Bayer Leverkusen on top in birthday gift to coach Xavi Alonso

By Sports Desk November 25, 2023

Bayer Leverkusen returned to the Bundesliga summit with a 3-0 win at Werder Bremen to ensure boss Xabi Alonso enjoyed a memorable 42nd birthday.

Bayern Munich had taken over at the top on Friday night with a narrow victory at Cologne, but Alonso’s unbeaten team provided the perfect response.

An own goal by Olivier Deman broke the deadlock after nine minutes and then it was all about the visitors’ wing-backs.

Jeremie Frimpong made it 2-0 before half-time with a thumping finish from close range and Alex Grimaldo wrapped up a comprehensive win with Leverkusen’s third in the 76th minute to make it 12 league games without defeat.

Stuttgart are third in Bundesliga after goals at either end of the first half from Deniz Undav helped them to a 2-1 victory away to Frankfurt.

Borussia Dortmund make up the top four after they fought back from two down to beat Borussia Monchengladbach in a thriller.

Goals from Rocco Reitz and Manu Kone put Monchengladbach 2-0 up inside 28 minutes, but Marcel Sabitzer started the comeback before further efforts by Niclas Fullkrug, Jamie Bynoe-Gittens and Donyell Malen inspired an excellent 4-2 triumph for the hosts.

Elsewhere, Wolfsburg got the better of RB Leipzig 2-1 and Union Berlin started the post-Urs Fischer era with a 1-1 home draw with Augsburg.

Barcelona lost more ground in the LaLiga title race after they were forced to settle for a point at Rayo Vallecano.

Unai Lopez fired Vallecano ahead six minutes before half-time with a superb strike from range and Xavi’s side struggled to make their dominance count until the 82nd minute when Florian Lejeune put through his own net.

 

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Barca substitute Raphinha had strong penalty appeals turned down in stoppage time as it finished 1-1.

Atletico Madrid leapfrogged Barca to move into third after a 1-0 victory at home to Mallorca.

In-form Antoine Griezmann grabbed the only goal of the game with 64 minutes on the clock when he headed home Mario Hermoso’s deep cross to send Diego Simeone’s team into the top three.

Mason Greenwood found the net in Getafe’s 2-1 win at home to Almeria, while Rafael Benitez celebrated a point on his return to Valencia after his Celta Vigo side battled to a goalless draw.

AC Milan returned to winning ways in Serie A against Fiorentina thanks to a Theo Hernandez penalty on a historic night at the San Siro.

Hernandez won a spot-kick in first-half stoppage time and converted from 12 yards to end a four-match winless run in the division for Stefano Pioli’s team.

Pioli helped Milan make history with seven minutes of the match remaining when he introduced 15-year-old forward Francesco Camarda for Luka Jovic to make the teenager the youngest ever player to appear in Serie A.

Napoli got the Walter Mazzarri reign under way with a 2-1 win at Atalanta after goals by Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Eljif Elmas, but Lazio suffered a surprise defeat by the same scoreline at Salernitana.

Ciro Immobile put Lazio ahead in the 43rd minute but Grigoris Kastanos’ equaliser and Antonio Candreva’s long-range rocket earned Salernitana a first league victory of the season at the 12th time of asking.

Patrick Vieira’s Strasbourg held Marseille to a 1-1 draw in Ligue 1, while Lens claimed an excellent 3-0 win at Clermont where both teams finished the match with 10 men.

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    Xabi Alonso said it was an honour to manage Bayer Leverkusen to their first Bundesliga title after the runaway leaders clinched the trophy in style with a 5-0 victory over Werder Bremen.

    Leverkusen were crowned German champions for the first time in their 120-year history with a dominant win which saw Florian Wirtz net a second-half hat-trick at an ecstatic BayArena.

    Victor Boniface had opened the scoring from the penalty spot before Granit Xhaka doubled the lead with a long-range effort.

    Alonso, who committed his future to Leverkusen after being linked with former clubs Liverpool and Bayern Munich earlier this season, lauded the “special” achievement after winning his first major trophy in management.

    “This success is special for everyone, for the entire club. It belongs to so many people,” the 42-year-old Spaniard said after the match, as reported by Kicker.

