Teamwork makes the dream work

Europa League ultimate: Leverkusen 2 video games from unbeaten season

29


Bayer Leverkusen are two video games from European soccer immortality.

The brand new champions of Germany have two cup finals in 4 days — beginning Wednesday within the Europa League in opposition to Atalanta — to finish a beforehand unthinkable unbeaten season in home and continental competitors.

Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, NWSL extra (U.S.)

On Saturday, Leverkusen will likely be closely favored to win the DFB Pokal ultimate in opposition to a Kaiserslautern crew that completed thirteenth within the second division, not so removed from falling into relegation playoffs.

And so the most important remaining problem for coach Xabi Alonso’s crew is recreation No. 52 of 53, in Dublin in opposition to an Atalanta that’s ending the season sturdy.

It feels becoming as a result of the Europa League has been an everyday drama for Leverkusen.

Thrice in six video games within the knockout rounds the crew was 2-0 down deep into the second half and nonetheless behind coming into stoppage time: In each spherical of 16 video games in opposition to Qarabag and within the semifinals return leg in opposition to Roma.

“Our self-confidence retains driving us on,” Alonso mentioned Tuesday. “I feel that perception is essential to our mindset.”

In one other streak-saving Europa recreation, at West Ham within the quarterfinals, Leverkusen have been set to advance on mixture rating but wanted an 89th-minute objective by wing-back Jeremie Frimpong to attract 1-1 and keep unbeaten.

“We do not need to wait till the final seconds of the sport,” mentioned Patrick Schick, whose three stoppage-time targets in opposition to Qarabag in March have been key to advancing 5-4 on mixture. “We wish to make it clear, actually, earlier.”

Atalanta defender Berat Djimsiti acknowledged Tuesday it was “definitely added motivation” attempting to be the crew to beat Leverkusen. “They’ve achieved some extraordinary issues this season.”

There have been different stellar groups in European soccer who added the elite Champions League to their home league title, in contrast to Leverkusen taking part in within the second-tier Europa League.

Nonetheless, Manchester United in 1999, Inter Milan in 2010, Barcelona in 2011 and Manchester Metropolis final yr additionally misplaced some video games and have been rich golf equipment whose success might have been anticipated. Every began their season with established, star-packed groups led by coaches — Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola — who’d already received a number of home and European trophies.

That is Alonso’s first full season teaching on the high degree. His crew was in relegation hassle final season. There was no celebrity switch signing within the offseason.

“Actually having fun with it,” the 42-year-old Alonso mentioned. “The power within the locker room is de facto good and the mentality we now have proven via all of the yr has been unbelievable.”

Alonso twice received the Champions League as a sublime midfielder, with Liverpool after which Actual Madrid, who will play Borussia Dortmund for this season’s Champions League title. That June 1 ultimate at Wembley Stadium is between two groups concerned within the failed Tremendous League breakaway in 2021 — Madrid driving it ahead, Dortmund declining its invitation.

Bayer Leverkusen and Atalanta have been nowhere near being invited to the breakaway three years in the past and right this moment symbolize soccer initiatives that received respect from impartial followers throughout Europe.

Two well-run golf equipment, counting on good switch dealings — albeit underwritten, respectively, by pharmaceutical large Bayer and Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca — had mixed whole revenues final yr that added as much as about the identical $500 million as Manchester Metropolis’s participant wage invoice alone.

But each Leverkusen and Atalanta, underneath coach Gian Piero Gasperini since 2016, play easy-on-the-eye soccer in assault and team-first defence.

“They play one in opposition to one on the entire pitch,” Schick mentioned of Atalanta. “Wherever you progress, you may have one defender behind you so they do not depart you the area to breathe.”

Atalanta have been a refreshing pressure underneath Gasperini and have already got a spot within the Champions League subsequent season. In any regular yr they might be well-liked first-time European title winners.

What Leverkusen have accomplished shouldn’t be regular, although, and a legend could possibly be simply days from being created.

Data from The Related Press contributed to this report.