Florian Wirtz should follow Xabi Alonso's lead and reject interest from Europe's top clubs to stay at Bayer Leverkusen beyond this season, says former Germany international Carsten Ramelow.

Wirtz has been one of the standout performers in a remarkable campaign for Leverkusen, who are just one win away from clinching their first Bundesliga title.

The attacking midfielder has 18 goal involvements in 28 league outings this term (eight goals, 10 assists), with his latest goal coming from the penalty spot in Saturday's win over Union Berlin.  

Among all Bundesliga players, Wirtz ranks third for successful dribbles (77), fifth for chances created (70) and fourth for expected assists (9.23 xA) this season.

His performances have won him plenty of admirers, with Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Real Madrid among those credited with an interest in the 20-year-old.

However, after seeing head coach Alonso reaffirm his commitment to Leverkusen, Ramelow, who made over 400 appearances for Die Werkself between 1995 and 2008, thinks Wirtz should follow suit. 

"For Leverkusen, he is indispensable," the 2002 World Cup finalist told Stats Perform. "The same goes for the national team, where he has found a good role. 

"There's a lot of speculation. When you're in great form, the big teams come knocking. Leverkusen hope he will continue with them for a while and move on after that. 

"In my opinion, it would be good for his development to stay in Leverkusen, because you can see if young players leave too early, it is not always good."

With Alonso refusing to jump ship, Ramelow feels Leverkusen still have plenty to offer Wirtz, saying: "To show consistent performances, you have to be where you feel happy, and I think Leverkusen is a good place currently. 

"They are so consistent. They have a lot of confidence and also a pinch of luck in the final moments to win games. That's really good. You have to look at the collective, the coach and his staff.

"But of course, Wirtz is a very young player who showed his talent many times over the last few years. He has made really good development and has lots more to come.

"Why not continue on that path for another one, two, maybe even three years and make the next step afterwards? This is what I think is the right way, but we will see what decision Wirtz takes."

Remarkably, Leverkusen are yet to lose a game in any competition this season. They have just six further games to navigate in the Bundesliga, while they will face second tier Kaiserslautern in May's DFB-Pokal final and are among the favourites to win the Europa League.

 As Leverkusen look to banish the ghosts of 2001-02 – when they finished as runners up in the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and Champions League – Ramelow says all the credit lies with Alonso.

"When he arrived in Leverkusen, he was facing a few problems, which is normal. I think you have to give managers some time in this day and age," Ramelow said.

"That is what they did with him. He explained his philosophy and ideas very well to the team. The boys execute that really well. 

"The whole package is in perfect harmony. The season they have played is phenomenal. Their streak is sensational and it looks like they will do this until the end. 

"Every team has a bit of a lapse every season, but Leverkusen have been exceptional across all competitions. They can still win everything. Things are looking really good."

Xabi Alonso insists Bayer Levekusen’s focus is solely on West Ham on Thursday night despite a potentially historic weekend on the horizon.

Leverkusen, unbeaten in all 41 of their matches this season, look set to wrap up a first Bundesliga title on Saturday or Sunday.

All they need to do is match Bayern Munich’s result to be confirmed as champions.

Should Bayern lose to Cologne then Leverkusen will be crowned as title winners without having to kick a ball.

Either way, Alonso’s side will claim the title if they beat Werder Bremen at home on Sunday afternoon.

But Leverkusen are still in the hunt for a treble – they are already in the German Cup final – and first up is the Europa League quarter-final first leg against the Hammers.

Speaking at his pre-match press conference, Alonso said: “We know what West Ham can do. They have experience in Europe, last season they were champions of the Conference League.

“We want to go further and starting tomorrow and then next week in London, we have to play to our own game. We are ready.”

Former Liverpool midfielder Alonso was reportedly among the contenders to replace Jurgen Klopp as Anfield boss.

But the 42-year-old Spaniard has opted to stay at the BayArena, a decision which has thrilled the players according to defender Jeremie Frimpong.

“Everyone has a good feeling,” he said. “We love the coach and we are happy, you see it on the pitch. We simply have this great connection.”

Leverkusen reached the semi-finals of the same competition last season, but were edged out 1-0 on aggregate by Roma.

