Sonntag, 26. Mai 2024

Double Delight: Bayer 04 at the Pinnacle of Happiness!

It was a final that made the hearts of Bayer 04 fans race. Compared to the UEFA Europa League final against Atalanta Bergamo on Wednesday, which ended in a 0-3 defeat, head coach Xabi Alonso made six changes to the starting lineup. Lukas Hradecky replaced Matej Kovar in goal, and Odilon Kossounou, Robert Andrich, Alejandro Grimaldo, Jonas Hofmann, and Patrik Schick were new additions.

Granit Xhaka gave the Werkself the lead with a dream goal in the 16th minute. Kaiserslautern tried from the start to put Bayer 04 under pressure with high pressing, but the Werkself remained unfazed and dominated with plenty of possession. Jeremie Frimpong made an early statement by getting past two Lautern players on the right side but was denied by goalkeeper Julian Krahl. A few minutes later, Florian Wirtz also tried his luck but couldn't beat Krahl either. Then came the big moment: Xhaka struck from distance and perfectly placed the ball in the top corner.

After taking the lead, Bayer 04 continued to control the game while Kaiserslautern retreated deep into their own half. Patrik Schick had another good opportunity, but the FCK defense cleared at the last moment. Defensively, the Werkself stood firm, giving Kaiserslautern little room for offensive actions. Just before halftime, there was a shocking moment: Odilon Kossounou, who had already received an early yellow card, was sent off with a second yellow for a foul. Despite being a man down, Bayer 04 went into the break with a 1-0 lead.

The second half started with a delay due to pyrotechnics in the stadium. But even with a man down, Bayer 04 remained the dominant team. Substitutes Amine Adli and Josip Stanisic brought fresh energy and immediately created danger. Adli attempted a long-range shot, and Stanisic narrowly missed the target after a corner. Bayer 04 now played more defensively, allowing Kaiserslautern more possession but remaining dangerous on counterattacks. Ragnar Ache had the best chance for FCK, but Hradecky made a confident save.

In the final stages, Bayer 04 repeatedly took the ball from the opponent and created more chances. Jeremie Frimpong and Florian Wirtz had opportunities to seal the game but narrowly missed. After six minutes of added time, the match ended 1-0 for Bayer 04. With this victory, the Werkself claimed their second DFB-Pokal title and crowned themselves double winners of the 2023/24 season.

After the final whistle, the celebrations knew no bounds. The players ran to the fan section, singing and celebrating with the traveling supporters. It was an emotional moment when captain Lukas Hradecky lifted the DFB-Pokal into the Berlin night sky at 10:22 pm.

However, the celebrations did not end at the Olympiastadion. On Sunday, May 26th, the Werkself returned to Leverkusen to properly celebrate the double. After landing at Cologne/Bonn Airport, the team headed to Morsbroich Castle, where they signed the Golden Book of the city of Leverkusen. They then traveled in a convoy to the BayArena, where they were enthusiastically received by thousands of fans. The stadium opened at 12:30 pm, and fans could follow the stage program and the team's arrival on large video screens.

The 2023/24 season will forever be etched in the minds of Bayer 04 fans. The first double in the club's history, achieved in the 120th season since its founding, is a triumph that will never be forgotten. From the first round of the DFB-Pokal to the crowning finale in Berlin, this Werkself has secured its place in the annals of German football.

Donnerstag, 23. Mai 2024

A Hattrick with Heartbreak: Bayer 04 and the Final to Forget

Some football stories are hard to digest – and the Europa League final against Atalanta Bergamo definitely falls into that category. Bayer 04 Leverkusen, after an impressive streak of 51 unbeaten competitive matches, suffered a painful 0-3 defeat in the UEFA Europa League final.

