Julian Nagelsmann welcomes his former club RB Leipzig to the Allianz Arena this Saturday as his current club Bayern Munich continue their push for a tenth straight Bundesliga title.
A lot has changed since the two teams met way back on Matchday 4, not least with a new face – Domenico Tedesco – in the visiting team's dugout, and their paths have diverged along the way. Yet the two teams are arguably not as distant as the 18 points that separate them in the standings may suggest ahead of their Matchday 21 clash.
With Leipzig only founded late in the first decade of the millennium and earning top-flight status in 2016/17, there have only been 11 Bundesliga meetings between the two clubs to date. Bayern hold the upper hand with six wins, including the impressive 4-1 in the reverse fixture – their third at the Red Bull Arena.
Watch: Leipzig 1-4 Bayern - highlights
Bayern also won 1-0 in Leipzig last term, thanks to a Leon Goretzka goal, but the four encounters prior to that ended in draws, an indication of just how much Leipzig have narrowed the gap between themselves and the record Bundesliga champions.
However, Leipzig have still only beaten Bayern in the league once: a 2-1 home triumph on Matchday 27 of the 2017/18 season when former Bayern reserve team player Ralph Hasenhüttl was in charge with Naby Keita and Timo Werner getting the goals after Sandro Wagner had given the visitors an early lead.
Nagelsmann, who swapped clubs in the summer, never managed to get the better of Bayern while in charge of Leipzig, so can Tedesco now succeed where his predecessor Jesse Marsch couldn't, and improve those statistics slightly?
When Nagelsmann moved to Leipzig, he took one of their crown jewels with him in Dayot Upamecano, but Leipzig acted quickly to find a strong replacement in Mohamed Simakan, and he has proven to be a hit.
His debut campaign in the Bundesliga has been nothing short of remarkable. The French defender has slotted into Upamecano's boots seamlessly to ensure the same degree of defensive resolve at the heart of the Leipzig defence.
His impact on the Bundesliga has been as strong as has been his impact on opposition attackers with the result that Bayern are the only club to have conceded fewer goals (19) this season than the Red Bulls' 23.
That is due in a big way to Upamecano, who has both strengthened the Bavarians' defence while also giving them an important outlet for launching their attacks from the back. He ranks fifth across the league for touches - emphasising his involvement - and is in the same position for distance carrying the ball, highlighting how comfortable he is in possession.
Not to be outdone, Simakan is third across the whole of the Bundesliga for successful dribbles, showing he has no fear in leading the ball out from the back, even when under pressure.
Watch: Upamecano and Bayern - a perfect fit
Not only did Upamecano follow Nagelsmann to Bayern, Marcel Sabitzer also made the switch. The Austria international's departure was a big loss for Leipzig, yet competition for places and a troublesome calf injury have limited his opportunities at the Allianz Arena.
Corentin Tolisso's recent form explosion and the return of Joshua Kimmich to his preferred midfield role after a defender crisis saw him revert back to full-back – have combined in limiting Sabitzer to just three starts in the Bundesliga this season.
Sabitzer's loss has been Tyler Adams' gain, with the US midfielder being installed definitively as a holding midfielder - in front of the defence. Supremely versatile like Kimmich, the 22-year-old New York state native has been paired, in rotation, with Kevin Kampl and Konrad Laimer in recent outings, with all three showing interchangeability and giving depth to Tedesco's squad.
Sitting in behind Christopher Nkunku, Adams has a crucial role in picking off opposition attacks, and will likely have to deal with Tolisso's forward bursts or Thomas Müller dropping into space on the edge of the Leipzig penalty area.
Since these teams last met on Matchday 4, Robert Lewandowski has almost quadrupled his haul of goals to 23, and counting, while defending his title as The Best FIFA Men's Player of the Year. Oh, and he also broke another Gerd Müller record for goals in a single calendar year, netting 43 times in 2021.
The Pole comes into this game just one goal shy of the 24 he had at the same stage of what turned into a record-breaking 2020/21 season, in which he snatched Müller's seemingly unbeatable record of 41 goals for a single campaign – from just 29 games. With seven in his past five outings, the question being asked each weekend is not if Lewandowski will score, but how many.
"Of course I'm always hungry, but especially physically I feel very good, probably better than three years ago," said Lewandowski after breaking another Müller mark by netting in his 16th competitive match for Bayern, and his 13th in the Bundesliga, earlier this season.
Extraordinary as it may sound, the 33-year-old only has two goals in his past seven meetings with Leipzig, and if the guests to the Allianz Arena can keep him quiet again, they stand a good chance of taking at least a point.
That could become three points if Nkunku keeps up his phenomenal rate of scoring and assisting that would make a combined Lewandowski and Müller envious. Indeed, the Frenchman does it all and ticks all the boxes, combining Müller's unpredictable creativity with Lewandowski's finishing qualities.
With nine goals and seven assists, he has had a hand in 16 of Leipzig's 38 goals so far this season, relieving the burden on summer recruit Andre Silva. The Portuguese forward scored an impressive 28 times in 32 league games for Eintracht Frankfurt last term and was Lewandowski's nearest challenger, but struggled to hit those heights early on with Die Roten Bullen.
Watch: Milestone man Robert Lewandowski
Things appear to have clicked in recent months, though, and the Portuguese forward has scored six in his past eight outings, supplying also one assist. Add that to the four goals and as many assists Nkunku has supplied in the same games and their combined return is one of the reasons why Leipzig are hitting their stride again, and closing back in on the European places.
Indeed, since Tedesco took charge, Leipzig have emerged from a mid-season stumble and are back in the top six off the back of a three-game winning streak in 2022.
Even Bayern have lost once in 2022 – going down 2-1 at home to Borussia Mönchengladbach – while Leipzig also secured their place in the quarter-finals of the DFB Cup thanks to a 2-0 win over Hansa Rostock, which means they arrive in Munich riding their longest run of consecutive wins all season.
Watch: Resurgent RB ready to take on Bayern
There could hardly be a better time for Leipzig to face their foes and register their first ever win at the Allianz Arena, though some might say there is never a good time to face Bayern.
That defeat to Gladbach notwithstanding, the record champions have been imperious over the past two months, winning seven and losing just that one - even when Nagelsmann had his hands tied due to a lengthy absentee list.
Not only have Bayern been putting plenty of points in the bank, they have also been scoring goals for fun, with eight in their past two outings and 23 in their past eight Bundesliga fixtures. They also have the chance to put nine points between themselves and second-placed Dortmund, who are in action on Sunday.
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