5 reasons RB Leipzig can win the 2019/20 Bundesliga title
At the halfway stage of the season, RB Leipzig sit top of the Bundesliga and appear on course to secure a first Meisterschale in the club's history.
Leipzig are the nominal Herbstmeister (autumn champions) at the midway stage of the campaign, two points ahead of Borussia Mönchengladbach in second, and while Borussia Dortmund always have designs on dethroning Bayern Munich, what if instead it were the Saxony outfit destined to end the Bavarians' Bundesliga stranglehold?
bundesliga.com weighs up five reasons why they could become champions…
1) The Nagelsmann factor
There’s one big reason why some observers – including Dortmund captain Marco Reus – have tipped Leipzig to be title challengers this season. That, of course, is Julian Nagelsmann, who left Hoffenheim at the end of 2018/19 to replace Ralf Rangnick in the hotseat.
Nagelsmann became the youngest permanent head coach in Bundesliga history when he took charge of Hoffenheim at the age of 28, having previously served notice of his credentials on the touchline by steering the club's U19s to the U19 Bundesliga title in 2014.
Upon taking the reins of the first team, he somehow saved them from relegation before guiding them to back-to-back top-four finishes. He also led the Sinsheim club into the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their history, and the obvious next step for him is to win some silverware.
Now 32, Nagelsmann responded positively to Rangnick’s suggestion that he should be targeting titles with Leipzig, and more recently he said that his new club were “already in a position to challenge Bayern.”
Watch: Nagelsmann, a revolutionary coach
That proved to be the case on Matchday 4 as the two heavyweights went toe-to-toe at the Red Bull Arena, with a Forsberg penalty cancelling out Robert Lewandowski's early strike as it finished 1-1.
Nagelsmann has a reasonably balanced record against the record Bundesliga champions – two wins, two draws, three defeats – and not only is he confident that his charges can last the course until May, he has publicly stated that winning titles is the objective.
"I'm certain we'll have a good season," he told bundesliga.com at the start of 2019/20. "I don't know if it'll be enough to win the title. With Kloppo [Jürgen Klopp] it took three years [for him to win something] in Dortmund and in Liverpool.
"We'd all be happy if we could win something in three years. We'd obviously have nothing against it happening sooner, but four years would also be OK. It would be great if we could achieve it. That's our aim."
Watch: A tactical analysis of Leipzig's 1-1 draw with Bayern
2) Solid defence
Defences win championships, as the old cliché goes, and a resilient backline is often the foundation upon which successful title bids are built. Having shipped just 20 goals in 17 leagues games (and eight in six as they progressed to the last-16 of the Champions League), Leipzig's defensive record is only bettered by Gladbach and Wolfsburg (both have conceded 18).
Goalkeeper Peter Gulasci kept a brilliant 16 clean sheets in 33 Bundesliga matches last season, and Leipzig conceded only 29 goals in 34 games overall. So far this term they have shut out Union Berlin, Werder Bremen, Mainz and Fortuna Düsseldorf, while they only conceded one goal each to European participants Eintracht Frankfurt, Gladbach, Bayern, Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg.
Furthermore, hugely talented French defenders Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate may still only be 20, but Lewandowski recently singled the duo out as two of the best players he's come up against in the Bundesliga. Injuries have meant that the pair have only lined up alongside each other once so far this season, the 3-0 shutout of Werder Bremen on Matchday 5. Konate has not featured since, with Leipzig unbeaten in his five league outings this season (W4, D1) and having kept two clean sheets in the process. Just imagine how good Leipzig will be when they're both back and fully fit.
And as if that were not enough, flanking them just so happen to be Germany's new first-choice full-backs Lukas Klostermann and Marcel Halstenberg. In addition to being accomplished defenders, they are both excellent at bombing forwards and have contributed a combined three goals and three assists already this season. Which leads us neatly to our next point...