“When we lost last season in the Europa League semi-final it was difficult, but this season is different, we don’t like losing,” added Frimpong.

“It’s the quarter-finals so we are obviously excited for tomorrow. It’s what football is about, playing against the top teams so we are looking forward to it.”

West Ham have a major doubt over top scorer Jarrod Bowen for the match in Germany, but Leverkusen have also been dealt an injury blow in attack.

They will have to manage without striker Adam Hlozek, who injured his left ankle in the first half of Saturday’s 1-0 win away to Union Berlin.

Bayer Leverkusen stayed on course for a German league and cup double by thumping Fortuna Dusseldorf 4-0 to reach the DFB-Pokal final.

Jeremie Frimpong, Amine Adli and Florian Wirtz scored first-half goals as runaway Bundesliga leaders Leverkusen made light work of second-tier opponents at the BayArena.

Wirtz added a fourth from the penalty spot as Xabi Alonso’s side – who are also in the quarter-finals of the Europa League – made it 40 games unbeaten in all competitions this season.

Dusseldorf’s away form in Bundesliga – seven wins and four draws from 14 games – had given them semi-final hope, but this was a much tougher challenge than they were accustomed to.

The size of their task was laid bare within four minutes when Emmanuel Iyoha’s last-ditch tackle prevented Frimpong from opening the scoring.

Marlon Mustapha instantly managed a weak shot at the other end, but the unmarked Frimpong rifled Leverkusen ahead after seven minutes with a ferocious shot into the roof of the net.

Leverkusen doubled their lead after 20 minutes from a lightning counter-attack launched from deep inside their own penalty area.

Wirtz released Adli and his unerring low finish into the corner of the net gave goalkeeper Florian Kastenmeier no chance.

There was a massive chasm between the sides and Leverkusen rammed home their superiority after 35 minutes.

Dusseldorf were caught out playing from the back and Adli repaid the compliment as Wirtz finished in style.

Wirtz saw another effort tipped over by Kastenmeier before Andre Hoffmann and Christos Tzolis threatened for Dusseldorf.

But Matej Kovar stood firm in the home goal and Leverkusen added a fourth on the hour mark.

Patrik Schick’s header was going wide, but the ball clipped the hand of Matthias Zimmermann to be diverted on to the post.

It was definitely not an intentional intervention from Zimmerman, but the referee was sent to the monitor for a VAR review and a penalty awarded.

Wirtz, fresh from scoring after six seconds for Germany against France, sent his devastating spot-kick in to the corner.

Dusseldorf wanted their own penalty after 74 minutes when Tzolis tangled with Frimpong in the box.

On first glance it looked as if Tzolis had got there first, but on closer examination Frimpong’s challenge was shown to be legitimate.

Leverkusen welcomed back Victor Boniface for the final 15 minutes, the 16-goal Nigeria striker having not played since December 20 because of a muscle injury.

Substitute Nathan Tella was denied a late fifth, but the party had already started with flares lighting up the BayArena.

Leverkusen – 13 points clear of Bayern Munich at the top of the Bundesliga – will play second-tier Kaiserslautern in the DFB-Pokal final in Berlin on May 25.

Thomas Tuchel admitted Bayern Munich are out of Bundesliga title contention after a 2-0 defeat in Der Klassiker left them 13 points adrift of league leaders Bayer Leverkusen.

Karim Adeyemi struck early on before Julian Ryerson sealed a 2-0 win for Borussia Dortmund, their first at the Allianz Arena since 2014, as Bayern’s bid for a 12th league title in a row was left hanging by the thinnest of threads.

For Tuchel, who will leave the Bavarian giants at the end of the season, the matter has already been settled. When asked if they were out of the running for the league crown, he told Sky: “Obviously, yes.

“After this game there is no more need to count points. How many is it now? Congratulations to Leverkusen.”

Xabi Alonso, Leverkusen’s head coach, this week rebuffed speculation linking him with former clubs Bayern or Liverpool as the Spaniard publicly committed his future to his current employers.

They looked set for a first defeat in 39 matches in all competitions after going behind at home to Hoffenheim as Maximilian Beier gave the visitors a 33rd-minute lead they held until the closing stages.

