Roma’s success over the last two seasons in Europe has allowed the Giallorossi test their mettle against clubs from around the continent. And as exciting as that is, it does create a bit of a predicament for us when we're not all that familiar with the opponent. While Bayer Leverkusen is a household name around Europe, it’s not a club I’ve seen play much this season.
So, as has become customary for me ahead of some of these key European fixtures, I looked for some help in getting to know Roma’s opponent from someone who knows best. This time around, my search for all things Leverkusen expertise led me to the UK Bayern Leverkusen Fan Club. Club founder, Alastair, and member, Jonas, were kind enough to take some time to answer my questions and give us their knowledge on the club ahead of Thursday’s Europa League semifinal at the Olimpico.
1. To start, tell us a little about yourself. How did you become a supporter of Leverkusen and how did the UK Supporters Club come about?
I’m a Leverkusen Club Member and Season Ticket Holder living near Manchester in the UK , I fell out of love of football in the UK when the foreign investors took over. A friend suggested a trip to Germany in 2016 and picked Leverkusen, I immediately fell in love with football again , Leverkusen played a great style of football , cheap admission cost and amazing friendly fans .
In 2019 I set up the UK Fan Club , I wanted to bring people together from the UK who also support Leverkusen and give something back to people of Leverkusen who are so friendly.
We have around 90 members from the UK and Ireland, New Zealand , Australia , Montenegro, USA and of course Germany
We have our own merchandise, newsletters , regular meet ups at matches and have an End of Season Party where we announce the Fan Club Player of the Season.
2. Leverkusen had a strong 2021-22 campaign—finishing 3rd in the Bundesliga and qualifying for the Champions League under Gerardo Seoane. However, the start to the 2022-23 campaign was dreadful with the club being eliminated in the 1st round of the DFB-Pokal in its first match before dropping five of its first eight in the Bundesliga and 2 of 3 in the Champions League.
Where did it all go wrong in August and September for Seoane?
It‘s not all about Seoane. As the players already said in interviews before, it was more the cause of the players. They‘ve had mental problems to take smaller teams serious, which is a problem for many years as well. Knocked out by Elversberg in the German Cup the starting point of this season and bad results in the Bundesliga have done the rest, to pull the players morale down. For most of the Leverkusen fans it‘s not the fault of Seoane, but the players ones.
3. That rough start precipitated a managerial change with former Liverpool and Real Madrid legend Xabi Alonso coming in after the October 4th UCL loss. Previously, Alonso only had managerial experience with Real Sociedad’s B side. Yet, he’s been able to completely change the trajectory of Leverkusen’s season, including going on a 14 match unbeaten run in all comps before losing to Koln on Friday. What has he done to right the ship?
He‘s one of them. A great player, with lots of success in his years as an active player. Our current players are looking up at him, also because he‘s always one to play with them in the training, helping and showing them directly what to improve in their gameplay. A young legend of football, combined with taking part in the training, kind of being one of the players was the key to improve the morale of the players.
4. With that in mind, how would you describe the side’s style of play under Alonso? What should Roma fans look for in a match against a Roma side that plays fairly defensively under Mourinho?
Leverkusen is known for their possesion of the ball. Spanish tiki-taka was brought to Leverkusen and they want to create the game as they want. Also the counter attacks are dangerous to defend, with the fast players from Leverkusen. And also our former player Giulio Donate said that it‘s the counter attacks and freekick or corner situations, where we can hurt AS Roma the most standard situations are not our best way to score, so we‘ll probably have the best chance with counter attacks.
5. Who are the key men in this side since Alonso took over? Who should Romanisti be most worried about?
The Romanisti have to be worried about Florian Wirtz. He‘s one of the main talents from Europe - not even from the Leverkusen perspective. His calm style of playing, combined with a great sense of when to play what ball to whoever - he‘s like a modern artist in German football with his young age. And I also have to mention the combination of Frimpong and Diaby. A defender and striker on the right side are working together like they grew up together. Both with a very good connection and understanding, high pace, and dangerous in front of the goal. Both can score, are really fast and intelligent in their play - keep an eye on them!
6. What worries you the most about Mourinho’s side over a two-legged affair?
Even though AS Roma have not done great in Serie A, they have a great team. Take a look at Paulo Dybala - amazing talent! With four goals he‘ll be dangerous for our defense and he‘s got one of an interesting style to play aswell. Same as Lorenzo Pelligrini - the attackers from Rome are pretty dangerous for our defensive. But as we‘re playing for counter attacks, we‘ll hopefully be prepared for the Rome ones.
7. Lastly, I know you’ll be attending the match at the Olimpico on Thursday. What kind of atmosphere are you expecting? Conversely, what kind of atmosphere should any traveling Roma supporters expect next week at the BayArena?
AS Roma has amazing fans. We‘ve experienced them in 2015 and they‘ve brought a great atmosphere in the Leverkusen away-section. We want to create this atmosphere in the away-end in Rome with 3.000 Bayer Leverkusen fans. Rome is taking about 1.800 fans to the Rhineland of Germany, but will probably have the same atmosphere as Leverkusen fans will experience in Rome. Prepare for a good choreography from Leverkusen‘s curva nord! Forza ragazzi!
So, there you have it. Thanks again to Al and Jonas. I hope their expertise helps you prep for Thursday’s big match and if you’re ever in the UK and looking to watch some Bundesliga get in touch with them!