The Bundesliga title race has surprised fans and pundits alike. The relentless monotony of Bayern Munich winning ten in a row has finally begun to show signs of change as Borussia Dortmund challenge again. The rise of young stars like Jude Bellingham, Jamal Musiala, and Karim Adeyemi is joined by the rise of a young managerial prospect in Xabi Alonso.
All eighteen sides in Germany's top flight have played thirty games, leaving Xabi Alonso's Bayer Leverkusen in sixth place. Eight points separate Leverkusen and fourth-place SC Freiburg meaning the Spaniard's side has a chance of qualifying for Champions League football, albeit small.
Alonso has guided his side through a fourteen-game unbeaten run, treating fans to wins over RB Leipzig and Bayern Munich. With a fixture against third-place Union Berlin, Leverkusen can take points from a UCL-competing rival and propel themselves ever closer to the elusive top four. Coupled with a Europa League Semi-final against Jose Mourinho's beloved AS Roma, Leverkusen fans are in for an exciting end to Xabi Alonso's impressive debut season.
Style of Play
Alonso has favoured 3-5-2 and 3-4-3 formations this season, shifting to a five at the back when out of possession. Deploying three centre-halves provide extra protection from counter-attacks as the Spaniard's side looks to squeeze opponents into their half and dominate the pitch.
Setting up this way, Leverkusen widens the pitch and frees up space on the flanks for attacking players. Attacks are focused down the wing of the most offensive full-back allowing Moussa Diaby and Florian Wirtz to remain as central as possible.
While Leverkusen has found success using this system, their mixed-marking approach, defending players in zones rather than following runners, has left space in dangerous central areas for opposing sides.
Edmond Tapsoba, Moussa Diaby, and Jeremie Frimpong have collected the most outfield minutes for Xabi Alonso's side, proving key to the Spaniard's success.
Tapsoba is a physical ball-playing centre-back with the pace to cover Leverkusen's high defensive line. Leverkusen's back line spends a lot of time on the ball as they squeeze sides into their half, meaning Tapsoba and co need to be sharp in possession.
The defender has completed 86.2% of his attempted passes, leaving him above the likes of Raphael Varane across Europe's top five leagues. A reliable passer with the cutting edge to break opponent's lines, the youngster has also completed 127 progressive passes, with 114 pushing the German side into the opposing final third. No player has completed as many for Bayer Leverkusen, illustrating his importance.
At the other end of the pitch, Moussa Diaby and Jeremie Frimpong have formed an effective partnership with 30 combined goals and assists. Alonso will be looking to add more goals to the side, no doubt, but the dynamism of Diaby and Frimpong is already lethal.
Xabi Alonso remains among the most experienced players to grace a football pitch. Plying his trade with Real Sociedad, Liverpool, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich, the Spanish midfielder could hardly think up a better CV. Alonso is well set for a career in management, absorbing knowledge from the managers he worked under and having a grasp of several European languages, not to mention his footballing ability.
Next season, Alonso will be looking to sure up Leverkusen's defensive unit and hold on to his key players. This season has illustrated the Spaniard's potential as a manager and proven that joining Leverkusen was the right decision. However, Alonso must remain careful of stepping up too soon - a mistake many ex-pros make.