Robert Andrich equalised with two minutes left, lashing home a bobbling effort, and Leverkusen sealed a 2-1 win in added-on time, as Patrik Schick reacted fastest to volley home Nathan Tella’s cross before their hopes of a maiden league title were given a further shot in the arm by Bayern’s setback.

Raphinha’s second-half goal helped Barcelona edge out 10-man Las Palmas 1-0 to close the gap on LaLiga leaders Real Madrid to five points.

Barcelona saw two goals chalked off for offside and Robert Lewandowski hit the bar but Las Palmas had goalkeeper Alvaro Valles red carded for a crude challenge on Raphinha outside his box after 25 minutes.

Xavi’s side were unable to initially capitalise on the extra man but Joao Felix came off the bench and provided a delicately-weighted ball over the top for Raphinha to head into the net in the 59th minute.

AC Milan extended their winning run to six matches with a 2-1 victory over Fiorentina in Serie A on an emotional night at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.

There had been tributes before kick-off to Fiorentina general manager Joe Barone, who collapsed in the team hotel just as they were preparing to travel to the stadium for the match against Atalanta and later died in hospital.

The Rossoneri produced a clinical display with second-half goals from Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Rafael Leao either side of Alfred Duncan’s equaliser to consolidate second place in the table.

Third-placed Juventus slipped six points behind Stefano Pioli’s team after losing 1-0 to Lazio, who sealed all three points thanks to Adam Marusic’s strike three minutes into stoppage time.

Lazio claimed both the three points and also struck a psychological blow ahead of Tuesday’s Coppa Italia semi-final first leg between the two teams in Turin.

Late goals from Robert Andrich and Patrik Schick helped Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen hit back from behind to beat Hoffenheim 2-1 and keep their unbeaten season intact.

Xabi Alonso’s men looked set to slip to their first defeat of the campaign after brilliant skill from Maximilian Beier gave the visitors the lead in the 33rd minute.

The hosts, boosted by the news this week that Alonso has decided to stay at the club, hunted for an equaliser with Hoffenheim keeper Oliver Baumann making a string of superb saves.

Borja Iglesias hit a post for Leverkusen after 87 minutes but they finally made their breakthrough moments later when Andrich lashed home a bobbling effort from the centre of the box.

The goal was good enough to extend their record unbeaten run to 39 games but Alonso’s side wanted more and they snatched the three points in the first minute of injury time.

The ball was played to the right flank where Nathan Tella delivered a cross behind the Hoffenheim defence and Schick reacted fastest to volley home from close range.

Bayer Leverkusen boss Xabi Alonso has committed his future to the Bundesliga leaders for another season to quash talk of a potential summer switch to Liverpool or Bayern Munich.

The 42-year-old former Reds midfielder has guided Leverkusen through an unbeaten season so far as they boast a 10-point advantage over reported suitors Bayern, with Liverpool also having been linked with the Spaniard in their search for outgoing manager Jurgen Klopp’s successor.

But speaking at his Friday press conference, Alonso said: “This is the right place for me to be. I will stay at Bayer.”

Reported Liverpool managerial target Xabi Alonso is unlikely to jump ship from Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen, according to Bayern Munich honorary president Uli Hoeness.

The 42-year-old, who lifted the Champions League trophy in 2005 during his debut season with the Reds, has been a widely touted as a likely replacement for Jurgen Klopp, who in January announced he will stand down at the end of the season after eight-and-a-half decorated years at Anfield.

Bayern are thought to be one of the other clubs courting the Spaniard’s services, but Hoeness was highly pessimistic about anyone’s chances of luring Alonso away from Leverkusen.

He told Das Erste: “We’ll have to see if we can do it this year.

“It will be difficult, if not probably impossible. (Alonso) is more inclined to stay at Bayer Leverkusen in view of their current successes, because he would not want to leave them behind.

“Let’s say if he had two or three more years of success, it would probably be easier to bring him out of there.”

Alonso’s men are on course to secure the first Bundesliga title in the club’s history, sitting 10 points clear of Bayern Munich in second.

