When Granit Xhaka signed for Bayer Leverkusen earlier in the summer for a reported €25m from Arsenal, there was considerable speculation about whether the 30-year-old would be a success for Die Werkself. However, so far this season, Xhaka has proven to be a key asset in Xabi Alonso’s side, and he could be vital for any potential title challenge.
Last season, Leverkusen drastically improved under the stewardship of Alonso, skyrocketing up the table after early concerns of a potential relegation battle under Gerardo Seoane. Nevertheless, while the Spaniard transformed the way in which the Werkself were playing – as seen in their dominating performance against Bayern Munich last year – there were still issues that had to be addressed.
With the unfortunate injury record that has plagued Patrik Schick’s career, the arrival of Victor Boniface has certainly looked to amend the problems Leverkusen faced in front of goal. However, the final piece in Alonso’s complex puzzle appears to be in the form of Granit Xhaka.
Last season, Leverkusen’s midfield was phenomenal. In Robert Andrich, they had a holding midfielder who could drop into the back line for defensive cover while also helping progress the ball further up the pitch. Exequiel Palacios won the ball back with a sense of simplicity, while Florian Wirtz devastated Bundesliga defences.
Nevertheless, they did not have a player who could create like Xhaka, a player who could manipulate play like Xhaka; quite simply, they did not have Granit Xhaka. There are very few players – that is, if there are any – that can dictate a game of football better than the 30-year-old.
His vision, intelligence and ease with which he executes every touch of a football, makes the Swiss international a truly remarkable player. While his personal limitations have held him back from playing in a world-class side, in Leverkusen, he has found a team that he can make world-class.
So far this season, as per FBref, no player in the Bundesliga has made more progressive passes than the Leverkusen midfielder, with an astonishing 34. Only Joshua Kimmich comes close, trailing the 30-year-old by one, which is a true endorsement to the ability of Xhaka.
Only his fellow teammate in Wirtz can boast more passes into the penalty area in the league, while Xhaka is in a world of his own when it comes to passes into the final third. With 42 passes into the final third after three games, he is light years ahead of those below him, with once again, only Joshua Kimmich coming close with 33.
These stats show how Xhaka has not just improved Leverkusen’s midfield, but has made them more dominant than Bayern. To fully understand his excellence, Xhaka is on course to make more progressive passes, more passes into the penalty area and more passes into the final third by the Hinrunde than any Leverkusen player managed in the entirety of last season.
He is also managing to accomplish this by claiming more touches in the middle third of the pitch than any other player in the league. Having been dispossessed just once, with a 91.4% pass accuracy, Xhaka has quickly become the Bundesliga’s chief creative midfielder.
With his unrivalled ability to consistently supply Die Werkself’s attacking line, Leverkusen have been able to become the most relentless side in the Bundesliga. The league’s joint top scorers have been a joy to watch and a whirlwind to play against, and it is all because of Xhaka.
If they can keep their midfield maestro fit, then there is little reason to believe that Leverkusen will take their foot off the accelerator. Alonso looks to have completed his puzzle, and it could be far greater than anyone ever imagined.
GGFN | Will Shopland