Soccer-Leverkusen's pre-season planning is paying off now says sports director


FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Europa League - Group H - Bayer Leverkusen v Molde - BayArena, Leverkusen, Germany - December 14, 2023 Bayer Leverkusen players pose for a team group photo before the match REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen/File Photo

BERLIN (Reuters) - Unbeaten Bayer Leverkusen's meticulous pre-season planning has paid dividends, sporting managing director Simon Rolfes said, with the Bundesliga leaders in the mix for three trophies.

Leverkusen, who parted with over a dozen players and brought in several new signings this season, have taken the Bundesliga by storm and have gone 30 games undefeated in all competitions.

Xabi Alonso's side are two points ahead of second-placed Bayern Munich, who are their visitors on Saturday.

They are also through to the German Cup last four and the Europa League Round of 16.

Most of the close-season transfers have hit the ground running, with striker Victor Boniface bagging 10 goals and setting up another seven before his injury in January.

Spain wing back Alex Grimaldo has added another seven goals and nine assists while Jonas Hofmann, Granit Xhaka and Nathan Tella, among other, have been equally important in launching a challenge to Bayern's long-standing domestic dominance.

"We knew exactly how we wanted to play, we also knew who we wanted to get rid of. Not only signing but also selling," Rolfes told Reuters in an interview.

"Then we had a clear picture of the profile the new players should have. We found the players we could approach and sign, who fit this style."

EARLY PLANNING

Work on transfers started last winter, with Alonso and club bosses planning their strategy for the next season early.

The majority of the new players had joined by early July and completed the full preparation instead of arriving later in the transfer period. That proved crucial in developing Leverkusen's, at times, seamless playing style this term.

"The integration of the players in the team, the club culture and the new country has worked also really well," said Rolfes. "Sometimes they need time. This season the adaptation and integration were really fast for almost everyone."

With hopes of a first trophy after 31 years growing among Leverkusen fans, Rolfes is not concerned with his team's busy domestic and European schedule on three fronts in coming weeks.

"We tried to build a squad with high quality players for these three competitions. We always said everybody will be needed. We will try to balance the load and divide it through the players," he said.

"My feeling is that the players are not overloaded. We found a good balance in the first half of the season."

As for speculation about Alonso's future, with several major European clubs reportedly interested, Rolfes said that was no distraction either. Alonso's deal with Leverkusen runs to 2026.

Alonso's old club Liverpool, with whom he won the Champions League as a player, will be looking for a new coach at the end of the season after Juergen Klopp said he would step down.

"No, it does not bother me, it is a sign of success," Rolfes said of the speculation. "Talk or rumours because of success for the head coach or players, I am happy with this."

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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