The stage was grand: Dublin, a sold-out arena, 46,500 spectators, with 12,000 traveling from Leverkusen to support their team. The atmosphere was fantastic, the fans were optimistic, but the evening unfolded differently than hoped. Coach Xabi Alonso made several changes compared to the last Bundesliga game: Matej Kovar replaced Lukas Hradecky in goal, Josip Stanisic moved into defense for Odilon Kossounou, and Exequiel Palacios played instead of Robert Andrich in midfield. Piero Hincapie and Florian Wirtz also started, with Victor Boniface and Jonas Hofmann initially on the bench.

The match began aggressively, but early on, simple turnovers crept into Leverkusen's play. In the 12th minute came the first setback: Davide Zappacosta found Ademola Lookman with a low cross, who slotted in at the far post to make it 1-0. Less than twelve minutes later, it was Lookman again, curling the ball into the bottom right corner – 2-0 for Atalanta. Bayer 04 hardly created any notable chances, while the Italians defended attentively and allowed little.

In the second half, Alonso brought on Victor Boniface as a fresh striker, but this too failed to change the course of the game. Despite having 67 percent possession after an hour, Leverkusen lacked the final touch. Atalanta remained strong defensively and capitalized on another counterattack in the 75th minute, once again through Lookman, who completed his hat-trick and sealed the 3-0 final score.

The Werkself was defeated, and despite a final push, including a contentious scene in the penalty area, a consolation goal remained elusive. Referee István Kovács, even after VAR intervention, decided there was no foul.

For Leverkusen, this defeat is particularly painful after a season that started so promisingly and was dominated over long stretches. The record streak of 51 unbeaten matches is now ended, and the first loss of the season struck in the most crucial game.

However, the season is not over yet. In a few days, the next final is already on the horizon: In the DFB-Pokal, Bayer 04 will face 1. FC Kaiserslautern at the Berlin Olympiastadion. There remains the chance to crown the season with a national title and put the disappointment from Dublin behind them. The fans, who supported their team loudly despite the defeat in Dublin, will again give their all in Berlin to spur on their Werkself.

Let's go, Leverkusen – it's not over yet!

Montag, 20. Mai 2024

The never champions (was yesterday) season review: Forecast versus final score

On 6.8.2023 I made the season forecast:
 

https://neverchampions.blogspot.com/2023/08/the-neverchampion-season-forecast-202324.html
 

Here is the critical comparison between the forecast and the final score:

1. Bayer 04 Leverkusen

Prediction: 2nd place Final Standings: 1st place Comparison: Leverkusen exceeded the prediction and showed that secret favorites can turn into real champions. Apparently, switching from "secret" to "obvious" was their best tactic this year.

2. VfB Stuttgart

Prediction: 11th place Final Standings: 2nd place Comparison: Stuttgart drowned my prediction in the local spring and rose like good sourdough. This euphoria definitely needs its own chapter in the Bundesliga surprises book.

3. FC Bayern Munich

Prediction: 1st place Final Standings: 3rd place Comparison: Bayern went a bit light on dominance this year. The result? A surprisingly mild dish in third place. Not quite the fireworks expected.

4. RB Leipzig

Prediction: 3rd place Final Standings: 4th place Comparison: Leipzig, slightly tripped off the predicted podium. Perhaps the loss of some key players weighed more than the potential of new signings.

5. Borussia Dortmund

Prediction: 4th place Final Standings: 5th place Comparison: Dortmund nearly met the prediction, if not for that tiny, annoying step they tripped on. Thus, they ended up in 5th place—close, yet so far.

6. Eintracht Frankfurt

Prediction: 5th place Final Standings: 6th place Comparison: Frankfurt was slightly offset from the prediction. Apparently, the predicted tailwind was just a light breeze.

7. TSG Hoffenheim

Prediction: 9th place Final Standings: 7th place Comparison: Hoffenheim exceeded my expectations, or perhaps they simply outplayed the others. A good example that you should never give up hope (or Hoffenheim).

8. 1. FC Heidenheim 1846

Prediction: 15th place Final Standings: 8th place Comparison: Heidenheim, underestimated by almost everyone, proved that underdogs can bite. Who would have thought? (Clearly not me.)

