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Leverkusen extends Bundesliga lead to 11 points and sets German 33-game unbeaten record

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BERLIN (AP) — Granit Xhaka scored his first goal for Bayer Leverkusen as the Bundesliga leader defeated Mainz 2-1 on…

BERLIN (AP) — Granit Xhaka scored his first goal for Bayer Leverkusen as the Bundesliga leader defeated Mainz 2-1 on Friday and set a German record of 33 games unbeaten across all competitions.

Leverkusen, which hasn’t lost a match since last season, stretched its lead to 11 points before 11-time defending champion Bayern Munich hosts Leipzig on Saturday. Eleven rounds remain after this weekend.

“We deserve to be where we are,” Xhaka said. “When you’re eight points, now 11 points, ahead of second-place Bayern, there is a lot to lose. But we’ll keep working day by day, game by game, stay positive, and I’m sure we’ll be able to keep getting our wins.”

The buildup to Friday’s match was dominated by speculation over the future of Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso, with his former clubs Bayern and Liverpool looking for new coaches for next season.

Alonso has no lack of suitors after taking Leverkusen from the relegation zone when he took over in October 2022 to a genuine title candidate in his first senior management job.

“It’s all just speculation, my head is totally here,” Alonso repeated on Friday. “We have so much to do, we’re in such a super position. So enjoying it, preparing, and that’s all that’s going on in my head.”

Supporters celebrated the German soccer league’s midweek decision to scrap its plan to bring in an outside investor for a share of media rights income by displaying a banner saying “Football belongs to the fans.”

They didn’t have to wait long to celebrate again when Xhaka fired Leverkusen into a third-minute lead. The Swiss midfielder let fly from outside the penalty area for his first goal on his 31st appearance for the club.

But Dominik Kohr replied for the visitors with a header at the other end four minutes later.

Leverkusen went on to dominate possession. The home team’s urgency grew toward the end of the half, when Álex Grimaldo drew a good save from Robin Zentner with a free kick.

Leverkusen’s frustrations grew when Jeremie Frimpong was booked for complaining after he’d been tripped by Mainz defender Phillipp Mwene when he would have been through on goal. TV replays showed there was contact. Alonso was also booked for his complaints.

The frustration remained after the break as Leverkusen failed to find a way through.

Then the otherwise excellent Zentner failed to hold Robert Andrich’s harmless-looking shot and the ball looped in over his head in the 68th. It proved enough for the win as Mainz’s hopes were hit in the 80th when Jessic Ngankam was sent off after a VAR check for a dangerous tackle on Xhaka.

“We’ve played better,” Alonso said. “But that’s normal in a season, you can’t always play super.”

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

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