Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig face off in their second Bundesliga test of the post-Kai Havertz and Timo Werner era respectively. - © DFL
Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig face off in their second Bundesliga test of the post-Kai Havertz and Timo Werner era respectively. - © DFL
bundesliga

Bayer Leverkusen vs. RB Leipzig: how do they match up?

Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig meet on Saturday with the hope that new signings like Alexander Sorloth and fresh young talents such as Florian Wirtz will ensure they are not haunted by the spectre of strikers past (kick-off 3.30pm CEST/1.30pm GMT/9.30am ET).

Kai Havertz and Timo Werner left the Matchday 2 opponents over the summer after enjoying impressive 2019/20 seasons for Leverkusen and Leipzig respectively. bundesliga.com looks at how the pair match up as they prepare to collide at the BayArena after just 90 minutes of the new campaign.

The history

Given Leipzig have been in the Bundesliga only since 2016, the fixture is a fledgling one, but it's one in which Die Roten Bullen excel. They have won four of the duo's eight league meetings to date, recording two of those victories in Leverkusen, including a 3-2 triumph in their very first encounter on Matchday 11 of the 2016/17 campaign.

Leverkusen have won just once, though a handsome 4-1 victory in the Red Bull Arena it was too. However, of all the Leverkusen scorers that day only Panagiotis Retsos remains at the club, with Julian Brandt, Kevin Volland and Havertz all since departed.

Havertz (l.) followed Werner to Chelsea in the summer, while Patrik Schick (r.) moved to Leverkusen from Roma, via a 10-goal stint at Leipzig. - imago images

Last season's matches ended in 1-1 draws with Leverkusen taking the lead in both before being pegged back. "If one team had given everything for five or six minutes in the second half, they could have got the three points," said Leipzig boss Julian Nagelsmann of the Matchday 24 draw in Leipzig. "But in the end, a point each is OK."

Attacking

Both teams have to contend with major summer losses in the attacking department. Werner and Havertz scored 40 Bundesliga goals between them last season, meaning that their teammates have to fill a big void.

"We play in a different way now and we're even stronger in possession, but it's clear that it won't be simple to replace Timo's goals," explained Leipzig goalkeeper Peter Gulasci having watched the new Chelsea signing plunder 28 Bundesliga strikes last season.

Werner (r.) scored two of his 78 Bundesliga goals in a Leipzig shirt in meetings with Leverkusen. - imago

The solution on Matchday 1 came from Yussuf Poulsen, the Denmark international whose career — like his club's — has progressed from the German third division to the international stage. Not as subtle or as speedy as Werner, he is a major physical presence who can take chances, hold the ball up and bring others into play.

And that's where Emil Forsberg and Dani Olmo come in.

Playing in a more central role in the 3-1 opening-day win over Mainz, Forsberg claimed his first Bundesliga goal since February, hit a post and set up Amadou Haidara for the third. Olmo's quick feet won the penalty the Sweden international opened the scoring with, and between that duo and Poulsen — or potentially summer arrivals Hwang Hee-chan and Sorloth — the visitors have a complementary and potentially prolific front three.

Watch: Leipzig were too good for Mainz on Matchday 1

With Havertz having joined Werner at Stamford Bridge and Kevin Volland moving to Monaco, Bosz lost two heavyweight frontline assets.

That could explain why his team mustered just a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes of their Matchday 1 goalless draw at Wolfsburg — a record low in Peter Bosz's near two-year tenure — and failed to find the net for only the second time in 20 competitive fixtures. "We have to improve going forward, that's clear," said the Dutchman after the season-opener. "But I'm convinced that we'll improve every week."

In addition to having most of the Havertz cash in the bank, Bosz is right to have significant room for optimism. Patrik Schick, who was second only to Werner in the RBL squad with 10 Bundesliga goals in 22 games while on loan last season, has been signed to a permanent deal, and will provide Bosz with a high-grade alternative to MD1 starter Lucas Alario as the team's spearhead.

Julian Nagelsmann (l.) is unbeaten in three Bundesliga meetings with Leverkusen counterpart Peter Bosz (r.), winning one and drawing two. - getty

It is behind those two that the real magic could happen, though, and all thanks to players already at the club last term.

Florian Wirtz was barely 17 when he made his top-flight debut last season — incidentally breaking Havertz's club record at the same time — and the teenage gem looks to be the 'next big thing' after Havertz and Brandt to come out of Leverkusen. Moussa Diaby, who is only 21, had a highly promising first Bundesliga campaign to build on while Karim Bellarabi and Leon Bailey are solid options to complete the three behind the lone striker.

