RB Leipzig's Christopher Nkunku put in a Player-of-the-Match winning display against Man City. - © imago
RB Leipzig's Christopher Nkunku put in a Player-of-the-Match winning display against Man City. - © imago
bundesliga

Christopher Nkunku: The man to reignite RB Leipzig's season

On an opening UEFA Champions League night when Paris Saint-Germain's star trio of Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar failed to spark, ex-PSG man Christopher Nkunku did just that for RB Leipzig against Manchester City.

The 10 men of Leipzig were beaten 6-3 by Pep Guardiola's defending English Premier League champions, but Nkunku showcased his prodigious quality with a historic three-goal shift.

With two headers and an emphatic right-footed finish, the 23-year-old Frenchman became the first Leipzig player to score a Champions League hat-trick, the second after Messi to put one past Man City, and only the third to get three against a Guardiola team in the competition, after Messi and Sergio Aguero.

"I scored three goals, but each time they immediately scored again," bemoaned Nkunku of a bitter-sweet night at the City of Manchester Stadium. "We needed to be better and stay focused."

Leipzig have now lost four of their first six competitive matches since Jesse Marsch succeeded Julian Nagelsmann as head coach, winning the other two - against second-tier Sandhausen in the DFB Cup first round and VfB Stuttgart on Bundesliga Matchday 2 - by 4-0 scorelines.

Of their 12 goals scored, Nkunku has had a direct hand in five, putting him at a goal or assist every 124 minutes so far in 2021/22. Statistically, he is Leipzig's biggest threat in the final third, which is no mean feat in a squad boasting Andre Silva and Dominik Szoboszlai.

Watch: Nkunku was a February 2021 Player of the Month nominee

It's no great surprise either, given his 35-goal contribution over the past two campaigns. Discounting out-and-out strikers, only fellow midfielders Marcel Sabitzer and Dani Olmo have fared better for combined goals and assists among Leipzig players in that time.

"Alphonso Davies to Bayern, and Christopher Nkunku to Leipzig are the best two Bundesliga transfers by a mile," commented Sven Mislintat after Nkunku traded PSG for RBL in summer 2019.

Credited with unearthing the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Robert Lewandowski in his previous role as Borussia Dortmund scout, the Stuttgart sporting director's prognosis has been right on the money.

It's not uncommon to seen opposition teams defend against Nkunku in multiples. - IMAGO / Jürgen Schwarz

Nkunku started 48.7 percent of his 78 senior appearances for PSG between 2016 and 2019, producing 11 goals and four assists. Compare that to 65 of 90 at Leipzig, where he has done the business as a No.8, No.10 and winger.

The former France U21 international's passing range has improved significantly, to the point where he is averaging 2.2 of the key variety per game, but not at the expense of his ability to waltz past his marker. The Parisian has been Leipzig's top dog for successful dribbles for two years running.

Leipzig may be enduring their worst ever start to a Bundesliga season, but with a talent that shines as brightly as Nkunku's, there can only be light at the end of the tunnel.

Chris Mayer-Lodge