EIt’s not a completely new realization that little things often make the difference when big successes are planned and achieved in football. So it was quite fitting that on the day of another Leverkusen record, a seemingly marginal aspect was suddenly discussed. Observers counted during the Bundesliga leaders’ 4-0 win Bayer Leverkusen against Union the number of balls that were placed around the field, some observers came to 29, others to 30.
There should always be a way to quickly resume play if a ball goes out of bounds. “It’s not my idea, but I appreciate it,” Trainer said Xabi Alonso“This helps us to keep a high tempo and not give the opponent any time to rest.”
Alonso is an experienced expert in dealing with such details, the sum of which often creates titles. The balls may also have contributed to the record series of eleven league games without defeat, during which the Werkself scored 31 points. It’s only that good so far Pep Guardiola started a Bundesliga season with FC Bayern, that was in 2016, with Alonso as a player, by the way.
“It’s important how we play without the ball”
“The record is not a goal, but a consequence,” said the Basque about these numbers. “I’m proud, but it doesn’t mean much to me.” The twelve competitive game wins in a row are also a new club record for Bayer Leverkusen, but this too went largely unnoticed. The main focus is on the team’s ultra-intensive and at the same time extremely harmonious game, which this Sunday was exceptionally dominated by the defensive players.
After weeks of celebrating Victor Boniface, Florian Wirtz and Jonas Hofmann for their offensive art, said Granit Xhaka on Sunday: “Many people talk about how we play good football, but the most important thing is how we play without the ball. We hardly allow anything and have now become better at set-pieces.” Leverkusen’s counter-pressing was fascinatingly good, and the dreaded Berlin switching moments were nipped in the bud. The alertness and attentiveness with which Bayer Leverkusen played every single second of the game was an impressive display of strength.
Every player seemed to defend every single situation with maximum energy. It doesn’t often happen that such a superior top team maintains such an internal attitude even when they are clearly in the lead. The new bottom team from Köpenick didn’t have a single chance to score, while for the Werkself with Alejandro Grimaldo (23rd), Odilon Kossounou (57th) and Jonathan Tah (73′) three defenders scored before Nathan Tella contributed the fourth goal (83′). “That’s what sets this team apart: If they don’t score at the front, they score from behind,” said Xhaka. The stability of this team seems to be unshakable.
Against this background, the perspectives that Alonso takes when he looks into the future are interesting. He doesn’t announce any specific title goals; the focus shouldn’t be directed too far forward so that the attention on the present remains. At the same time, the Basque does not resort to the outdated claim that he thinks “from game to game”, but rather it is about seasonal blocks.
“A feeling, but no security”
“I’m very happy with what we did in the period between international breaks: seven games, seven wins,” said the coach, who reportedly has a release clause for a move to Real Madrid next summer, where Carlo Ancelotti will be leaving to become Brazil’s national coach.
This season may be the only chance for Bayer Leverkusen to win a title with Alonso, who warned his team: “We have often seen that teams play a very strong first half of the season and a weak second half of the season. For us it’s now about the next phase: eight games – that is, until Christmas. Meanwhile, Alonso clearly countered the dangerous assumption that this almost perfectly playing ensemble could be on the way to the German championship title given its impressive strength. “There is a feeling, but not security,” he said.
Apparently everyone in this club is aware of the old danger of football, which consists of slacking off in some small area and possibly losing one’s own skills. The sweet current condition is maintained with corresponding care. “It’s just brutal fun, especially for everyone,” said Tah, “but we also know where it comes from: It comes from our hard work every day, and that’s exactly what we can’t lose in all the celebration and all the euphoria.”
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