RB Leipzig vs. Union Berlin: How do they stack up?
With the rock-solid Josko Gvardiol at the back and Andre Silva and Timo Werner up front, RB Leipzig have plenty of star performers as they take on the high-flying Union Berlin collective on Saturday. bundesliga.com takes a closer look at the teams ahead of this potentially season-defining Matchday 20 fixture.
Season so far
After winning the DFB Cup last summer, handing Christopher Nkunku a contract extension and bringing Timo Werner back to the club, Leipzig were expecting to kick on to the next level this season. However, after taking just five points from the first 15 available, coupled with heavy defeats against Bayern Munich in the Supercup and against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League, Domenico Tedesco was relieved of his duties.
Since then, Leipzig native Marco Rose has orchestrated a remarkable turnaround, even with the absences of Nkunku and first-choice goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi due to injury. Die Roten Bullen are on an 18-game unbeaten run in all competitions, have more Bundesliga points since Rose’s appointment (31) than any other team and are now hot on the heels of Bayern and Union at the top of the table.
Watch: This season's title contenders
Union, by way of contrast, have enjoyed a remarkably consistent campaign under head coach Urs Fischer, now in his fifth season at the helm, and they have not been lower than fifth in the standings in 2022/23.
In fact, calling them consistent is perhaps doing them a disservice; Union are not only reliable performers, they play well and have had great success. Their spell at the top of the table between Matchdays 6 and 12 is testament to that, while they briefly returned to the summit on Saturday last week. If they do have a weakness, however, it is away from home: Fischer’s charges have only lost four times in the Bundesliga all term, and all four have come on the road.
We could probably list every member of Leipzig’s squad in this section given how well-stocked they are all over the pitch. The aforementioned Nkunku and Gulacsi won’t feature, however, while Dani Olmo is also sidelined with injury. That has allowed Dominik Szoboszlai to shine in attacking midfield; the Hungarian is the designated set-piece taker and has three goals and eight assists to his name so far.
Gvardiol is at the heart of Rose’s back four alongside Willi Orban - although he may miss the weekend's game after donating stem cells. Konrad Laimer provides cover from midfield and drive going forward, with Silva and Werner the dual-pronged tip of the Leipzig spear. Last weekend’s goalless draw in Cologne was only the second time the team has failed to score in the Bundesliga under Rose.
Watch: Werner vs. Becker - attacking speedsters head-to-head
Could they be blunted for a second successive game? As mentioned earlier, the star at Union is the collective: a group of players brought together under Fischer to be greater than the sum of their parts. Defensive solidity provides the firmest of foundations for the team, the 23 goals conceded in the Bundesliga so far in 2022/23 bettered only by Bayern (18).
And while they may not be the most prolific of scorers, with just 33 goals so far, in Sheraldo Becker they possess a quick-footed forward capable of any backline. Of all the teams currently in the top seven, only Freiburg (30) have registered fewer goals than Union, but with the team needing just 6.60 shots per goal on average, they are level with Bayern and better than Leipzig (6.90) in terms of overall efficiency in the final third.
Rose tends to send his team out in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 formation at home. Attack-minded full-backs are a key part of that strategy: Benjamin Henrichs is likely to start on the right this weekend, with Marcel Halstenberg preferred to David Raum on the left of late.
In squeezing the opposition high up the pitch they provide width to Leipzig’s build-up while forcing their opposite numbers to drop deeper. Any attempts to channel play through the middle are invariably blocked by Laimer and the equally terrier-like Xaver Schlager in central midfield. Once possession is regained, the ball is played forward as quickly as possible to unleash the talents of Szoboszlai, Emil Forsberg, Silva and Werner.
Watch: Leipzig's tactics under Rose
Fischer, on the other hand, rarely deviates from his tried-and-trusted 3-5-2 formation, regardless of the opposition or whether his team are playing at home or away. Robin Knoche, Danilho Doekhi and Diogo Leite are the backstreet-bouncer-type centre-backs you wouldn’t want to meet on a dark night, with Christopher Trimmel, Josip Juranovic, Niko Gießelmann and Jerome Roussillon competing for the wing-back berths.
Becker’s pace tends to stretch opposition defences – he is constantly on the prowl and making runs beyond the last man – while Kevin Behrens and/or Jordan provide the target-man muscle: only Cologne have scored more often from crosses from open play than Union’s seven.
Leipzig will need to be wary of them at set-pieces too: Union have scored 10 times from dead-ball situations this season, including four in four games in 2023, while they have a league-high five goals from corners.
Watch: This is Union Berlin
Strength in depth
Even the best-laid plans from the best coaches don’t work sometimes and, on paper at least, Leipzig have more game-changers ready to come off the bench.
If Halstenberg has an off day, Raum can come in. The same goes for Amadou Haidara and Kevin Kampl waiting in the wings for Laimer and Schlager, while Yussuf Poulsen provides a different kind of player up top if Silva and Werner aren’t firing. With four goals and two assists provided by substitutes so far this season, Rose’s side usually have a decent Plan B in place.
Yet what Union may be lacking in terms of star appeal, they more than make up for with their efficiency. The Berlin outfit have nine goals from substitutes in 2022/23, scored by seven different players. In fact, in Sven Michel they have the league’s best supersub this season with three goals in 236 minutes – all off the bench.
So who has the edge? It's too close to call but perhaps Leipzig will be favourites at kick-off, given their lengthy unbeaten run going up against Union's comparatively poor away form. But whichever you you look at it, it's going to be fun finding out!
Frankfurt vs. Bochum: team news
Can Randal Kolo Muani fire Frankfurt back to winning ways at home to Bochum?
Match Facts Analysis: Der Klassiker
Ahead of this weekend's not-to-be-missed fixture, we break down the stats to see who has an edge and where.
Matchday 26 probable teams
Bayern top scorer Jamal Musiala is running again, but will he be fit to face Dortmund in Der Klassiker?