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The Leverkusen stars on brink of invincible season

By BBC
Football News GETTY IMAGESImage caption: Bayer Leverkusen overcame Roma in their Europa League semi-final
WED, 22 MAY 2024 LISTEN
GETTY IMAGES Image caption: Bayer Leverkusen overcame Roma in their Europa League semi-final

Bayer Leverkusen have enjoyed unprecedented success this season, but how much do you know about the players behind their incredible campaign?

Under the leadership of Xabi Alonso, Leverkusen have raced to the Bundesliga title for the first time in their history and reached the finals of the German Cup and Europa League - all without losing a match.

What makes it all the more remarkable is that their 51-game unbeaten run has been achieved without a squad packed with world-famous stars.

On Wednesday evening, they face Atalanta in Dublin in the Europa League final, and on Saturday they tackle Kaiserslautern for domestic cup glory.

So who has been key to their success?
BBC Sport takes a look at six players who have been instrumental to their performance this season.

  • Florian Wirtz

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IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES
Image caption: Florian Wirtz missed the 2022 World Cup after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament

Florian Wirtz is the gem in this Leverkusen team.
The 21-year-old's 18 goals and 19 assists in 47 games this season is even more impressive considering he suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury in March 2022.

Fast forward two years and the Germany international is one of the most sought-after youngsters in football, with Real Madrid reportedly keeping an eye on his progress.

Wirtz is often found operating behind the striker, where he is able to collect the ball on the turn and drive at the opposition defence.

He is a true talent and will surely only develop further into a possible future Ballon d'Or winner.

Alonso once compared the young German to perhaps the greatest to have ever played the game, Lionel Messi.

"Why is Messi so good? Because he knows how and when to play simple passes," Alonso said.

"Messi says: 'You're in a better position? Here, there you have the ball.'

"It's not always about making the most brilliant move, but the best and smartest. Florian can do that. That's why he's so good."

  • Granit Xhaka

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IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES
Image caption: Granit Xhaka has made 123 appearances for Switzerland

Former Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka has emerged as the beating heart of Alonso's team.

After once having angry interactions with Gunners fans while being substituted, he went on to become a cult hero before leaving the club in 2023.

Xhaka is now a leader in the Leverkusen set-up and keeps the ball ticking over in midfield.

The Switzerland captain may not be the flashiest of players but he is a key cog in Alonso's machine and is the player on the pitch who is always available to receive a pass.

Alonso may see a lot of himself in Xhaka, with the Swiss dropping deep between the centre-halves and starting attacks.

Xhaka's desire to leave the Gunners last summer has been well and truly justified.

  • Victor Boniface

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IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES
Image caption: Victor Boniface missed the Africa Cup of Nations this year through injury

When he joined from Belgian side Union Saint-Gilloise in the summer of 2023, Victor Boniface was almost an unknown, but the 23-year-old is now a reported target for the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal.

Despite missing 11 games through injury this year, Boniface has notched an impressive 21 goals and 10 assists in 33 appearances for Leverkusen.

The Nigeria international has been named Bundesliga Rookie of the Season after playing a key role in Alonso's all-conquering side.

Alonso had high praise for his striker back in September 2023, saying: "He's not just a classic striker, not just a bomber - he's complete."

  • Jeremie Frimpong

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IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES
Image caption: Jeremie Frimpong has two caps for the Netherlands

Alonso's innovative 3-4-2-1 system would not work without wing-backs flying up and down both flanks.

Jeremie Frimpong has been a revelation for Alonso and it is no surprise the Dutchman is yet another Leverkusen star attracting interest from wealthier clubs.

Having joined Manchester City at the age of nine, Frimpong moved through their academy and played in the Uefa Youth League but failed to make a senior appearance for the club.

He signed a four-year contract with Celtic in September 2019 and went on to play 36 league games over a 16-month spell.

After winning Celtic's Young Player of the Year award in 2020, Frimpong went on to join Leverkusen and has become one of the elite right wing-backs in Europe.

  • Alex Grimaldo

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IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES
Image caption: Alex Grimaldo made 92 appearances for Barcelona B before moving to Benfica

If Frimpong is a major talent on the right, the same applies on the left with his fellow wing-back Alex Grimaldo. In a canny bit of business, the Spaniard was signed on a free in 2023.

A product of Barcelona's famed La Masia academy, Grimaldo went on to make 197 league appearances for Benfica before joining Alonso's Leverkusen revolution.

The 28-year-old has been spectacular this season and his statistics prove that, with 12 goals and 19 assists across 49 games.

Two of Grimaldo's goals have come in Bundesliga fixtures against Bayern Munich, so he certainly knows to show up on the big occasion.

Despite only having two international caps, Grimaldo is expected to play a role in Spain's Euro 2024 campaign.

  • Nathan Tella

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IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES
Image caption: Nathan Tella spent time on trial at Reading and Norwich City

Nathan Tella's footballing rise, in such a short space of time, has been nothing short of remarkable.

Tella grew up in Stevenage and spent 10 years in the Arsenal youth system before joining Southampton in 2017.

He made his senior debut for Saints in June 2020 and went on to play 36 league matches in all before joining Championship side Burnley on loan in 2022.

Under Vincent Kompany's guidance, Tella flourished in England's second tier, scoring 17 times and providing five assists in 39 league appearances.

After helping Burnley to promotion, the Clarets tried to sign Tella but Leverkusen swooped decisively.

It is rare that the Nigeria international completes 90 minutes for Leverkusen but he has fast become an attacking player Alonso knows will provide a threat.

One year after plying his trade in the Championship, Tella has become a Bundesliga champion and could also soon be a Europa League and German Cup winner.

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