Frimpong and Leverkusen are thriving with coach Alonso

Bayer Leverkusen trainer Xabi Alonso and Roma trainer Jose Mourinho during the match between Roma and Bayer Leverkusen at the Stadio Olimpico. Rome (Italy), May 11st, 2023.

Bayer Leverkusen's perfect start to the season has rivals taking notice.

Bayern Munich coach Thomas Tuchel, whose team is the only other one to have started the Bundesliga with three wins, says Leverkusen could even challenge his Bavarian powerhouse for the title.

For that to happen, much depends on Jeremie Frimpong, a defender who has started every Leverkusen game this season and already set up three goals in the Bundesliga. He also scored in both the league and German Cup.

Speeding up and down the right flank in a wing-back role, Frimpong is a key part of the eye-catching style coach Xabi Alonso favors at Leverkusen. It took the team to the Europa League semifinals last season and has produced 11 goals in three Bundesliga games so far.

The aim is to “keep the fire burning” this season, Frimpong told The Associated Press in a recent interview. Leverkusen's recent form has raised expectations about what the team can achieve this season. Next up is a clash with 11-time defending champion Bayern in Munich on Sept. 15.

Leverkusen has a close-knit, ambitious young squad. Half of the 20 players Alonso has used this season are aged 23 or younger, including the 22-year-old Frimpong, promising midfielder Florian Wirtz and forward Victor Boniface. They're led in midfield by the experience of Granit Xhaka, newly signed from Arsenal, but lost Moussa Diaby to Aston Villa in the off-season.

The chemistry between the ambitious young players in the team is a factor in Leverkusen's rise, Frimpong said. Since arriving from Scottish champion Celtic in 2021, he believes he's become a more dangerous attacking threat, using his pace on the right flank to overwhelm teams. He has a goal and three assists this season already.

“I improved every year I think, especially in my end product,” he said. “When I was at Celtic, I was getting up there and I would not finish the actions. That’s one thing I had to improve on my game, because what’s the point if you go all the way up there and you don’t finish it?"

His quest to improve has even included experiments with modeling his running style — which already produced formidable pace — on Olympic sprinters.

It's Alonso's first coaching job with a club's first team after working with reserve and youth squads in Spain. Frimpong says Alonso's record as a player at clubs such as Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern, along with the Spanish national team, is a powerful inspiration.

“You’ve to respect him because he’s been there and done it. He’s won everything, Champions League and World Cup,” Frimpong said. “As a footballer, that’s what you want to win, and of course, to have a manager like we have, we’re very grateful as well. And he knows how to use the team. He knows our abilities, our weaknesses.”

Leverkusen had another boost Monday when defender Edmond Tapsoba signed a five-year contract extension.

Frimpong was born in Amsterdam but grew up in Manchester, where he came through Manchester City's youth system but never played a senior game for the English champion. A move to Scotland with Celtic in 2019 at the age of 18 showed how isolated the life of a soccer star can be.

“All that was new to me,” he said. “Waking up to seven of my siblings to waking up alone when I was in Glasgow, that was different, that was very difficult.”

Frimpong aims to emulate Alonso's achievements in the Champions League and the World Cup, but his career with the Netherlands national team has yet to get going. Frimpong was in the Dutch World Cup squad last year in Qatar but didn't get a game. He hasn't been selected since by coach Ronald Koeman.

Asked if he feels he's been given a fair shot with the Netherlands he said: “I just give it my all, give it my best. What I can do is just speak on the pitch, give it my all, and then we’ll go from there.”

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