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Bayer Leverkusen are on a five-game winning streak and now in the top-four race
Fifth-placed Borussia Dortmund continue to do things the hard way in the Bundesliga
This could be one of the highlights of the weekend throughout the whole of Europe
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Xabi Alonso’s side are flying and home advantage should help them to get the better of BVB.
Back Bayer Leverkusen to beat Borussia Dortmund on Sunday. (+130)
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Xabi Alonso is a managerial novice, but even the most experienced of coaches might not have done a better job than the Spaniard since he took charge of Bayer Leverkusen in early October.
Alonso inherited a dicey situation. Among the pre-season contenders for a top-four finish, Leverkusen had won only one of their first eight fixtures, leading to Gerard Seoane’s departure. A 4-0 defeat by Bayern Munich in Seoane’s final match at the helm left the Werkself second-bottom of the standings. A relegation battle could not be ruled out.
The appointment of Alonso represented something of a risk. The former midfielder was a world-class player in his day, and his three-year spell at Bayern at the very end of his career meant he did at least have some familiarity with German soccer.
But Alonso’s only prior managerial role was as the boss of Real Sociedad’s B team. Everyone has to start somewhere, but it was nevertheless a gamble for Leverkusen to hand a delicate situation to a coach without any experience at the highest level.
Yet fast forward a few months and their decision has paid off handsomely. Results were mixed early on as Alonso got to know his squad, but Leverkusen are flying now. They have won each of their last five matches in the Bundesliga, the latest being a 2-0 victory over Bochum in the midweek round of fixtures that moved Leverkusen up to eighth.
It is a remarkable turnaround. In this kind of form, a seven-point gap to the Champions League qualification spots looks eminently surmountable. Leverkusen are the in-form team in Germany and no one will relish facing them. Dortmund must wish they could put this fixture off for a few weeks.
The big story in the Bundesliga since the post-winter break resumption is Bayern Munich’s stuttering form. Back-to-back 1-1 draws with RB Leipzig and Koln (the former excusable, the latter less so) have led to talk of a potential title race, which would be welcome as far as the division as a whole is concerned.
Bayern’s lead at the summit of the standings has been trimmed to three points, with a host of teams in hot pursuit. If Julian Nagelsmann’s side continue to turn in sub-par performances, they will be punished by at least one member of the chasing pack - at least in the short term.
No one in Germany truly expects anyone other than Bayern to win the league at this point, but events of the last few days have certainly raised hopes that it might not be a procession. Whether Borussia Dortmund will be the team to mount the strongest challenge remains to be seen.
On paper at least, BVB have hit the ground running since the campaign restarted, beating Augsburg at home and Mainz away. But Dortmund required late winners in both of those matches, and some of their old flaws were apparent at Signal Iduna Park last weekend and at the MEWA Arena in midweek.
Still, Edin Terzic’s team did get over the line on both occasions. As such they are now just five points shy of the top spot, despite being outside the top four at present.
Things are tight in the upper echelons of the Bundesliga, and if Bayern’s patchy form continues they could be put under pressure. Dortmund must ensure they remain as close as possible to the champions in the coming weeks.
Terzic, you feel, would settle for a draw in the second Bundesliga game on Sunday. A trip to the BayArena is now one of the toughest assignments in the division right now, and simply halting Leverkusen’s winning streak would be an achievement.
Dortmund should provide Leverkusen with a tougher test than some of their recent opponents, including Bochum last time out. But their defensive vulnerabilities could be exposed by a team that has been transformed into an attacking force since Alonso walked through the door.
Only Wolfsburg, Bayern, and Leipzig have scored more goals than Leverkusen under their current boss. At the same time, the Werkself are much more defensively solid than they were earlier in the campaign. Over the last six rounds of Bundesliga fixtures, Wolfsburg are the only team who have conceded fewer goals.
As for BVB, they are still finding it difficult to find the right balance between defense and attack. The only way they seem able to keep things tight at the back is by sacrificing their threat going forward.
Sunday’s contest will therefore be a tricky one for Dortmund to negotiate, and we fancy Leverkusen to continue their winning run and move closer still to the top four. Back a home victory in this blockbuster Bundesliga clash.
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Teams: Bayer Leverkusen vs Borussia Dortmund
Location: BayArena, Leverkusen, Germany
Date and Time: Sunday, 29 January 2023, 11.30 AM EDT
How to Watch: ESPN+
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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