice alongside Antonio Rüdiger for Germany at UEFA Euro 2024 this summer, having started the recent friendly wins over France and the Netherlands.

Jeremie Frimpong
Right-wing back
Netherlands (2 caps)
Key stat:
863 sprints - the second most in the Bundesliga

The other half of a dynamic full-back duo with Grimaldo, Frimpong's tools of sheer pace and directness unlocked numerous opposition defences throughout the title-winning campaign - and have been a vital cog in the Leverkusen attacking machine.

Watch: Jeremie Frimpong's lung-busting runs

The flying Dutchman tapped in Leverkusen's first goal of the season in a 3-2 win over Leipzig to treat fans to a sight they would become familiar with - his skipping goal celebration. His eight goals and seven assists do not fully illustrate his propensity to launch lightning attacks down the right. 

Small wonder that Alonso has spoken about how impressed he has been by Frimpong's development, saying in October: "I can see a more mature Jeremie. He has improved a lot. He has a great future, and that's what we want for him."