Bundesliga: Leverkusen's transformation into first-round champions

There was something masterful about Xabi Alonso's celebration.

Bundesliga: Leverkusen's transformation into first-round champions

There was something masterful about Xabi Alonso's celebration. There was something masterful about Bayer Leverkusen's dull factor. And also Florian Wirtz’s mentality

But the Leverkusen last-minute winners were far from being persuaded to make an announcement in the direction of record champions FC Bayern Munich. There was something masterful about that too, whether you want to call it masterful restraint or even masterful self-confidence.

"I'm not interested in that at all. We've always said that we're concentrating on ourselves. The win gives us three points and we don't care about the rest," announced sports director Simon Rolfes after the 1-0 scoreline in stoppage time (0 :0) on Saturday at the start of the year.

Will “Vizekusen” finally become “Meisterkusen”?

For the third time in the club's history, the Werkself won the unofficial title of first-round champions and remained unbeaten in 26 competitive games across all competitions. After the half-time crown in 2009/10, Leverkusen ended up only fourth, and in 2001/02 they were still second. But because Bayer also lost out in the finals of the Champions League and the DFB Cup, the club was branded as “Vizekusen”.

Is the extremely grounded Xabi Alonso currently managing to transform into “Meisterkusen”? Has Bayer become Bavaria to some extent? That could be a good thing, but the former star strategist at Liverpool FC, Real Madrid and FC Bayern wouldn't announce it.

"It's just a win, but we want to keep going," said the Spanish coach after the successful start to 2024. "Now we'll enjoy the win a little and will focus fully on the game in Leipzig from Monday."

Leverkusen is mature and straightforward

Xabi Alonso acts calmly and strategically at the same time. The full-range shot from Argentine world champion Exequiel Palacios (90th 4th minute) also caused him to jump in celebration. "That's the best thing in football when you try, try, try and then score at the last moment. It's a euphoric moment for everyone on the bench, for the fans and also for the players," said the Bayer coach.

He then spoke about an important factor in the game of the mature and straightforward Leverkusen team: "The boys had the belief to try until the end. The last goal was not luck, but a reward for a good game."

It might have been even better if regulars like Victor Boniface (adductors), Edmond Tapsoba or Odilon Kossounou (both Africa Cup of Nations) had been there. But a start like this, despite all the personnel problems, allows self-confidence to grow. Rolfes praised the Bundesliga leaders’ “faith, will, determination and resilience.” “We forced it a little bit too.”

If a result isn't right, the Werkself will now make it right. That's what people usually say about FC Bayern in Germany.

"That's just awesome"

“These victories taste much better than a 3-0 or 4-0,” said goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky and explained the changed self-image: “Something has emerged in the team as a result of the victories and success, we have to keep a certain hunger for more. "

After such euphoric successes, this should continue to be easy for the time being. "My heart is still pounding. The adrenaline is rushing through," said national player Jonas Hofmann after the 14th first round win, which means FC Bayern remain four points behind the leaders for the time being. "That's just awesome."

Hradecky's unfinished sentence

Despite all their enthusiasm, the people of Leverkusen do not want to forget their almost boring objectivity under any circumstances. "For us it's like a marathon. We're only at kilometer 17, even though a marathon obviously has more kilometers than 17," said Hofmann on the TV channel Sky. "We stay true to ourselves, stay humble and do our job. Everyone who runs a marathon wants to reach the finish line at the end. We do everything we can to achieve that."

In Leverkusen, of course, it depends on the placement. Where can Bayer's journey end in May? "If we take it so seriously, then, yeah, I don't know..." said Hradecky and had to laugh himself at his unfinished sentence. But at Bayer they know only too well which appropriate words could be inserted.