Marco Rose transformed RB Leipzig’s season, leading them back into the UEFA Champions League and delivering their second straight DFB Cup title with a record which will strike fear into Die Roten Bullen’s rivals heading into the 2023/24 season.
September 7, 2022, was a potential turning point in the brief history of RB Leipzig.
The bubble the club had been gradually blowing ever since their inception in 2009 was at risk of bursting. Lying 11th in the Bundesliga, Domenico Tedesco was relieved of his duties following a 4-1 defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Champions League. For a club who had qualified for Europe in each of its previous six seasons in Germany’s top flight, they had to get the choice of Tedesco’s successor right.
Leipzig-born Rose was still out of work having left Borussia Dortmund by mutual consent in the summer. He spent just one season with the Black-and-Yellows, despite leading them to second in the Bundesliga, and certainly had the credentials Leipzig were looking for.
“We’ve found a perfect fit,” said Leipzig’s former general manager Oliver Mintzlaff when unveiling Rose. “We’ve brought in a coach who totally buys into our playing philosophy. What Marco brings is what is part of our DNA.”
Nine months down the line, there was also a hint of relief in Leipzig’s celebrations at lifting the DFB Cup for a second straight season; once again, they got a big decision right.
After his all-conquering two years at the helm of Leipzig’s Austrian sister club Salzburg, Rose’s average of 2.17 points per game in charge of Leipzig is his second highest return; in Austria, he averaged 2.35 over 114 games, leading them into the Champions League group stage for the first time in their history.
The first three of the 61 points Leipzig earned under Rose came in an emphatic debut on their bench, a 3-0 win over his former club Dortmund which had more than just a tinge of revenge about it.
The euphoria did not last, however. Next up were Rose’s other former Bundesliga club, Borussia Mönchengladbach – the side he had led into the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2016, eventually losing to Manchester City in the round of 16. His debut win was completely reversed with a defeat by the same scoreline at Borussia-Park, the size of the task at hand delivered uncompromisingly.
Watch: Leipzig beat Dortmund on Rose debut
Leipzig’s players may have needed time to adjust to Rose’s tactical change from the back three employed by Tedesco to his 4-2-3-1 preference, but a club record-equalling string of 18 games unbeaten confirmed they were on the right track, the turnaround complete in the space of five months. That run included a 3-2 win over the Champions League holders Real Madrid and a reverse of the defeat to Shakhtar which had cost Tedesco his job to earn Die Roten Bullen access to the last 16.
The luck of the draw was not on Rose’s side, though, and the ghosts of his Gladbach past returned as eventual finalists Manchester City took his team apart with a 7-0 second leg humbling which threatened to derail Leipzig’s season. Indeed, back-to-back Bundesliga defeats to Bochum and Mainz followed as Rose’s men slipped back out of the top four, falling to fifth.
With Union Berlin and Freiburg showing little sign of relinquishing their dreams of a top-four finish, the stage was set for a dramatic final eight games of the season, with two meetings with Freiburg making Leipzig’s season. A 5-1 victory in the semi-final of the DFB Cup sent Leipzig back to Berlin for the showpiece, while a 1-0 win in the league four days later took Rose’s men up to third – a position they cemented with a 3-1 win at Bayern Munich to secure a fifth straight season of Champions League football.
But how exactly did Rose turn Leipzig’s fortunes around so dramatically?
In simple terms, he got Leipzig playing Leipzig football again. A club who were founded on principles of vibrant, attacking football, with the integration of youthful energy and enthusiasm, saw these values restored by a man who had worked with the very same ethos in Salzburg.
Watch: Marco Rose's Leipzig - tactical analysis
The only slight difference came in him having also to focus on rediscovering a defensive stability which, following the departures of Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahim Konate, had gone astray. In the first five games of the season under Tedesco, Leipzig had shipped an average of 1.8 goals per game; under Rose, that dropped to 1.1.
At the other end of the field, they hit an average of precisely two goals per game, a marginal increase on the nine goals from the first five matches of the season. However, with the second-most goals on the counterattack of any side in the Bundesliga (nine compared to Bayer Leverkusen’s 10), it was the style with which they were scoring which really stood out.
Christopher Nkunku was pivotal to this scintillating system, and had he not missed nine games due to injury, his record haul of 20 goals from 2021/22 would arguably have been beaten. The Frenchman nevertheless finished with 16 goals and four assists, ending the campaign as the Bundesliga's joint-leading scorer, an award he shared with Werder Bremen’s Niclas Füllkrug. His goal and assist in Berlin also helped Leipzig successfully defend the first piece of major silverware in the club’s history, with back-to-back DFB Cup triumphs.
Yet there is one more statistic which speaks volumes about Rose’s record with Leipzig, and it is one which will strike fear into both Bayern and Dortmund going into the 2023/24 campaign.
Since Rose took the Leipzig reins in September, no other club picked up more Bundesliga points than Leipzig. Had the league started on Matchday 6, Rose’s Leipzig would have been crowned champions with 61 points, one ahead of Bayern and two more than Dortmund.
Rather than bursting, Leipzig’s bubble has grown bigger and stronger with Rose at the helm, and if anything might be popping next term, it is more likely to be champagne corks of celebration.
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