2023 has come to an end and the Bundesliga enters its traditional Winterpause, which gives us here at Bundesliga Fanatic the ideal opportunity to take a closer look at each of the eighteen clubs and rate their performance in the first half of the season. First up we run the rule over Herbstmeister Bayer Leverkusen.
The story so far
After the massive improvement under Xabi Alonso last season, Bayer Leverkusen were being mentioned as potential title challengers this season in some circles, but few could have predicted just how spectacularly their Hinrunde would have gone. They have gone through the first half of the season unbeaten in all competitions and have played with a style that is winning admirers from far and wide. They now have the best chance in years to finally rid themselves of their cruel ‘Neverkusen’ nickname.
The season began with the tricky visit of RB Leipzig, but the Werkself emerged with a deserved 3-2 win over their fellow title-aspirants before beating both Mönchengladbach (3-0) and Darmstadt (5-1). Champions Bayern were up next at the Allianz Arena, but they were a match for the Rekordmeister and came away with a 2-2 draw thanks to a late penalty dispatched by Exequiel Palacios.
There followed a run of eight consecutive wins with nobody able to find a way of stopping Alonso’s brand of high-pressing, passing intense, attacking football. All of Leverkusen’s summer signings were making an impact with Victor Boniface regularly finding the back of the net, Granit Xhaka providing the fulcrum in midfield and Alejandro Grimaldo and Jonas Hofmann both adding to the attacking momentum.
None of the eight games won in succession could be said to be lucky, or close affairs with Bayer controlling every game and highly confident in their ability to break teams down. The winning run came to an end with consecutive 1-1 draws against both Borussia Dortmund and VfB Stuttgart, but they returned to winning ways with two wins over Eintracht Frankfurt (the conquerors of Bayern) and Bochum before the winter break.
Their attacking flair was one of the keys to their success, but in conceding just 12 goals they had the tightest defence in the Bundesliga with Lukas Hradecky keeping seven clean sheets out of his sixteen appearances. Leverkusen also won all six of their Europa League group stage matches and also progressed with ease into the quarter-finals of the DFB Pokal.
In terms of the perfect Hinrunde, Xabi Alonso has gone close with Leverkusen’s performance, but the challenge now is to obviously keep things going once the league restarts, but with the added hindrance that four key players will be absent at the African Cup of Nations (Odilon Kossounou, Edmond Tapsoba, Victor Boniface and Amine Adli).
Tale of the tape
Record: 13-3-0, 42 points (2.63 per game), 1st in Bundesliga
Home Record: 25 points (8-1-0) Away Record: 17 points (5-2-0)
Goals: 46 (2.88 per game), Goals Against: 12 (0.75 per game), Diff: +34
xG: 33.7, xGA: 15.5
With the Hinrunde running almost perfectly it is hard to pinpoint a single highlight with the whole first half of the season being a glorious highlight for the Werkself. The goals of Victor Boniface and Alejandro Grimaldo have been impressive, the defence has been immense, Florian Wirtz has purred with creativity and Leverkusen’s play has been a pleasure to watch.
They enjoyed big wins against Darmstadt (5-1), Union Berlin (4-0) and Bochum (4-0). Matching Bayern at the Allianz Arena was another moment to savour as was Patrik Schick’s return to form with his first-half hat trick against Bochum.
Were there any? That’s how good Leverkusen have been so far this season.
Again, picking out one player from what has been a real team performance is a struggle. All of the new signings have had an instant impact, while key players from last season have maintained their high standards (Kosssounou, Wirtz, Frimpong, Palacios). However, if pushed to select a name, it would be that of Alejandro Grimaldo. He has scored seven Bundesliga goals and added six assists, been an ever-present and become a Spanish international in the process. He has however been one great performer amongst many.
Almost the perfect Hinrunde from Leverkusen and the fact that there is nothing really to criticise at all is testament to that. We are only at the halfway stage, so nothing is decided yet, but if they can carry their Hinrunde form forward into 2024, it is hard to imagine anyone stopping them- even Bayern Munich. If is a very big word though!