Thomas Tuchel vs. Xabi Alonso: coaching experience vs. young pretender


Their respective routes to coaching's top table have taken different twists and turns but on Friday, Thomas Tuchel and Xabi Alonso will renew their Bundesliga acquaintances as the highly rated tacticians of the division's leading teams.

Bayern Munich boss Tuchel and Alonso, Bayer Leverkusen's tactician in chief, have come face to face several times in the Bundesliga in the past. As coaches, however, the pair narrowly avoided each other in the dugout last term.

Alonso took up the reins at the Werkself ahead of Bayer's Matchday 9 victory against against Schalke last season while Tuchel landed in the Bayern hotseat prior to Matchday 26. Just one game earlier, Leverkusen and Alonso inflicted a 2-1 defeat on the record champions in what was Julian Nagelsmann's last game in charge of the Bavarian giants.

That result would pave the way for Bayern's current coach to enter the fray. On Friday, Tuchel and Alonso will thus go head to head for the first time in a coaching capacity in what looks to be a fascinating prospect, not least with their respective sides battling it out at the top of the Bundesliga standings as the division's only remaining teams with 100 per cent records this term.  

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Watch: Alonso's Bayern memories  

At 50, Tuchel is the older of the two and unsurprisingly has more coaching experience under his belt. In 2009, the tactician took the job at Mainz and he would remain at the 05ers until 2014. Soon afterwards, he joined Borussia Dortmund and he would oversee the Black-and-Yellows for two years, a spell that cilminated with DFB Cup glory.

After a year and a half on the Paris Saint-Germain bench, Tuchel turned up at Chelsea, where he won the UEFA Champions League before eventually arrivign at the Bayern helm having overseen 517 senior competitive games.

In Alonso's case, the former highly successful midfilder was somthing of a coaching gamble for Leverkusen when he was offered the post at the BayArena in October 2022. He may have been a world and double European champion with Spain and multiple title winner with Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern, but he was a coaching novice on his return to Germany.

Indeed, aside from cutting his teeth as a coach at Real Madrid's youth academy, the 41-year-old had only taken charge of 98 competitive matches with Real Sociedad's B team prior to landing the job at Leverkusen. 

Watch: Tuchel's big Bundesliga moments 

Tuchel's rise to the coaching elite was somewhat different. Prior to arriving at Mainz, the Bavarian worked his way up through the youth set-ups at Stuttgart and Augsburg, looking after teams at U19 and U23 levels at the latter club. What Tuchel and Alonso do have in common, however, is the impact they have had on their respective teams soon after taking up their roles.  

For example, Bayern were averaging around 2.2 points per Bundesliga game under Tuchel's predecessor Nagelsmann. With the new man in charge, that increased to 2.4 points, albeit with a smaller pool of games to take into consideration. 

Leverkusen have enjoyed a similarly positive upturn since Alonso came in, the Werkself going from 1.6 points per game before the former Spain international took over to 1.9 now. Alonso has also led Bayer from the relegation zone to the top of the table in less than a year.

With nine points from nine games and a goal difference of +8 in 2023/24, Leverkusen are edging Bayern at the top of the Bundesliga standings as the only teams with a maximum haul. 

Watch: When Alonso outfoxed the mighty Bayern 

Although this is the first time the two will face off as coaches, both already know each other from past encounters in Germany. When Alonso was a midfielder at Bayern, he came up against ex-BVB coach Tuchel on four occasions: Bayern winning twice, the teams playing out a draw and Tuchel's Dortmund triumphing on just one occasion. 

Added to their Bundesliga meetings at the time, Bayern and BVB also played each other in three DFB Cup games and here, too, Alonso and his teammates maintained the upper hand. Bayern won the trophy in the 2016 final against Dortmund. On that occasion, Alonso remained on the bench as his side eventually won against Tuchel's Schwarzgelben on penalties.

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In the subsequent 2016 DFL Supercup, Alonso played the entire game as Bayern beat Dortmund 2-0. 

Tuchel would have the last laugh against his new coaching rival the last time the two came face to face, however. In the 2017 DFB Cup semi-final, when Dortmund, under their shrewd coach, stunned the Bavarian giants at the Allianz Arena, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory. 

And now the pair meet again across the coaching divide and in charge of two teams on fire at the beginning of what is already promising to be a fascinating Bundesliga campaign. But just who will prevail? Experienced overseer Tuchel or the young coaching pretender Alonso? Thankfully, we don't have long to wait to find out!