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HomeBundesligaXabi Alonso and Bayer Leverkusen one win from immortality

Xabi Alonso and Bayer Leverkusen one win from immortality

Bayer Leverkusen have had to endure their fair share of sneers in German football. Perennial Bundesliga bridesmaids, Leverkusen have come close before, often agonisingly, but never like this.

Xabi Alonso’s swashbuckling side will be crowned Bundesliga champions with a win at home to Werder Bremen this weekend, a triumph which would mark a first-ever coronation for Die Werkself.

 

Leverkusen have been regulars at the top end of the Bundesliga for decades but that has not translated to tangible trophy success. Indeed, their only honours are the 1988 UEFA Cup and a sole DFB-Pokal won five years later, two pieces of silverware that leave Leverkusen behind SpVgg Greuther Fรผrth and Karlsruher SC among Germany’s most successful sides.

‘No one remembers the runners-up’ we’re often told, though that’s not strictly true. Leverkusen have become football’s famous runners-up, second in the Bundesliga four times in just five seasons across the turn of the millennium and again in 2010/11.

 

In 1999/2000, Leverkusen lost the league on goal difference. Needing only a point to be crowned champions, a Michael Ballack own-goal contributed to a 2-0 final day defeat to SpVgg Unterhaching in a costly collapse.

The club’s infamous 2001/02 season lives longest in the memory, however, a cursed campaign that cemented the unwanted ‘Neverkusen’ moniker in the minds.

Klaus Toppmรถller’s side were 11 days from greatness but saw their treble dream die. Two defeats from their final three league games saw Dortmund snatch the title before Leverkusen lost the DFB-Pokal final to Schalke a week later.

To compound their misery, that majestic swing of Zinedine Zidane’s left boot extinguished hopes of Champions League success against Real Madrid in the final at Hampden Park.

This time, things are different. Alonso’s side are not battling for the Bundesliga but breezing towards it. Win against Werder this weekend and Leverkusen will be crowned champions with five games to spare. They’ve not even lost a single game.

Just two teams have completed an entire league campaign without defeat in one of Europe’s top five leagues this century. None, however, have ever done so in the Bundesliga.

Alonso improved a struggling team last season and added to it in the summer. Of those additions, several have been integral.

Victor Boniface has been one of the Bundesliga’s breakout stars, while Granit Xhaka is nearing the league title that evaded him at Arsenal last season. Alejandro Grimaldo, meanwhile, has been arguably the Player of the Season with nine goals and 11 assists from full-back.

Immortality beckons for Bayer, though their season does not end with Bundesliga success. Leverkusen are unbeaten in all competitions this season, a run of 42 games without defeat.

A DFB-Pokal final with second-tier FC Kaiserslautern awaits next month, while the Germans are in pole position to reach the Europa League’s last four after a 2-0 win over West Ham in their quarter-final first leg this week.

History will ensure that no chickens are counted at Leverkusen before being hatched, though the anticipation is palpable.

 

In a summer that saw Bayern Munich break the Bundesliga transfer record to sign Harry Kane, the expectation was that the Bavarian behemoth would sweep to a 12th consecutive championship. Bayern have the third-highest wage bill in European football, almost four times that of Leverkusen’s. Alonso’s side, for context, are 30th, behind Brighton, Fulham and Crystal Palace.

Despite the financial disparity and the ghosts of past failures, Leverkusen look set to overcome the odds. Win this weekend, or in any of their final six games, and they will not just take the title from Bayern, but rip it from their 11-year grasp.

Neverkusen, no more.

Read –ย Midfield Magicians: Xabi Alonso, the grand master of 4D chess

See more –ย Five of the best young managers in world football right now

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