• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Tiki-Taka, Gegenpress and Granit Xhaka – the key to Bundesliga glory?

ByRhys Woodward

Jan 30, 2024
Xabi Alonso

I know what you’re thinking: the Bundesliga is a boring one-horse league that lacks any real opposition and ends up with the same champions year after year . And, if I’m honest, it would be hard to disagree with that. 

Take Bayern Munich’s recent dominance. 11 league titles in a row is nothing short of astonishing and  puts even Paris Saint-Germain’s French supremacy to shame. To not have any other team win Germany’s premier competition since the 2011–2012 season is testament to the sheer class with which Bayern play and the ability they have to put any sort of reasonable opposition to the sword. 

So, you might now be asking, ‘Why on earth would I read an article (or even care) about anything to do with the Bundesliga?’ Well, stay with me. 

Take a look at the Bundesliga table. One would expect Bayern to be five or six points ahead of their closest opposition (usually Borussia Dortmund) at this stage in the season, with no signs of fatigue in their chase of that illustrious 34th title. Yet Xabi Alonso seems to be telling a wholly different story. It is, in fact, the Nordrhein-Westfalen-based Bayer 04 Leverkusen who seem to be running away with it. 

Let’s be clear: Leverkusen are no minnows. In their 119-year history, they’ve racked up a DFB Pokal (Germany’s equivalent to the FA Cup), a UEFA Cup, and finished as runners-up to del Bosque’s Galacticos in the Champions League final in 2002—remember Zidane’s Hampden wondergoal? 

It should therefore be no surprise that Leverkusen is right up there in the running. But it’s the way in which Xabi Alonso has revolutionised this club through a combination of elegant tactics, savvy summer signings, and individual excellence from Victor Boniface, Alejandro Grimaldo, and a revitalised Granit Xhaka. 

While Alonso took time to settle in West Germany, he has started the 23/24 season with fifteen wins and three draws,  managing to remain undefeated through the campaign so far. His own brand of possession-based football has taken the league by storm, with ‘Die Schwarzroten’ holding an impressive average rate of 62% possession. However, it’s the way in which they use this possession that is truly fascinating. 

They are dynamic, tactically well-drilled, and will use their wingbacks with great utility. For instance, Grimaldo and Frimpong (their usual starters) attack aggressively with the team in a way that is almost reminiscent of the glory days of Alexander-Arnold and Robertson under Klopp. Yet as soon as the ball is lost, they retreat back to the halfway line to defend. Alonso has his team in peak physical condition, and these two players seem to lead the way in this regard, considering they’ve accumulated over 3900 playing minutes between them in 18 games. 

Also, impressive summer signings have certainly contributed to this newly found success. Take Granit Xhaka for example. Having left Arsenal in the summer after a relatively tumultuous time in North London, nobody could have predicted the extent to which the Swiss international would flourish under Alonso and how well he would fit into the Spaniard’s system. He now finds himself an integral part of his team and has started every single game—something that wouldn’t have seemed even a distant possibility six months ago.

The Leverkusen players have crucially been given time to settle and gel together during the season; shockingly, Alonso has only made eight changes to his starting XI since the start of the season. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that second-place Heidenheim has made 15. The impressive spine of Hradecky through to Tah through to Xhaka maintains a strong defensive unit, with Grimaldo and Frimpong controlling the wide areas. I suppose that Victor Boniface, with his sixteen goals in eighteen games, must help too. 

So, what will the rest of this season and, indeed, the longer-term future hold for Leverkusen and Alonso’s men in red and black? Don’t hold me to it, but I think that they’ve got it in them. I honestly think that they can go the whole way. We’re halfway through the season and, while two points is a slim lead, they still have a strong position and are setting the pace. Let’s not forget also that Bayern will also need to focus on the Champions League, such is the expectation of such an enormous club. With Lazio coming to Bavaria on March 5 and looking to cause an upset, Bayern will need to be firing on all cylinders if they want to push towards that seventh European Cup. 

And who knows, maybe the Kane curse is real?Tiki-Taka, Gegenpress and Granit Xhaka – the key to Bundesliga glory?

Xabi Alonso Euro 2012 vs France 01” by Дмитрий Неймырок is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.