Why Bayer Leverkusen and Xabi Alonso need to be taken seriously as other European underdogs start to unravel
When an underdog goes on a long run of challenging for the title, it becomes difficult for the neutral not to get behind them.
The sad reality is that underdogs who come out of nowhere and go on a run of winning frequently tend to fall, not at the final hurdle, but with a good amount of games left in the season.
This happened to Arsenal in the Premier League last season, and there are countless other examples. That is why the anomaly of Leicester City in 2016 was such a miracle.
Last weekend featured two games in which the challenging underdog took on the behemoth.
In La Liga, Girona travelled to the Bernabeu for the acid test. This is only Girona’s fourth time in their history competing in the top tier in Spain and their meteoric rise to challenging for the La Liga title deserves huge amounts of credit.
Resilient and hard to beat, there were many thinking Girona had a genuine chance. Even as Real Madrid overtook them recently – it was all up for grabs in this game.
Unfortunately, Girona were completely outclassed. Real’s first goal from Vinicius was an amazing finish, and that opened the floodgates for Los Blancos, with Bellingham bagging two before Rodrygo added a fourth.
While a Champions League campaign next season is still very much on the cards, Girona’s hopes of pulling off the shock of winning the league have now most likely come to an end.
Over in Germany, many were thinking that Bayern Munich were going to do the same to Bayer Leverkusen as Madrid did to Girona.
While Leverkusen are a far bigger club in European and world football than Girona, they are a club who have never won the Bundesliga, coming runners-up five times.
They have reached the Champions League final once, where they were on the receiving end of one of the greatest European Cup final goals in history as Zinedine Zidane fired Real Madrid to a record-extending ninth title.
Leverkusen’s greatest night came in 1988 as they beat Espanyol in the UEFA Cup Final. Now unbeaten in all competitions this season, Xabi Alonso’s side will now feel like the finish line is in sight.
While the Spaniard is being heavily linked with the Liverpool job, his focus now will be on getting his team over the finish line to a first-ever league title, which is now tantalisingly close.
Bayern came to BayArena, confident of handing the league leaders their first defeat of the season and swinging the pendulum back in their favour.
Instead, they were dealt with 3-0 and left five points off the top. Not just the win, but the manner of the win cannot be underestimated.
While there is a long way to go, there genuinely is a strong chance Bayern Munich’s 11 years of dominance is about to end.
Dortmund came close last season and lost the league in the last few minutes of the final game of the season, but something feels different this season and with Alonso – Leverkusen are in good hands this year.
A tactical genius who is already being touted as the best up-and-coming manager in the world, Alonso’s stock will be at an all-time high if the miracle happens.
Sports opinion delivered daily
Now it isn’t looking like it will take so much of a miracle for Leverkusen to win a historic first Bundesliga trophy, just consistency.