Leverkusen win first Bundesliga crown

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Wirtz’s hat-trick guides his side to their first-ever Bundesliga title, breaking Bayern’s 11-year run
News Agency
LEVERKUSEN
Bayer Leverkusen lifted the Bundesliga title for the first time in their 120-year history on Sunday, a 5-0 victory over Werder Bremen breaking Bayern Munich’s 11-year stranglehold on the German top flight.
Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen knew victory would secure the title with five games to spare, and there were no signs of nerves in a dominant performance.
A hat-trick from Florian Wirtz and goals from Victor Boniface and Granit Xhaka extended their unbeaten run to a stunning 43 games in all competitions.
Leverkusen’s maiden title, coming after five second-place finishes in their history, keeps their dream of a remarkable treble alive while shedding their unwanted ‘Neverkusen’ nickname for good.
With 10 minutes to go, the long-suffering fans began making their way to the sidelines and a few jumped the gun, storming the pitch with the match still ongoing.
Leverkusen’s players ushered the fans back and some obliged, albeit briefly, with the stands swiftly emptying on the 90-minute mark as tearful supporters made their way onto the turf to celebrate with the players.
Leverkusen are now on 79 points — the best tally after 29 games in German league history — and are 16 clear of second-placed Bayern and third-placed Stuttgart.
“It’s impossible to describe. Personally I can’t quite grasp what we did. I needed to go back to the changing room to clear my head,” Wirtz told DAZN.
“We’ve already started the party with the supporters.”
Wirtz, who moved from neighbouring Cologne at the age of 16 and grew up just 20 minutes away in Pulheim, told DAZN he “could not imagine what we would achieve at the start of the season”.
“It was when we started winning some matches, with a dominant style of play, that’s when I realised we could do a little better than just making the Champions League.”
The Leverkusen bus arrived at the stadium 90 minutes before kick-off, wading through a sea of fans clad in black and red on the way to the 30,000-capacity BayArena.
Normally known as Bismarck Street, fans had stuck temporary signs saying ‘Xabi Alonso Street’ along the main road in honour of the club’s coach.
Alonso looked ahead to Thursday’s Europa League trip to London to face West Ham, making seven changes to his starting XI and benching stars Wirtz, Jeremie Frimpong and Alex Grimaldo, the latter for the first time in the league this season.
Piero Hincapie, Grimaldo’s replacement, had an early effort at goal saved but it would be the fit-again Boniface, making his first start since mid-December, who put the home side in front.
With 22 minutes gone, Jonas Hofmann was felled in the box by Bremen’s Julian Malatini, with the referee pointing to the spot after VAR urged him to view the contact again on the monitor.
Boniface stepped up and nervelessly slotted the penalty past a helpless Michael Zetterer to send the home fans into raptures.
Hofmann was almost the provider again shortly before half-time, his pass finding Amine Adli who fired against the crossbar.
Bremen started the second-half strongly but their hopes of spoiling the party were snuffed out on the 60-minute mark, Boniface finding Xhaka who unleashed a long-range rocket before slapping his badge in front of the ecstatic home fans.
Wirtz, who came on at half-time for Adli, replicated Xhaka’s effort eight minutes later from almost the same spot on the pitch.
Wirtz added another with seven minutes remaining before sealing his hat-trick in the 90th minute as Leverkusen rid themselves of their nearly men tag in style.
Earlier on Sunday, a 36th-minute goal from Ritsu Doan took Freiburg to a 1-0 win at Darmstadt, pushing the last-placed hosts closer to immediate relegation.
Winless since October and with only two victories all year, the loss leaves Darmstadt dead last, eight points from second-last and 13 points from safety with five games remaining.