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Xhaka making Leverkusen tick ahead of crunch Bayern clash
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Adam Drury
Granit Xhaka has made an excellent start to his Bayer Leverkusen career
Granit Xhaka has made an excellent start to his Bayer Leverkusen career

Granit Xhaka's move to Bayer Leverkusen has worked out far better than the player or club could have imagined.

The summer signing from Arsenal has not just easily fitted into his new side but helped elevate them into title contenders.

Xabi Alonso's outfit have played some superb football to lead the Bundesliga with 52 points from 20 games.

Ahead of Saturday's huge meeting with second-placed Bayern Munich — who they lead by two points — we analyse how experienced midfielder Xhaka has helped Leverkusen into such an exciting position.

Arsenal misstep

It is testament to Xhaka that Arsenal have not properly replaced him since sanctioning a sale last July.

Mikel Arteta has used Kai Havertz, Emile Smith Rowe and Jorginho alongside Declan Rice and Martin Odegaard in midfield in recent weeks, not yet landing on a first-choice combination.

And considering only five Gunners played more Premier League minutes than Xhaka last term, it would be fair to question the wisdom of letting him go for a reported £21million.

Now, the Swiss international is masterminding a different title bid in Germany.

Pass master

Granit Xhaka is impressing at Bayer Leverkusen
Granit Xhaka is impressing at Bayer Leverkusen

Xhaka's ability to set the tempo from the base of midfield has been fundamental to Leverkusen's electric football under Alonso.

Victor Boniface and Florian Wirtz have stolen most of the headlines for the Bundesliga leaders but the former FC Basel playmaker is Alonso's on-field lieutenant and makes the team tick.

Remarkably, Xhaka has completed 98.51 passes per 90 minutes this season, leading second-place Kim Min-Jae of Bayern (94.51).

And a pass accuracy rate of 92.27% shows he is finding his team-mates with both quality and quantity.

Second manager

Of the 10 outfielders to have played the most league minutes for Leverkusen this season, only two are older than 28.

Xhaka, 31, is second to left-back Alejandro Grimaldo on that list and has played a huge role in improving the young players around him, including 25-year-old engine room partner Exequiel Palacios.

Palacios said earlier in the season that "playing alongside a player with such a big career, it always makes you better".

And club sporting director Simon Rolfes has been impressed by Xhaka's impact on a group of young players Alonso is moulding into something special.

Rolfes said: "He [Xhaka] has an indisputable personality in the team, on and off the field.

"He always goes ahead with the character he has. We are very happy."

Granit Xhaka is one of Xabi Alonso's most experienced players
Granit Xhaka is one of Xabi Alonso's most experienced players

History to be made

Leverkusen have performed well above expectation this season and find themselves in contention to break Bayern's monopoly over the Bundesliga title.

The Bavarians have won the league 11 times on the bounce but must now contend with an opponent recording 2.6 points per game.

Ahead of Saturday's crunch clash between the two top dogs, Xhaka's team-mate Patrik Schick insists their best chance of maintaining that form is not to think about the hunt for a trophy.

He told the Bundesliga: "We are not talking about it too much.

"We know in which position we are. We deserve to be in this position but the season is still long.

"It is too early to talk about trophies."

If Leverkusen go five points clear at the top of the league with a win this weekend, not everybody will agree.


BundesligaBayer LeverkusenGranit Xhaka
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