It’s fair to say that the current mood at Bayer Leverkusen is on a high following their 2-1 win over Bayer Munich on matchday 25. The international break has probably come at the wrong time for the Werkself, who are showing their best form of the season. Trainer Xabi Alonso has not only steadied the ship at the Bay Arena but steered it onto a new course. The question now is how far can Leverkusen go? Is Europe an option? Or maybe even the top four?
When Xabi Alonso surprisingly succeeded Gerardo Seoane in October Leverkusen were languishing in 17th place after eight games having secured just five measly points. There was clearly something very wrong at the club and the inexperienced Spaniard was the man entrusted to put things right.
And put things right he certainly has with the Rhineland club now sitting in eighth place with six wins out of their last seven on all competitions. They are just three points behind Eintracht Frankfurt, who occupy a Europa League berth and a top six finish will very much be the target with nine games remaining. Alonso has also steered his side into the Europa League quarter-finals where Bayer will face Belgian side Union St. Gilloise.
The euphoria following the Bayern win has understandably led fans to raise their hopes regarding the European places this season, but sporting director Simon Rolfes is taking a more cautious approach. “Step by step. I said we want to finish 7th. We’re close to that. We’re closer to 6th place. That’s the focus for now. We’ll see what might happen after. It’s a win against Bayern, but we have to keep our feet on the ground and keep going.”
Alonso has shown his tactical awareness and has his players playing to their potential- something that wasn’t the case under Seoane. He is utilising the pace of Jeremie Frimpong and Moussa Diaby, while also finding solutions to compensate for the absence of Patrik Schick through injury. World Cup winner Exequiel Palacios is being given more responsibility and enjoying it. Leverkusen definitely have all the individual quality to push on and achieve a top 6 finish, but should their current form continue, you couldn’t rule out a top 4 finish- especially if the likes of Eintracht, Leipzig or Freiburg falter.
Leverkusen have come a long way already under Alonso, but it remains to be seen how far they can still go this season.
Leverkusen’s run-in: (01/04) Schalke (a), (08/04) Eintracht Frankfurt (h), (16/04) VfL Wolfsburg (a), (23/04) RB Leipzig (h), (29/04) Union Berlin (a), (06/05) Köln (h), (13/05) VfB Stuttgart (a), (20/05) Borussia Mönchengladbach (h), (27/05) VfL Bochum (a)