Updated April 15th, 2024 at 09:48 IST

Why Leverkusen won the Bundesliga: 5 reasons Xabi Alonso's team beat Bayern to the German title

With five games left, Leverkusen's 5-0 thumping of Werder Bremen on Sunday gave them a 16-point lead over Bayern, making it impossible for them to close the gap.

Leverkusen's fans raise a mock champions trophy as they celebrate winning the German championship on the pitch after the Bundesliga soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and Werder Bremen at BayArena | Image: AP

Few expected Xabi Alonso and Bayer Leverkusen to dethrone Bayern Munich and win the Bundesliga title race this season. Even fewer expected they would do it in such dominant style.

Leverkusen's 5-0 rout of Werder Bremen on Sunday left the new champion 16 points clear with five games remaining, too far ahead for Bayern to catch up.


Here are five ways Leverkusen bested Bayern over the course of the season:


England captain Harry Kane seemed like exactly the striker Bayern needed when he signed for over $100 million from Tottenham. A free transfer at Leverkusen arguably had more impact. Alejandro Grimaldo signed from Benfica for no fee and transformed the team. With nine goals and 13 assists in 29 Bundesliga appearances, Grimaldo is comfortable crossing, passing to the other flank or simply scoring on his own — a skill set that gives Alonso plenty of options. Grimaldo was rewarded with a Spain debut in November. Granit Xhaka and Jonas Hofmann brought experience and guile to the midfield in an otherwise young squad. Victor Boniface scored 10 league goals early in the season but was then injured. He scored Leverkusen's first goal from the penalty spot on Sunday.

Kane's 32 goals in the Bundesliga have certainly boosted Bayern, which lacked a top-level striker after Robert Lewandowski left in 2022, but other signings have had mixed results. Kim Min-jae has been solid in defense, but Eric Dier, Konrad Laimer and Raphael Guerreiro haven't seemed like clear upgrades to Bayern's squad. Winter signings Sacha Boey and Bryan Zaragoza have barely played.



There's a reason Alonso is one of the most in-demand coaches in Europe — but he's staying in Leverkusen for now . The son of a coach, Alonso learned from the best as a player under Carlo Ancelotti, Pep Guardiola, Rafael Benítez and Jose Mourinho. While he favors a possession-based game that breaks opposition teams down or else tires them out trying to press — one reason for Leverkusen's tendency to win games later on — Alonso can be flexible too. In Leverkusen's crucial 3-0 win over Bayern in February, he switched to a back four and emphasized the counterattacking style he'd employed the season before. Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel shook up his own tactics in an apparent attempt to counter the pace of Leverkusen's Jeremie Frimpong, but Alonso had benched him and the changes backfired.



Leverkusen's success is mirrored by Bayern's failings. Tuchel, who is leaving at the end of the season , has spent much of the year complaining his team performs excellently in training but can't reproduce the magic in a real game. He seems no closer to solving that puzzle. Injuries to key players like Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sané, Kingsley Coman and several defenders mean Tuchel has rarely had the same team available from week to week. After Leverkusen beat Bayern in February, Bayern crumbled, winning just three of its next seven league games as Leverkusen built a big lead. Bayern seemingly dismissed Leverkusen as a threat when it allowed right back Josip Stanišić to join Alonso's team on loan in August. He scored against Bayern in February.



Going 43 games unbeaten takes skill and tactical intelligence. It also needs mental strength. Leverkusen specializes in winning games in the final minutes. Striker Patrik Schick scored four stoppage-time goals in the Bundesliga and Europa League last month alone. “In many key games during the season we have had this mentality, this character to come back, not to give up in difficult situations,” Alonso said Wednesday.



Playing for a historic treble in the Bundesliga, German Cup and Europa League means a packed schedule and little rest. European draws sent the team to Norway, Sweden and Azerbaijan (twice). Alonso has found the right balance to rest players while keeping enough of his core lineup on the field to win. That means nurturing players like winger Nathan Tella, who was mostly on the bench in the Bundesliga until the new year, but has contributed with crucial goals and assists since then.


Published April 15th, 2024 at 09:48 IST