Bayer Leverkusen put in a much improved performance against Hamburg on Sunday. Debutant Lucas Alario was central to the change in fortunes, leading Leverkusen to victory and providing hope for a brighter future.
In the 85th minute, Leverkusen fans erupted as Lucas Nicolas Alario was replaced by teammate Joel Pohjanpalo. The Argentinian more than deserved the standing ovation after leading his team to a deserved 3-0 win over Hamburg.
"It was definitely a good start for him. We saw his quality in his first goal, which was not an easy finish," said coach Heiko Herrlich.
Just 23 minutes into his first start, Alario put Leverkusen 2-0 ahead after Kevin Volland had scored the opener moments earlier.
"I'm very happy. This home win is very important for the whole team," said Alario after the game. "I'd like to dedicate the goal to my family, who have always supported me."
The goal was not the only highlight – Alario put in a strong overall performance on debut. The 24-year-old striker was alert, combined well with his teammates and proved clutch in the crucial moments. "I felt comfortable on the pitch. And you could see that we understand each other," said Alario.
Strike partner Kevin Volland added: "On the pitch, communication is important. It can be very loud and some players often can't understand German. So we work with sign language, which works well."
Leverkusen longtime admirers of Alario
Leverkusen had been following the Argentinean striker for two years. "We've been watching Lucas for a long time,” said sports director Rudi Völler. "He is one of the best strikers in South America.”
Herrlich has also been impressed with Alario: "Lucas has fine technique, excellent instincts in front of goal, is strong in the air and knows exactly where to be in the box." Herrlich particularly stressed the Argentinean's strong mentality.
"I am pleased to be here and want to help the team achieve its goals," said Alario. Before making the move from South America, the 24-year-old had examples to look up to – Ze Roberto, Lucio, Emerson, Diego Placente, and mostly recently Chicharito, have all played for Leverkusen.
The only other Argentinean to appear in Leverkusen colors, Placente, was part of the team that made the finals of the German Cup and Champions League in 2002. Alario, however, points to Barcelona's Lionel Messi as his inspiration.
Herrlich: 'He can provide a boost'
With Alario's arrival, Herrlich has added a player who has already experienced success. In 2015, he won the Copa Libertadores with Argentina's top club River Plate. Two years later, he was top scorer in the Copa Argentina. During his time with River, Alario scored 41 goals in 82 games. So despite his young age, Alario brings experience and a winning mentality to Leverkusen, which can only help the club. "He can definitely provide a boost,” praised Herrlich.
"He's a nice guy," explained Volland after the match. "Lucas is an international, he fights for every ball and has a good technique." Only the language barrier provides a small obstacle, but it is a good sign that Alario and his teammates have already clicked without words.