How Leverkusen defeated West Ham United to set up semi-final clash with Roma

Football continues to earn its unscripted tag owing to its spontaneity and unpredictability. The 2023/2024 season has indeed seen one of football’s most remarkable stories with Bayer 04 Leverkusen under the instructions of prized Spanish legend Xabi Alonso.

Arriving at the Bay Arena at one of the lowest periods in the club’s time — languishing in the perilous waters of relegation, he has transitioned that Leverkusen team into genuine contenders in Europe.

On the domestic scene, Leverkusen have already claimed the Bundesliga title for the first time in the club’s 119-year history. It is a feat that indeed deserves much praise in a league where there is a dominant Bayern Munich side. It is even more impressive because Alonso’s men are yet to taste defeat as well.

Leverkusen can dream in Europe as well

The Europa League quarter-final tie with West Ham United came at a time when the German outfit was seeking to wrap up the league with games to spare having established a convincing marginal point lead over perennial winners Bayern 04 Munich.

This season, Alonso’s side continues to chase on all fronts. Having been crowned league champions and secured a spot in the DFB pokal final, continental glory in the UEFA Europa League stands as the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

As of the time of writing, the club has nearly navigated the entirety of the season unbeaten — and most definitely has not been devoid of the dramatic with late goals, tactical masterclass, and moments of individual brilliance.

Before this stage, Leverkusen came into the knockouts taking up all available 18 points in their group stage campaign. Fast forward to the round of 16 where the scare to their downfall arrived with Qarabag going up 2-nil up in both legs.

The first leg required goals from Florian Wirtz and Patrick Schick to tie the encounter while the return leg saw two stoppage-time goals from the Czech striker in addition to Jeremie Frimpong’s.

A date with European champions – West Ham

The defending UEFA Conference league champions presented the next obstacle in the quarter-final stage. Alonso’s team strolled to a comfortable 2-0 victory over the Hammers.

A recurring back issue to in-form English forward Jarrod Bowen saw him miss out on David Moyes’ makeshift 3-4-3 to counter Alonso’s setup. Former Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Alphonse Areola also missed out on the encounter. Jonas Hoffman found the back of the net just five minutes after coming on in the 77th minute.

The returning Victor Boniface added one more in the death of the game with a supply from Hoffman. The Nigerian forward, who finished as the top scorer with Royal Union Saint Gilloise last season, added to his impressive season tally stalled by an injury in Nigeria’s Africa Cup of Nations camp.

The return leg witnessed David Moyes go all out returning to his favoured 4-2-3-1 approach. 

Jarrod Bowen, Mohamed Kudus, and James Ward-Prowse all started behind topman Michail Antonio while Tomas Soucek and Edson Alvarez provided the engine room as the double pivot.

Moyes’ bold approach yielded positive results with Antonio latching onto Bowen’s cross to slot a header past Matej Kovar who joined from Manchester United over the summer. The preferred cup goalkeeper in place of veteran Finnish shot-stopper and club captain Lukas Hradecky. 

West Ham upped the pressure in search of a second keeping Leverkusen in a defensive block piling chance on chance.

Frimpong in an advanced right-wing role on the day quashed the hopes of the London outfit with his 89th-minute goal from Josip Stanisic’s ball. The halftime break helped Alonso restructure his team and his innovations in the dressing room proved effective. 

Bayer 04 Leverkusen will settle for a semi-final battle with Daniele De Rossi’s AS Roma to stake claim for another trophy in addition to their first Bundesliga title in 110 years. Given that the Germans are the side to beat at the moment, it is no surprise that Leverkusen tickets are in very high demand.

Alonso’s Leverkusen revamp has seen a newly structured style of approach going on to be a distinct entity of the club in more recent years. Alonso’s favoured 3-4-3 features a high-ended attacking football approach.

What was said after another remarkable result

“The intensity and stability with the ball was not good enough in the first half and we were soft in the duels,” Alonso commented after the game. “We needed to show character and I think in the second half we were better and had more control.”

In West Ham’s defense, they mustered a much-inspired showing to stop Leverkusen’s unbeaten run.

The gaffer claimed “We could have been two or three up at one point,” Moyes told reporters. “I couldn’t fault the players for their effort and if we were going to go out of Europe I wanted to go out playing like that.”

The post-match inclinations were marked with increasing complaints by the hammers. Jamaican forward Michail Antonio complained 

“I felt like I didn’t get a decision all game. I felt a bit frustrated. We felt like we deserved more. But it’s football, sometimes the decisions don’t go your way. We move on and build on that and try to get into the Europa League next year.”

“It doesn’t feel like you’re playing against 11 men, it feels like you’re playing against 13 or 14 including the two lions.”

“You just have to keep pushing and try and make the decisions go your way. And they just weren’t. We had to keep playing our way and keep being professional. We’re very proud of ourselves, to achieve what we’ve achieved over the last four years is incredible.”

Despite being subjected to interest from Bayern Munich, Liverpool, and Real Madrid, Alonso chose to renew his contract with the German-based outfit.

Alonso’s thoughtful team rotations have ensured they’re worthy of competing on all fronts. Now boasting better squad depth with more players returning from injury, Leverkusen will take on Roma in a blockbuster Europa League semi-final clash.

Muhammad Saleem is an aspiring writer and Admin at Football Arroyo. He is a fabulous Football writer, and a huge football fan. He is also a football fan since childhood and has a keen interest in regional sports events coverage.

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