Woody Allen said that if you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans. God might well be chuckling just a little, thinking about Harry Kane’s desire for silverware and his move to Bayern Munich. There might also be a smile too, recalling Bayern’s belief that signing perhaps the world’s best out-and-out striker would mean they avoided the last-day scare they had at the end of the 2022/23 season, when they needed rivals Borussia Dortmund to slip up on the final day in order to defend their crown yet again.
Kane and Bayern and the Bundesliga title were meant to be pretty much a done deal. The Bavarian giants had, after all, won the top-flight title for the past 11 seasons! With the England captain at the club surely a 12th was a foregone conclusion? However, despite the former Spurs star hitting the ground, not so much running but full-on Usain Bolt-sprinting, incredibly, Bayern are not the Bundesliga pacesetters. England’s all-time record goalscorer has set records aplenty in his brief spell with FC Hollywood and at the time of writing has netted 24 goals in 21 games, adding eight assists to boot!
But that’s enough about Kane and the side doing so much to make German football boringly predictable. Because the reason that the Bundesliga just might be exciting this term is that after 15 games it is Bayer Leverkusen who lead the way. Leverkusen have garnered 39 points from their opening 15 matches, with Kane and co down in second on 35 (although having only played 14 games).
So, can Leverkusen become the first side to deny Bayern the title since Borussia Dortmund claimed their eighth Bundesliga in 2011/12? And what has been behind their incredible start to the season?
Will Bayer Leverkusen Win the 2023/24 Bundesliga?
Whilst the tables of the major European leagues have very much taken shape by this point in December, there is still a long way to go. There will be one more game for the Black and Reds before Christmas and then Germany’s lengthy winter break means no more action until mid-January. So the halfway stage of the campaign will not be reached for some time yet and the reality is that there is every chance that the relentless Bayern machine will chase down the underdogs in the new year.
The bookmakers have real skin in the game and so they are usually the best judges of what is likely to unfold. So for all those dreaming of David socking Goliath in the eye, it will be rather disappointing to note that the oddsmakers have Bayern as the huge favourites. Risk £10 on the defending champions and you would be in line to get £14 back (current odds 2/5). However, Bayer Leverkusen are 11/4, meaning that £10 could return a substantial £37.50.
That said, Leverkusen are the clear second-favourites, with RB Leipzig (currently third with 32 points from 15 games) a distant 40/1 and the field a massive 200/1 or higher. Moreover, whilst 11/4 makes the 1988 UEFA Cup winners clear outsiders, those are far from outlandish odds and in many horse races, for example, that might be the price of the favourite. Excluding the profit margin that the bookies rather cunningly factor into their odds, that equates to around a 27% chance of the underdogs prevailing.
Of course, the favourite does not always win and that is the beauty of sport: it is unpredictable. So whilst Bayern Munich might be worthy favourites, Bayer Leverkusen still have an excellent chance of turning the odds upside down and finally deposing the Bavarian giants. But how have Bayer even made it this far? Let’s take a look at their season so far.
Why are Bayer Challenging for the Title?
Leverkusen have been a fixture in the German top flight since 1979 but they have never won the title. The only major honours they have ever landed are the aforementioned UEFA Cup and the German Cup in 1992/93. They were runners-up in the Champions League in 2001/02 and have filled second spot in the Bundesliga on no fewer than five times, most recently in 2010/11 with the other four all coming between 1996/97 and 2001/02, which was their golden era in many regards.
Last term they finished sixth and they have done no worse than that since coming 12th back in 2016/17. So they are no mugs, clearly, but whilst they managed to finish third in 2021/22, their performances this term have come very much as a surprise to almost everyone.
One man who will probably not be surprised is the man who is masterminding it all, Bayer boss, ex-Liverpool star Xabi Alonso. The Spanish former midfielder, who accrued 114 caps despite his career overlapping with so many greats in that position in his country, played for Liverpool, Real Madrid and then Bayer’s title rivals Bayern. He began his career in his native Basque Country, with Real Sociedad but it soon became clear he had the ability and football brain to go right to the top.
His managerial career began with Sociedad’s B team before he joined Bayer in October 2022. They were second from bottom when he took over and since then the turnaround has been truly incredible. Alonso sets his side up in a 3-4-3 formation that is defensively superb but in attack combines elements of a possession-based style with fast counters.
They are a joy to watch and his thoughtful personality is evident in his team but this is a results business and in that regard, things are even better. Currently his win percentage stands at over 62% and that is title-winning form, especially as there is a clear upward curve. They are unbeaten in the league this term, winning 12 and drawing three, boasting the best defence in the league. Additionally they won all six of their group games in the Europa League and are second favourites to win that (behind Liverpool).
Despite the club frequently selling their best players – they have made a net profit on transfers over the past four seasons – Alonso is building something special. Time will tell if he can deliver the miracle but you can be sure of one thing: title or not, Liverpool will surely be thinking about Alonso as a future replacement for Jurgen Klopp.