This kind of result makes you sit up and take notice. Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 Bayern Munich. If it wasn’t clear already, it is now; Xabi Alonso is European football’s next great coach and it would be an act of lunacy for Liverpool to look anywhere else for Jurgen Klopp’s successor.
The win kept up Bayer Leverkusen’s unbeaten run in all competitions. Thirty-one games. Twenty-seven wins. Four draws. They’re now five points clear at the top of the Bundesliga and still going great guns on all fronts. Not only is Alonso leading Leverkusen – a club that have never won the Bundesliga – to one of the greatest seasons in their history, but he’s masterminding one of the great campaigns from any team, anywhere.
It was a flagship performance that will long be looked back on as one of the defining moments for this side. Not since Klopp himself was at Dortmund have Bayern had an opponent of this quality – not only the team, but the architect of their excellence.
The comprehensive scoreline was representative of the chasm between the two sides. Leverkusen registered just 38% possession but were perfect with and without the ball. They limited Harry Kane, a striker on track to break Robert Lewandowski’s Bundesliga record, to his quietest game. They registered eight shots on target to Bayern’s one and kept Thomas Tuchel’s side, the xG leaders of European football, to just 0.27xG.
It brought to mind the time Klopp’s Dortmund went and beat Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid 4-1 over a decade ago. A statement of a changing of the guard. The future has arrived.
Bayern’s wage bill and squad cost dwarfs Leverkusen, but here was a better-coached side bloodying their noses. This was no fluke. Leverkusen are a team built in Alonso’s image, and he demonstrated that by explaining in great detail how they did it – how they pressed and how they dominated the game by controlling spaces across the pitch.
“We have controlled well the right moment when to press, when to wait, who could have the ball, who could not have the ball,” Alonso told ESPN FC pitchside reporter Archie Rhind-Tutt after the final whistle.
“The discipline they have, not being so dominant with the ball, but to be dominant without the ball. I think that we have done that. Without the ball we have been able to control the spaces, not to receive many chances, to wait for our chance, for sure the first goal was really important.
“The determination, the conviction of the press is what comes to mind first. I need to say thank you to them [the players] to push them, to help them, to keep going.”
Leverkusen’s discipline, determination and conviction was rewarded in the final minute of injury time when Jeremie Frimpong put a well-deserved cherry on the icing, capitalising on Manuel Neuer going walkabout by beating his man and shooting into the empty net from range.
It was opposite wingback Alejandro Grimaldo that had doubled Leverkusen’s lead early in the second half. The duo have now combined for an outrageous tally of 14 goals and 15 assists in the Bundesliga this season. Which is testament to Alonso’s tactical acumen; devising a system that gets the very best out of his players. The two wingbacks’ colossal contribution to this team are reminiscent of Antonio Conte’s prime Chelsea, or Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson at their best for Liverpool.
WOW JEREMIE FRIMPONG THAT IS INCREDIBLE! 🤯🤩 pic.twitter.com/RB5hJJ8g4l
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) February 10, 2024
So comprehensively were Bayern beaten that club legend Thomas Muller, who only played the last half hour as they hopelessly chased the deficit, didn’t hold back on his thoughts. Leverkusen’s masterclass made the 34-year-old look deep within his soul and ask himself what his team-mates were lacking in comparison.
“There are of course some symptoms on the pitch. To be honest, I’m p**sed off,” the veteran Germany international told Sky Germany after the final whistle.
“To quote Oliver Kahn: What I miss from us players are the balls in the game. We are showing significantly better approaches in training. It’s okay to feel pressure, but there needs to be energy and freedom. That’s missing in our game.
“Sometimes we have to speak about us players. It’s not just about the coach.
“We have many international players at the highest level, we need to step up our game.”
Thomas muller in today’s interview following Bayern 3-0 loss to Leverkusen:
“There are some symptoms you can also see on the pitch and I’m honestly pissed off as a result. What we’re missing is and that’s why i say it publicly, that we show better approaches in training because… pic.twitter.com/323rN1sImG
— Donotdistubr (@donotdistubr) February 11, 2024
“Since Xabi Alonso started to make waves as a coach in Germany, people were thinking about the possibility that he would one day go to either Liverpool, Bayern or Real Madrid,” German football expert Rafael Honigstein told TNT Sports earlier this week.
“What Klopp’s announcement has done is fast-track that discussion, it has opened the door to a job that I’m sure he will be very tempted to take, especially with the background of Liverpool having stability. Whoever they bring in next might get the kind of longevity and run that Klopp has had.
“I think that opportunity, that train… it doesn’t come along very often and I see Xabi Alonso jumping on it if and when Liverpool decide that he is the right man for it. I don’t see how he can turn them down.”
The answer for what Liverpool need to go and do this summer is blindingly obvious. Alonso is by a country mile the outstanding candidate for the job. Nailing his latest audition was just the latest proof.
But such is his reputation that they might face real competition for his signature from his other former flames. This result heaps the pressure on Thomas Tuchel at Bayern. Real Madrid are flying and Carlo Ancelotti has just recently signed a new contract, but a Champions League exit would suddenly change the picture dramatically at the Bernabeu.
There’s still lots of the race to run. But Alonso looks to have turned Bayer Neverkusen into bonafide winners. You look at the way his team dismantled Bayern and you question why Europe’s biggest clubs wouldn’t be fighting tooth and nail to secure his services.