The decision to change coaches early in the season is never taken lightly and the choice of a new trainer is intended to give the team new impetus and shake things up in a positive way. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In the case of Bayer Leverkusen this season it definitely worked with CEO Fernando Carro making an excellent call in bringing in inexperienced Xabi Alonso. The season started on a real low and very nearly finished on an amazing high.
A third place finish under Gerardo Seoane in the previous season saw Leverkusen admired for their attacking flair and big things were expected this season with some even talking of a potential title challenge in pre-season. The reality once the season kicked-off was the polar opposite and sadly Seoane was out of a job after just eight matches.
Opening the campaign with three successive losses was not the ideal start and a win at Mainz on matchday four was only a temporary upturn. Two points from their next three games were followed by an abysmal 4-0 defeat to Bayern where the deficiencies in the team’s attitude were rudely exposed. Something was very amiss at the Bay Arena with the club 17th in the table after eight matches and when they lost their second game in the Champions League group stage, the plug was pulled on coach Gerardo Seoane.
Former Bayern midfielder Xabi Alonso was the surprise replacement, but the decision proved to be the right one. Schalke were beaten 4-0 in the Spaniard’s first game in charge, but another Champions League loss to Porto was followed by a 5-1 defeat at Frankfurt. A point against Wolfsburg and a loss to RB Leipzig followed but seeds of recovery were being sown and the final three games before the Winterpause were all won. Leverkusen had climbed to 12th.
The start of the New Year carried on where they had left off in November with two consecutive wins. Losses to Dortmund, Augsburg and Mainz were to be the last for a while as long unbeaten run ensued. A draw with Freiburg was followed by six wins and a draw . The highlight of the run was a home win over Bayern Munich courtesy of two penalties from Exequiel Palacios and the result prompted the demise of Julian Nagelsmann.
A win over Leipzig on matchday 29 took Leverkusen to sixth in the table and the prospect of European qualification was very much on the cards (something unthinkable during the dark days of August and September). Progress in the Europa League took them to the semi-finals, but their dreams of glory were snuffed out by a very negative Roma side. A loss to Köln and draws with Stuttgart and Mönchengladbach made things tight at the top, but a last day loss to Bochum in the end didn’t prove too calamitous with Bayer finishing 6th and in the European places.
Xabi Alonso greatly impressed and turned a sinking ship around to within touching distance of a European final. The team (containing the same players as under Seoane) performed much better and seemed to take to his tactical formation and instructions on board. Bayer Leverkusen’s season was like a reversal of the old saying: ‘What goes up, must come down’.
The home win over Bayern was a highlight as was the revenge victory gained over RB Leipzig on matchday 29. The 5-0 win over Union Berlin in November saw a stunning second half display and the Europa League away performance in Monaco was another moment to remember.
The renaissance in the Rückrunde as a whole under Xabi Alonso can be seen as a highlight compared with the dire displays witnessed at the start of the season.
Most of the lowlights came in the early part of the season when the Werkself were really struggling. The 4-0 defeat at the Allianz Arena on matchday 8 was just the culmination of an appalling start to the season and was to be Gerardo Seoane’s final Bundesliga game in charge.
The 5-1 defeat at Eintracht Frankfurt on matchday 10 was their biggest loss of the season, while the embarrassing first round exit from the DFB Pokal to minnows Elversberg was another low point in the season right from day one.
Tale of the Tape
Record: 14-8-12, 50 points (1.47 per game), 6th in Bundesliga
Home Record: 27 points (8-3-6) Away Record: 23 points (6-5-6)
Goals: 57 (1.68 per game), Goals Against: 49 (1.44 per game), Diff: +8
xG: 51.4, xGA: 42.8, Diff: +8.6
Leverkusen’s 57 goals scored was below the 80 they scored in the previous season, but then Patrik Schick had an extraordinary campaign in 2021-22 and was largely absent this season. The top scorer was Moussa Diaby with nine goals with Jeremie Frimpong getting eight. The lack of a true number nine to guarantee 20+ goals a season was missing from the Leverkusen squad.
Adam Hlozek scored five but was often used wide on the left, Amine Adli also scored five with Iranian Sardar Azmoun bagging four. Patrik Schick actually got three in the early part of the season before injury ruled him out.
The defence played predominantly with a back three this season, but had the personnel and flexibility to go to a back four when required. Edmond Tapsoba, Jonathan Tah and Odilon Kossonou were the primary central defender with Piero Hincapie as the left full back and Jeremie Frimpong on the right. Mitchell Bakker got more minutes under Alonso, while midfielder Robert Andrich was also drafted into the back line in a tactical shake-up.
Lukas Hradecky made a few blunders at the start of the season, but returned to his usual reliable self as the season progressed. The whole defensive unit certainly became more harmonious and organised under the guidance of Xabi Alonso.
The return to action of Florian Wirtz in the New Year was hugely welcome news following his long injury lay-off. Robert Andrich was the anchor in midfield allowing the more creative players to thrive. Exequiel Palacios became a World Cup winner and his influence on the side also grew this season.
There was plenty of rotation amongst the midfielders with a wide range of options open to trainer Alonso. Kerem Demirbay and Nadiem Amiri both got their chances, but a few fresh faces are needed.
It was an extremely quiet transfer period for Leverkusen last summer with just one signing and a loan arrival. Forward Adam Hlozek was signed from Sparta Prague for €13 million and with Patrik Schick’s injury keeping him out all season his arrival gave further options up front. Callum-Hudson Odoi came in on a season-long loan from Chelsea with much fanfare after previously being tracked by Bayern, but the wide man didn’t really have the desired impact and his time at the club won’t be remembered.
The January transfer window saw two young players signed for the future in 19-year-old Colombian midfielder Gustavo Puerta (€2 million from Bogota FC) and 18-year-old midfielder Noah Mbamba (€100,000 from FC Brugge). A back-up keeper was also purchased in the form of Patrick Pentz from Stade Reims.
Player of the Season
Pace had always been the key strength to his game, but this season fullback/ wing back Jeremie Frimpong added both goals and assists to his game as his developed his relationship with Moussa Diaby down Leverkusen’s right flank. Eight goals and seven assists was the season’s tally and he has become a target for a big-money move to the Premier League with Manchester United reportedly the front-runners for his signature.
Leverkusen largely kept faith with the players from the previous season so in terms of newcomers the field is somewhat limited. Adam Hlozek was the only real investment and five goals may not seem a huge haul, he did show plenty of signs that he can develop. Xabi Alonso just needs to decide whether to deploy him as an out-and-out front man or use him wide in a front three.
Xabi Alonso took Leverkusen from 17th place when he took over to 6th at the end of the season and secured European football again next season. The European adventure in the Europa League came very close to the Werkself reaching a European final and it was only a highly negative display from Jose Mourinho’s Roma that denied them.
The outlook in the opening weeks of the season were bleak, but the club turned the corner and showed their quality as the season progressed. Under Xabi Alonso the future looks bright.