In his efforts to transform Bayer Leverkusen into a more dominant team, Xabi Alonso has emerged as a player in training to the surprise of much of his squad. The former Real Madrid player participates in most of the tactical sessions with his new crop of players. Alonso’s aim is to give the team more possession of the ball by shifting between short and long play.
So far, the Spaniard has increased possession rates from 52% to 58%. The number of passes per game has increased from 468 to 557. The early statistics show Alonso is getting closer to his intended vision of a team that dominates the game with the ball.
Alonso’s work has also had an impact on the leaders of the club. According to an article produced by El País, Leverkusen believe the gamble taken on the young coach can revitalise a team that tends to buckle in the face of adversity. “Xabi has enormous strength. You can see that in the way he leads from the line, but above all in every training session. He is the man who will bring us back,” sporting director Simon Rolfes told Bild.
In Germany, the expectation surrounding Alonso’s signing is high. Analysts and part of the press have seen his arrival as that of a new Pep Guardiola. In the four games he has been in charge of, the Basque coach has gone from the 4-0 thrashing of Schalke to suffering a 5-1 thrashing at Eintracht Frankfurt. Leverkusen are currently fourth-bottom in the Bundesliga and there is plenty of work to do.
Defensive vulnerability continues to cause Leverkusen problems. The average number of goals conceded under Alonso has risen from 1.9 to 2.5, but so has the average number of goals scored, from 1.17 to 1.75. “Our job is to fit the pieces together and create a way of playing and competing so that, in games like this and many more, we can put in the required performance,” Alonso said ahead of his side’s Champions League clash with Atlético Madrid.
Atlético Madrid and Simeone
“I am inspired by [Diego] Simeone’s authenticity and his ability to transmit to the team. He is one of the best at that, in knowing how to make the player perceive what he wants. Then there are a thousand footballing concepts, but in knowing how to lead and manage the player, he is a pioneer. He’s very good,” Alonso said.
“I’ve played against Atlético many times and you know that what the coach transmits is also transmitted by the fans and the club. They have built a very clear feeling and that’s what we hope to find,” he added.