In February, their 2-1 victory over Mainz to make it 33 games unbeaten broke the German record for consecutive competitive matches without a loss,  surpassing Hansi Flick’s Bayern Munich team of 2020 and 2021.

They have since extended that run to 38 fixtures, most recently with a 3-2 victory over Freiburg before the international break.

Bayer Leverkusen continued their march towards the Bundesliga title as they edged to victory at Freiburg to restore their 10-point lead at the top.

Xabi Alonso’s side remain unbeaten in the league this season and ran out 3-2 winners on Sunday afternoon.

Leverkusen remain on course to end Bayern Munich’s run of 11 successive titles after efforts from Adam Hlozek and Patrik Schick saw them build a two-goal lead after Ritsu Doan had pulled the hosts level following Florian Wirtz’s early opener.

Yannik Keitel pulled another back for Freiburg but Leverkusen saw out the closing stages to win their 22nd league game of the campaign.

Borussia Dortmund came from behind to beat Eintracht Frankfurt 3-1 after their former player Mario Gotze had given the visitors the lead.

Karim Adeyemi equalised before half-time and Mats Hummels gave Dortmund the lead late on, with a stoppage-time Emre Can penalty securing the points.

Runaway Serie A leaders Inter Milan were held to a 1-1 draw by reigning champions Napoli.

Inter have lost just once in the league this season and appeared on course for another win as Matteo Darmian struck just before half-time.

Napoli’s title defence has been non-existent but they rallied for a point at San Siro as Juan Jesus levelled with nine minutes left on the clock.

The draw means Inter’s lead at the summit sits at 14 points, with nearest rivals AC Milan cutting the deficit following a 3-1 victory at Verona.

Theo Hernandez, Christian Pulisic and Samuel Chukwueze were on target for the visitors, who never looked troubled despite Tijjani Noslin temporarily halving the lead.

Third-placed Juventus had to settle for a 0-0 draw at home to Genoa as Dusan Vlahovic was sent off late on as he was booked twice for remonstrating with the referee.

Lorenzo Pellegrini scored the only goal of the game as Roma beat Sassuolo 1-0 while Fiorentina’s trip to Atalanta was postponed after Joe Barone, a Fiorentina director, was rushed to hospital.

Barcelona eased to a 3-0 win at Atletico Madrid to move within eight points of Real Madrid at the top of LaLiga.

On a comfortable night for Xavi’s side, they saw off their fellow Champions League quarter-finalists as Joao Felix gave the visitors a half-time lead.

Robert Lewandowski and Fermin Lopez goals completed a fine night for the Catalan giants, while Atleti had Nahuel Molina sent off in stoppage time.

At the other end of the table, rock bottom Almeria celebrated their first league win of the season as Leo Baptistao scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory at Las Palmas.

Celta Vigo, meanwhile, pulled five points clear of the relegation zone with a 2-1 comeback win at surprise strugglers Sevilla.

Youssef En-Nesyri had put the home side in front but two goals in six minutes from Carles Perez and Jorgen Larsen secured the points for Celta.

Jorge Cuenca struck as Villarreal beat Valencia 1-0 while Real Betis lost 2-0 at Rayo Vallecano courtesy of goals from Florian Lejeune and Sergio Camello.

Kylian Mbappe hit a hat-trick as Ligue 1 leaders Paris St Germain thrashed Montpellier 6-2 at the Stade de la Mosson.

Vitinha opened the scoring for the visitors before Mbappe bagged his first of the evening, only for the home side to draw level before the break through Arnaud Nordin and a Teji Savanier penalty.

PSG would make sure of the points in emphatic style as Mbappe added two more either side of a Lee Kang-in effort, with a late Nuno Mendes goal completing the rout.

The three nearest challengers to PSG all dropped points as Martin Satriano’s goal for second-placed Brest earned them a 1-1 draw at home to Lille, who sit fourth.

A thrilling game at Stade Louis II saw third-placed Monaco concede a last-gasp equaliser in a 2-2 draw with Lorient – with both sides finishing with 10 men.

A first-minute Wilfried Singo own goal put Lorient in front before Formose Mendy put through his own goal to level and Youssef Fofana’s effort just before the hour put the home side ahead.

