Xavi Simons (r.) and Alex Grimaldo (l.) may prove crucial figures in RB Leipzig's game against Bayer Leverkusen. - © Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga
Xavi Simons (r.) and Alex Grimaldo (l.) may prove crucial figures in RB Leipzig's game against Bayer Leverkusen. - © Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga

RB Leipzig vs. Bayer Leverkusen: How do they stack up?


You would be hard pushed to find two more attack minded teams in Europe right now and with RB Leipzig looking to get their title push back on track against the Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen, expect excitement at the Red Bull Arena.

bundesliga.com takes a look at the key battles in a fixture that rarely fails to disappoint.  

Top billing: Xavi vs. Florian Wirtz 

With two of the division's supreme creators coming face-to-face, this top four battle of attacking titans will be taken to the next level. In Xavi and Wirtz, the Bundesliga is spoilt with creative riches and those who witness Saturday's showdown in Saxony are in for a treat. 

Arriving in Leipzig on loan from French giants Paris Saint-Germain and via a Dutch Cup winning spell in Eindhoven with PSV, Netherlands international Xavi took no time to settle into his new surroundings at the Red Bull Arena. The 20-year-old has started all 17 Bundesliga games to date under coach Marco Rose and has been a joy to watch, unless you are an opposing defender.

A player of supreme versatility, Xavi can attack down either flank as well as through the middle and, along with hitting a team-high 43 shots in the Bundesliga this season, boasts 11 goal involvements [four goals, seven assists]."

Watch: Xavi wins December's Rookie of the Month 

“The kid’s crazy, especially when it comes to football," teammate David Raum said of Xavi in quotes appearing on Leipzig's official website. "He’s one of the most ambitious players that I know. He cuts inside and keeps the ball under control. Simply put, he’s a player you want to play with," Raum added of the young Amsterdam native, who will no doubt look to outshine opposing nemesis Wirtz this weekend. 

With the sort of form Bayer's 'Flo' finds himself in this term, however, that will be easier said than done. The 20-year-old Wirtz is indeed in full flow again following recent stretches on the sidelines. Like Xavi, Wirtz also has seven assists with the Werkself while he has netted five top-flight goals, one more than Leipzig's No. 20. 

Recovering from a slight knee niggle, Leverkusen's wunderkind was only introduced as a second-half substitute in last weekend's dramatic 1-0 win against Augsburg. Yet the former Cologne player made his presence felt as the league leaders maintained their four-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga thanks to Exequiel Palacios' injury-time winner.
Among Wirtz's five goals this season was a Matchday 9 stunner against Freiburg that summed up the wizardry of a player who loves nothing more than to take on - and beat - opposing players. "It was absolutely world class; you can't defend against Florian Wirtz," was Freiburg coach Christian Stretch's reaction to the wonder goal and the tactician's words were the perfect summary of a player excelling under Xabi Alonso in a Leverkusen side that just love to attack.  

Watch: See just what Wirtz is capable of...

Engine-room fireworks 

While most around them will be eager to show their attacking strengths, two players will be eyeing each other from the centre of the pitch, each looking to stamp their authority on what is set to be a high-octane game: Xaver Schlager and Granit Xhaka. Arriving at Leipzig from Wolfsburg in 2022, Austria international Schlager has slowly become a key component to the Leipzig cause and his 15 appearances this season mean the box-to-box midfielder is now an established member of Rose's outfit. 

Indeed, with Champions League and DFB Cup games also under his belt, the 26-year-old has has amassed 24 games in total. The Linz native is one winning dual shy of 150 in the German top flight this season and he is desperately hungry to see his side iron out the errors that have resulted in one or two disappointing results for his team this season.

"We play some nice football but too many chances go begging," Schlager said at the end of 2023. "That'll change at some point, but it's a big challenge for us at the moment." 

Xaver Schlager (l.) has gone from strength to strength since joining Leipzig. - Boris Streubel/Bundesliga

Schlager's next challenge will be to try and wrestle control of Saturday's Topspiel from midfield dynamo Xhaka. Just voted Switzerland's National Team Player of the Year, the 31-year-old has been a revelation at Leverkusen since signing from Arsenal, with his immense experience and on-field know-how an integral part of Bayer's brilliant success to date. 

Xhaka has covered more ground [125.5 miles] than any other player in the Bundesliga this season while his 1,217 intensive runs are high on the list among the division's best. Speaking to The Athletic recently, Xhaka explained his role in Alonso's set-up.

