Did Xabi Alonso Sell His Soul For a Record-Breaking Feat?

You, just like me and every other person, anticipate a new season with the usual expectations – or maybe a few shockers courtesy of record-breaking signings or new manager bounce. In recent years, for the Premier League, we expect Manchester City and Liverpool at the forefront of the title race, or maybe the third force, Arsenal – the big 6 is more or less non-existent anymore. In LaLiga, we predict a regular battle between Real Madrid and Barcelona, with Atletico lurking somewhere for the bronze. In Serie A, it’s quite a competition as the top spots rotate around the two Milan teams, Napoli, Juventus, etc. In Ligue 1, it’s almost always PSG and others, others like Marseille, Lyon, and Lille. In Bundesliga, it’s almost always a ‘Bayern messes up sometime in the season, Dortmund charges for the title, and it slips off their hands in the last 2-3 gameweeks, only for Bayern to win again’ situation. So these two teams earn the first two spots except when RB Leipzig decides to snatch the second spot from Dortmund – of course until the 2023/2024 season where we have Bayer Leverkusen on top, with Bayern, VFB Stuttgart, RB Leipzig, and Dortmund occupying the 2nd to 5th spot, respectively, as at the time of writing.

It could have been one of those regular one-in-a-decade stories like Leicester clinching the premier League title in 2016 after finishing 14th the season before, only that this Leverkusen’s title win came with an on-going unbeaten streak – currently at 50 – across all competitions. For a club that finished sixth in the previous season, that’s quite surprising. But before we even delve into their unbeaten run, let’s travel back to October 2022.

The Record-breaker after the win against Roma in the Europa Semi-finals.

Xabi Alonso, a player-turned-manager who retired his club career at Bayern Munich, took over the Managerial role at Leverkusen on October 5, 2022, after leaving Real Sociedad B five months before. It was the beginning of a new season in Germany when Alonso took over from Gerardo Seoane’s 17th-placed Leverkusen after 8 Bundesliga games. Putting away the demoralization that comes with having their worst start to a season since 1979, Alonso debuted three days later with a 4-0 home win against Schalke 04. In that 2022/2023 season, he managed 26 league games, he won 13, drew 6, and lost 7 games. In Europa, he won 4 games, drew 2 and lost 2, amassing 14 points out of a possible 24. Also, having taken Leverkusen to their first European semi-final in 21 years, he was eliminated by Jose Mourinho’s Roma by a single first-leg goal. He finished 6th in his first season with Leverkusen, earning a spot at the following season’s UEFA Europa League.

Amidst interest from Tottenham Hotspurs, Alonso confirmed that he would remain for a second season. In the 2023 summer, he signed Granit Xhaka, Victor Boniface, Alejandro Grimaldo, and Jonas Hoffman and prepped a 3-4-3 team with an emphasis on passes and counter-attacks. After conceding only five goals – from open play – in their first 11 Bundesliga fixtures and winning all their Europa league group stage games – scoring 19 goals in total, Leverkusen set a new unbeaten record, surpassing Bayern Munich’s 32, in February 2024. Currently, in Bundesliga, Leverkusen, with 1 game to go, are on 87 points, after 27 wins, 6 draws, and 0 losses. Their unbeaten streak is one of the most dramatic in history, as they’ve recorded over 12 goals in the last minute of a game, some game-saving, some game-winning. On social media, there have been various ‘The streak is ending today’ posts due to a late goal from Leverkusen’s opponents, only for them to keep the streak alive with a 89-90th minute goal. The first notable one happened on the 15th September, 2023, at the time where it seemed like Leverkusen were serious title contenders with Bayern. Leverkusen were 1 goal down against Bayern after Leon Goretzka 86th-minute goal, and Exequiel Palacios saved Alonso’s streak with a 90+4 Penalty kick. Another Palacios magic happened on the 13th of January, 2024, with a 94th-minute goal, earning them a win against Augsburg. This happened in a crucial moment when Bayern were keeping pace with Leverkusen, point-for-point.

Seven days later, another clutch win came from Piero Hincapie’s 90+1 goal in a 3-2 win against RB Leipzig. It was believed that this game set the tone of late goals in 2024. As many would know, their remarkable run of late goals wasn’t just in the league as they also scored a late equalizer in a 2-2 game against Qarabag in Europa’s RO16 first leg on the 7th of March 2024. Seven days later, in the second leg, Jeremie Frimpong started the comeback from a two-goal deficit with a 72-minute goal. Patrik Schick netted an equalizer and a winner in the 90+3 and 90+7 minutes, respectively. That was peak Leverkusen’s buzzer-beating powers; it was so incredible that people began to believe that something had to be behind such form. Back in Bundesliga, on the 21st of April, Josip Stanisic turned a 1-0 win against them into a draw with a 90+7 equalizer. Away at Dortmund’s with just one minute left, the full-back latched onto a corner and headed the ball into the back of the net. It was almost unbelievable; time and time again, Leverkusen and Alonso have done magic. The most remarkable experience, which cemented their name in history books, was the Europa semi-finals 2nd leg against Roma. They had won the first leg at Stadio Olimpico with 2 goals to nil and they needed to finish the job back at theirs. Roma pulled a surprise with two penalties in the 43rd and 66th minute. While this was just a draw, on aggregate, Leverkusen were two goals down and their streak was at risk. At risk on different levels because, (1) they were currently tying Benfica on the record of the highest unbeaten streak in Europe – 48 – and they needed a draw, at least, to set a new record. (2) If the match had ended in a 2-0 loss, they would have gone into extra-time with a chance to grab a spot in the finals but would have lost the streak at 48 games – a different level of pain. But all this did not happen as Gainluca Mancini, Roma’s defender, caused an own goal in the 82nd minute and Stanisic finished the streak-saving mission with a 90+7 equalizer. Yes, another 90+7 minutes equalizer from the same player.

A Tweet from X.

If you were active on X, formerly Twitter, nights when Leverkusen pulls such late-minute equalizers and wins are always fun. You would see comments like ‘Alonso definitely sold his soul to the devil for this.’ ‘How do they keep doing this every time?’ ‘The referee keeps adding enough minutes after 90 for them to get a chance at keeping the streak.’ However, we can’t say which is it but what’s cemented in history is that Leverkusen has the record of the most unbeaten streak in Europe which is at 50 – 41 wins and 9 draws – as at the time of writing. For how long can they keep this streak? Guess we will have to sit back and watch – or hate, if that’s the choice you like.

Peter Adeyemo.


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