A comfortable 4-0 win over struggling Union Berlin saw Bayer Leverkusen maintain their Bundesliga lead heading into the international break.
Xabi Alonso’s men hold a slender two-point gap over defending champions Bayern Munich with both sides yet to suffer defeat through 11 matches played.
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It’s a rise which has astounded some observers with Lothar Matthäus notably predicting this season will culminate with Bayer winning their first German championship.
The former European Cup finalist were busy this past summer having retained wunderkind Florian Wirtz as well as making notable acquisitions in the shape of Álex Grimaldo, Jonas Hofmann and Granit Xhaka the latter Alonso praised as transformative.
“He has had a huge impact on the team since day one. He is an extremely important player for us”, he said following Leverkusen’s 2-2 draw with Bayern on Matchday four. “If you have good midfielders, you play better.”
No stranger to Bundesliga football having previously represented Borussia Mönchengladbach with distinction the Swiss international has been ever-present for Die Werkself and in turn been producing numerous standout performances.
Renowned for his combative nature, which has got him into trouble plenty of times, Xhaka — who predominantly operates in a double midfield pivot within Alonso’s 3-4-2-1 system — is continually on the front foot. A skilled recycler of possession he currently leads the way, across Europe’s top seven leagues, when it comes to successful passes into the final third.
To say this revelation has somewhat dumfounded many of those who used to chant his name would be an understatement.
Not a single day goes by where I don’t think of you https://t.co/U7O5JRyrdK
— Sash ~ (@ltarsenal) November 13, 2023
— The Donza (@The_Donza) November 13, 2023
Happy to say I always was right about him. Top player that deserves all the respect in the world. https://t.co/s98CYbDmzi
— Spanish Gooner (@elspanishgooner) November 13, 2023
— Arsène 常用🦁 (@doncroiix) November 13, 2023
I really wish we had kept hold of him just a season longer.
We probably don’t sign Rice if he stays, but a midfield trio of Rice, Xhaka and Ødegaard could be the one that wins you the league.
Ah well 🥲 https://t.co/K3CKmOShRt
— Cookie (@JECook96) November 13, 2023
For context, Declan Rice is Arsenal’s stat leader for this metric, making 86 successful passes into the final third for Arsenal. Mikel Arteta’s first-choice full-backs Oleksandr Zinchenko and Ben White rank joint-second with 62.
I tell Arsenal fans they shoudlve tried harder and forced a contract , Run that shit back bring everyone back . This Guy was integral . https://t.co/w11asjZXcL
— 1SaV (@kal_chapo) November 13, 2023
He woulda been a beast in this current Arsenal side https://t.co/qc6wGSI7YB
— S👻 (@scrapytweets) November 13, 2023
we sold him for havertz, lmaooo, Arteta you will pay for your sins, you and havertz, God go punish una two https://t.co/8U7PO6Xafl
— MACHALA JNR🌍🇬🇧 (@starboylekzy1) November 13, 2023
They said we could get an upgrade, how is that going for us? https://t.co/U2k15M7Ah9
— Önabs (@gbengaonabs) November 13, 2023
If this guy was still there they would probably be unbeaten now with 1 draw https://t.co/Jd81bmm1zo
— Clem H. Fandango (@bondz1e) November 13, 2023
Xhaka’s closest competitors across Europe’s top seven leagues are PSV duo Oliver Boscagli and Joey Veerman. Rodri leads the way among Premier League players while former Man City midfielder Aleix Garcia – now captain of surprise LaLiga leaders Girona – makes up the top five. Lutsharel Geertruida, Daley Blind, Toni Kroos, Luis Alberto and Jules Koundé complete the top 10.
“I’m very satisfied with his performances,” Leverkusen sporting director Simon Rolfes added. “He is an exceptional player, he keeps the pace for our team and has an indisputable personality in the team, on and off the field. He always goes ahead with the character he has. We are very happy.”