Monday, June 24, 2024

Leverkusen ´not interested´ in unbeaten season before Europa League defeat, says Xhaka

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 22 May 2024

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Bayer Leverkusen were “not interested” in maintaining their unbeaten record, according to Granit Xhaka, who acknowledged his frustrations after Wednesday’s Europa League final disappointment.

Xabi Alonso’s Bundesliga champions had not suffered defeat since the final game of last season against Bochum, but succumbed to their next loss in the decisive moment against Atalanta in Dublin.

Ademola Lookman stole the headlines with a remarkable hat-trick, powering Gian Piero Gasperini’s team to their first title in 61 years, when Atalanta won the Coppa Italia.

A 3-0 defeat ensured Leverkusen will have to settle for, at most, a domestic double as they look to bounce back on Saturday in the DFB-Pokal final.

Yet Xhaka insisted Alonso’s side never had the undefeated streak in their minds as soon as kick-off arrived at the Aviva Stadium.

“Honestly, we’re not interested in the unbeaten record,” the former Arsenal midfielder said to RTL. “We didn’t care about that from the start.

“It’s about the game and unfortunately we lost a final today. That’s football.

“We said yesterday that it would be a difficult game. Compliments to Atalanta.”

Leverkusen’s unbeaten streak spanned nine months and 51 games this season, starting their 2023-24 campaign with a first-round DFB-Pokal thrashing of lowly Teutonia Ottensen in mid-August.

Alonso’s impressive men triumphed in 42 of those matches during their historic unbeaten run across all competitions, drawing the other nine as Leverkusen coasted to their first Bundesliga title in history.

Scoring 143 goals and conceding just 39 across that dominant period, not many would have expected Gasperini’s side to shutout Leverkusen and beat goalkeeper Matej Kovar three times in the process.

Leverkusen are the first league-title winners to lose the UEFA Cup/Europa League final in the same season since Benfica in 2013-14, and the first German side to do since Borussia Dortmund in 2001-02.

In single-game only finals, this was also the biggest margin of defeat for a German team since Eintracht Frankfurt lost 7-3 to Real Madrid in the 1960 European Cup, perhaps explaining Xhaka’s annoyance.

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