When Xabi Alonso was asked about his exuberant celebration afterwards, the Bayer Leverkusen coach seemed a little uncomfortable with the spontaneous outburst of emotion. Yes, it was true that he had “jumped a bit emotionally,” said the 42-year-old Spaniard, but that was not worth mentioning, as he understood. Alonso understated this with polite reserve. In fact, after the winning goal in the fourth minute of stoppage time, he performed such an impressive jump in celebration as if he had scored the decisive goal himself.
With his great joy, Alonso represented the emotional outpouring of all the Leverkusen players after the last-minute goal by Exequiel Palacios, who had accepted Alejandro Grimaldo’s cross from the left with his right and immediately shot into the goal with his left arm in a fluid movement. A minute later, the 1-0 (0-0) win at FC Augsburg was certain and with it the unofficial title of first round champion for Leverkusen.
The lead over rivals FC Bayern after 17 match days is four points. The Munich team still has a catch-up game against Union Berlin to play, but even with a win, coach Thomas Tuchel’s team would only get within one point of Leverkusen. What does the first round title mean to him? “It was just a win,” said Alonso. Of course we enjoy the moment for a moment, but “on Monday we’ll move on to the next game.” Simon Rolfes also rejected congratulations on the first round championship. “Oh, that’s not so important, the victory is important. The other thing is just a snapshot,” said the sports director.
After all, it is a snapshot that clearly gave the Leverkusen team and their supporters a lot of joy even after the final whistle. The players were extremely happy jumping around in front of their own fans after Alonso had high-fived every single player. Of course, the Leverkusen team know that being at the top of the table after half the season means that there is a very high probability of being at the top after 34 match days. This has happened 40 times in the last 60 years of the Bundesliga. However, Leverkusen has also earned the nickname “Vizekusen” because, after its two previous autumn championship titles, it has already proven that things can turn out completely differently. In the 2001/02 season, the Werkself finished second after the interim title, and in the 2009/10 season they only finished fourth.
Perhaps because of these memories, they don’t want to attach so much importance to the milestone they have reached. But they felt encouraged by the manner of the victory, even though it also had a touch of Bayer nonsense, if you will, because of the very late goal. On the other hand, Alonso’s team had previously missed plenty of chances. The coach didn’t want to know anything about a merciful coincidence shortly before the end. “The goal wasn’t luck, it was the result of good work,” emphasized Alonso.
“I think we forced that too,” Rolfes confirmed this point of view and referred to the persistence, will and quality of Alonso’s team. “The belief in it and the determination also characterize the team,” said Rolfes. Was this late victory a sign to FC Bayern? “No, I’m not interested in that at all,” Rolfes replied.
Leverkusen is missing four regulars
What is more important for Leverkusen is that they have extended their winning streak to 26 competitive games without defeat. And also that they did it without the injured striker Victor Boniface as well as without Edmond Tapsoba, Odilon Kossounou and Amine Adli, who are at the Africa Cup of Nations. In addition to the missing quartet, Alonso even voluntarily omitted his defense chief Jonathan Tah from the starting line-up because of an impending yellow card suspension and regular player Florian Wirtz, who had a cold. This may have contributed to a game developing in Augsburg that, despite Leverkusen’s high ball possession values, at times showed signs of an open exchange of blows.
In the end, Leverkusen defeated their very stubborn opponents from Augsburg because Alonso’s team had worked just as relentlessly towards it until the end. “We’re happy to keep that mentality. It was felt that we wanted to win,” said Lukas Hradecky. The goalkeeper admitted that there was a bit of luck involved. But he liked the touch of that nonsense that can decide championships. Hradecky said: “Such victories taste much better than a 3-0 or 4-0 victory.”