The prolific strike duo of Yussuf Poulsen and Timo Werner tend to garner the most column inches at RB Leipzig, but it's left-back Marcel Halstenberg who's been writing the headlines of late.
April has been quite a month for Halstenberg. On 2 April, the Germany left-back made himself a hero by securing a place in the semi-finals of the DFB Cup, and this past weekend, his two goals against Borussia Mönchengladbach ensured that Die Roten Bullen will be playing European football next season. With 61 points, Leipzig mathematically cannot finish lower than sixth, meaning they are assured of a place in the UEFA Europa League and can now push on for Champions League qualification.
Against Gladbach, the 27-year-old won, and then converted, a first-half penalty and then scored the winner after being set up by Emil Forsberg. The brace was the first of his professional career; the last time Halstenberg scored two goals in a match was as a youth player in Hanover, when he played as a striker. Since swapping attack for defence, the left-back has taken an unusual path to success, and now finds himself an ever-present for one of the Bundesliga’s top three teams.
After missing the second half of last season due to unfortunate injuries, Halstenberg is enjoying a renaissance this term, with 25 league appearances, three goals, and six assists to his name. In Mönchengladbach, fans got a glimpse at his training regimen when he ate a banana when celebrating his second goal. "That was funny," said Halstenberg, "but that’s why I had enough energy to score a third."
Unfortunately for him, the woodwork had other ideas, and a hat-trick was denied by the upright. Halstenberg has stated that he is getting fitter and feeling better with each game. Leipzig coach Ralf Rangnick seems to agree; the defender has played every minute of the Rückrunde.
Germany coach Joachim Löw has taken notice, too. Seventeen months after handing Halstenberg his debut, Löw called him up into the ranks of Die Mannschaft for the March friendly against Serbia. Halstenberg played every minute of the match as part of a team that Löw described as the "beginning of a new era" for the national side. Germany ground out a 1-1 draw, and the coach hailed the team’s mentality as a sending a "very good and clear signal" of what his new, young side was capable of.
Halstenberg is a case in point and while he faces stiff competition from Hoffenheim’s Nico Schulz to establish himself as his country’s first-choice left-back, all-action performances such as Saturday’s will go a long way to helping his cause. In addition to his two goals, Halstenberg also won over half of his challenges, and enjoyed 59 touches - more than any other Leipzig player.
The next chance to see him in action will be on Tuesday, when Leipzig travel to Hamburg to take on the Red Shorts in the DFB Cup semi-finals. It was in the quarter-finals against Augsburg that Halstenberg’s excellent April began. With the scores level at 1-1 after nearly 120 minutes and a penalty shootout looming, the Red Bulls were awarded a penalty when Michael Gregoritsch handled in the area. Halstenberg shouldered the responsibility, stepped up, kept his cool, and smashed the ball into the top corner. If he keeps playing like this, Halstenberg cannot possibly stay unsung for long.
Lee Turner Kodak