Bayer Leverkusen: the 2022/23 season so far

Following a poor opening to proceedings in 2022/23, Bayer Leverkusen are finally finding their feet under Xabi Alonso and with star turn Florian Wirtz set to make a welcome return in the New Year, things are looking bright for Die Werkself.

The story I know how to …

It’s been a season of monumental drama for fans of the five-time Bundesliga runners-up, who have suffered the lows and reveled in the highs of a rollercoaster campaign to date. Enduring their worst-ever start to the top-flight that included four starting losses in five games, rookie coach Alonso replaced Gerardo Seoane in the BayArena hot-seat in an attempt to reverse team fortunes. The Spanish tactician eventually struck upon a style that saw Bayer go into the World Cup break on the back of three straight victories, while there is a UEFA Europa League play-off to look forward to in the spring.

But, back to that beginning and what was a season that promised so much after Bayer posted record numbers en route to a third-placed finish the previous term. An opening day challenge against Borussia Dortmund would provide the perfect test for a Leverkusen side with big ambitions. Losing a closely-thought contest 1-0 at the Signal Iduna Park was no great shame, however, a knockout blow in the DFB Cup to third-tier Elversberg a week prior would prove the bad omen many at Leverkusen had previously feared.

By the time October arrived, the team from the banks of the River Rhine had won just two of 12 games in all competitions, losing eight of those. Their UEFA Champions League challenge suffering a setback against Porto proved the last straw for Seoane, who was dismissed.

Missing the mercurial Wirtz – recovering from a ruptured cruciate – to thread things together in attack and with last season’s free-scoring forward Patrick Schick out of form, Leverkusen haven’t looked the side that had weighed in with 80 goals the previous term. The deadly Moussa Diaby and flying full back Jeremie Frimpong have provided some jet-fueled joy, though.

Watch: Xabi Alonso arrives at Leverkusen

The Leverkusen hierarchy saw the highly decorated Alonso – a triple Bundesliga winner as a player with Bayern Munich – as the man to provide some much needed spark and overseeing a 4-0 win against Schalke on his debut represented the ideal start. Yet a lean spell immediately followed as the former FIFA World Cup winner with Spain bedded in. Bayer failed to win any of their subsequent six games, losing three. TO 5-1 reverse at Eintracht Frankfurt represented at low point.

But November would prove to be the month that kick-started the Alonso revolution. Sealing their place in European competition until the spring with a scoreless draw against Bruges, the Workself subsequently thumped then Bundesliga leaders Union Berlin 5-0 before following that up with successive victories against Cologne and VfB Stuttgart.

Watch: Rhine Derby delight for Bayer

Key Players: Moussa Diaby

Still only 23 but with 107 Bundesliga games already under his belt, Diaby’s experience and contributions during the hard times, and the good, have been crucial to Leverkusen this season. The Parisian was involved in a whopping 34 goals for B04 last term and he kick-started his side’s recovery under Alonso with an energetic display and a goalscoring double in the 5-0 win against Union. Diaby netted again as Bayer won away at Cologne and he made it four goals in three games as Alonso’s side saw off Stuttgart to end the year.

Diaby (r.) celebrates with Callum Hudson-Odoi. -Lars Baron/Getty Images

Best game

Drifting badly in the drizzle during a first half to forget against league leaders Union on Matchday 13, Leverkusen exploded onto the stage with five second-half goals that left their capital visitors stunned. A goalkeeping error from Lennart Grill at a crucial stage of the game did little to help Union’s cause, but take nothing from the hosts at the BayArena, who found the target through Robert AndrichDiaby (2), Adam Hlozek and Mitchel Baker.

In what was an attacking display worthy of high praise, the performance and result raised home morale and felt like a turning point for a rejuvenated Bayer.

Watch: Bayer bury Union Berlin

One-to-watch: Florian Wirtz

B04 will find it tricky to manage expectations of the return of one of European football’s attacking gems, with Wirtz set to put the nightmare of a serious knee injury behind him. The 19-year-old – who was included in the EA Sports Bundesliga Team of the Season 2021/22 – acts as the fulcrum for a Leverkusen side who desperately missed his vision, attacking tenacity and brilliant distribution in the first 15 games of this domestic campaign.

Watch: Florian Wirtz – a sample of what’s to come

Had he been fit, Wirtz would almost certainly have made Hansi Flick’s World Cup squad for Qatar, so expect the Pulheim native to be looking to make up for lost time once he hits the pitch for his first competitive action in 2023.

View from the camp

Xabi Alonso (head coach): “We want to keep moving up the table in the second half of the season. Now we have more time to train to achieve that objective and we’ll use it too.”

Key fixtures in 2023

Borussia Monchengladbach (a), 22 January
Dortmund (h), January 29
Bayern (h), 19 March
Cologne (a), 6 May
Monaco (UEL play-offs), 16 & 23 February

All 2022/23 season reviews:

Augsburg | Bochum | Cologne | Hertha Berlin | Schalke | VfB Stuttgart

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