It's Bayer Leverkusen's time as they win a first-ever historic Bundesliga title

Published on 16 April 2024 at 16:00

On Sunday, 10,000 Leverkusen fans adorning black and red stormed the BayArena to commence celebrations on their club officially being crowned Bundesliga champions. In their 119 year history they have a singular DFB Pokal title lifted 31 years ago, a record which brandished them the nickname 'Neverkusen'.


There treble capitulation in the 2001-02 season, losing the European Cup final and DFB Pokal final as well as finishing one point behind Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund typified their 'Neverkusen' name.

On October 5 2022, managerial novice Xabi Alonso was appointed Gerardo Seoane's successor as Leverkusen took a risky plunge into the unknown to save their season. The former Real Sociedad B manager joined the club on match week eight with the club second from bottom, it was their worst league start since 1979.

In the preceding eight months of the 2022-23 season he rejuvenated a deflated squad to guide them to sixth place in the Bundesliga and reached the semi-finals of the Europa League for the first time since 1994-95.

During this incredible U-turn the Spaniard lead Leverkusen to a 14 game unbeaten streak and completely shifted the atmosphere at the club from scepticism of relegation to optimism and euphoria.

Last season epitomised the beginning of something special at Leverkusen under Xabi Alonso, he introduced a new identity and philosophy at the club but many believed it was a lucky honeymoon period and no one anticipated de-throning German behemoths Bayern Munich.

The last time the serial Bundesliga champions did not win the German title was 2011-12, when Leverkusen's crown jewel Florian Wirtz was eight, Xabi Alonso was winning La Liga as a player at Real Madrid and Jurgen Klopp was manager of Borussia Dortmund.

One of the key reasons for Leverkusen's rise is their intelligent transfer strategy, acquiring an accolade for being the kings of selling for profit. Homegrown academy star Kai Havertz was sold to Chelsea for £70m in 2021, Aston Villa splashed a combined £87m on Leon Bailey and Moussa Diaby and Heung-Min Son joined Tottenham for £30m in 2015.

This summer their recruitment strategy proved detrimental to re-building their team and crafting a squad that has quality in depth. At AFCON Leverkusen lost five key players including club top scorer Victor Boniface (Nigeria), Nathan Tella (Nigeria), Odilon Kossounou (Ivory Coast), Edmond Tapsoba (Burkina Faso) and Amine Adli (Morocco).

Yet despite suffering a depleted squad selection, Alonso refused to complain unlike several Premier League managers and instilled belief into his players giving fringe individuals like Patrick Schick and Piero Hincapie the opportunity to take their chance.

Schick has been influential in the second half of the season amid Victor Boniface's long-term groin injury sustained at AFCON, scoring 11 goals including two huge injury time winners in each leg of the Europa League Round of 16 against Qarabag. Leverkusen have had 16 different goal scorers this season.

This is what has been essential to Xabi Alonso's success at Leverkusen this season, the unity and team mentality which he has engrained into his players. Every player has understood and executed their individual role in the team, no matter how fringe and they have worked together on the pitch to create a well-oiled winning machine.


Individual stars have been just as important in the club's 43 game unbeaten run in all competitions this campaign. After losing left-back Mitchell Bakker and midfield stalwart Karem Demirbay in the summer, they were swift in allocating sufficient replacements.

Alex Grimaldo has to be one of the signings of the season, signed on a free transfer from SL Benfica. He was touted by a number of European giants including Arsenal, but joined Leverkusen because of the exciting project Alonso proposed to him.

The 28 year old has nine goals and 12 assists in the Bundesliga and he was earmarked by Xabi Alonso as the ideal attacking full-back to execute his highly effective 3-4-2-1 formation. Grimaldo and Frimpong as inverted full-backs give Leverkusen an overload in attack and have been catalysts to their winning formula.

Another key character was Granit Xhaka from Arsenal. After a difficult relationship with Arsenal fans he became a fan favourite last season in the title race and it was a shock for Gunners to see the maverick midfielder depart.

His leadership and charismatic personality has brought the perfect combination into the Leverkusen dressing room and the Swiss captain has become Alonso's eyes and ears in the centre of pitch.

At Leverkusen, football fans have finally seen Xhaka's quality now that the shackles are off and he is feeding off of the belief of his manager. He has provided a re-assuring presence at the heart of the midfield and has the passion and hunger which if channelled in the right way has shown to be infectious for his team.

Even signings like Jonas Hofmann, Josip Stanisic and Victor Boniface have all been successes and each one has played a part in Leverkusen's historic title.

Since day one this season through to securing the title on Sunday they have been on it and unlike Borussia Dortmund last season who stuttered at the final hurdle, they always looked confident and prepared.

Bayern Munich's capitulation in the title race this season aided Leverkusen, the Bavarian giants' decadence has been in decline in recent years and it seemed despite signing Harry Kane for £100m that this year was the end of their Bundesliga reign.

 In February, they despatched the reigning champions 3-0 at the BayArena single-handley consigning Thomas Tuchel to the exit door in the summer and while Bayern's form has fluctuated since Bayer have accelerated away to claim a 16 point lead, winning the title with 5 games remaining.

Even if Bayern Munich had been they're usual winning selves, they would have struggled to beat Alonso's Leverkusen. They are on course to break the Bundesliga points tally set by Bayern's treble winners in 2012-13.

Alonso has etched his name into eternal history here at Leverkusen, with fans re-naming the road up to the BayArena "Alonso Avenue" and despite his novice managerial career he already has a rising reputation amongst the highest echelons of football.

Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Liverpool all targeted the 42 year old coach as their next in line, but were rebuffed recently when he pledged his allegiance to Leverkusen for a further season. It looks like he has only just got started at Bayer and he will want to proof his credentials at the top level for yet another season to demonstrate his durability to potential suitors before a blockbuster move next year.

Meanwhile this season they are still on course to win a famous treble, facing a second-leg Quarter Final in the Europa League against West Ham this Thursday and then the DPK Pokal final.

Many will expect a harder challenge next season in the Bundesliga with an expected Bayern reinssance and the challenges that come with defending a title such as switching their tactical approach and juggling Champions League football.

Written by Lewis Eadie


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