Xabi Alonso clearly had to nibble on the next Leverkusen setback. After five wins in a row, the second half of the season starts the same way as the first series: with two bankruptcies.
“We now know even more that it will be difficult to achieve our goals. There are still a lot of points to be won, but the gap is growing,” said the former Spanish world and European champion after the 0-1 draw at FC Augsburg in the Bundesliga with emphasis on objectivity. The probability of a place in the European Cup decreases.
Alonso, who was hired as head coach in October, would certainly have liked to have had a match winner à la Mergim Berisha in his ranks on Friday evening. The U-21 European champions headed in the winning goal after a corner kick from newcomer Arne Engels (19), who again played well. “The ball came great and I’m happy that I was able to help the team with the goal,” said Berisha about the next big point in the fight for relegation.
It was his fifth 1-0 win in an FCA home game this season, albeit without much resistance from Leverkusen. And the third time that Augsburg has celebrated a 1-0 win thanks to him: FC Bayern Munich, Borussia Mönchengladbach and now Bayer Leverkusen – the 24-year-old has always shone against well-known teams.
“I think there are few better nines that we have in Germany,” said Augsburg coach Enrico Maassen. Manager Stefan Reuter reported that Marcus Sorg, assistant to national coach Hansi Flick, was there during the wet and cold game. “It’s perfectly normal for Mergim to be somewhere in view,” Reuter said. “He has exceptional qualities in front of goal.”
In 13 caps for the Under-21s, Berisha has scored just one goal, but the Fenerbahce forward, on loan from Fenerbahce Istanbul, has made important strides in his development at Augsburg. In the run-up to the 2022 World Cup, he was already considered a candidate for the extended tournament squad, but the yellow-red card in the win at Schalke took him out of focus a bit.
Berisha also works backwards
“He’s now in very good shape himself,” praised Reuter. “We knew that he had exceptional qualities in front of goal.” But important, Maassen also emphasized, was the work behind the scenes.
After falling behind, Leverkusen didn’t give the impression in front of 27,318 spectators that they would turn the game around. Goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky found the offensive efforts a “bit unimaginative”, a “certain rip-off” was missing.
The sorely missed striker Patrik Schick would certainly have been good for Bayer’s performance, but his return has been further delayed. “Patrik is feeling better but not fully fit yet,” said Alonso. Schick, last year’s second-best goalscorer in the Bundesliga with 24 goals, has not played a competitive game since November 1 due to groin problems.
The national player Florian Wirtz (19), who came on after an hour and who is to be gradually introduced to permanent assignments after his cruciate ligament tear, was unable to provide any decisive impetus against the Augsburg team. “He can’t play every minute yet, we have to control that,” said Alonso. Wirtz had recently been in the starting eleven for the first time in eleven months.