Five key players in Bayer Leverkusen's title breakthrough

Five key players in Bayer Leverkusen's title breakthrough

© AFP 2022
April 14, 2024 at 5:50 PM
Key men: Florian Wirtz (L) is congratulated after scoring against Werder Bremen by Granit Xhaka
Key men: Florian Wirtz (L) is congratulated after scoring against Werder Bremen by Granit Xhaka. Photo: INA FASSBENDER / AFP
Source: AFP

Bayer Leverkusen won their first Bundesliga title on Sunday with a 5-0 victory over Werder Bremen stretching their unbeaten run this season to an incredible 43 games.

Leverkusen fans finally saw their team lift the league title after years of heartbreak that included five second-place finishes.

While the architect of Leverkusen's breakthrough title victory is undoubtedly Xabi Alonso, the coach had an excellent squad at his disposal.

The quality of Leverkusen's team, with many on long-term deals, was enough to convince Alonso to brush off advances from Liverpool and Bayern Munich to pledge his future to the club beyond this season.

AFP Sport looks at five key players in Leverkusen's title-winning season:

Florian Wirtz

Among an array of attacking talents, Florian Wirtz has shone the brightest.

With an impressive passing repertoire reminiscent of Kevin de Bruyne, Wirtz is Leverkusen's creative force. He has 14 goals and 18 assists in all competitions this season -- both career-best marks.

Still just 20, Wirtz's maturity has shone this campaign, perhaps best illustrated by his status as the club's designated penalty taker.

Wirtz came into his own with the title in sight, scoring in three of four league games leading into the decisive clash with Bremen. He also contributed two goals and an assist in the German Cup semi-final win over Fortuna Duesseldorf.

His hat-trick in the title-sealing game on Sunday brought fans storming the pitch while reminding everyone he remains the jewel in the crown of Alonso's side.

Alex Grimaldo

Leverkusen snared left-back Alex Grimaldo on a free-transfer in the summer and the Spaniard has paid back their faith.

Grimaldo announced himself in the league with a superb free-kick in Leverkusen's 2-2 draw at Bayern in September.

Pairing with right-back Jeremie Frimpong for 39 goal contributions in the league, Grimaldo has also been lethal from dead ball situations.

Coming into the Bremen match on Sunday he had played the most minutes of any Leverkusen player -- and all but one outfield player in the entire Bundesliga this season.

Grimaldo, 28, made his Spain debut this season -- one of seven Leverkusen players to get first international call-ups this season.

Granit Xhaka

Granit Xhaka's arrival in the summer from Premier League side Arsenal was perhaps the best evidence Leverkusen were going all in to win big this season.

Paying 15 million euros to sign a 31-year-old on a five-year deal would usually be beyond the means of a club like Leverkusen, but Xhaka has been a revelation.

Creative in attack and reliable in defence, Xhaka had run 329.6 kilometres coming into the Bremen match -- more than anyone else in the Bundesliga.

Xhaka's leadership has also been essential in keeping Leverkusen focused during the title race.

The midfielder has consistently reflected on last year's failed title bid with the Gunners this season, when Arsenal led for much of the season but were caught by a rampant Manchester City.

"I hope it doesn't happen again," Xhaka said in March. "We haven't won anything yet. We need to keep working, stay ready."

Victor Boniface

Star striker: Victor Boniface celebrates the opening goal against Werder
Star striker: Victor Boniface celebrates the opening goal against Werder. Photo: INA FASSBENDER / AFP
Source: AFP

Despite missing four months with a leg injury before returning in April, Nigeria striker Victor Boniface is still Leverkusen's top league scorer with 11 in 18 games this season.

Arriving alongside Xhaka, Grimaldo and Germany winger Jonas Hofmann in the summer, Boniface made an immediate impact, scoring doubles in three of his first five league games.

Besides a hulking presence in front of goal and an ability to score with his head or either foot, Boniface's link-up play has been superb, as evidenced by his eight assists in the league.

Given a first start in 2024 against Bremen on Sunday, he opened the scoring from the penalty spot and laid on Xhaka's second goal.

Boniface, 23, was rewarded this season with a first Nigeria call-up.

Jonathan Tah

Leverkusen's title tilt was founded on a stingy defence -- with centre-back Jonathan Tah the stable force tying it all together.

Leverkusen have conceded just 19 goals -- 14 better than the next best mark, shared by Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig.

Tah was particularly important at the start of 2024 with fellow centre-backs Edmond Tapsoba and Odilon Kossounou on Africa Cup of Nations duty.

The 28-year-old has also chipped in with four goals, including a crucial header in January's come-from-behind win over RB Leipzig.

At Leverkusen since 2015, Tah has seen the lean years but this season established himself at the heart of Germany's defence and will be one of coach Julian Nagelsmann's first picks for Euro 2024 on home soil.

© AFP 2022 photo
© AFP 2022