Bayer Leverkusen’s Xabi Alonso praises team’s resilience in reaching Europa League semifinals

Bayer Leverkusen manager Xabi Alonso expressed his pride in his team’s resilience and fighting spirit after securing a 1-1 draw against West Ham United in the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final tie, advancing to the semifinals with a 3-1 aggregate score.

“We knew they would put a lot of pressure on us,” Alonso admitted. “To be honest, they were really good in the first 45 minutes and caused us a lot of problems with their high pressing. We weren’t comfortable on the pitch, we were trying to find the free man but they often doubled up on us, and especially in the first 15 minutes, we were too light and gave away several easy balls near our box. This gave West Ham confidence and they managed to score the goal.”

Despite the early scare, Alonso was quick to praise his team’s response in the second half. “Fortunately, we found our reaction in the second half,” he said. “We changed a few things, we put more intensity. We saw a much better second half and in the end, we scored with Frimpong. I’m happy to have gone through but, as you know, in European competitions, you always have to earn your qualification. Today, the first 45 minutes were difficult.”

Alonso also addressed the early substitution of defender Edmond Tapsoba, who was replaced after just 30 minutes due to a yellow card and struggles in building the game from the back. “It wasn’t easy,” Alonso admitted, “but as a coach, sometimes you have to act, take responsibility. I know it’s not nice for a player to be substituted after so little time, but he was on a yellow card and we were having trouble building the game in that position. There were many concurrent reasons for making that substitution. I know it’s not nice, but the change worked. The other players who came on in the second half also had a good impact. It was very important.”

Reflecting on the team’s overall performance, Alonso highlighted their ability to adapt and overcome challenges. “We expected this type of game from West Ham, with a lot of energy,” he said. “They faced us with great intensity, in a totally different way from the first leg in Leverkusen, but if you want to reach the semifinals in Europe and, hopefully, even further, you have to be good at dealing with difficult moments. Being able to stand up in tough times was the key to our qualification.”

Speaking about the team’s record-breaking 44-game unbeaten run in European competitions, Alonso downplayed its significance compared to the achievement of reaching the semifinals. “The goal in the end was our mentality, to believe until the last minute but also to know how to deal with difficult moments and not fall apart,” he emphasized. “Obviously, records are the consequence of good work. The most important thing was not so much to maintain the unbeaten record but to reach the semifinals, but having this record (44 games unbeaten, ed.) intact makes us even happier.”

Looking ahead to the semifinals against Roma, Alonso acknowledged the challenge that awaits but expressed confidence in his team’s abilities. “In many games, we build our control,” he said. “We know that sometimes it takes longer but if we keep doing things well and are patient, sooner or later our chance will come. This happens in the Bundesliga but also in the Europa League, and it happened in today’s game as well. With Roma, it will be a difficult challenge.”

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