2023 AFCON: Leverkusen Will Cope Without Boniface, Tella -Alonso


Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen will lose Super Eagles duo of top scorer Victor Boniface, Nathan Tella and defensive stalwarts Odilon Kossounou and Edmond Tapsoba to the Africa Cup of Nations in January and February.

Boniface, Tella Kossounou and Tapsoba will represent Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso respectively in Kossounou’s homeland, with the Elephants kicking off the competition against Guinea-Bissau on 13 January, nearly a month out from the 11 February final at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan.

All three have been key to Leverkusen’s march to the top of the Bundesliga table. Boniface’s team-high 10 goals have been complemented by a joint-best seven assists, while Kossounou and Tapsoba have helped form the league’s tightest defence either side of Jonathan Tah.

“That’s the calendar,” said an agnostic Xabi Alonso at the prospect of losing those first-teamers, as well as Amine Adli to Morocco and Nathan Tella to Nigeria.

“We lose some players, but we’ve seen that the others can step in. We’ll work to have a competitive team but I’m not crying about it. I’m not a victim.”

Meanwhile, bundesliga.com takes a closer look on how Leverkusen will line up during AFCON.

Alonso has put together a well-drilled unit this season, one that invariably lines up in a 3-4-2-1 formation with Boniface ably supported by a double 10 in Florian Wirtz and Jonas Hofmann, while Álex Grimaldo and Jeremie Frimpong patrol the flanks.

Boniface, Hofmann and Grimaldo, as well as former Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka, were all new signings last summer, and the speed with which Alonso has got them to gel has caught the attention of the Bundesliga and beyond.

Of Bayer’s average starting line-up in the Hinrunde, four players started all 16 games, another four 15, two 14, and Tapsoba the fewest with a still considerable 13 of those available – surgery on a wrist injury last month affording Piero Hincapié a handful of games.

In the UEFA Europa League, Bayer are through to the last 16 with a perfect six wins from six in Group H, meanwhile. Josip Stanišić and Hincapié have played the most minutes in that competition, which has also seen the likes of Robert Andrich and Adam Hložek come to the fore.

AFCON might hit Leverkusen harder than most this winter, but they are well-stocked to maintain their title challenge this season, and Werkself fans can remain optimistic of shaking their unwanted Neverkusen tag.