RB Leipzig and Eintracht Frankfurt's rise to Bundesliga prominence
RB Leipzig host Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday in a clash between two sides who have established themselves amongst Germany's elite. bundesliga.com takes a look at how far they have come.
Under Marco Rose this season, Leipzig have been in impressive form. They have lost just three of the 23 matches the former Borussia Dortmund boss has overseen, an extended run of form that has left them just four points off Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich with 13 league games left to play. A league title would be the crowning glory of their meteoric rise.
Die Roten Bullen earned promotion to the top flight in 2016, and immediately set about challenging at the summit. At the halfway point of the 2016/17 campaign, their first in the Bundesliga, they were just three points behind Bayern as they sat second.
Leipzig ultimately trailed by 15 as the Bavarians cantered to overall victory, but they did enough to finish as runners-up and show the rest of the division that they were not there only to make up the numbers.
Watch: Nkunku - Leipzig's latest main man
Since then, they have never finished lower than sixth, picking up another second place and ending up third twice. There have been some impressive European results, too, as they reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League in 2019/20 before succumbing to Paris Saint-Germain, while they were knocked out of the UEFA Europa League's final four last term by Rangers.
Their biggest triumph so far, though, came last season as they clinched the DFB-Cup, their maiden piece of major silverware. A dramatic 2-1 comeback win against Union Berlin in the semis earned them a final clash with Freiburg at Berlin's Olympiastadion, and they again conceded first.
However, and despite Leipzig going down to 10 men when Marcel Halstenberg was sent off with less than an hour on the clock, Christopher Nkunku equalised in normal time before Peter Gulacsi made several fantastic saves. In the end, the Saxony-based outfit prevailed on penalties to give their supporters a special night in the capital.
The likes of Gulacsi, Willi Orban and Yussuf Poulsen have been with the club throughout their rise through the divisions - they were only founded in 2009 - and are the long-serving stalwarts, while the team has been blessed with top talent in recent years. Nkunku, the reigning Bundesliga Player of the Year, is just the latest jewel in Leipzig's crown after the likes of Dayot Upamecano, Naby Keita and Timo Werner - who is now back at the Red Bull Arena following a spell at Premier League outfit Chelsea.
Josko Gvardiol, Dani Olmo and Dominiki Szobozslai are next up in line on the conveyor belt of RBL talent, and there appears to be no letting up when it comes to talent development.
But what about Frankfurt, one of Germany's oldest clubs? Well, Die Adler's progress has been steadier than Leipzig's, who have been in existence for less than 15 years. For the Hessen-based footballing institution, the late 1980s and early 1990s were their previous peak, as Jay-Jay Okocha, Tony Yeboah and Co. fired them to three top-three Bundesliga finishes and two DFB-Cup semi-finals.
After ending up fifth in the 1993/94 season, though, they spent most of the next 20 years yo-yo-ing between the first two divisions and, besides a cup final defeat in 2006, they rarely looked like adding to their trophy cabinet.
In 2016, however, a defining moment occurred - Niko Kovac's appointment as manager. Frankfurt were on course for another relegation from the top flight upon his arrival in March, but the Croatian kept them up via the help of a relegation play-off win against Heidenheim.
From then on, the only way was up - after losing to Borussia Dortmund in the 2017 DFB-Cup final, they defeated Bayern 3-1 12 months later to clinch their first trophy in 29 years. The departure of Kovac to the beaten finalists dampened celebrations, but the exiting boss had more than made his mark and set the club up for further future success.
Eintracht have become victims of their success and also had to deal with playing exits such as Sebastien Haller, Luka Jovic and Ante Rebic having reached the 2018/19 Europa League semi-finals. They then had to watch on as Andre Silva, who scored a club-record 28 Bundesliga goals during the 2020/21 term, also moved on to Leipzig but Eintracht, like their rivals, must take credit for continually replacing top talent. For instance, it's Randal Kolo Muani who now grabs the headlines in attack, and the France international is comfortably outpointing his Portuguese predecessor going into their Matchday 22 meeting.
This repeated clever recruitment has ensured a foundation for prosperity. Oliver Glasner stepped into Hütter's shoes in the summer of 2021 and, helped by astute new signings such as Rafael Borre and Ansgar Knauff, led Frankfurt to the 2022 Europa League final in Sevilla. On a balmy late-spring night, the Bundesliga club held their nerve to defeat Leipzig's conquerors Rangers in a penalty shoot-out.
Watch: Frankfurt fans celebrate Europa League win
Not only did that secure a first European trophy in 42 years, but it also guaranteed a first-ever Champions League participation. The club's supporters are amongst the most passionate across the continent, so the wild celebrations that ensued upon the team's return home came as no surprise.
Eintracht have now moved to within five points of Bayern and qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League, where they'll face Napoli in the last 16.
Each positive result has supporters dreaming of more unforgettable days ahead, and given how they continue to upset the odds, you wouldn't bet against them writing more history in May.
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