9. SV Werder Bremen

Prediction: 13th place Final Standings: 9th place Comparison: Bremen navigated the turbulent waters better than expected. A clear case of "staying the course," despite my prediction.

10. Sport-Club Freiburg

Prediction: 7th place Final Standings: 10th place Comparison: Freiburg lost some consistency. The triple burden did leave its mark this year, or perhaps my expectations were just too high.

11. FC Augsburg

Prediction: 17th place Final Standings: 11th place Comparison: Augsburg, determined not to follow the relegation predictions, held strong. They shook off the "non-overachievers" label and emerged surprisingly like a phoenix from the ashes.

12. VfL Wolfsburg

Prediction: 6th place Final Standings: 12th place Comparison: Wolfsburg lost touch and veered off the path of predicted success. A case of GPS failure, I’d say.

13. 1. FSV Mainz 05

Prediction: 12th place Final Standings: 13th place Comparison: Mainz stuck relatively close to the prediction, just slightly off. A bit like horseshoe throwing: close but no cigar.

14. Borussia Mönchengladbach

Prediction: 10th place Final Standings: 14th place Comparison: Mönchengladbach ended up lower than I had expected. A case of "new team, old problems."

15. 1. FC Union Berlin

Prediction: 8th place Final Standings: 15th place Comparison: Union Berlin fell hard. Perhaps the focus on Europe was too distracting for league play.

16. VfL Bochum 1848

Prediction: 16th place Final Standings: 16th place Comparison: Bochum hit the prediction spot on. Sometimes it’s good to be exactly right, even if it’s just a battle against relegation.

17. 1. FC Köln

Prediction: 14th place Final Standings: 17th place Comparison: Cologne failed to meet expectations and slipped further down. A classic case of "too few surprising home points."

18. SV Darmstadt 98

Prediction: 18th place Final Standings: 18th place Comparison: Darmstadt confirmed the sad prediction. Sometimes it hurts to be right—especially when it involves relegation.

A season full of surprises and confusions— who needs accurate predictions when you can have an exciting Bundesliga season instead!

Sonntag, 19. Mai 2024

Unbeaten and Unbelievable: Bayer 04 Makes History!

It was a day full of goosebumps as Bayer 04 Leverkusen lifted their first-ever championship trophy on May 18, 2024. In a sold-out BayArena, fans and the team celebrated this historic achievement, which came 120 years after the club's founding and 45 years in the Bundesliga. But it wasn't just the title that made this day unforgettable; Bayer 04 also became the first team in Bundesliga history to complete an entire season unbeaten.

The match against FC Augsburg began with Bayer 04 dominating possession. In the 10th minute, Amine Adli capitalized on a mistake by Augsburg's goalkeeper Tomas Koubek, setting up Victor Boniface to score the opening goal. Fifteen minutes later, Robert Andrich doubled the lead with a spectacular backheel goal. After the break, Augsburg improved and Mert Kömür's unstoppable long-range shot made it 2-1. Despite several chances, Bayer 04 couldn't find a third goal, but they secured a well-deserved 2-1 victory.

After the final whistle, the emotional celebrations began. Captain Lukas Hradecky lifted the championship trophy to the ecstatic cheers of the fans. The team then took a victory lap around the stadium, accompanied by an airplane flying a "Deutscher Meister" banner over the BayArena. One of the most moving moments was when Hradecky and coach Xabi Alonso climbed onto the platform in the north stand to celebrate with the fans. These images will forever be etched in the memories of Leverkusen supporters.

This success is the result of hard work, team spirit, and fan support. Managing director Fernando Carro emphasized the special bond between the team and the fans, which endured even during tough times. Sporting director Simon Rolfes praised the team and particularly Florian Wirtz for his impressive performances and crucial role in the squad. Coach Xabi Alonso highlighted the close connection with the fans as a key factor in their success.

For Bayer 04, this wasn't just a championship; it was a season of records. With 28 wins and six draws, the team became the first in 61 years of Bundesliga history to remain unbeaten. Additionally, Bayer 04 is only the second club to reach 90 points in a season and not drop a single point after taking the lead.

