Bayer Leverkusen vs. RB Leipzig: How do they stack up?
Two continental contenders go head-to-head on Matchday 29, as Bayer Leverkusen entertain RB Leipzig in a game that could have consequences in the race for Europe. bundesliga.com looks at how the two teams stack up...
The season so far
Defeat to Leipzig in Matchday 12's reverse fixture dropped Leverkusen into the bottom three, after a slow start to the campaign that saw Xabi Alonso replace Gerardo Seoane in October. The Spanish legend was just six games into his tenure when he faced the in-form Leipzig, although he soon set about steadying the ship. A goalless draw with Club Brugge ended their run in the UEFA Champions League, but Leverkusen then went into the FIFA World Cup break on a high, claiming three consecutive Bundesliga wins over Union Berlin, Cologne and VfB Stuttgart.
Fast forward to Matchday 29 and Leverkusen have dealt with their Champions League exit by advancing to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Europa League, also collecting 33 points from a possible 48 in the league since that 2-0 loss to Leipzig. Only Borussia Dortmund (32) have picked up more points than Leverkusen (26) in 2023, and Alonso has taken his side from a potential relegation battle to the European places, with a seven-point gap to Leipzig in fourth and the possibility of more Champions League football next term.
Watch: Leipzig had the measure of Leverkusen back in October
There was also an early change in the Leipzig dugout, with Marco Rose replacing Domenico Tedesco after the latter managed just one win from the first five games of the season. Under Rose, Die Roten Bullen have been similarly transformed, although their title desires have never been more than flirtatious in a campaign dominated by Bayern Munich and Dortmund.
Leipzig currently sit fourth, with only a point separating them from Union in third and Freiburg in fifth. They progressed from the Champions League group stage but went out in the last 16 at the hands of semi-finalists Manchester City. They are still going strong in the DFB Cup, though, and have a good chance of successfully defending their crown from last year – the first major trophy in the club's history. Leipzig face Freiburg in the semi-finals – a re-run of last season's final and an even more fitting fixture considering their ongoing battle for a top-four spot in the Bundesliga.
For Leverkusen, there are two players who have stood head and shoulders above the rest this season: Moussa Diaby and Jeremie Frimpong. Their lightning assaults down the right flank have played a significant part in the club's upturn in league form, with Diaby contributing nine goals and six assists, and Frimpong adding eight goals and six assists. Leipzig's defence will certainly have their work cut out against the jet-heeled duo on Sunday, especially with left-back David Raum suspended.
The Frenchman and Dutchman are the team's chief protagonists in front of goal and have been firing ever since Alonso took the reins. Diaby scored one and laid on two in the 4-0 win over Schalke that kicked off the Alonso era, providing both of his assists that day for Frimpong. And the pair have been relentless in recent weeks, with Leverkusen reeling off five straight wins before last week's 0-0 draw at Wolfsburg. During that run, Frimpong scored three times and had two assists, while Diaby struck twice and collected three provisions.
Watch: Leverkusen hitting all the right notes under Alonso
Leipzig's Christopher Nkunku began the campaign on blistering form, racking up 12 league goals in just 14 outings. The 2021/22 Bundesliga Player of the Year then suffered a nasty knee injury on the eve of the World Cup, which stopped him taking part in the tournament with France and has since restricted him to just four Bundesliga appearances. Yet despite not scoring since early November, he remains the team's top marksman in all competitions.
In Nkunku's prolonged absence, Timo Werner and Dominik Szoboszlai have been Rose's most menacing players going forward. Leipzig's all-time leading scorer has netted nine times, including a match-winning brace in the last game against Augsburg, in which he smashed in a goal of the season contender and teed up Kevin Kampl's early equaliser. Szoboszlai has chipped in with eight assists; only four players in the division have more.
Alonso is a man who needs no introduction, having won the biggest trophies football has to offer. The 2010 World Cup winner also picked up two European Championship crowns with Spain, plus three Bundesliga titles with Bayern and the Champions League with Liverpool and Real Madrid. As a former world-class midfielder, renowned for his footballing intelligence, he has had no trouble commanding the attention and respect of his troops.
The 41-year-old is now proving he can do it in the dugout too, as both a motivator and tactician. Having given his charges greater belief, he also has them playing to their strengths, namely the counter-attack. Using the pace of Diaby, Frimpong and Amine Adli, Leverkusen have become the Bundesliga's most devastating side on the break, with a league-leading 10 goals this season from moves that began in their own half. In the recent clash with Eintracht Frankfurt they had 44 per cent of possession and made 150 fewer passes, but still ran out 3-1 winners with nine shots on target to Frankfurt's three.
Watch: Leverkusen's counter-attacking masterclass against Frankfurt
Rose may not have had the same playing career as Alonso – his biggest honour was the Bundesliga 2 title with Hannover in 2002 – but the former left-back knows how to get football teams flourishing. He led Red Bull Salzburg to consecutive Austrian Bundesliga titles in 2018 and 2019 and has been consistently improving since he arrived in Germany, taking an average of 1.61 points per game as Borussia Mönchengladbach coach, 1.85 per game as Dortmund boss and 2.06 per game in his current role with Leipzig.
The 46-year-old likes his team to press higher up the pitch than Leverkusen, and they consequently need an average of just 13.2 seconds to win the ball back – second only to Bayern (12.3 seconds) in the Bundesliga. Leipzig are also happier in possession than Sunday's opponents, with an average of 57 per cent to Leverkusen's 51.2, but their quick transitions are also highly effective; they've scored 14 times this term after recovering the ball with a high press.
Leipzig were promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time ahead of the 2016/17 season, so the two clubs have only played each other 13 times to date. Die Roten Bullen have certainly had the better of that short rivalry, with seven victories to Leverkusen's two, while four of their encounters have ended in a draw. They are yet to meet in a cup competition.
Their very first game in November 2016 – a five-goal thriller won by Leipzig – set the tone for what has become an exciting match-up, with no goalless draws to speak of. In April 2019, Leverkusen led 2-1 thanks to an early brace from Kai Havertz, but Werner and Emil Forsberg both struck as Leipzig roared back to win 4-2 in their most prolific meeting yet.
Watch: All 100 of Werner's goals in the Bundesliga
Leverkusen's two wins have both come at the Red Bull Arena, and by a handsome margin. In April 2018, Havertz and Julian Brandt were among the goals as Die Werkself came from behind to win 4-1, while Diaby and Frimpong both struck – along with midfield maestro Florian Wirtz – when they ran out 3-1 winners on the road in November 2021.
Leipzig have been on top recently, winning three of the last four encounters, with Nkunku and Werner getting the goals in October's reverse fixture. But Leverkusen go into this meeting unbeaten in seven league games, and with their sights firmly fixed on the top five. Whether it's Alonso guiding his team to a first home win over Leipzig or Rose's men proving a thorn in their side, this one will surely have a big impact on the race for Europe.
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