Xabi Alonso's Bayer Leverkusen are top of the Bundesliga and going strong in the UEFA Europa League and DFB Cup. - © IMAGO/Jerry Andre
Xabi Alonso's Bayer Leverkusen are top of the Bundesliga and going strong in the UEFA Europa League and DFB Cup. - © IMAGO/Jerry Andre

Will Xabi Alonso's Bayer Leverkusen land a historic treble and banish the ghosts of 2002?


Xabi Alonso's men have a chance of going from Neverkusen to Treblekusen this season, and the next month or so will decide the fate of his brilliant team.

bundesliga.com looks just how likely Leverkusen are to lift the lot this May.

It is so easy for football fans to get the jitters at this stage of the season. If you are a Bayer Leverkusen fan, for instance, you will be rightly extremely proud of the staggering record-breaking unbeaten run that has taken Alonso's men to within one win of their first Bundesliga title, and into the DFB Cup final and UEFA Europa League quarters.

Watch: Xabi Alonso committed to Leverkusen project

One thing that makes the promising situation even more uncomfortable for Leverkusen fans is that they have been here before - without even a title-winning T-shirt to show for their efforts. Back in 2001/2002, a brilliant Leverkusen side featuring Michael Ballack, Oliver Neuville, Dimitar Berbatov, Lucio and Ze Reberto came within a whisker of not just one but three major honours.

In May 2002, the world of a side that had thrilled German football came crashing down - with an agonising one-point shortfall on Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund, a 4-2 defeat to Schalke in the DFB Cup final and 2-1 loss to Real Madrid despite a sterling performance in the UEFA Champions League final. It is that campaign that spawned the 'Neverkusen' and 'Eternal Bridesmaids' tags the club has struggled to shake off. 

History alone is therefore teaching Leverkusen's players and fans to keep their feet on the ground and keep taking one step at a time towards their dreams. The question has to be asked though, can they really do it and complete a terrific treble? 

Michael Ballack (left) and Bayer Leverkusen were beaten 2-1 by Zinedine Zidane (right) and Real Madrid in the 2002 UEFA Champions League final. - 2002 Getty Images

Bundesliga in the bag?

Some words of encouragement came recently from Klaus Toppmöller, who coached Leverkusen to the trio of near misses in 2002. He said: "My former club have a huge chance to put the name Vizekusen behind them. I have not for a long time seen a team that are so confident on the ball, determined, quick and tactically so superb."  

The Bundesliga table also paints its own extremely pleasing picture. Alonso's men are 16 points clear of Bayern with six matches remaining and have dropped just eight points in total in the opening 28 matches of the season. Victory over Werder Bremen will seal the deal, with five games to go.

Watch: How Leverkusen beat Bayern - analysis

Up for the cup?

There is a good chance that Leverkusen head to the DFB Cup final in Berlin on 25 May as freshly crowned Bundesliga champions, but as we said, let's just take it one step at a time for now.

There is no doubt that the league leaders will start as overwhelming favourites in the final against a Kaiserslautern team fighting to stay afloat in Bundesliga 2, but shocks do happen in the DFB Cup - keep in mind that Bayern were eliminated by third-tier Saarbrücken earlier in the season.

Leverkusen's only major domestic honour was their 1993 cup win, and with no other Bundesliga sides remaining, they are in pole position to repeat that feat in 2024. With so many sensational shocks in this season's DFB Cup, you cannot rule anything out, though! 

Leverkusen captain Franco Foda lifts the DFB Cup trophy in 1993, in the club's only domestic honour to date. - imago sportfotodienst via www.imago-images.de

Dreams of Dublin?

Perhaps the most unpredictable element in Leverkusen's potential treble, yet a tantalising one, is the UEFA Europa League. A much-changed Werkself team had to come from 2-0 down to draw their last-16 first leg away to Qarabağ, having beaten the Azerbaijani outfit 5-1 and 1-0 in the group stage. They trailed the second leg 2-0, but scored twice in injury time to complete a remarkable 3-2 win.

The quarter-final draw left Leverkusen needing to beat Freiburg's conquerors in the previous round, West Ham, to progress, and a 2-0 first-leg triumph has put them in control of the tie. Should they safely negotiate the return encounter in London, Leverkusen will then face either AC Milan or Rome to earn a spot in the final. A potential showdown with Liverpool - who also have their sights on a trophy-laden season under the departing Jürgen Klopp - would make for a huge final against Alonso’s former club.

Still, you don't go unbeaten in 42 matches in all competitions if you are not a seriously sturdy team. You can be sure none of the aforementioned names want to draw Leverkusen either, and if their swashbuckling season continues apace there is no reason why they won't be bound for Dublin in the days before the DFB Cup final to contest the Europa League final on 22 May. 

Bayer Leverkusen Lukáš Hrádecký will be tasked with lifting silverware as club captain, should his side win any this May. - IMAGO/Eibner-Pressefoto/Memmler

Leverkusen's run to the last four of last season's Europa League, when they were beaten by Roma, appears in many ways to have lit the touchpaper for their cracking current campaign. There would, therefore, be a remarkable sense of completeness if the club were able to cap a staggering season with a European honour - which would be their second after the 1988 UEFA Cup.

Will they do it?

Alonso is wisely steering clear of any talk about honours at the end of May. When asked of his side's Bundesliga title chances after a 2-1 win over Mainz on Matchday 23, the Spaniard said: "It is not the time to talk about that yet. A time will come for it, but it isn't yet."

Having seen his side work so hard to get in their current promising position, Alonso quite understandably doesn't want thoughts to wander to the fixture list, rivals dropping points, draws, permutations or where Leverkusen fans can get a drink before the Europa League final in Dublin.

Watch: The secrets to Leverkusen's unbeaten run

The crux of the matter is that what happens in May is not relevant right now. That Leverkusen have put together a long unbeaten run to get within touching distance of three major honours is a staggering achievement in itself that warrants enormous praise. 

Victor Boniface's return from a groin injury sustained while on international duty with Nigeria in the build-up to the Africa Cup of Nations is a massive boost - his strike against West Ham was another reminder of his worth. Having provided 10 goals and seven assists in 16 Bundesliga appearances prior to his injury, he is likely to be crucial during the run-in.

It seems unlikely everything will go pear-shaped in the same way as 2002, although football being football, you never quite know, as the biggest honours can be decided on the smallest moments. Our advice to anyone in the Leverkusen area is not to plan a party at the end of May just yet, but you can get ready for the prospect of some special celebrations, with the Werkself effectively having one hand on the league title already. 

Watch: Alonso talks Ancelotti, Leverkusen and his inspiring dad

The other competitions are harder to predict, but you would be well advised to just try to enjoy the ride in what are sure to be dramatic final weeks of the season!

Leverkusen are not a club expected to gobble up honour after honour, after all, so while a remarkable treble has emerged as a possibility, any silverware captain Lukáš Hrádecký lifts into the May sky would be deservedly cherished to the fullest.