As the clock ticks down on Saturday's Supercup at the Red Bull Arena, where reigning Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich visit DFB Cup holders RB Leipzig, home favourite Christopher Nkunku insisted he and his teammates will be doing, "everything we can to get the win in front of our fans."
Heading into his fourth season in Saxony, Nkunku recently completed the campaign of his life. Emerging as the Bundesliga's Player of the Season after racking up a raft of goals and assists across several competitions in 2021/22, the versatile 24-year-old attacker also became a debutant with World Cup holders France.
Indeed, so delighted was Nkunku with how things turned out during an unforgettable season for Leipzig supporters, that the one-time Paris Saint-Germain youth player signed terms on an extended deal with Domenico Tedesco's triumphant team.
Speaking exclusively to bundesliga.com ahead of Leipzig's first-ever Supercup game this weekend, Nkunku reminisced on last May's German Cup final victory, a game in which he scored an all-important equaliser and a crucial spot-kick in the penalty shootout against vanquished opponents Freiburg. "It was massive," Nkunku said of the triumph in Berlin. "It was the first major title for the club. It was also a very tough match for us. In the end it went to penalties and we managed to secure the title; it was really thrilling."
Watch: Nkunku and Leipzig ready to go again
Given that Leipzig's start last season was far from ideal - the club hiring Tedesco mid-campaign to steady the ship - Die Roten Bullen's achievement of not only winning a trophy, but also reaching the last four of the UEFA Europa League and achieving a top-four Bundesliga finish was astounding.
"Even though we didn’t make a good start to the season as a team, we were all focussed on raising our levels individually," Nkunku explained of the turnaround. "I [also] think the key was preparing well for matches. That’s why we enjoyed a much better second half to the season."
What helped in abundance too was Nkunku's goals, assists and several outstanding displays. In the Bundesliga alone, he managed 20 goals and 13 assists in 34 games. That stretched to 35 goals and 20 assists in 52 matches across all competitions and there were no arguments when the player from the Paris suburbs was named as the best in the German top flight for 2021/22.
Watch: Nkunku reached the very top last season
"It was a big award to win," Nkunku said of the accolade. "It wasn’t something I was expecting at the start of the season but I knew that if I worked hard, I would receive recognition and that’s exactly what happened.
"As we saw at the end of last season, I was able to raise my level," the Leipzig forward continued. "The club has also shown that they would like to keep me here as part of the team, which shows how highly they rate me and their confidence in me. The DFB Cup final win last season was an incredible moment and I hope to have many more such moments with RB Leipzig. It’s very simple - I feel great here."
With competition to top the Bundesliga goals and assists charts set to be even greater this season thanks to the arrival of players like new Bayern recruit Sadio Mane and Borussia Dortmund's Sebastien Haller, Nkunku believes the addition of such immensely talented forwards to Germany's top division only bodes well for all concerned. "It shows that the league is of a very high quality - the fact that players like Mane, for example, have chosen to come here," Nkunku said. "It underlines the quality of the league and [their] arrival will raise that level even further. I’m sure they will get lots of goals in the Bundesliga.”
Given that Leipzig have enjoyed two second-placed finishes and have ended in the top three in four of their six seasons in the Bundesliga to date, and the fact that the team now has a first major piece of silverware in the trophy cabinet, could a push for the Bundesliga title be on the cards in 2022/23?
“The key will be remaining consistent," Nkunku explained. "As we saw last season, we started poorly and weren’t able to win the title. In my first season at Leipzig, we started well and were in first place in December but then dropped off," he added. "So consistency is key - winning matches all the time. That’s the only way of beating [Bundesliga favourites] Bayern to the title.”
Watch: The best of Leipzig vs. Bayern
In the here and now, Leipzig will look to beat the Bavarian giants to Saturday's Supercup, with Nkunku hoping Die Roten Bullen can hit the ground running after all the hard work in pre-season. "I don’t think we have yet reached our highest level as the season has not started yet," he said.
"[Saturday] is an important match in our preparation for the season. There's a trophy [in play]; Bayern will be as determined to win it as we will be. I hope we'll win. We will do everything we can to get the victory in front of our fans in the stadium. I’m sure it will be a great game whatever happens."
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