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Bayer Leverkusen’s unbeaten streak ends in the Europa League final against Atalanta

Michael Jordan once said, «I never lost a game, I just ran out of time.» For Bayer Leverkusen and their coach Xabi Alonso, this sentiment may have resonated deeply following their quest for unprecedented unsurpassed heights. However, their dreams were dashed in the UEFA Europa League final against Atalanta where they faced a 3-0 defeat.

A phenomenal season for Leverkusen

Under the leadership Xabi Alonso, Bayer Leverkusen turned into a team that simply did not lose. They were unbeaten champions for a 34-match Bundesliga season, reached the final of the DFB-Pokal and also reached the final of a European competition without suffering a single defeat. This remarkable run was intended to make them the first team since the inception of European club competitions in 1955–56 to achieve such a feat.

Leverkusen’s unbeaten run extended to 51 matches in all competitions, 361 days since their last defeat against VfL Bochum on 27 May 2023. The streak included victories and comebacks that showcased their resilience and determination. However, their run ended in a 3–0 collapse against Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta in Dublin, marking a significant turning point in their season.

Atalanta’s dominance from the start

Atalanta dominated the match from the very beginning. Xabi Alonso expected a defensive approach from Atalanta based on their previous performances. However, Atalanta’s strategy at the Aviva Stadium was different. They pushed high up the pitch, forced Leverkusen into numerous mistakes and capitalized on their mistakes. At no point did it look like Leverkusen’s treble would materialize.

Ademola Lookman was the star of the show, making history by scoring a hat-trick in the final. The feat saw him become the first player to score a hat-trick in a Europa League/UEFA Cup final since Jupp Heynckes for Borussia Mönchengladbach in 1975. Lookman also became the first player to score a hat-trick in a European final for an Italian club since Pierino Prati in AC Milan in the 1968-69 European Cup / UEFA Champions League Final. His performance was nothing short of exceptional and earned him a match point and a place in the record books.

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Gasperini’s triumph and Atalanta’s rise

Under the brilliant coaching of Gian Piero Gasperini, Atalanta had a season to remember. They convincingly beat top teams like Napoli and Roma in Italy and Sporting CP and Liverpool in Europe. Their qualifications for Champions League the next season was a testament to their consistent performances. Beating Leverkusen was another highlight of their remarkable campaign.

«We made history the way we won,» Gasperini said. «It was extraordinary. We beat top teams and now the German champions. The guys were extraordinary. An unforgettable performance that will be remembered for many years to come.”

Leverkusen’s Journey and Resilience

Despite the disappointment in Dublin, Leverkusen’s season was still one for the history books. Their ability to score crucial goals in the dying moments of games has become a hallmark of their campaign. They overcame last-minute comebacks and scored 17 goals in various games after the 90th minute, demonstrating their never-say-die attitude.

In recent weeks, Leverkusen saved draws with stoppage time goals against the likes of Roma (97th minute), Stuttgart (96th), Borussia Dortmund (97th) and Qarabag (92nd). They turned potential defeats into victories against Hoffenheim with goals in the 88th and 91st minutes. They fought back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 with goals in the 72nd, 93rd and 98th minutes in the second leg of the Europa League game against Qarabag.

Crushing defeat

However, there was no such comeback against Atalanta. Lookman’s early goals and Atalanta’s relentless pressure left Leverkusen looking tired and out of ideas. Despite Florian Wirtz’s best efforts to ignite his team, they were unable to break free from Atalanta’s grip. Atalanta’s high pressing exposed Leverkusen’s vulnerability and exploited their mistakes.

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Alonso’s reflection and future prospects

«It wasn’t lost in terms of attitude, it was a football thing,» admitted Alonso. “Today was not meant to be. They were better. It’s our first defeat of the season and it will test us as we have a big game on Saturday. Normally the first defeat happens sooner, but in a big game it hurts more. We must use this pain positively. It is extraordinary what we have achieved. Today is painful, but well-deserved.»

Despite the setback, Leverkusen can still complete an unbeaten double if they win the DFB-Pokal final against Kaiserslautern. The Europa League final may have ended in disappointment, but their home unbeaten streak remains within reach. Achieving an unbeaten double would still be an extraordinary achievement for Alonso and his team.

Looking ahead

Leverkusen’s journey this season has been nothing short of remarkable. Their resilience, determination and ability to perform under pressure was commendable. As they prepare for the DFB-Pokal final, they have the opportunity to end the season on a high and make history by achieving an unbeaten double.

Although their defeat against Atalanta was a significant blow, it also serves as a valuable lesson and motivation for the future. Leverkusen were 90 minutes away from glory against Atalanta but, unlike Michael Jordan, lost before time ran out.

Information is collected from ESPN and yahoo.

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