Wednesday May 22, 2024

Bayer Leverkusen win Bundesliga for 1st time after crushing Bremen

Published : 15 Apr 2024, 23:08

  By Thomas Eßer, dpa
Leverkusen fans set off pyrotechnics during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and SV Werder Bremen at BayArena. Photo: David Inderlied/dpa.

Bayer Leverkusen won the Bundesliga title for the first time after hammering Werder Bremen 5-0 at home on Sunday, ending Bayern Munich's 11-year reign as champions.

The victory gave Xabi Alonso's unbeaten side an unassailable 16-point lead over Bayern and VfB Stuttgart with just five matchdays left.

The returning Victor Boniface got the opener from the spot midway through the first half while Granit Xhaka and Florian Wirtz's hat-trick after the break made it 29 games without defeat in this season's Bundesliga and 43 matches in all competitions.

Alonso initially rested creative forces Wirtz and Alex Grimaldo, two of the stand-out players of the season, while Nigeria striker Boniface made a first start this year after injury having been the early catalyst for Leverkusen's stunning season.

As the first half wore on without a goal there was nervousness among the Leverkusen players and fans for practically the first time this term, despite a string of late comebacks.

But when Jonas Hofmann was felled in the box and the referee awarded a penalty after video review, Boniface slotted home his 11th of the league season but first since December.

The fans - some in Alonso masks - rejoiced, just like that had before kick-off when thousands of normally sedate Leverkusen supporters waving huge flags surrounded the team bus as it arrived at the BayArena and set off red flares.

Xhaka, who has calmed down from his Arsenal hothead days to become a lynchpin, later let fly from distance and substitute Wirtz scored an epic hat-trick to prompt a massive fan pitch invasion.

Leverkusen, previously dubbed Neverkusen for so long having finished second five times in the Bundesliga, are on for a treble given their remarkable unbeaten season.

They visit West Ham United in their Europa League quarter-final second leg on Thursday boasting a 2-0 lead and also have a date with second division Kaiserslautern in the German Cup Final on May 25.

The Werkself started last term near the bottom of the Bundesliga and Alonso was recruited in October 2022 in his first major coaching job.

He dragged them up to sixth spot last term and now has clinched the title in his first full season, ending his former club Bayern's hegemony of the German top flight since 2013.

The Spaniard also boosted Leverkusen in recent weeks by stating he would stay at the club despite impending vacancies at another of his former clubs Liverpool as well as Bayern.

Thomas Tuchel is leaving Bayern at the end of the season after the club finally gave up their perennial title with a whimper, having been given a warning last term when they only pipped Borussia Dortmund with practically the last kick of the campaign.

Bayern will now undergo a rebuild in the close season, with the likes of ex-coach Julian Nagelsmann and Zinedine Zidane linked.

Leverkusen meanwhile face a battle to hold on to their top names, but lifting the Bundesliga trophy - probably after their last home match against Augsburg on May 18 - will be a big help in trying to keep the unit together alongside their unflappable coach.

In Sunday's other Bundesliga action, Darmstadt stayed rooted to the opposite end of the table and poised for relegation after a 1-0 home defeat by Freiburg, a league record 22nd game without a win.

Ritsu Doan's well-taken goal for Freiburg in the first half meant Darmstadt stayed 13 points away from absolute safety with just five matchdays left. Third-bottom Mainz, in the relegation play-off spot, sit 12 points above the Lilies having beaten Hoffenheim on Saturday.

Freiburg, in Christian Streich's last season as coach, have still not given up on a European spot and lie eighth - three points adrift of a guaranteed berth - after a third away win in a row.