The dynamic duo of Alejandro Grimaldo and Jeremie Frimpong have been tearing down the flanks to form a key part of Xabi Alonso's attack at Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen. bundesliga.com takes a look at the pair's success so far this season...
There are few positions more critical to an ambitious side in modern football than full-back. Leading teams want men with the pace and guile to gallop down the flanks (in contrast to the position's name) and help unlock deep-sitting opponents, while also having the solidity to track back and defend when required.
Leverkusen have certainly found two fine purveyors of the modern full-back role in Frimpong and Grimaldo. They have emerged as stars in the unbeaten early-season burst of form that has taken Leverkusen to the top of the table.
Like any star combo, the pair have contrasting characteristics that together combines into one supremely effective force. If Frimpong's directness and pace haven't proven opposition teams' undoing, Grimaldo's set-piece mastery has.
Both players found the net in Leverkusen's 2-1 win at Wolfsburg on Matchday 8, but have been tying defences in knots for much longer.
Watch: Frimpong and Grimaldo both net as Leverkusen beat Wolfsburg
Netherlands international Frimpong arrived in Leverkusen from Celtic in January 2021, and has been becoming increasingly menacing in the close to three years he has spent in the Bundesliga. While he was unable to register a goal involvement in his first half-season in Germany, his relentlesss drive down the right flank soon paid dividends. He claimed seven goal involvements (one goal and six assists) in his first full Bundesliga season (2021/22), and increased that to 15 the following campaign (eight goals and seven assists). With seven involvements in the first eight matches of 2023/24, he is well on course for his finest haul yet - and his strike in Wolfsburg was his third in three consecutive matches in all competitions.
If there is one thing a deeper dive into the stats of his current campaign shows, it is his sheer desire. Not only has Frimpong clocked the joint-fastest speed of any player in the Bundesliga he has made the most sprints after eight matchdays by some distance. The stats are certainly impressive, but watching him in action is another thing entirely - casual observers can plainly see Frimpong is a player presently in the form of his life.
Alonso says Frimpong's increasingly explosive output is the result of him fine-tuning his play. I'm seeing a more grown-up Jerry. He understands better why you do certain things," the Bsyer tactician explained. "He had a big influence last season. He is still having that, but with a slightly different game, with less transitioning and more control."
Like Frimpong, Grimaldo has slotted in seamlessly since switching from Benfica to Leverkusen over the summer. While his pass for Victor Boniface to score against Borussia Mönchengladbach in Matchday 2 may have gone somewhat under the radar, his second goal contribution made everyone sit up and take note.
When the Spaniard lined up to take a free-kick in the 24th minute of a visit to Bayern Munich, he was aiming for something special to drag his side back into the game. His curling strike past the outreached hands of Sven Ulreich sailed into the top right corner, sending the Allianz Arena into silence and gobsmacking those watching around the world - with opponent Leroy Sané even waving his hand in recognition of the beauty of the strike.
Watch: Grimaldo nets stunning free-kick as Leverkusen draw 2-2 at Bayern
Just to prove that was no fluke, Grimaldo expertly sank another free-kick from roughly the same position in a 3-0 win on Matchday 6 at Mainz. Indeed, he recently told the Leverkusen website that he has been training his free-kick technique every day for the past 15 years.
Grimaldo also has three assists to go with his three goals across the first eight matchdays. The Spaniard might not match his fellow full-back in a sprint race, but he is certainly no slouch either. His 228 sprints so far this season place him in the top 10 in the league, while the total ground he has covered, 56.8 miles/ 91.5 kilometres, is the seventh most in the Bundesliga - more than Frimpong and indeed more than any other non-midfielder in the division.
Alonso has naturally been impressed by his summer signing's impact. "Players like Alejandro Grimaldo have significantly improved the quality of our game," he said, before expressing "amazement" the left-back has not yet been called up by Spain.
The overall impact of the two wing-back wizards has been clear to see with Leverkusen setting the pace in the emerging title race. Even if opponents manage to somehow get a handle on Frimpong's power and Grimaldo's mastery of the ball, the defensive resources required for that will most likely allow space in the middle for the likes of Boniface, Florian Wirtz and Jonas Hofmann to exploit.
Freiburg are next in line to face the full force of the flying full-backs in a Matchday 9 encounter in Leverkusen, where a win will ensure Alonso's men stay top of the Bundesliga for another week at least.
If Frimpong and Grimaldo keep on firing at their current rate, Leverkusen might just be sitting pretty at the summit come the final day.
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