3) Goals galore
In Timo Werner and Yussuf Poulsen, Leipzig had two of the top 10 goalscorers in last season’s Bundesliga. Germany international Werner finished with 16 league goals and seven assists, while Poulsen enjoyed his most prolific year to date, the Dane just behind Werner in the scoring charts after rippling the net 15 times in the top flight.
Leipzig have already registered a league-high 48 goals in their first 17 outings of 2019/20 - at an average of almost three per game - and have the best goal difference (plus 28) in the Bundesliga. Werner is on course for his best campaign yet, having already found the back of the net an incredible 18 times, including his very first Bundesliga hat-trick on the trip to Borussia Park, which he followed up with a treble of both goals and assists against Mainz. When you realise the Germany international is also keeping pace with the frankly ridiculous goalscoring exploits of Lewandowski, it is clear just how potent the 23-year-old is becoming under Nagelsmann.
He has been ably aided and abetted by Forsberg, who, with four goals and two assists so far, is approaching his best form once again after being plagued with a series of injuries over the last 18 months. Special mention should also go to Marcel Sabitzer, who is looking more clinical than ever this season and has chipped in with six goals and four assists of his own.
Indeed, having such a variety of goalscoring options is part of Leipzig's arsenal: they have had a league-high 13 different scorers (including five defenders!) already this term. For context, Bayern have had 12 different scorers, Gladbach and Dortmund 11.
Watch: Werner's Bundesliga mixtape
4) They weren’t that far away last season
While all the attention last year was on whether Dortmund could hold on to pip Bayern to the title, Leipzig flew under the radar to finish a comfortable third. Quietly impressive, Ragnick's men were only 12 points behind Bayern and 10 off Dortmund in the end. They might even have been closer had they not – with a Champions League place already secured – eased off to pick up just two points from nine in their last three games.
Leipzig lost only six league matches all season, ambushed by Dortmund on the opening day and losing a tight game in the reverse fixture. They lost to a late Franck Ribery goal against Bayern in Munich in December, and after their 1-0 home defeat against Dortmund on 19 January they went unbeaten until a final-day reverse at Werder Bremen. Die Roten Bullen were defeated just once at home – and are currently enjoying a five-game unbeaten run at the Red Bull Arena. Not only that, Leipzig haven't lost for 12 matches in all competitions since defeat at Freiburg on Matchday 9.
This is a club, after all, who are no strangers to the Bundesliga's upper echelons, having claimed a stunning second place in their maiden top-flight campaign under Ralph Hasenhüttl in 2016/17. Nagelsmann is now hoping to provide the X-factor that will make them German champions for the very first time.
5) Squad depth
Leipzig’s recruitment policy is no doubt the envy of many clubs, and in winter 2018 they were already craftily planning for the 2019/20 campaign. Energetic central midfielders Tyler Adams and Amadou Haidara have now had time to acclimatise, and United States international Adams came back in the side with a bang having shaken off a troublesome groin injury to take Man of the Matchday honours for his role in the 3-1 win over Augsburg.
An already stable side was bolstered by a host of new additions over the summer, with Ethan Ampadu, Luan Candido, former Hannover goalkeeper Philipp Tschauner, Ademola Lookman and Christopher Nkunku all arriving.
The latter in particular has hit the ground running since his transfer from Paris Saint-Germain and has earned himself a regular starting berth under Nagelsmann. His pace, trickery and eye for goal have proved decisive this term and his return of three goals and seven assists are testament to his quality.
Austrian attacker Hannes Wolf is now finding his feet after a nasty injury at the European U21 Championship over the summer, and he looks an exciting prospect. Wolf put in some hugely impressive displays for Salzburg in last season’s UEFA Europa League – including in two games against Leipzig –and has made two cameo appearances in recent weeks.
Aside from 33-year-old Tschauner, the newcomers may be young but all of them are gifted, hungry and highly sought-after players. With Bruma the only notable departure, Leipzig now have the numbers and the quality needed to fight on several fronts – and perhaps to last the course in a title race.
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