After five matchdays, RB Leipzig top the Bundesliga standings ahead of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, having made an excellent start to life under Julian Nagelsmann.
bundesliga.com weighs up five reasons why they could end up as champions…
1) The Nagelsmann factor
There’s one big reason why some observers – including Dortmund captain Marco Reus – are tipping Leipzig to be title challengers this season. That, of course, is Nagelsmann, who left Hoffenheim over the close season to replace Ralf Rangnick as head coach.
Nagelsmann became the youngest permanent head coach in Bundesliga history when he took charge of Hoffenheim at the age of 28, and he somehow saved them from relegation before guiding them to back-to-back top-four finishes. He led the Sinsheim club into the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their history as well, and the obvious next step for him is to win some silverware.
The 32-year-old 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.”
That proved to be the case on Matchday 4 as the two heavyweights went toe-to-toe at the Red Bull Arena, with an Emil 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 there may be a lot riding on their Matchday 21 meeting at the Allianz Arena in early February.
Watch: Nagelsmann, a revolutionary coach
2) They already have the best defence
Defences win championships, as the old cliche goes, and a solid backline is often the foundation on which successful title bids are built. Having shipped just three goals in five games Leipzig already have the best defensive record in the Bundesliga, a trait they share with the early leaders in Europe's other top leagues (Liverpool, Athletic Bilbao, Inter Milan and PSG).
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 and Werder Bremen away from home, and only conceded one goal to European contenders Eintracht Frankfurt, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bayern.
Hugely talented French defenders Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate are still only 20 but have another year’s experience under their belts, while European U21 Championship runner-up Lukas Klostermann will look to build on the form that saw him earn his first senior cap for Germany in March.
Captain Willi Orban will be determined to keep up Leipzig’s proud defensive record, and Chelsea loanee Ethan Ampadu should also help out in that regard. Orban has also resumed his useful habit of scoring from corners, nodding in his side's opening goal in the comfortable 3-0 win at Bremen.
3) 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 behind 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. They were defeated just once at home – and are currently enjoying a nine-game unbeaten run at the Red Bull Arena.
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.
4) 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, and also netted three times during his team’s run to the DFB Cup final – where they were beaten by Bayern. Poulsen, meanwhile, enjoyed his most prolific year to date, with the Dane just behind Werner in the scoring charts after rippling the net 15 times in the top flight.
Leipzig have already notched 13 goals in their first five games, with only Bayern (16) and Dortmund (15) scoring more. Werner is on course for another glittering campaign, having already found the back of the net five times in the wins over Union, Eintracht and Gladbach. The 23-year-old even notched his very first Bundesliga hat-trick on the trip to the Borussia-Park.
Dead-ball specialist Marcel Sabitzer has already netted twice – including a sensational free-kick against Bremen – and provided three assists against Union, while Poulsen and new signing Christopher Nkunku are both off the mark. Nagelsmann also has rising stars Matheus Cunha and Ademola Lookman, whose loan move from Everton has been made permanent, pushing for a place in the side.
Watch: Werner's Bundesliga mixtape
5) Squad depth
Leipzig’s recruitment policy is no doubt the envy of many clubs, and over the winter they were already craftily planning for the 2019/20 campaign. Energetic central midfielders Tyler Adams and Amadou Haidara have had six months to acclimatise, although United States international Adams has more recently been working hard to shake off a troublesome groin injury.
An already stable side was bolstered by a host of new additions over the summer, with Ampadu, Nkunku and Lookman joined by Brazilian full-back Luan Candido and former Hannover goalkeeper Philipp Tschauner.
Austrian attacker Hannes Wolf picked up a nasty injury at the European U21 Championship over the summer, but he too looks an exciting prospect. He put in some hugely impressive displays for Salzburg in last season’s UEFA Europa League – including in two games against Leipzig.
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.