Tah has been an important figure in Leverkusen's transformation under Alonso. - © DFL/Getty Images/Alexander Scheuber
Tah has been an important figure in Leverkusen's transformation under Alonso. - © DFL/Getty Images/Alexander Scheuber

Jonathan Tah: Leverkusen and Germany's rock at the back


Under Xabi Alonso's guidance, Jonathan Tah's last twelve months have seen a meteoric improvement in his abilities, bundesliga.com analyses what makes the defender so impressive...

Jonathan Tah has stepped up in some of Bayer Leverkusen's biggest moments this season and when Xabi Alonso has him anchoring the defence, he forms a one-man wall all by himself..

At the age of 28, Tah is entering his prime years as a defender at the right time for Leverkusen as well as the German national team. Remaining a reliable and decisive figure in Alonso's system at the BayArena, Tah has been hugely instrumental in a season to remember for Die Werkself.

Starting some 50 competitive fixtures for club and country, out of 53 available, Tah's consistency in availability as well as quality is simply outstanding.

On the verge of a historic unbeaten treble and heading into the Euros as Germany's first-choice centre-back under Julian Nagelsmann, Tah is in the form of his life.

What makes him so good?

Ever-present excellence

Tah's stock has been high ever since he broke through the ranks at Hamburger SV, making his Bundesliga debut in August 2013, then becoming the youngest player to do so.

Over the years, Tah has continued to show his quality week in, week out at the BayArena. In fact, in his nine seasons with the club, he has racked up 2000+ league minutes in all but one season. This year, he has unlocked another level to his game.

The 28-year-old is typically deployed as the central of three centre-backs for Alonso, alongside Edmond Tapsoba and either of Piero Hincapié or Odilon Kossounou. He has played in a variety of systems over the years at Leverkusen, however, he looks most at home in this back three formation.

One big reason is Tah's role in that back three - whilst partnering two adventurous defenders who love to go forward, Tah is more than comfortable being the last line of defence all on his own.

- DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga

Standing at 195cm, Tah is more than a handful to come up against as a striker and few have gotten the better of him physically in duels this season. Not only does he have the height to dominate duels, Tah also has good mobility and anticipation for danger which helps him put fires out before they spread.

With his defensive partners at the back engaging opposition attackers in wide areas, Tah locks down the central areas with his blend of physique and speed, too much for most Bundesliga strikers to handle even on the best of days. 

Perhaps even more importantly, Tah is a vocal leader at the back. Constantly communicating with his fellow defenders and midfielders in front of him to ensure that Alonso's side do not make unnecessary defensive compromises for offensive advantages.

Watch: Jonathan Tah's best moments in 2023/24

In an interview with Die Ziet, Tah spoke glowingly of Alonso's influence on his significant development since the Spaniard took over last season.

"Xabi Alonso has taken me to a new level. Now I'm even more unpleasant because I always have my opponent in my sight. The coach is always working on this with us defenders," said the former Hamburg defender. 

Leverkusen have transformed into one of Europe's most dominant teams under Alonso this season, their unbeaten record speaks for itself. On the pitch though, Die Werkself are first and foremost defensively in control, and Tah is a big part of that stability at the back.

Tah is the heartbeat of Leverkusen's defence. - DFL/Getty Images/Lukas Schulze

The numbers speak for themselves

Tah is just as imposing off the pitch, as he is on it. The Leverkusen defender's performances this term has produced some astonishing numbers which underline just how vital he has been for Alonso.

As a centre-back, the 28-year-old knows how to time his challenges perfectly and so when he makes a tackle, more often than not, he will come away with the ball. In fact, this season, Tah has won more than 60 percent of his duels overall in the Bundesliga. When you look at aerial duels in particular, that figure grows to over 70 percent, higher than any of Leverkusen's players.

Zoom out a little further, the numbers show us that Tah has won over 60% of his duels in eight of his nine Bundesliga seasons so far. When he can't win that first contact, he makes use of his deceptively quick speed to catch up to attackers.

He recorded a top speed of 35.8 km/h this term, which makes him the second-fastest centre-back, only VfL Wolfsburg's Maxence Lacroix has managed better. 

In addition to his superb defensive numbers, Tah helps Leverkusen by keeping the ball ticking, better than anyone, quite literally.

When looking at pass completion rate from open-play, Tah tops the Bundesliga with an incredible success rate of 96.47%, almost four per cent more than his Leverkusen team-mates Granit Xhaka and Tapsoba who are both close to 92.7%.

A big reason for this of course is that Tah's passing style is relatively safe and less risky than his team-mates. However, secure ball retention at the back is a big part of his job description as a defender in Alonso's system. With team-mates like Exequiel Palacios, Xhaka and Florian Wirtz, Tah's job as a passer is simple, to always find the spare man, which he usually does.

Have we spoken about his goals yet? 

Recording five goal contributions including four goals and one assist in the Bundesliga this season, it has been Tah's best attacking return since his top-flight career started.

One big reason for this uptick is Leverkusen's approach geared towards finding Tah in good positions either to score himself or win the first contact for his team-mates to grab a goal.

The German uses his size well in these situations and is a real weapon for Alonso's side from corners as he has shown with his goals. To put them into context, Tah has scored three of his goals from corners this term, for which is the best in the league alongside the likes of Harry Kane, Nico Schlotterbeck as well as Donyell Malen.

These goals have come in some huge moments for Leverkusen as well, a 90th-minute winner against VfB Stuttgart in the DFB Pokal, against Leipzig home and away in the league followed by impressive hits against Borussia Mönchengladbach and Union Berlin.

Jonathan Tah has been a strong presence in the opposing penalty box as well as the one he defends. - IMAGO/Kirchner-Media/TH

With the Bundesliga title wrapped up, Tah and co. will look forward to completing the perfect treble in the Pokal final as well as the Europa League final. Beyond the domestic season, Tah will lead Germany's efforts at clinching European silverware on home soil at the Euros this summer. 

Alongside former Stuttgart defender Antonio Rüdiger, the two will form a formidable duo at the heart of Germany's defence, a team blessed with young talents as well as players in the prime of their careers. 

Tah's growing quality may have been obvious to those who have witnessed his career from day one, however, he's had to wait a while for this moment and now, it looks like the stars are aligning perfectly.

A leader, a communicator and a rock at the back for Leverkusen, to quote Alonso, "All teams need a player like Jonathan Tah".