Timo Werner is spearheading RB Leipzig's quest to dethrone Robert Lewandowski, Philippe Coutinho and the rest of the Bayern Munich gang. - © 2019 DFL
Timo Werner is spearheading RB Leipzig's quest to dethrone Robert Lewandowski, Philippe Coutinho and the rest of the Bayern Munich gang. - © 2019 DFL
bundesliga

RB Leipzig vs. Bayern Munich: the key players that could decide the Bundesliga’s top-of-the-table clash

It may be early in the season, but the Matchday 4 encounter between RB Leipzig and Bayern Munich could go a long way to deciding what kind of title race we can expect in the Bundesliga in 2019/20. Can Julian Nagelsmann’s pacesetters make it four wins from four? Or will visiting Bayern show exactly why they are the reigning champions?

bundesliga.com casts an eye on some of the decisive battles in Saturday’s top-of-the-table clash.

Sharp-shooters: Timo Werner vs. Robert Lewandowski

Goals win games, and the top two teams in the league naturally have two of the very best goalscorers around. Both Werner and Lewandowski were surprisingly kept quiet in their games for Germany and Poland earlier this month, but that means they’ll be even more determined to make a difference this weekend.

Werner, the pretender to the throne, is quick on his feet, and has certainly hit the ground running at club level this season. The 23-year-old finished the 2018/19 campaign with an impressive 16 Bundesliga goals, but has already got five of Leipzig’s nine strikes this term to lift them to first place after three games. Last time out he bagged his first-ever Bundesliga hat-trick to take Man of the Matchday honours in week three, but he has only won once in 13 career matches against Bayern.

Watch: See all of Werner and Lewandowski's goals so far this season

Werner is still one off Lewandowski’s goal tally, though the Bundesliga’s leading goalscorer did get two of his six from the penalty spot. The 31-year-old helped himself to the champions’ first five goals of their title defence, following a double in the 2-2 draw with Hertha Berlin with a hat-trick in the 3-0 win at Schalke. The top scorer in the Bundesliga in three of the past four seasons, Lewandowski also got on the scoresheet again in the 6-1 hammering of Mainz last time out. The prolific Pole netted twice in the DFB Cup final win over Leipzig in May, and has an overall record of six goals in eight matches against the league leaders.

Playmakers: Marcel Sabitzer vs. Philippe Coutinho

Speaking of goals, Sabitzer is another player who is on a significant scoring run. The Austrian attacking midfielder started with two in the DFB Cup success at Osnabrück in August, ensuring that Nagelsmann got off to a winning start as Leipzig head coach. The 25-year-old enjoyed a great opening weekend in the league as well, scoring once and picking up three assists in the 4-0 win at Union Berlin. During the international break his rich vein of form continued, as he made one goal and scored another to help Austria get back into UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying contention with a 6-0 victory against Latvia.

Watch: The Marcel Sabitzer show

Whether Sabitzer can outshine Coutinho could be vital on Saturday. The latter player was brought in to be decisive in games such as this, much like was hoped for James Rodriguez during his two-year stint in Bavaria. The nifty Brazilian got his first start for Bayern in the game against Mainz on Matchday 3, and it’s perhaps no surprise that Niko Kovac’s side were 4-1 up when the 27-year-old was substituted in the second half. Like Lewandowski in Slovenia, Coutinho also suffered a setback on international duty when Brazil lost to Peru earlier this week. The former Liverpool attacker will be keen to bounce back in a huge Bundesliga game.

On loan from Barcelona, Coutinho chould make his third appearance for Bayern on Matchday 4. - imago images / Laci Perenyi

No.6's: Diego Demme vs. Thiago

The midfield battle could be a big one, and Demme – who has often captained Leipzig when Willi Orban isn’t available – will be hoping for a recall for the visit of Bayern. The defensive midfielder helped shut out Union on the opening day, and also played from the off in the 2-1 win against Eintracht Frankfurt. The 27-year-old dropped to the bench in Gladbach, but came on for the last 20 minutes as Leipzig made it a club record three wins from three to start the season. Capped once by Germany in 2017, Demme could use a crunch encounter against the record champions to put himself firmly back in Joachim Löw’s thoughts.

Watch: All the ways a No.6 plays in the Bundesliga!

One of Demme’s key tasks would be to cut out passes from Thiago, as well as generally curbing the Bayern midfielder’s influence where he can. Thiago has also started two games from three so far, before being involved in virtually every attack Spain had in last weekend’s 4-0 win over the Faroe Islands. The 28-year-old playmaker will plan to lay down a marker on Saturday to get Bayern back to the summit in the Bundesliga before they open their UEFA Champions League campaign at home to Red Star Belgrade next Wednesday.

Defensive walls: Ibrahima Konate vs. Niklas Süle

One major reason that Leipzig had the meanest defence in the Bundesliga in 2018/19 – they conceded only 29 goals – was the form of French defender Konate. The 20-year-old started 27 league matches in just his second year in Germany, helping Leipzig to a 0-0 draw against title-chasing Bayern on the penultimate day of last season. Konate has mostly operated at the centre of a three-man defence since Nagelsmann’s arrival this summer, winning 100 per cent of his aerial duels so far. Both he and Bayern counterpart Süle are tied for sixth in the league with a pass success rate of 94 per cent, and the France U21 international will be keen to avenge last season’s cup defeat to get his second win in five matches against Bayern.

When defensive behemoths collide: Niklas Süle and Ibrahima Konate are 'uncompromising' personified. - imago images / Laci Perenyi

With Mats Hummels departing over the summer and Jerome Boateng currently out of favour, Süle is unquestionably Bayern’s defensive leader this season. The former Hoffenheim defender has become a rock at the back for club and country, and he gets Bayern flowing in attack too. Since he moved to Munich in 2017, no other Bundesliga defender has matched his passing accuracy of 93 per cent. Having turned 24 earlier this month, Süle will relish the challenge of nullifying Leipzig attackers Werner, Yussuf Poulsen and new signing Patrik Schick.

Shot-stoppers: Peter Gulacsi vs. Manuel Neuer

Title-winning teams need world-class goalkeepers, and both Leipzig and Bayern have one. Gulacsi kept a remarkable 16 clean sheets in 33 matches in 2018/19, and the Hungarian is already fifth in the league rankings for saves made this term (nine). Along with Wolfsburg, Leipzig once again have the best defensive record in the league with only two goals conceded so far.

Watch: Oliver Kahn analyses Gulacsi and Neuer!

Neuer is into his ninth season as the champions’ number one goalkeeper, and the Bayern and Germany captain is as important as ever. The 33-year-old stood firm during his country’s tricky trip to Belfast on Monday, sending his team top of their UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying group thanks to a 2-0 win over Northern Ireland. On Saturday, he’ll look to do so again in what is one of Bayern’s toughest away matches of the season.