Bayer Leverkusen Host West Ham Still On Target For Remarkable Treble

Should Xabi Alonso‘s Bayer Leverkusen keep pursuit of a remarkable treble, the Bundesliga leaders will need to get past a dogged West Ham buoyed by recent European successes. Leverkusen host the Hammers in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final on Thursday and are yet to lose this season, winning 36 and drawing five of their 41 games. The Bundesliga champions-elect are 16 points clear of second-placed Bayern Munich in Germany and could lift their first-ever league title as early as Sunday with a win over Werder Bremen.

With Alonso’s side also through to May’s German Cup final, where they face a second-division Kaiserslautern side battling relegation, the Europa League represents the biggest remaining challenge to their treble hopes.

Leverkusen are one of German football’s biggest names but have a relatively bare trophy cabinet, with just two major honours: the 1988 UEFA Cup and the 1993 German Cup.

Serial winner Alonso’s transformation has taken effect not only on the pitch but off it, with Leverkusen exhibiting the controlled swagger reminiscent of the man during his playing days.

A league and cup triumph would double their silverware stash, with a Europa League crown putting Leverkusen alongside the best club sides in European football history.

‘Super situation’

The luck of the draw means Leverkusen would face Liverpool in the final in Dublin in what could be Jurgen Klopp’s last match in charge, should both sides keep winning.

But as he has done since the season began, Alonso has refused to allow himself or his players to get ahead of themselves.

“We’re in a super situation in the Cup, the Bundesliga and we want to also do well in the Europa League and achieve as much as possible,” Alonso said after Saturday’s 1-0 win at Union Berlin took his side 16 points clear.

Alonso called for full focus on their English visitors despite needing just one more victory to lift the league.

“On Thursday we’ve got West Ham at home. It’s not the right moment to think about the weekend. We’ll have time, but we just need to be a bit more patient.”

Alonso even joked that things had gone a little quicker than he expected in the league — Bayern were just two points behind when the two sides met in mid-February.

“I planned to do it (celebrate) a bit later,” Alonso told reporters.

“I’m happy that I can do it earlier… but it’s not over yet.”

‘It’s up to us’

Leverkusen have come close to stumbling during their stunning run, often needing last-minute goals to keep their record intact.

In both legs of their last 16 tie against Qarabag, Leverkusen were 2-0 down at the 70-minute mark. In Baku, Patrik Schick scored an equaliser in the second minute of stoppage time for a 2-2 draw.

In Leverkusen, Schick scored twice in stoppage time to snatch a 3-2 win and a date with West Ham in the quarters.

Winners of last season’s Europa Conference League, West Ham have had a confusing season after losing their talisman Declan Rice to Arsenal in the summer.

Despite sitting seventh in the Premier League — West Ham have only finished higher once this century — coach David Moyes has faced criticism.

West Ham invested the 100-million-euro windfall ($108 million) from Rice’s sale in several impressive talents, including Mohammed Kudus, Edson Alvarez and James Ward-Prowse.

The Hammers have impressed in Europe, winning six of eight this season including a 5-0 pummelling of Freiburg in March.

West Ham defender Kurt Zouma told in-house media on Tuesday: “We know they haven’t lost for a long time now, but it’s up to us to change that.

“We need to beat the best if we want to go all the way and that’s what we’ll try and do.”

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