Denis Zakaria then saw red for Monaco with Lorient reduced to 10 in the 89th minute as Tosin Aiyegun was dismissed, only for Tiemoue Bakayoko to secured a point for Lorient in stoppage time.

Rennes beat Marseille 2-0 as Martin Terrier and Benjamin Bourigeaud scored for the hosts, while Reims were 2-1 winners over Metz and Clermont beat Le Havre by the same scoreline.

Leaders Bayer Leverkusen took a huge step towards winning their first Bundesliga title after restoring their 10-point advantage over reigning champions Bayern Munich with a 3-2 victory at Freiburg.

Florian Wirtz fired Xabi Alonso’s unbeaten pacesetters ahead after only two minutes at Stade Europa-Park and, after Ritsu Doan promptly equalised, Leverkusen went ahead once more through Adam Hlozek shortly before the break.

Patrik Schick put daylight between the sides with a 54th-minute strike only for Yannik Keitel to jangle the visitors’ nerves with his first Freiburg goal in the 79th minute.

With only eight games of the season remaining, Leverkusen – also chasing DFB-Pokal and Europa League glory – could claim their maiden Bundesliga crown before the end of April.

Bayer wasted no time getting stuck into their hosts. Alejandro Grimaldo fed Wirtz as he burst into the box on the left and, after dodging a few tackles and switching to his right boot, he slotted in an early opener.

Freiburg were level in the 10th minute, however, as Japanese winger Doan snuck into the right side of the Bayer box to collect a one-two pass from Lucas Holer, switch feet and hammer home at the near post.

Leverkusen toiled in pursuit of another goal until the 40th minute when Czech Republic international Hlozek pounced on a loose ball and tucked it away right-footed.

It was Hlozek’s Czech mate who got among the goals soon after play resumed, with Schick boosting Leverkusen further clear after racing on to a Jeremie Frimpong cross and clipping the ball into the top-left corner.

But Freiburg would make it a contest heading into the last 10 minutes as former Germany Under-21 star Keitel grabbed another for the hosts with a precision finish from the edge of the six-yard box.

With four home games remaining and four away – only one match is against a current top-four side, Stuttgart at the BayArena on April 27 – Die Werkself are closer than ever to breaking their ‘Vizekusen’ curse.

Bayer Leverkusen regained their 10-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga by beating 10-man Wolfsburg 2-0 at BayArena.

Nathan Tella headed Xabi Alonso’s side into a first-half lead, nine minutes after Wolfsburg defender Moritz Jenz had been sent off for his second yellow card, and Florian Wirtz ensured maximum points with a late second.

Leverkusen extended their unbeaten run in the Bundesliga this season to 25 matches and notched their sixth straight league win to stay well in front of Bayern Munich, who thrashed Mainz 8-1 on Saturday.

Eintracht Frankfurt consolidated in sixth place after hitting back to win 3-1 at home against nine-man Hoffenheim.

United States defender John Brooks headed Hoffenheim into an early lead, but was shown a straight red card for his challenge on Omar Marmoush before Frankfurt equalised through on-loan Leeds centre-back Robin Koch.

Second-half goals from Dina Ebimbe and Mario Gotze put Frankfurt in control and Hoffenheim were then reduced to nine men when Ozan Kabak received his second yellow card.

Freiburg followed up their midweek Europa League win against West Ham with their first Bundesliga victory in seven matches, triumphing 2-1 at Bochum.

Real Madrid opened up a seven-point gap at the top of LaLiga after beating Celta Vigo 4-0 at the Bernabeu Stadium.

Vinicius Junior’s close-range finish gave Real a half-time lead and own goals from goalkeeper Vicente Guaita and Carlos Dominguez put Carlo Ancelotti’s side, without the suspended Jude Bellingham, in full control.

Turkey midfielder Arda Guler stepped off the bench to score his first goal for the club in stoppage time as Los Blancos extended their unbeaten league run to 22 matches.

Athletic Bilbao closed the gap on fourth-placed Atletico Madrid to two points after Gorka Guruzeta and Saul Coco’s own goal secured them a 2-0 win at Las Palmas.

Real Betis lost 3-2 at home to Villarreal with both sides ending the game with 10 men after Chimy Avila and Alberto Moreno were shown their second yellow cards after clashing in the second half.