    “We have to enjoy winning this for the entire club. The first championship in 120 years. It’s an honour to be part of it and working here. Today we deserve to celebrate, with family, friends and fans.”

    Leverkusen remain unbeaten during a fairy-tale campaign which could yet yield even more silverware.

    They hold a 2-0 first-leg lead over West Ham in the Europa League quarter-finals – the second leg takes place in London on Thursday – and also have a DFB Pokal final against Kaiserslautern to look forward to next month.

    “It may not be the last party of the current season,” Alonso added.

    “We still have a big goal in the Europa League. We have a good chance to be in the semi-finals and also in the cup, the feeling is incredible.”

    Boniface opened the scoring against Werder with a 25th-minute penalty before former Arsenal captain Xhaka made it 2-0 on the hour.

    Wirtz then took centre stage, adding a third in the 68th minute to all but end any doubts about the result or title, before the 20-year-old completed his hat-trick with two more goals in the closing stages.

    Wirtz said: “It’s indescribable. I can’t even realise it yet. I need to be in the dressing room for a while to get my head around what we’ve achieved.”

    Fellow Germany international Jonas Hofmann, who joined Leverkusen last summer from Borussia Monchengladbach, added: “Everything really flows through the body. You don’t know: should you laugh? Should you cry? It’s really indescribable, I wouldn’t have dreamed of this a year ago, in the first year to do it straight away. That’s just awesome.

    “We constantly pushed ourselves to the limit every game, no matter who was playing. We were always there, always present.

    “This season you can see that everyone is needed so that the level doesn’t (drop) off. Then you’ll be able to play like that in three competitions. The coach is setting a brutal example of that.”

    Leverkusen’s success ends Bayern’s 11-year reign as German champions, with Borussia Dortmund back in 2012 the last team to deny them top spot.

    Bayern, who are currently a massive 16 points behind Leverkusen after a largely disappointing season for Thomas Tuchel’s side, were quick to applaud the new title winners.

    “Congratulations to Bayer Leverkusen on a historic first Bundesliga title in the club’s history,” Bayern president Herbert Hainer said.

    “The title goes absolutely deservedly to Leverkusen – it’s the reward for an outstanding season and great football.

    Bayern chief executive Jan-Christian Dreesen added: “They’ve had a flawless season so far, the team have demonstrated courage, class and above all consistency, and that’s why they deserve to be 2024 German champions.”

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    Udinese tweeted simply: “We are with you, Ndicka.”

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    “If one result is going to do that then we are not strong enough,” said the Spaniard, whose side had been unbeaten in the league in 2024 .

    “That’s very simple. We had one of the best performances that we’ve had all season in the first half against a really good team. It should have been three or four (goals) or more. It didn’t happen. In the second half the momentum shifted.

    “We could not control and generate what we did in the first half. We conceded two very poor goals and we lost the game.

    “Congratulate the opponent and stand up. Now the moment is to stand up and be counted. When you win and win and win for four months it’s very simple to do it. The moment to do it is now.”

    Villa were brilliant in a second half they dominated and their superiority eventually paid off as substitute Bailey tapped home at the back post before Watkins took advantage of Arsenal’s high line to burst through on goal and finish with aplomb.

    The visitors had also hit the woodwork through both Watkins and Youri Tielemans and Arsenal must now recover ahead of the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final away to Bayern Munich on Wednesday, with the tie evenly-poised at 2-2.

    “If you want to win championships, if you want to be there in the Champions League, when you have these moments you have to stand up,” added Arteta.

    “If not that means that you don’t have a quality that is very necessary. Now it’s a big test for us.

    “In any other league in the world if you won the number of games in a row that we did, you would be six or eight points clear. That is not the case here. That is the challenge.”

    This was former Arsenal boss Emery’s first trip to the Emirates Stadium with his Villa side – who moved three points clear of Tottenham to strengthen their hold on fourth place in the quest for Champions League football.

    “Of course, beating Arsenal here is very difficult and we needed to play and be focused 100 per cent and be very demanding in everything,” he said.

    “We needed the biggest commitment to do better than we did against Manchester City (a 4-1 loss) that was the sample we used for this match.

    “This is the level I want to get to with our players and progressively, we are getting better.”

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