All aboard the Christopher Nkunku express, RB Leipzig's bullet train driving the Saxony-based side's Bundesliga revival and setting a course for exciting territory in continental competition.
Last season's Bundesliga Player of the Year is hitting top speed once again following a mini, mid-Hinrunde dip in numbers that coincided with Die Roten Bullen's brief and uncharacteristic lull. Finding themselves in the lower half of the top-flight table at one point this season, Leipzig have been rising steadily since Marco Rose's arrival to take the coaching controls.
Indeed, last weekend's 2-0 victory at home to Bayer Leverkusen - Leipzig's fifth win of the campaign - saw the hosts hit sixth spot, their highest placing so far in 2022/23.
Nkunku scored his ninth goal of this Bundesliga campaign in that aforementioned triumph, meaning the recent Ballon d’Or nominee has now registered seven times in his last eight matches in all competitions.
Watch: Nkunku and Werner on target against Leverkusen
With the team from Germany's former East unbeaten in their last five Bundesliga games, Saturday's Matchday 13 fixture against the impressive Hoffenheim - sitting in seventh - represents one more fascinating test for Rose's side and their formidable Frenchman.
“My confidence has always been high," Nkunku explained earlier this term. "Sometimes I have certain doubts, but my confidence has never left me and I try to always show that out on the pitch. I also work hard to further build this confidence. Most of the time, confidence is key to helping you achieve your goals."
The 24-year-old's 20 goals and 15 assists in the Bundesliga were crucial to driving Leipzig to a fourth-placed finish and a spot in this season's Champions League - more on that shortly. He also scored six and laid on four more goals as Die Roten Bullen claimed a very first trophy success in the DFB Cup. Nkunku even scored a vital equaliser in the final against Freiburg before netting in the penalty shootout.
"Great players don’t just do it for one good year. The best players do it at this level consistently [and] that’s my next goal,” Nkunku said after his marvellous feats of the season past. Currently sharing top spot on the Bundesliga's goalscoring charts with Werder Bremen's Niklas Füllkrug [also on nine for the season to date], the Leipzig No.18 is staying true to his ambitions of being a permanent fixture at the top of the game.
The player from the Parisian suburbs is also proving a top presence in Leipzig's Champions League campaign, scoring a sublime second in the spectacular 3-2 success against reigning European champions Real Madrid recently. That strike was Leipzig's 100th in European competition (including qualifiers) and meant that Nkunku drew level with Emil Forsberg on 10 goals as the club's leading scorer in the competition.
He would pass that milestone on Champions League Matchday 6. A goal and an assist against Shakhtar Donetsk helped Leipzig to an impressive 4-0 win in Warsaw and took the team through to their third knockout stage appearance in four seasons.
"I knew that if I worked hard, I would receive recognition and that’s exactly what happened,” Nkunku said on landing last season's Bundesliga Player of the Season award. "I'm always focussed on improving and raising my level," the attacker - who will be eager to showcase his best if chosen to represent France at the forthcoming FIFA World Cup - added.
It is that determination to improve that has Nkunku's name making headlines across the continent on a consistent basis. A phenomenal October in which he scored five Bundesliga goals with just 12 shots coincides with a five-game unbeaten run for Leipzig in Germany's top division. Only Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg can currently boast of a similar streak.
Against Hoffenheim this weekend, more challenges await. Leipzig are currently eight games without a win on the road in the Bundesliga, the second longest such sequence in the club's history. The team's faithful fans would love nothing more than to end that run against the side Leipzig faced on their Bundesliga debut back in August 2016.
For Nkunku, reaching Timo Werner's calendar-year best of 23 Bundesliga goals with Leipzig is within immediate grasp. The Frenchman is on 22 top-flight goals in 2022 and will thus be keen to shine brightly at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena on Matchday 13.
"I want a season after which we can all be proud of ourselves and where we wouldn’t change anything," the player affectionately known as 'Christo' among his teammates said at the start of the season.
Continue as they are now, and both Nkunku and Leipzig are on track to deliver one more memorable campaign.
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