Alexander Sorloth fired the winner for Villarreal three minutes before Avila and Moreno were sent off in the 70th minute.

Guido Rodriguez and Willian Jose twice put Betis ahead, with Alex Baena and a Sokratis Papastathopoulos
own goal levelling in each half.

Andoni Gorosabel’s first goal for Alaves clinched them a 1-0 home win against Rayo Vallecano and lifted them 10 points clear of the drop zone.

AC Milan leapfrogged Juventus into second place in Serie A as Christian Pulisic’s solitary first-half goal sealed a  1-0 home win against Empoli.

Milan moved one point above Juve, who were held 2-2 at home by Atalanta.

Goals after the break from Juve pair Andrea Cambiaso and Arkadiusz Milik cancelled out Teun Koopmeiners’ opener for Atalanta, but the Netherlands midfielder struck again to earn the visitors a point.

Diego Llorente fired in a stoppage-time equaliser for Roma in a 2-2 draw at Fiorentina to lift Daniele De Rossi’s side up to fifth in the table.

Michael Folorunsho’s deflected shot sealed Verona a 1-0 win at Lecce and lifted his side out of the bottom three up to 13th in a congested bottom half of the table.

Verona striker Thomas Henry was shown a straight red card in stoppage time for violent conduct after clashing with Lecce defender Marin Pongracic.

In Ligue 1, Paris St Germain were held to a third successive domestic draw, 2-2 at home against Reims, as Kylian Mbappe started on the bench.

Mbappe, who is rumoured to have agreed to a deal to join Real Madrid in the summer and was withdrawn at half-time in last week’s 0-0 draw at Monaco, was a 73rd-minute substitute, but had few chances.

Marshall Munetsi gave Reims a shock early lead and, after Yunis Abdelhamid’s own goal and Goncalo Ramos had put PSG ahead, Oumar Diakite levelled for the visitors before the interval.

Monaco sit third, 11 points behind PSG, after Eliesse Ben Seghir’s second-half goal secured them a 1-0 win at Strasbourg.

Canada forward Jonathan David scored two late goals to earn Lille a 2-2 draw at Rennes and lift his side into the top four.

Lille trailed 2-0 at the interval through goals from Ludovic Blas and Arnaud Kalimuendo, but David struck in the 84th minute and then in stoppage time to salvage them a point.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hit goals in either half as Marseille won 2-0 at home against Nantes.

Le Havre edged two points clear of the drop zone with a 1-0 home win against Toulouse and Metz boosted their survival hopes by beating fellow strugglers Clermont by the same score.

Leverkusen restored their 10-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga table with a 2-0 home victory over 10-man Wolfsburg.

Moritz Jenz was sent off after receiving a second yellow in the 28th minute at BayArena before Nathan Tella nodded the hosts into a first-half lead.

Wolfsburg did well to defend despite being a man down for the majority of the match, but were under pressure throughout a second half in which it always felt like a second goal for the hosts would come.

They left it late, but Florian Wirtz netted in the 86th minute to ensure Leverkusen extended their unbeaten run to 36 matches across all competitions.

There were a handful of early opportunities for both sides, but it was the hosts who dominated possession and nearly took the lead after 22 minutes when Granit Xhaka played in Wirtz, who rattled the base of the post with his attempt.

Cedric Zesiger came close for Wolfsburg soon after, forcing Lukas Hradecky to tip the volleyed effort over the crossbar.

The visitors were down to 10 men when Jenz, booked earlier for a shirt pull on Wirtz, was sent off in the 28th minute for treading on the foot of Patrik Schick.

Leverkusen opened the scoring nine minutes later following some fine work by Alex Grimaldo, whose pinpoint delivery allowed Tella to nod home from point blank range.

The hosts piled on more pressure and were unrelenting after the break, when Wolfsburg boss Niko Kovac rang two early changes as his side tried to make Leverkusen’s life difficult with some solid defending and the occasional promising venture into the hosts’ final third.

Koen Casteels did well to deny substitute Jonas Hoffman from extending Leverkusen’s lead shortly after his 76th-minute introduction, but could not stop Wirtz from settling the game four minutes from full-time.

