Christopher Nkunku’s brilliant recent form and RB Leipzig’s formidable home record both domestically and in European competition means UEFA Champions League holders Real Madrid could come a cropper at the Red Bull Arena on Tuesday.
1) Nkunku’s on fire
The France international just can’t stop scoring right now. After a little dip in form in September, Nkunku has gorged himself on goals in October. The France international found the net in Leipzig’s sensational comeback from 3-0 down to draw at Augsburg last weekend, taking his tally to eight in 11 league games, and five strikes in six competitive matches in the calendar month.
“Of course, with his arm, it’s not easy for him, but we saw that he’s OK with free-kicks and the rest wasn’t too bad either,” said coach Marco Rose, who brought Nkunku off the bench on the hour mark at the WWK Arena, handing the former Paris Saint-Germain forward a cameo after he had undergone a wrist operation just days earlier.
Watch: Highlights of RB Leipzig's incredible comeback in Augsburg
The game affords Nkunku a golden opportunity to stake his claim for a place in France’s FIFA World Cup squad. With freshly crowned Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema missing from the Madrid side due to injury, last season’s Bundesliga Player of the Season will likely be the premier French performer on the night – national team boss Didier Deschamps will no doubt be watching.
2) Die Roten Bullen charging again
With Nkunku flying, it’s no coincidence that Leipzig’s form has improved too. The slow start to the season, which included the 4-1 home defeat to Shakhtar on Matchday 1 of the group stage, now looks a thing of the past. The Augsburg draw means it’s four Bundesliga games unbeaten for Rose’s men, and they have now not lost in seven in all competitions. It is their best run since the second half of last season, and will help the Leipzig players put into action the strategy of their coach and not be intimidated by Carlo Ancelotti’s superstar squad.
“We need a lot of courage,” said Rose in his pre-match press conference. “Not only when we don’t have the ball, but also when we are in possession.”
3) Fortress Leipzig
An away game in Europe is never going to be easy, but Madrid are going to find out just how tough life can be when you try to go away from the Red Bull Arena with something other than your tail between your legs.
Leipzig have been unstoppable on home soil of late. They have won their last five home matches in all competitions, scoring 17 goals and conceding just three. They last slipped up against Shakhtar on 6 September, so long ago they must barely remember what defeat in front of their own fans tastes like.
The defeat to Shakhtar was all the more surprising given Leipzig’s European record at home. They’ve been beaten only twice in their last 14 continental match-ups in Leipzig, winning eight times, including the 2-0 victory over Celtic last time out.
“Of course it’s always a nicer feeling to play at home with your own support, and we feel the best when we’re at the Red Bull Arena,” admitted Rose.
4) Remember Madrid
To build up their self-confidence, perhaps the Leipzig team could watch back the majority of the duo’s first meeting in Madrid on 14 September. “We defended brilliantly for 80 minutes against a fantastic side in the reverse fixture. We have to pick up from there,” declared Willi Orban pre-match, referring to September’s 2-0 defeat in the Spanish capital.
The game, which was Rose’s first in charge of the club, was still goalless ten minutes from time before Federico Valverde and Marco Asensio found the net for the hosts. “If we can be dangerous going forward like we were in Madrid, with a bit more efficiency, we have a chance to win,” added Orban.
Rose won’t be overawed. The former Borussia Mönchengladbach and Borussia Dortmund coach was was at the helm when Salzburg beat Ancelotti’s Napoli 3-1 in the UEFA Europa League round of 16 second leg in 2018/19, while his Gladbach side were outstanding in a 2-2 draw against Madrid in the Champions League group stage in 2020, having led 2-0 up until the 87th minute.
5) ‘Spain’ doesn’t rhyme with ‘pain’
The loss to the reigning European champions on Matchday 2 was Leipzig’s first in four meetings with Spanish clubs in a continental contest. Their first – against Real’s derby neighbours Atletico – in the one-off Champions League quarter-final in August 2020 ended with USMNT midfielder Tyler Adams netting a late winner. Real Sociedad were beaten 5-3 on aggregate in last season’s UEFA Europa League with Die Roten Bullen eventually reaching the last four of the competition.
4) RBL’s reign in Spain
Another cause for optimism in the Leipzig camp is the fact that they are unbeaten against Spanish opposition. The sample size may be admittedly small – Leipzig were only founded in 2009 after all – but they beat Real’s city neighbours Atletico in the Champions League quarter-finals in 2019/20.
Leipzig also won one and drew one against Real Sociedad in the Europa League last season – triumphing 3-1 away from home. As omens go, they’re not half bad.
5) Los Merengues’ soft underbelly
They may be the reigning and record European champions, but history tells us that Real Madrid often aren’t at their best in the group stage of the competition. Last season they lost their first competition outing at home in a 2-1 reverse against Sheriff Tiraspol, continuing a trend in recent years.
In both 2020/21 and 2019/20, they won just three of their six group stage games each season, including defeats home and away against Shakhtar Donetsk and a 2-2 draw with Club Brugge.
If Leipzig are alert, then, they could well catch Madrid napping. Indeed their overall record against German clubs is sprinkled with defeats - and some heavy ones at that - with losses against Bayern Munich, Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke and Gladbach over the years amounting to a 32.8 percent defeat rate against Bundesliga sides (24 out of 73), compared to 35 wins (47.8 percent).
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