But the season isn't over yet. Next week, two more decisive matches await: the UEFA Europa League final against Atalanta Bergamo and the DFB-Pokal final against 1. FC Kaiserslautern. The team is ready to seize these historic moments and potentially bring more titles to Leverkusen.

In summary, May 18, 2024, was an indescribable day for Bayer 04 Leverkusen and its fans. The team not only made history but also proved they belong among the best. With this historic success, the club has set new standards and will never forget this day.

Montag, 13. Mai 2024

“Bochum, we have a problem!” – The Werkself Hits 50 and Stays Unbeaten

With a resounding 5-0 victory against VfL Bochum, Bayer 04 Leverkusen extends its impressive streak, remaining unbeaten in 50 consecutive competitive matches. A game full of drama and twists, this match further cements the Werkself as an unstoppable force on the pitch. The evening at the sold-out Vonovia Ruhrstadion started promisingly for Bochum fans but ended in a football debacle that few could have foreseen. As early as the 15th minute, Felix Passlack’s professional foul led to his team’s early reduction to ten men—a clear turning point that shattered Bochum’s plans.

After a bold start by Bochum and an early crossbar hit by Granit Xhaka, it was Patrik Schick who opened the scoring. Just before halftime, Victor Boniface confidently converted a penalty to make it 2-0 at the break. The show continued in the second half: Amine Adli, Josip Stanisic, and Alejandro Grimaldo sealed the final 5-0 score. A true offensive onslaught by the Werkself, sending a clear message with this performance.

Xabi Alonso once again demonstrated his golden touch with his rotation strategy. He made eight changes compared to the Europa League semi-final against AS Roma. Notably, Arthur, who provided two assists, and the striking duo Schick and Boniface, who both scored, seamlessly integrated and showcased their class. At the post-match press conference, Xabi Alonso expressed satisfaction and emphasized the significance of the early red card for the course of the game. “After the red card, the game was different. We are satisfied with the result. Today’s victory was important.”

Amine Adli also had every reason to be happy: “I am very happy with the win and my goal. It is an important victory. We will continue and prepare well for Saturday.” Jonathan Tah, who played his 350th competitive match for Bayer 04, emphasized the team’s unwavering motivation: “We don’t go on the field saying we just don’t want to lose. We go on the field to win every game.”

The media were unanimous: the early red card was the game’s turning point. “Red card as turning point” headlined kicker, and FAZ spoke of a “severe and decisive setback” for Bochum. The Rheinische Post particularly highlighted the Werkself’s impressive streak, and Bild joked, “He (Xabi Alonso, ed.) is only 42 and already celebrates his 50th!” With the 5-0 victory in Bochum, Bayer 04 Leverkusen set a historic milestone: for the first time since FC Bayern Munich, a Bundesliga club has remained unbeaten in all away league matches of a season. With 29 to 3 shots on goal and over 60 percent possession, the Werkself dominated impressively.

The focus now shifts to the season finale against FC Augsburg. On Saturday, May 18, Schwarz-Rot will host Augsburg at the BayArena, aiming to crown the season with another victory and receive the championship trophy. After the match, fans and team celebrated the 50th unbeaten game in a row—with golden balloons and exuberant mood. A fitting end to a memorable evening for all Bayer 04 fans!

Freitag, 10. Mai 2024

Drama, goals and a little bit of luck: Leverkusen's road to Dublin

In the epic stoppage-time operetta that only Bayer Leverkusen can stage, the Werkself fought their way into the Europa League final with a nerve-wracking 2:2 draw against AS Roma. What a performance in the BayArena! Thanks to a mixture of unwavering will, an own goal by the Romans and Josip Stanisic's last-second heroics, the dream of the treble lives on. Dublin, here we come!

The starting position before the second leg was promising: after the 2:0 win in the first leg, Bayer were the clear favourites. But football wouldn't be football if everything went according to plan. The Romans, led by Romelu Lukaku, set the tone early on and forced Bayer into action. Despite a number of chances in the first half, Leverkusen went into the break 1-0 down thanks to a Leandro Paredes penalty.