A lovely long ball from Exequiel Palacios put Wirtz in a perfect position to finish with the inside of his foot at the near post and seal victory.

Substitute Patrick Schick glanced home an injury-time equaliser to preserve Bayer Leverkusen’s remarkable unbeaten record and hand his side control of their Europa League last-16 tie against FC Qarabag.

The Bundesliga leaders looked like giving up their run of 34 matches unbeaten in all competitions when they went in 2-0 down at half-time in Baku, Juninho setting up the first and scoring the second with a silky piece of skill.

But Alonso, who had made eight changes to his starting XI, turned to his bench for inspiration and was rewarded as Florian Wirtz scored a delicate chip and Schick nodded in from close range in added-time.

It was a cruel finish for the Azerbaijani side, who lost twice to the same opponents in the group stages, but a further reminder of the resolve that Leverkusen have developed during a revelatory campaign.

Only Jonathan Tah, Robert Andrich and Alex Grimaldo survived the weekend win over Cologne and Qarabag took their chance to assert themselves in a lively start.

After forging three good chances in quick succession they deservedly took the lead in the 26th minute, Juninho robbing Tah on the press before cutting back across the box for Yassine Benzia. His powerful finish thudded into the roof of the net as the hosts turned up the heat.

The Germans were slow to respond, allowing Leandro Andrade a free header at the far post, and could have no complaints when they conceded again. This time it was brilliance from Juninho, who collected a beauty of a pass to spring the offside trap and race through one on one with Matej Kovar. With the deftest of touches he dragged the ball across the keeper, bouncing it over him with a kick off the pitch and leaving an open net to tap into.

Jeremie Frimpong, Granit Xhaka, Wirtz and Schick were all summoned for the rescue job and it was a much improved Leverkusen who hit back when Wirtz produced an inch-perfect lob in the 70th minute.

Kovar made a strong save from Juninho to keep the scoreline down and the ruthless visiting side hit their sucker punch just as time was running out, Schick planting Andrich’s cross into the bottom corner.

Leverkusen almost turned a draw into a win when Frimpong put a last-gasp header wide and will fancy themselves to finish the job on home soil.

Bayer Leverkusen extended their lead at the top of the Bundesliga to 10 points with a 2-0 derby win at Cologne.

A bad-tempered first half between the local rivals saw Jan Thielmann sent off just 14 minutes into the game and a flurry of yellow cards were shown before Jeremie Frimpong put Leverkusen ahead.

Cologne put up a good fight but any chance of an unlikely comeback was ended when Alejandro Grimaldo doubled the lead in the second half.

With only 10 games remaining, Leverkusen are closing in on ending Bayern Munich’s 11 straight title wins after Thomas Tuchel’s side dropped more points in a 2-2 draw against Freiburg on Friday, while third-bottom Cologne remain in relegation danger.

The opening 10 minutes saw both teams have chances with Jonas Hofmann coming close for the leaders before Linton Maina picked out Dejan Ljubicic at the back post, but the Cologne midfielder nodded wide.

The hosts were reduced to 10 men when Thielmann caught Granit Xhaka on his Achilles and, following a VAR consultation, was dismissed.

Despite Leverkusen’s domination Cologne defended well, but the visitors were beginning to threaten when Grimaldo blasted a free-kick over the bar and Marvin Schwabe made a brilliant low save with one hand from Florian Wirtz’s strike from a tight angle.

Leverkusen eventually found the breakthrough in the 37th minute when Grimaldo’s cross was flicked by Patrik Schick into the path of Frimpong, who tapped the ball underneath Schwabe.

The captain made another great save to deny Wirtz moments later and Cologne pressed for an equaliser when Faride Alidou headed wide just before the break.

Cologne had another fantastic chance five minutes into the second half when Sargis Adamyan’s acrobatic volley thundered off the post.

Cologne did well to counter Leverkusen’s attacks, but could not stop the visitors from extending their lead in the 73rd minute when Amine Adli cut the ball back to Grimaldo on the edge of the box and his low strike deflected past Schwabe.

Bayer Leverkusen head coach Xabi Alonso has insisted there is “nothing new to say” regarding fresh speculation over his future.