With Kerem Demirbay pulling the strings deftly in a deep-lying role alongside the rampaging Charles Aranguiz, who is an asset on both sides of the ball, Leverkusen have the weaponry to up their goals output. They struck 61 goals last season— like their table finish, the fifth-best in the division — albeit 20 fewer than Leipzig.

Watch: Florian Wirtz's slice of Bundesliga history

Defending

If Leverkusen were looking for a reason they missed out on a top-four finish last season and UEFA Champions League qualification, they could just take a painful peek at the 'goals against' column.

"When fans go home, they should say, 'Wow! That was exciting,'" said Bosz when asked to describe his footballing ethos. But entertainment comes at a price. They had the worst defensive record of the 2019/20 top five with 44 goals conceded with 12 coming in just three defeats to Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg.

Bosz's unashamedly bold 4-2-3-1 formation — with Daley Sinkgraven being preferred to the more adventurous Wendell at left-back the only conservative note —  on Matchday 1 and the fact the club have not bought a defensive player in the summer window suggest the former Netherlands international has not lost any of his derring-do. If the Bender twins can stay fit — a bigger question than ever as they are now 31 — then they will provide stability and the experience required to help Edmond Tapsoba continue his meteoric upward trajectory.

Edmond Tapsoba (r.) has been a revelation in his short time at the heart of the Leverkusen defence. - DFL

But the young Burkina Faso centre-back, who enjoyed an impressive first half-season in Germany after arriving from the Portuguese league in January, is aware that defending for Leverkusen is a seat-of-the pants experience similar to that of his idol Per Mertesacker in an ultra-attacking Werder Bremen side.

"It's always a pleasure to play because Leverkusen is a team that plays good football," he told bundesliga.com. "We attack a lot, so the defenders are often left one-on-one on the counterattack. It’s difficult but I love it."

Bundesliga champions and UEFA Champions League winners Bayern failed to score in one league game last season. It was the same match that was the only one not to end in victory from the start of the Rückrunde until Kingsley Coman headed past Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Keylor Navas to clinch the club's sixth European crown. Their opponents?

"That was our best game here," said Gulasci on Matchday 21 after becoming the only Bundesliga goalkeeper not to have to pick the ball out of his net at the Allianz Arena last season.

Watch: How Nagelsmann's Leipzig stopped Bayern Munich from scoring

That result was achieved thanks to Nagelsmann morphing his back four into a back three with Tyler Adams and Angelino the hard-working wing-backs. It was an identical tactical set-up with different personnel against Mainz, and the Leipzig boss will surely employ it again against Leverkusen, though with a brief to his wing-backs to be still more attack-minded.

With Leverkusen employing a lone front man, two of the three centre-backs, Dayot Upamecano, Lukas Klostermann and Marcel Halstenberg, will have to step up at times to help out the central midfielders in closing down the space for the hosts' attacking midfield trio, and don't expect the Leipzig boss to compromise on keeping it tight at the back.

"We must try to defend the goal with our life," he said last season. "We must do everything to get a clean sheet."

In Dayot Upamecano, Leipzig boast one of the finest young centre-backs in world football. - DFL/Getty Images/Boris Streubel

The goalkeepers

If Leipzig were able to boast the second-best defence in the Bundesliga last season, it was in large part down to their goalkeeper, Gulasci.

The Hungary international has come a long way in his five years at the club, and captained the them on Matchday 1. The 30-year-old's progress to bona fide international class was confirmed when he was named the league's second-best goalkeeper by esteemed magazine kicker behind only Bayern No.1 Manuel Neuer.

"It's something great to belong to the best," said Gulasci, who was signed by Liverpool as a teenager. "But I've also worked very hard to get that recognition."

Peter Gulacsi (2nd.r) saved 71.4 percent of efforts on the Leipzig goal in 2019/20, but conceded twice against Leverkusen. - Roger Petzsche via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Picture Point LE

Leverkusen number one Lukas Hradecky came in fifth in kicker's rankings, though the Finland international started the new season with a clean sheet against Wolfsburg, including a point-saving stop from Wout Weghorst, as he begins his third Bundesliga campaign with Die Werkself.

He will have to be at his razor-sharp best once again, if Leverkusen are to do to Leipzig what Nagelsmann's side did to treble winners Bayern back in February.