Leverkusen defender Jonathan Tah looks to finish historic season unbeaten

AP , Thursday 25 Apr 2024

Jonathan Tah is already a German champion with Bayer Leverkusen. He's hungry for more titles.

Jonathan Tah
Leverkusen's Jonathan Tah, left, and Dortmund's Niclas Fuellkrug, right, challenge for the ball during the German Bundesliga football match between Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen in Dortmund, Germany, Sunday, April 21, 2024. Photo: AP


Tah could yet complete a treble this season in the Europa League — where Leverkusen plays Roma in the semifinals next week — and in the German Cup. Then there's the European Championship with Germany, for which Tah has become a regular starter in central defense alongside Real Madrid's Antonio Rüdiger.

Leverkusen's players and coach Xabi Alonso — who Tah showered with beer during their title celebrations — aren't satisfied just with bringing the long-awaited first league title to a club once derided as “Neverkusen" for its near misses.

“This trophy gave us so much positive energy. To have that feeling to win a trophy, the hunger gets even bigger and that’s why we keep our level high," Tah tells The Associated Press. “One trophy is nice but there’s still more to achieve, so that’s why we keep pushing ourselves.”

Including the home game with Stuttgart on Saturday, Leverkusen is four games away from being the first German team to go unbeaten all season in the Bundesliga.

Tah and the rest of the defense have conceded in 30 league games just 20 goals — 17 fewer than Bayern Munich — and going unbeaten would be their crowning achievement.

“That means something for us because that’s never happened before,” Tah said. “We are racing ourselves because we are already Bundesliga champions. But that’s our own challenge now that we are playing for, and that’s why we want to keep that momentum and keep winning.”

Tah has been with Leverkusen since 2015 and is the club's second longest-serving player. In that time, “the expectations of the club evolved” and Alonso has forged a competitive mindset, even in training, and rock-solid team spirit, Tah said.

“He’s expecting to win every game, no matter against who we play. He’s never scared. He always wants to win games and that’s his mindset,” Tah said of Alonso. Having a coach who won the World Cup and Champions League as a player opens up new possibilities in training. Clips from Alonso's sessions with Leverkusen have often gone viral as the coach casually plays pinpoint long passes or shows off his skills.

“He can show you what he wants to see from you and actually sometimes it’s really impressive how good his level still is,” Tah said. “I don’t want to take away (from) his tactical understanding and explaining the team on the (tactics) board and stuff like that, because he’s good at that as well, but of course he’s Xabi Alonso. He was a big player. He won everything. And if he explains something to you and shows it to you, it is different than a coach who has never played for a club before.”

Leverkusen's historic season will end with the German Cup final against Kaiserslautern on May 25 in Berlin. That comes three days after a potential Europa League final against Atalanta or Marseille in Dublin.

Tah's unlikely to get much rest after that. His performances with Leverkusen have helped to kick-start what had been a stop-start career with Germany. He's played every minute of Germany's last seven games, including every game since Julian Nagelsmann was appointed coach.

Tah believes Leverkusen's winning mindset could help Germany, too.

“That’s my part,” he said, "to bring that energy and that mindset that we have here in Leverkusen right now to the national team and try to do my best to support the team, so that we can be successful."

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