Heading into only their seventh Bundesliga season, RB Leipzig have only finished outside the division's top four just once and having recently enjoyed the taste of a first major trophy success, Domenico Tedesco's Saxony-based team look well set to push on for the ultimate prize in 2022/23.
bundesliga.com offers five reasons Die Roten Bullen can end the coming campaign ahead of the rest.
The Tedesco express
Season 2017/18 turned out to be quite the celebration for FC Schalke 04. Finishing second in the standings behind champions Bayern Munich and eight points ahead of Hoffenheim in third, the Royal Blues were laughing all the way to automatic qualification for the Champions League group stages.
The goals of golden striker Guido Burgstaller, the leadership of goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann and the precocious youth of American youngster Weston McKennie were just a handful of the team's standout players as Die Knappen stormed to the runners-up spot in what was a whirlwind season coloured with some sensation results, like coming from 4-0 down at half-time to draw 4-4 with Revierderby rivals Borussia Dortmund.
Overseeing all of the above was coach Domenico Tedesco. The 36-year-old tactician later had a brief spell at Spartak Moscow but when Leipzig extended on offer to take over from Jesse Marsch last December, Tedesco understandably jumped at the opportunity. Leading the team from Germany's former East to a 4-1 win against Borussia Mönchengladbach in his first game in charge, the Italy-born coach would go on to guide Leipzig up the standings to an eventual fourth-place Bundesliga finish.
And last season's success didn't just end with a spot in next term's Champions League, Leipzig were also crowned DFB Cup Champions and got to the last four of the Europa League. Not bad at all for Tedesco's 30 games at the helm in all competitions. Now with the opportunity to prepare his squad for his first full season in charge, Tedesco seems well set to push on. But could he really go one place better than that famous campaign in charge of Schalke? The fun will be in the finding out.
Watch: How Tedesco turned Leipzig's season around
Success breeds success
It's 21 May, 2022. Die Roten Bullen are a goal and a man down to Freiburg in the final of the DFB Cup at Berlin's magnificent Olympiastadion. Maximilian Eggestein's 18th minute goal for the men from the Black Forest along with Marcel Halstenberg's 57th minute sending off for Leipzig are providing match reporters with the game's main narrative as the outcome looks set: Freiburg are 14 minutes away from winning their first DFB Cup.
Step forward Christopher Nkunku. The French sensation's unlikely equaliser brings the Leipzig players and coaching staff spilling onto the pitch in joyous celebration. The scenes will subsequently be repeated after a victorious penalty shootout puts Leipzig's name - and not Freiburg's - on the famous trophy for the first time.
"To win in that way was not easy; being a man down and coming back like that, it shows passion and mentality," Leipzig attacker Emil Forsberg said after his team's battling victory. "It's been seven years, but I’ve finally won something," the Swede said. Meanwhile, a relieved Halstenberg - who recently extended his contract at Leipzig - explained, "I always said that we finally want to win a title. We’ve got the first one now.
"I don’t want to actively set ourselves any goals, but obviously we want more titles. Winning the DFB-Pokal was such an amazing feeling, so we obviously want to experience that again!" Having had the sweet taste of ultimate victory, Leipzig's desire for silverware is well and truly awoken.
The Hungarian connection
Proudly flying the flag for club and country, Hungarian pair Peter Gulacsi and Willi Orban make for fine captain and vice-captains respectively and raise a superb case for Leipzig's defence. In terms of goalkeepers and defenders, both players were among the top ranked within their categories in prestigious publication Kicker's final season rankings for 2021/22, with Leipzig finishing with the Bundesliga's joint-best defensive record alongside Bayern last term (37 goals conceded).
Captain Gulacsi proved he was a specialist in stopping long-range shots, the keeper boasting above a 93 per cent success rate in that aspect while the 32-year-old Budapest native managed an impressive 70.4 per cent save rate overall. His cool, calm, compatriot Orban, meanwhile, enjoyed just short of a 92 per cent pass completion rate for the season.
With those two experienced heads in commanding form, Mohamed Simakan and Josko Gvardiol were able to seamlessly bed into the Leipzig side in what was their first full season at the Red Bull Arena. Indeed, with such a solid defensive base to build on in the coming campaign, Leipzig's Hungarian connection, which doesn't end with Gulacsi and Orban, looks set to play an important role as Leipzig get set to fight for the title.
And lest we forget, at the other end, the boy from the Hungarian city of Szekesfehervar, Dominik Szoboszlai, will have a thing or two to say in attack. An outstanding debut season in his team's colours brought ten goals and nine assists in 42 appearances for the team, while no Leipzig player managed more long-range shots (25) during 2021/22.
Is Leipzig's rise to the top a case of inevitable progression? Team numbers over recent years certainly suggest a challenge for the title is well within Tedesco's side's grasp. Leipzig stunned the world by finishing in second place in their very first season in the Bundesliga back in 2016/17 and since then, they have ended subsequent campaigns in sixth, third, third, second and fourth.
Watch: Szoboszlai nets twice against VfB Stuttgart
They picked up 20 wins in that aforementioned maiden Bundesliga campaign and have twice hit 19 victories in different seasons while last season's 72-goal haul was bettered only in 19/20, when the team scored 81 times. There is a level of consistency that sometimes beggars belief but it is on the pitch against the division's biggest sides where Leipzig will ultimately gauge their level next season and what better opportunity to test those title-chasing waters than with a Supercup test against reigning Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich on 30 July.
Nkunku, Nkunku, Nkunku
Thera are so many vital cogs to the Leipzig machine. There is wide Spanish player Angelino, who chipped in to last season's fourth-placed finish with 115 crosses; there's Kevin Kampl, the midfield precision passing specialist and there is promise with recent arrival Xaver Schlager landing to join his Austrian compatriot Konrad Laimer.
Watch: Christopher Nkunku named Player of the Season
However, in terms of the man who makes the difference, there is only one Nkunku. His feats in 21/22 being so good they earned him a very first France cap under Didier Deschamps, the former Paris Saint-Germain youth time player was off the chats in terms of numbers last season and will look to aim for the stratosphere next.
The Bundesliga's Player of the Season for the recently concluded campaign managed 20 goals and provided 13 assists in 34 top-flight appearances as Leipzig came back from a poor start to eventually finish in fourth place. Only Bayern Munich behemoth Robert Lewandowski had a hand in more goals last season than Nkunku, who added 11 goals in the Champions League and Europa League and four more win the DFB Cup, including that key equaliser against Freiburg in the showpiece.
A player of immense speed, dribbling ability and positional sense provides coach Tedesco win a superb weapon in a counter-attacking system that reaped rewards last season and will likely be utilised again in 2022/23 as Leipzig aim for the Meisterschale.
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