"I know when to push and I know when to fall back, I know when to speed up the game and when to slow it down," he said. "I came here to lead this young team a little bit thanks to my experience at a top level abroad."

Granit Xhaka brings bite and experience to Leverkusen's midfield. - Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga

Ever present in the Bundesliga this season, Xhaka's intense energy levels and game-control will likely once again be in evidence in Leipzig with the Werkself determined to fend off their hungry challengers. 

Strike force set for battle 

On paper, the battle up front may appear to be one where Leipzig hold a significant advantage, but don't be fooled. Sure, Loïs Openda is currently besting striking opponent Patrik Schick in the stats, but on his day, Bayer's formidable Czech forward is capable of fireworks. 

The striking prospect is a mouthwatering one, not least because Openda has proven himself as one of the stars of the campaign in Germany so soon after signing from French side Lens, where he scored an incredible 21 Ligue 1 goals in 2022/23. 

Watch: Openda at the double in Darmstadt

That he has hit the ground running in the Bundesliga with as much ease and pace as teammate Xavi is testament to the Belgian international, who has racked up 15 goal involvements [11 goals, four assists] in his 17 top-tier games so far this term. When you tot up the 23-year-old's tally in all competitions, it reads 15 goals in 26 games.    

Going down to Eintracht Frankfurt at home last week no doubt hurt the Liège-born striker but he will be keen to right that wrong in what will be a second successive game in front of his fans at the Red Bull Arena. "We were in form before the winter break; we want to build on that and solidify our place in the top four by winning more games," Openda said recently. 

Schick is just as eager, telling reporters he was, "now ready for the next game," after playing 90 minutes in Leverkusen's last-gasp win at Augsburg last weekend. It's been a long road back to full fitness for the forward, laid low with adductor and calf problems over the last season and a half. 

Watch: Leverkusen playing the Alonso way

Schick has scored 47 goals in 100 appearances across three-and-a-half seasons at the BayArena and his return to full fitness is a fillip for coach Alonso, who is without the team's top scorer, Victor Boniface, for the foreseeable future with a groin injury. 

“I worked very hard to be ready right now; I felt good for 90 minutes [and] that was important for me," Schick said in quotes appearing on Leverkusen's website after the victorious trip to Augsburg.

The striker - who netted a first-half hat-trick against Bochum before the winter break - once scored 10 goals in 28 Bundesliga games for Leipzig and he admitted that the challenge against his former side will be a difficult one this weekend. "It’ll be a different game against them compared to Augsburg," the forward explained. "They have the ball a lot, are very dangerous in attack and solid in defence.    

Counter-attacking clash  

If you like your footballing entertainment end-to-end, this game could be right up your street. Leipzig and Leverkusen represent two of the Bundesliga's best counter-attacking teams, with both containing players with explosive pace and pin-point passing in the final third. 

Deadly duo: Alex Grimaldo (l.) and Jeremie Frimpong help Leverkusen move from defence into attack at a rapid rate. - IMAGO/imageBROKER/Michael Weber

Along with Bayern Munich, Alonso's outfit are the most successful side at pulling off a turnover, with Bayer scoring eight times on the counter-attack this season. Leipzig are just one behind the league leaders with seven goals from counter thrusts.

Leverkusen's flying full-backs Jeremie Firmpong and Alex Grimaldo are arguably the league's most fearsome wide players right now and they deadly duo have the numbers to prove it. The pair have delivered a phenomenal combined total of 24 goal involvements so far this term and any Leverkusen victory this weekend will likely involve one or both players. 

Leipzig's full-backs Benjamin Henrichs - who once played in red and black - and Raum might not be as prolific as their counterparts in terms of goal involvements, but the latter does boast the highest total of crosses from open play [40] in the Bundesliga and is one of the fastest full-backs in the league at 21.6 mp/h.

David Raum has been carrying his weight for Leipzig this term. - IMAGO/Martin Stein

Raum has also made 483 sprints to date, placing him sixth on a division-wide list. Along with Openda - one the Bundesliga's top-10 fastest players - and Xavi showing a terrific turn of pace and composure on the run, Leipzig are a coiled spring that love to surge forward.    

Sit back and enjoy 

All in all, then, Saturday's blockbuster looks set to enthral. Overseen by two coaches in Rose and Alonso who have the highest points per game average (2.0 and 2.1 respectively) after Bayern's Thomas Tuchel (2.4), the Matchday 18 blockbuster should offer a tactical masterclass as part of its big-game billing.

Make sure to follow all of the action right here on bundesliga.com, on the Bundesliga app and across our social networks from 6.30pm CET on Saturday.