The second half developed into a thriller. Paredes converted another penalty and suddenly the comfortable lead from the first leg was gone. But Bayer remained unfazed and responded with the precision of Swiss clockwork. A curious scene led to the equaliser: a corner from Grimaldo was deflected into his own net by the unfortunate Gianluca Mancini. The equaliser in stoppage time was the icing on the cake: Josip Stanisic scored after an assist from Granit Xhaka and sent the BayArena shaking.

The joy after the final whistle was immeasurable. Granit Xhaka thanked the fans for their tireless support, while last-minute hero Stanisic described the moment as ‘indescribable’. Coach Xabi Alonso was proud of his team: ‘I saw in the boys’ eyes that they believed they could turn this game around. Now we have the big goal of winning the three titles.’

With this draw, Bayer 04 set a new European record: 49 consecutive competitive matches without defeat! This impressive run broke the previous record set by Benfica Lisbon in the 1963/64 season, meaning that ‘Last-Minute-Kusen’ remain invincible and are fully motivated going into the final against Atalanta Bergamo.

Before heading to Dublin, there is another highlight on the programme: the Bundesliga away match at VfL Bochum. A place where Bayer suffered their last defeat last season. A good omen? We shall see! After that, the home game against FC Augsburg awaits, where the Werkself will finally receive the championship trophy.

Bayer Leverkusen's journey this season has been nothing short of extraordinary. With a mixture of talent, fighting spirit and a bit of luck, the team has made history. Dublin awaits us, and the fans can dream - of the treble and more.

Sonntag, 5. Mai 2024

Five-pack on the Main: Leverkusen's goal parade leaves Frankfurt in awe

In a season that looks more like a marathon, Bayer 04 Leverkusen once again put in a sprint that would make even Usain Bolt jealous. Our boys from the Werkself sent Eintracht Frankfurt home with a resounding 5:1 - or rather, made them look old at home.

A sunny day in Frankfurt, 58,000 spectators and a match statistic that has more glamour than the Frankfurt skyline at night. That's the stuff football dreams are made of, especially when you walk off the pitch as the clear winner in the end. It all started so unspectacularly, as you would expect from a city known for its banks and not its football. But after just 12 minutes, Granit Xhaka silenced the stadium with a goal - except, of course, for the 5,600 Bayer fans travelling with them, whose cheers could probably be heard as far away as Leverkusen.

The brief equaliser by Hugo Ekitiké in the 32nd minute briefly lifted the mood, but only served as a reminder that Frankfurt is not a place for sightseeing. Patrik Schick promptly came up with the right response, heading the ball home before the break to restore the lead. The second half? A real firework display from our Werkself. Palacios scored a penalty, Frimpong and Boniface took the score to an embarrassing 5:1 for Frankfurt. Considering that Frimpong and Boniface came off the bench, isn't that a luxury problem?

Xabi Alonso, our boss on the sidelines, had to watch the whole thing from the stands due to his yellow card suspension. Did he like that? Well, given the result, he's probably almost forgotten about his yellow card. Eight changes from the last UEFA Europa League match against AS Roma showed that our squad is not only deep, but also wide. Everyone wants to, everyone can, and when they are allowed to, they show it.

This away win allows us to continue dreaming of a season without defeat. The upcoming semi-final second leg of the Europa League against AS Roma and the next Bundesliga matchday at VfL Bochum are the next stops in the Leverkusen success story. Meanwhile, Eintracht Frankfurt will have to digest the shock - not every day on the Main is sunny, especially not when the Werkself are in town.

So let's stay tuned to see what the next chapters in our never-ending saga will look like. One thing is certain: it will be magical, it will be legendary - it will be Bayer 04!

Double Delight: Bayer 04 at the Pinnacle of Happiness!

It was a final that made the hearts of Bayer 04 fans race. Compared to the UEFA Europa League final against Atalanta Bergamo on Wednesday, w...