Alonso has been heavily linked with the Liverpool job since Jurgen Klopp announced last month he would step down at the end of the campaign, but the Premier League club now face competition from Bayern Munich.

It was revealed on Wednesday that current Bayern boss Thomas Tuchel will leave his position at the conclusion of the season – increasing the scrutiny on Alonso.

The former Liverpool and Bayern midfielder has enjoyed an excellent campaign in charge of Leverkusen, establishing an eight-point lead at the Bundesliga summit and guiding them through to the last 16 of the Europa League ahead of Friday’s league visit of Mainz.

Alonso faced the media on Thursday and started his press conference by shutting down speculation over his future.

“Maybe you have some questions about my future, but I’m sorry, I have nothing new to say. I wanted to say that beforehand,” he told a press conference, via Bild.

“Right now I’m the (Leverkusen) coach. That’s for sure. I have nothing new to say for the future. We will see. It’s normal that there are questions, but it’s off topic now. Now is not the time for me to talk much about it.”

Asked if Bayern had contacted him since the Tuchel announcement, Alonso replied: “I understand the question, but I have to say again that I have nothing new to say. It’s just hypothetical.”


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The 42-year-old also insisted it had been a normal week for his squad and claimed he was currently preparing to be Leverkusen boss next season given his contract runs until 2026.

He said: “I’m assuming that right now.

“This week was normal. It was quiet for us. We had three training sessions. That is normal.

“I know that it is my goal, it is my job, to be successful with the team. This is my work. We are in a very good situation right now. We want to continue like this. That’s enough for me.”

Jeremie Frimpong fired into an empty net in stoppage time to cap Bayer Leverkusen’s outstanding 3-0 win over Bayern Munich as they celebrated carnival weekend in the Rhineland by moving five points clear at the top of the Bundesliga.

Josip Stanisic, the man on loan from Bayern, opened the scoring in the 18th minute before Alex Grimaldo doubled the advantage five minutes into the second half, but Frimpong added an exclamation mark after Manuel Neuer came up for a corner and Leverkusen broke to punish him.

Bayern had more of the ball but throughout the night it always felt as though Xabi Alonso’s side were the more dangerous, and this was a huge statement in their bid to win a first Bundesliga title and banish the nickname Vizekuzen – a mark of the five times they have finished runners-up.

The match at the BayArena kicked off eight minutes late after fans threw toy balls and other items onto the pitch as part of ongoing protests against the prospect of outside investment into the Bundesliga, and once play began it was Bayern who appeared to be on the front foot.

But while Leverkusen were happy to invite the visitors on to them, they were simply waiting for the moment to counter.

Their first shot at goal came in the 11th minute but Amine Adli’s effort lacked the power to trouble Neuer. Adli threatened again seven minutes later before Kim Min-jae got a foot in just in time, but Bayern were asleep from the resulting throw-in and were made to pay.

Robert Andrich drilled in a low ball across the face of goal and the Bayern defence stood still as Stanisic arrived to fire home, left all alone by Sacho Boey, usually a right-back but deployed on the left here in his second appearance since joining from Galatasaray last month.

Adli had a superb chance to get a second just before half-time as Granit Xhaka’s pin-point pass put him clean through on goal, but Dayot Upamecano recovered to get a toe on the ball, poking it back to Neuer.

It took only five minutes of the second half for the second to arrive. Grimaldo played a neat one-two with Nathan Tella to carve open the Bayern defence before beating Neuer at his near post with a rising shot.

Bayern were rocking, and there was chaos in their penalty area soon after, with Eric Dier’s cross hitting the arm of Leon Goretzka before bobbling back to Neuer, with a VAR check for handball coming to nothing.

Grimaldo hit the crossbar direct from a corner just after the hour as the ball dramatically dipped, but it bounced to safety.

Bayern tried to up the ante as Thomas Tuchel turned to his bench but struggled to create any real opportunities for a frustrated Harry Kane.

Instead, Leverkusen looked more likely to score again. Frimpong had already hit a post at the end of one late counter-attack, but had the final say after Neuer failed to get on the end of the corner and he raced down the pitch to fire into the unguarded net.

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