Xabi Alonso: Leverkusen first-half performance ‘was not good enough’

Bayer Leverkusen left it late to extend their unbeaten run to a staggering 44 games on Thursday night, with Jeremie Frimpong’s 89th-minute equaliser restoring parity after Michail Antonio fired West Ham United into an early first-half lead.

Having built up a two-goal advantage in the first leg at BayArena last week, Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen perhaps thought that progression was a given as they headed to East London. It was, in fact, anything but.

The Hammers were the dominant force for prolonged periods, and many West Ham fans will be left understandably looking to pin the blame on referee José Maria Sánchez after a number of poor decisions from the Spaniard dampened their attacking momentum.

Speaking post-match, Xabi Alonso commented that ‘it was a thrilling game, two different halves. The first half I suspected we knew that West Ham were going to come with high tempo, high intensity pressing us high but we couldn’t cope very well with that.’

‘We were lucky not to concede a second one, that was probably the best bit of the first half. Our stability with the ball was not good enough, so we changed a little bit and we tried to show character. We can do much better than this, we need to show how we can play and we can be competitive as well.’

‘I was worried because the team was not playing well, they were not feeling comfortable on the pitch and they were having problems. I was more worried than nervous.’

Embed from Getty Images

Asked to comment on Bayer Leverkusen’s unbeaten run, Alonso brushed off the question – insisting that ‘the records are not something that I like to think too much, but once you get them, you try to value them and think that it’s a consequence of good things we are doing.’

The Spaniard made the decision to withdraw Odilon Kossounou after thirty minutes, with the defender having picked up a yellow card. Alonso insisted post-match that he thinks ‘talking with him, he will understand that it’s all for the benefit of the team. One bad day, it can happen.’

Bayer Leverkusen will face AS Roma in the semifinal, after i Giallorossi defeated AC Milan in their quarterfinal. Commenting on the prospect of facing Roma again, Alonso expressed ‘we are happy that we can say that we are back again in a Europa League semifinal.’

‘We are again facing Roma, so I think that it’s a different side. They have a new manager, he’s having a good impact and the energy of Roma is good but I think for us it’s a second chance. It’s going to be a really interesting [game].’