Victor Boniface packs a punch, and the freshly-capped Super Eagle seeks to continue a storming start to the 2023-24 season when Bayer Leverkusen travel to Bayern Munich on Friday.
probably never imagined a start so outstanding at Bayer Leverkusen after signing from Union Saint-Gilloise in the summer.
After three rounds, the Super Eagle has scored four times and registered two assists, five shy of his eventual tally in domestic football at Union SG last term.
His goals account for 36.4 percent of Leverkusen’s 11 after three fixtures, with six direct involvements outdoing the field in the Bundesliga.
Are Leverkusen Bundesliga contenders?
No club has scored more goals than Xabi Alonso’s men, whose 100 percent record in the league is matched by — the club they visit this weekend and the side they dare to usurp in May 2024.
That will not be a walk in the park, evidenced by Die Bayern’s hegemony — Thomas Tuchel’s men claimed the title in dramatic circumstances on the final day of last season to secure a 32nd Meisterschale and 11th in succession — and the upgrade at centre-forward, with Harry Kane’s big-money arrival from Tottenham Hotspur in the summer.
Tuchel may feel underwhelmed by his team’s strength in depth, even if FC Hollywood are not expected to repeat mistakes from last season — when standards slipped significantly to give Borussia Dortmund a chance.
BVB's stuttering start and Bayer’s unblemished run to begin the season mean observers are tipping Alonso’s men as possible title contenders.
Xabi Alonso's transformed Leverkusen
In reality, those predictions are an upshot of the year-long improvement in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Alonso replaced Gerardo Seoane in early October last year, with Bayer second-bottom after eight league games. But the Spaniard found solutions to mitigate injury problems to the previous season’s top scorer and the side’s creative hub — Patrik Schick and Florian Wirtz, respectively.
, no player in the Bundesliga has fashioned more high-quality chances than the German’s 13 since January. Leverkusen were resurgent in the campaign’s second half, resulting in a sixth-place finish and a Europa League semi-final berth.
With Wirtz back to fitness and Boniface seemingly taking up the goalscoring burden, it is no surprise many are backing Alonso’s troops to wrest the title away from the Bavarians.
Boniface’s Bundesliga impact
A detailed look at Boniface’s start in the German top division highlights several facts. The Nigerian is a presence in the penalty area but also one to fashion chances for his teammates and himself through individual skill.
Two of his goals have been right-footed, while one header and a left-footed strike — matching the entirety of the last league season when he scored a sole strike with his weaker foot — complete the striker’s return after three gameweeks.
Strikingly, every goal has come inside the penalty area. Be that as it may, that statistic does not tell the complete story of Boniface taking to life at Leverkusen rather seamlessly.
For his first Bundesliga brace against Borussia Monchengladbach, Boniface’s movement was pivotal to both goals in the 3-0 victory.
The Nigerian left the penalty area intending to receive Granit Xhaka’s pass…
…but the former Arsenal man played a pass over the top of the Gladbach defence to Alex Grimaldo…
…and Boniface attacked the space initially vacated when he dropped short to beat Marvin Friedrich to the ball, scoring his first league goal of the season.
For his second, the Super Eagle ran onto Wirtz’s through-ball from Friedrich’s blind side before shooting at goal just as the defender tried to recover.
09:46 - 09.09.2023
A combination of votes from fans, club captains and pundits picked Nigeria Super Eagles newbie Victor Boniface as their rookie.
Even though Boniface has benefitted from service in varying capacities in his embryonic time with Bayer, the Nigerian's clever reading of both situations saw him profit against Gladbach.
The pick of the former Union SG striker’s goals came against new boys Darmstadt when he took on and beat Marvin Mehlem and Christoph Zimmermann in a sweeping counter-attacking move before dinking the ball over Marcel Schuhen.
Notably, Wirtz set up the striker for the second time this season to notch another brace. Boniface created separation in the inside-left channel and took a touch to control the German’s pass, another to knock the ball past Zimmermann before coolly slotting the ball into the bottom right corner.
Advanced metrics show that Boniface’s four goals have been scored from expected goals (xG) of 2.8, an overperformance of 1.2. Digging deeper, the striker’s 21 shots significantly outdo the next on the shots total list — Harry Kane (13) — while he slides to fourth for attempts on target per 90.
The Nigeria international’s inclination to fire shots away has been evident over the first few weeks, although he may be better served adopting a considered approach, even if backing himself is refreshing. And despite showing promising elements to his game, Boniface twice profiting from Wirtz’s assists suggests his and the side’s reliance on the 20-year-old’s creativity.
The transformation that has taken place under Alonso since he took charge nearly a year back has been underlined in the team’s greater coherence and sophistication in possession that has produced three wins from three — for only the third time in Leverkusen’s history — with 11 goals scored the club’s best-ever start to any Bundesliga season.
According to Opta, Die Werkself’s 65 sequences containing ten or more passes ranks top in the league and their coherent build-up results in shots or a touch in the opposition box 19 times — one fewer than top-ranked Bayern — as they continue to master sustained possession play.
Indeed, Boniface is at the centre of the club’s improved end product.
“Boniface is an amazing young player who can improve a lot,” Xhaka said after the Nigerian’s brace against Darmstadt.
“We saw how good he is today, and we hope he can maintain this level.”
The striker has been involved in a goal or assist in every game he has featured this term and set up Samuel Chukwueze’s strike in Nigeria’s 6-0 rout of Sao Tome and Principe on Sunday.
Boniface already demonstrated he is a team player in the rip-roaring win over RB Leipzig; he netted a brace in his first Rhine Derby against Gladbach and made light work of a newly promoted Darmstadt side before the hiatus.
A visit to Bayern’s Allianz Arena is every player’s decisively indicative test, and how well the Super Eagle performs is anyone’s guess. Over to you, Victor.