Bayer Leverkusen writes more history in first ever unbeaten Bundesliga season

LEVERKUSEN, Germany (AP) — The Bundesliga season had only half an hour left and Bayer Leverkusen got nervous.

Middle-of-the-table visitor Augsburg cut Leverkusen's lead in half. Leverkusen's undefeated streak in the Bundesliga was on the line on Saturday. It made late winning goals a trademark this season but appeared vulnerable to a comeback.

But the appearance — and nerves — were fleeting as Leverkusen held on to win 2-1 and complete an historic season.

Xabi Alonso's team became the first ever to finish an entire Bundesliga undefeated: 28 wins, six draws, and no losses.

A choral “Hallelujah” played over BayArena's PA system at the final whistle and a plane trailed a “German Champion” banner over the stadium as fans sang the players' praises. The sellout crowd of 30,000 was on its feet as Leverkusen's players received the club's first ever league winners medals.

Alonso, who took over in October 2022 with Leverkusen in the relegation zone, punched the air to a roar from the crowd as he received his medal. He has already pledged to stay next season after interest from Bayern Munich.

“It’s an exceptional season that we’ve made, not just in Germany but I think in Europe,” Alonso said. “We remember the (2003-04 Arsenal) Invincibles in the Premier League and Juventus in (Italian Serie A in 2011-12), so we deserve this part of history in European soccer.”

Goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky climbed into the stands and handed the trophy to fans to lift. He led a club chant into a microphone as Alonso climbed up to join him.

The retro shirts worn by fans around the BayArena bore the names of past club greats like German striker Rudi Völler, Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal, Mexican forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and local talent Kai Havertz, now at Arsenal.

Those players have won some of world soccer’s biggest prizes, but none won a trophy with Leverkusen. Until Alonso, the club was German soccer's perennial runner-up, derided as “Neverkusen.”

Alonso and his team can add two more titles next week in the Europa League final on Wednesday against Atalanta in Dublin, and then in the German Cup final against Kaiserslautern next weekend.

Alonso was asked if Leverkusen’s achievements in the Bundesliga had sunk in yet. “I believe it, but I need more time, and for now we don’t have much time," he said. "For tomorrow we have our next big target.”

The unbeaten season is all the more remarkable given Bayern's decade of dominance on the field and its financial advantage over all German rivals. Alonso's title winners are a mix of up-and-coming talents and players who found new energy under his leadership.

There's midfielder Granit Xhaka, who had an uneasy relationship with Arsenal's fans before coming to Leverkusen last year. Florian Wirtz, the local attacking midfielder once billed as the new Havertz who may be even better. Strikers Patrik Schick and Victor Boniface both overcame injuries this season to score crucial goals.

Even before kickoff, there was a party atmosphere as a live band played the club anthem. With the two finals coming, Alonso fielded nearly a full-strength team. Xhaka and Wirtz were benched.

For a while it seemed all was under control. Boniface scored after a goalkeeping error and tough-tackling midfielder Robert Andrich showed flair to make it 2-0 with a backheel finish. Then nerves crept in.

Augsburg's Mert Kömür got one back with a curling shot and they nearly leveled soon after when a cross just eluded striker Ermedin Demirović.

Still, Alonso's team held on and strode into history.


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