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Leverkusen feels the desire and burden after a 2-1 win against Mainz

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Leverkusen feels the desire and burden after a 2-1 win against Mainz

At least temporarily, the top of the Bundesliga table on Saturday morning seemed like an example of complete superiority. Leverkusen extended their lead over Bayern Munich to eleven points with their 2-1 win against Mainz 05, and coach Xabi Alonso’s team also set a new record: Bayer Leverkusen is the first Bundesliga club to have managed to remain unbeaten in the first 33 competitive games of a season.

“I don’t care about records before they’re set,” said Alonso, “but once they’re achieved, I’m very proud. I never tire of congratulating my players.” At first glance, everything is as usual for the dominant team of the current season. But when you take a closer look at this duel with Mainz 05, a few unusual impressions remain from this football evening.

Because it was an evening on which it became clearer than ever that behind the appearance of total dominance there are weak points that could become very relevant in the coming weeks. So it suddenly became very quiet in the stadium when Mainz’s Jessic Ngankam hit Granit Xhaka with an accidental but very hard kick on the calf (80th) and saw the red card. Xhaka writhed on the pitch, the concern that the league leaders’ central player might have injured himself was palpable at that moment.

It was a concern that was made even worse because the uninspired team had previously turned to Xhaka for help, the only Leverkusen player whose passing game worked as usual. “We didn’t do it well enough, we had a lot of simple mistakes, we made a lot of bad decisions, we weren’t determined enough,” said Robert Andrich later, who scored the winning goal after a mistake by Mainz goalkeeper Robin Zentner (68th). .

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Rehearsed cheers as a joke

Xhaka himself scored the 1-0 with his first goal of the season (3rd), before he became the pillar that supported everyone else. A lot can happen in the coming spring, but Florian Wirtz and Xaka, who are rather pale that evening, must not be seriously injured. This is known in the club, which was also evident in the shocked reaction of the doctors when Xhaka celebrated his goal.

The Swiss grabbed his leg, limped a few steps, looked as if he had injured a muscle in the shot where it was worst: his thigh. Alonso, however, smiled, “I know Granit, I didn’t panic,” the coach later said. It was a joke, a rehearsed celebration “that had been planned for weeks,” as Xhaka later said. “Of course I was put under pressure by my teammates and the staff about when my first goal would come. That’s why it was agreed upon.”

This self-ironic approach to perhaps the greatest danger on the way to the three possible titles shows self-confidence. But the danger remains. After the game, Xhaka reported on his experiences last season when he was at the top of the table in England with Arsenal FC for a long time, but a big lead over Manchester City was lost in the final weeks of the season. “Unfortunately, I was able to experience that last year too,” he said, as if he already suspected that Bayer Leverkusen was also facing a difficult phase. “You need a bit of luck at the end. We had a lot of injured players at Arsenal last year. Hopefully that won’t be the case this year and we can keep the very, very important players fit.”

“Played backwards even more”

Beyond this risk of injury, another previously unknown phenomenon emerged during the astonishing final phase: the Werkself led, played in the majority, is the most secure team in the league and failed to control the action. The Leverkusen team were obviously nervous. “We felt like we played backwards even more with one man more than when we were evenly matched,” said Andrich.

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Published/Updated: Recommendations: 2 Roland Zorn, Heidenheim Published/Updated: Recommendations: 5 Peter H. Eisenhuth, Mainz Published/Updated: Recommendations: 1

Xhaka also reported on a changed mental challenge that arises after the lead over Bayern has increased from two to eight points and now temporarily even to eleven points within the last two weeks. It is now the case that Bayer Leverkusen “can of course lose a lot”. This is a new basis, the feeling of being the carefree challenger will not come back.

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