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Granit Xhaka and Florian Wirtz on Leverkusen's remarkable season and their UEFA Europa League final prospects – interview

"We're a fun-loving team," says Florian Wirtz of his Leverkusen side, while the experienced Granit Xhaka talks up "the respect we show each other every day" as key to their success.

Team-mates: Leverkusen's Wirtz and Xhaka

It is something of a cliché, but a mix of youth and experience often pays dividends for football teams, and that has certainly proved the case with Leverkusen as they have stormed to the Bundesliga title, UEFA Europa League final and the final of the German Cup.

Final build-up

Ahead of their Dublin showdown with Atalanta, the club's 21-year-old attacking midfielder Florian Wirtz and 31-year-old midfield general Granit Xhaka offered UEFA.com a peek behind the scenes at the BayArena, explaining a little of how coach Xabi Alonso has transformed the side into potential treble winners since taking charge in 2022.

Leverkusen's road to the Europa League final: Every goal

On the secret to Leverkusen's success

Granit Xhaka: A lot of factors. Of course, you can't win games without quality, so quality first and foremost. The mentality as well: desire, hunger to play football, to not lose and to work. The work we do day after day, before training or after training. Those are the key things.

Florian Wirtz: We might need some time over the summer to really take in what has happened because it still feels a bit unreal at the moment, but, of course, I am incredibly proud to be part of this team.

On what makes this team special

Xhaka: The team obviously has some very young players who want to be successful but also experienced players who still have that hunger as well. That mix of experienced players and young players, and the respect we show each other every day, is how I would describe the team.

Wirtz: We're a fun-loving team. Everyone usually comes into the dressing room in the morning with a smile on their face and I think it's important for the mood on the pitch that we all get on off the pitch. That way, we know we can rely on each other when we go out onto the pitch. I think, after 50 games unbeaten, anyone who isn't coming in smiling should change sports.

Florian Wirtz (front) and Granit Xhaka (rear) are enjoying a landmark season
Florian Wirtz (front) and Granit Xhaka (rear) are enjoying a landmark seasonAFP via Getty Images

On Xabi Alonso

Wirtz: He's looked out for us since the start of the season and managed to get Granit to come to us, for example. He's also shown from the start that he is very hungry himself to achieve something special with us. Of course, nobody could have dreamed of what we have gone on to achieve.

Xhaka: I would point to his personality and winning mentality. He had that already when he was a player. But, as a coach too, he gets this across to us, not just in the matches but during training as well. He's always giving us instructions on how to win games, on how to stay calm even if we're going through a stage that is not so good.

On the final against Atalanta

Xhaka: Finals are there to be won. Italian teams are always special and good teams defensively. Atalanta are even more specialised in this department. Lots of one-on-ones around the pitch. They're physically very strong and quick, but we have a few qualities ourselves.

Wirtz: [Being eliminated in last season's semi-finals] has intensified the hunger to win this competition even more because we weren't far off last year. We've got two finals coming now and we want to win both, of course. This would be the second of the three steps we're aiming to complete, so we will do all we can to win in Dublin.

Atalanta's road to the Europa League final: Every goal