There are some clubs whose start to the new Bundesliga season has been good, there are some whose start has been bad, but in the case of Bayer Leverkusen, you’d have to say that their start has been in the very good category. The Werkself were touted pre-season as a dark horse to watch in the title race and coach Xabi Alonso has every reason to be very optimistic going forward after an impressive debut campaign last time out. There are currently a whole host of reasons for the Rhine club to be cheerful going forward this season, even if we are only three games in.
Going into the first international break of the season, Leverkusen couldn’t be in a healthier position. Three wins from three sees them top of the table with nine points, eleven goals scored and only three conceded. The fixture computer didn’t exactly hand them the easiest of starts but wins against both RB Leipzig and Borussia Mönchengladbach set them up nicely to complete the full house against Darmstadt on matchday 3.
The win over Leipzig to start off was a real shot in the arm, particularly in light of the impressive way the Roten Bullen had dismantled Bayern in the Supercup the week previously.
It was largely one-way traffic against Gladbach at the Borussia Park and after a token resistance from Darmstadt in the first half, they let rip in the second period to claim a comfortable 5-1 victory. So far, so very good.
The new signings
Much has been made of the travails of both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in this summer’s transfer window, but aside from perhaps RB Leipzig, it is hard to name a club that has had a better time of it in the transfer market.
Aside from Moussa Diaby, there were no major departures with Jonathan Tah and Jeremie Frimpong both being retained. The club have strengthened in key areas and strengthened with quality. The fullback berths have seen Alejandro Grimaldo, Brazilian Arthur and Josip Stanisic brought in with Granit Xhaka providing experience, muscle, and guile in the midfield.
Jonas Hofmann was a very savvy signing from Borussia Mönchengladbach, while striker Victor Boniface has hit the ground running with four goals already and the promise of many more to come. The capture of highly promising Nathan Tella from Southampton looks to be the final piece in the puzzle this season transfer-wise.
The Leverkusen squad looks really strong going into the new season as the new arrivals look to blend in with the established players. Xabi Alonso can set up with either a flat back four or a back three with Odilon Kossounou already looking ready to take the lead alongside Edmond Tapsoba and the rejuvenated Jonathan Tah. Piero Hincapie will also return from suspension to add an extra option.
The centre of midfield offers the bite of Xhaka, Robert Andrich and World Cup winner Exequiel Palacios, while Florian Wirtz already looks like he is set to return to his mercurial and creative best following his lengthy injury layoff last season.
Amine Adli started the season suspended but will no doubt come back in to provide options going forward, with Adam Hlozek primed for a good second season after bedding in last year. The potential return of Patrik Schick will give Bayer even more options in attack
The hiring of Xabi Alonso last season with Leverkusen second from bottom of the table was a risk, but a risk that has clearly paid off. After excelling in his playing career, Leverkusen took the gamble that he could replicate that in the technical area despite not having the experience to back it up.
The club were in a real bind when Gerardo Seoane was sacked, but Alonso didn’t just steady the ship, he steered it to within a hair’s breadth of the Europa League final and secured European football again this season.
It’s not for nothing that the Spaniard is already being earmarked for a future move to either Liverpool, Bayern Munich or even Real Madrid as head coach. In short, Leverkusen are in very good hands in Alonso and if he continues to develop the team at the same level as last season, then the good times are about to return to the Bay Arena.
The men behind the scenes
It is not just Alonso who deserves the credit for the current upswing. Sporting director Simon Rolfes has shown a real aptitude for player recruitment (as the above section indicates). Key areas for improvement are identified and the right players with he right profile are acquired for the right price.
The signing of striker Victor Boniface from Union St. Gilloise is a prime example of the club’s successful transfer policy and the fact he was €80 million cheaper than Harry Kane with so much more future potential is testament to their ideals. Stefan Kießling’s administrative role lends the club a familial feel and CEO Fernando Carro is one of the most forward-thinking club bosses in the league.
The club also have a number of exciting youth players coming through meaning that the future also looks bright. 18-year-old Noah Mbamba is a real prospect having joined last season, while fellow midfielder Gustavo Puerta (20) has signed from Nürnberg. Ayman Aourir has also been promoted from the U-19 squad.
As league leaders Leverkusen will start after the international break with a trip to the Allianz Arena to test their credentials against champions Bayern. The hosts will be slight favourites, but such is the progress under Alonso and the positivity surrounding the team that the term ‘slight’ means a lot.
Leipzig have already shown that Bayern are not invincible and a positive result will only strengthen the belief that the Werkself can achieve something special this season.