Xabi Alonso’s unbeaten Bayer Leverkusen team have the chance to take a huge step towards the Bundesliga title while demonstrating their boss can succeed Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool
The Bundesliga is bracing itself for a top-of-the-table shoot-out on Saturday.
Leaders Bayer Leverkusen host reigning champions Bayern Munich with just two points separating the clubs in what has become a two-horse title race. But even more than a classic first versus second encounter it is also shaping up to be something of an audition for Leverkusen boss Xabi Alonso.
And the fact that former Liverpool midfielder Alonso faces such a familiar foe in Thomas Tuchel only adds to the drama. Former Chelsea boss Tuchel was instrumental in bringing England captain Harry Kane to Bayern last summer.
Former Tottenham striker and Golden Boot winner Kane might have been forgiven for thinking that Bayern was effectively a passport to silverware and trophies. A guarantee to end his trophy drought. But few had expected Leverkusen to be such a revelation this season and with it Alonso’s stock has only continued to grow as he is the red-hot favourite to become Jurgen Klopp ’s successor at Liverpool.
While the Spanish media reported this week that Liverpool have already made enquiries, Alonso has been anxious to stress that he is fully focused on Leverkusen. Leverkusen are regarded as the nearly men of German football, finishing runners-up five times without ever being crowned champions which is a record for the Bundesliga.
Bayern are the perennial winners who have won the title 33 times, sneaked it from Borussia Dortmund on the final day of last season to leave Jude Bellingham in tears before his departure for Real Madrid. They have completely dominated, they have won the title 11 years in a row and Tuchel has found himself under pressure this season and feeling the heat partly because of the very notion that they might do it again.
That is the sort of pressure at Bayern and defeat at Leverkusen would be a huge blow but it is an incredible chance for Alonso to open up a gap and enhance his reputation as one of Europe’s top young bosses. Alonso has also used former Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka as the foundation for his team and built a strategy and line-up which has surprised everyone in Europe this season.
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That is why Alonso as a former player is seen as the perfect and natural successor for Klopp in many quarters. But despite their results and performances this season, do not think for a moment that Alonso would arrive as Jurgen Klopp 2.0.
In fact, anything but. Alonso has built a reputation for being incredibly shrewd tactically, the players are well drilled and coached to change formations in games. It is also more about a slow build-up and possession rather than Klopp’s self-styled heavy metal football which is high energy, pressing and dynamic.
That is not to say Alonso’s football cannot deliver but is way more tactical than Liverpool fans are perhaps used to. And even though Alonso was popular at Anfield and his well liked in Germany, filling Klopp’s shoes and his personality could be very difficult.
Tuchel is well known in the Premier League as a big personality and excitable character himself. That is why such a face-off between Tuchel and Alonso could be so fascinating and revealing – and may catch particular attention on Merseyside.
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