It was party time for RB Leipzig following their DFB Cup semi-final win at Hamburg, as it has been for most of 2019. - © imago images / Camera 4
It was party time for RB Leipzig following their DFB Cup semi-final win at Hamburg, as it has been for most of 2019. - © imago images / Camera 4

The secrets to RB Leipzig's success in 2019


April has proven to be quite a month for RB Leipzig. First they sealed a return to European football next season, and then they qualified for the DFB Cup final. takes a closer look at what’s gone right during their long unbeaten run.

The second half of the season didn’t have an auspicious start. Ralf Rangnick’s side lost 1-0 at home to Borussia Dortmund, meaning they kept a place in the Bundesliga's top four by the narrowest of margins.

Since then, though, they have barely put a foot wrong. The 3-1 success at Hamburg in the DFB Cup semi-final not only set up a date with Bayern Munich on 25 May after all. It also extended their unbeaten streak since that Dortmund defeat to 15 games.

Five consecutive league wins between Matchdays 26 and 30, meanwhile, mean that Leipzig are now guaranteed to return to European competition in 2019/20. The last of those victories – 2-1 at Borussia Mönchengladbach – put 10 points between third-placed Leipzig and their fifth-placed hosts. With four games to go, it all but ensured that the visitors would finish in the top four – which would see them return to the UEFA Champions League group stage next season.

Watch: See how Marcel Halstenberg led Leipzig past Gladbach 

Continuity is key

Seven of the starting eleven against Hamburg – Peter Gulacsi, Willi Orban, Lukas Klostermann, Marcel Halstenberg, Marcel Sabitzer, Emil Forsberg and Yussuf Poulsen - were at the club for their promotion season in 2015/16. Diego Demme, who was introduced late on and has started 23 league games this season, has been on Leipzig’s books since they were a third-division side.

Leipzig may have had a healthy budget on their rise through the leagues, but they have also invested wisely and developed a group of players who know what it’s like to fight hard to get to where they want to be.

That has been highlighted by recent resolve on their travels. The 2016/17 Bundesliga runners-up have now won their last nine away games in all competitions – including seven in a row in the league.

The character and experience that some of the longer-serving players have developed is obviously helping, since they have conceded only six goals in 13 Bundesliga matches in 2019.

“It’s incredibly difficult to score against us,” Austrian midfielder Sabitzer said after the 2-0 victory over Wolfsburg on Matchday 29. “We always stay very compact at the back, and we again defended tightly today. That’s what we’re built on.”

Ex-Schalke and Hoffenheim boss Ralf Rangnick has been the mastermind of Leipzig‘s success. - imago images / Revierfoto

A lighter fixture load

While last season’s run to the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals – after finishing third in their Champions League group – would have thrilled their supporters, it undoubtedly took its toll. The easterners scrambled to sixth in the Bundesliga a year after a stunning debut campaign.

Starting 2018/19 in the Europa League on 26 July, Leipzig negotiated three qualifying rounds to make the group stage of that competition. A surprise draw at home to Rosenborg in December cost them a place in the last 32 as they finished behind Red Bull Salzburg and Celtic, but that early exit may well have been a blessing in disguise.

With fewer midweek fixtures to worry about in 2019, their league form continued to improve. Following the loss against Dortmund, they earned nine wins and three draws up to and including the victory over Gladbach.

In the DFB Cup this season, meanwhile, Leipzig got past three Bundesliga sides before seeing off second-tier Hamburg in the last four.

“We can be very proud of what we’ve achieved in just our third year of Bundesliga football,” Rangnick said after his side booked a ticket to Berlin for the final.

“Two things have been decisive. Our new arrivals have brought a whole new level of quality with them, and players like Timo Werner and Emil Forsberg have hit top form again. It means that the team is always improving.”

Watch: Check out Yussuf Poulsen's hat-trick against Hertha Berlin 

An in-form front duo

Werner has been the leading light in attack for Leipzig since his arrival in 2016, scoring 21 league goals as they finished second to Bayern that season before netting the same number in all competitions in 2017/18.

The Germany striker has had another excellent campaign – with 18 goals across all competitions and counting – but he has been slightly outshone by Poulsen in the Bundesliga.

Like Demme, Poulsen is a veteran of the 2013/14 third-division promotion team. The Dane is enjoying his most prolific season to date, and has 15 league goals in 27 appearances after Matchday 30. He and Werner have found the net a combined 29 times in this season’s Bundesliga, putting both players among the 10 leading scorers in the German top flight.

The pair have also netted five times between them in the DFB Cup, with Poulsen – who recently signed a new contract with the club – getting the opener against Hamburg.

“I’ve been at this club for a long time and have been allowed to be a part of this special journey,” he said. “What’s nicer is that we’ll now get to experience a special match in Berlin. It will be special for us all – the players, the club, and the fans.”

Ibrahima Konate (r.) has turned over many an opposing attacker this season. - imago images / Sven Simon

Rock-solid backline

On Rangnick’s watch, Leipzig have also developed the meanest defence in the Bundesliga. They conceded just 23 goals in their first 30 league games, comfortably better than league leaders Bayern (29) or second-placed Dortmund (36).

Hungarian goalkeeper Gulacsi kept a clean sheet every second game in that time, with eight of his shut outs coming in 13 league matches after the winter break.

Orban has excelled at centre-back and, alongside the skipper, Ibrahima Konate is having a dream second season in Germany. The 19-year-old has started 24 league games so far, and was rewarded with an extended contract in January.

“Ibrahima Konate has developed brilliantly here so far, and his qualities have led to him becoming an integral member of our defence,” said Rangnick, who also serves as Leipzig’s sporting director.

“We are convinced of his huge potential and think that he will take huge strides with us over the coming months and years. We’re delighted to have agreed an early contract extension.”

Konate’s French compatriot Dayot Upamecano has been another solid option, while at full-back Halstenberg has battled back from the cruciate ligament injury he suffered in January 2018 to become indispensable. He got his second cap for Germany in the 1-1 draw with Serbia in March, while Klostermann’s impressive progress saw the right-sided defender earn his first cap for his country in the same game.

Rangnick's side have been tactically flexible too, with a four-man or a three-man backline proving equally hard to break down.

Watch: Find out how Tyler Adams has settled in at Leipzig

Winter shopping

Leipzig only made three signings last summer, with youngsters Nordi Mukiele, Marcelo Saracchi and Matheus Cunha all adding to Rangnick’s armoury. The club went back into the market in the January transfer window, however, and once again they bought smartly.

Eighteen-year-old English midfielder Emile Smith Rowe had to bide his time after picking up an injury following his loan move from Arsenal, but two more established professionals have made an immediate impact.

Tireless United States international Tyler Adams slotted perfectly into the centre of Leipzig’s midfield, and the 20-year-old featured in nine league games and one cup match before injury checked his momentum.

“We knew what an extraordinary character he is for his young age,” Rangnick said of the former New York Red Bulls player, who has yet to experience defeat in German football.

Malian star Amadou Haidara, meanwhile, is another exciting signing. He was already building an eye-catching CV before his move to Leipzig, having won two Austrian Bundesliga titles and reaching the 2017/18 Europa League semi-finals with Salzburg.

Earlier this season the bustling midfielder scored in Salzburg’s 3-2 Europa League win in Leipzig, but he returned there with an injury over the winter. The 21-year-old from Bamako soon announced himself with a bang, though, netting on his first start in a 5-0 hammering of Hertha Berlin.

Haidara also made the starting XI for a crucial 4-2 victory at fellow European hopefuls Bayer Leverkusen, so he is not taking long to settle.

“When you consider that’s his first match in four-and-a-half months, he played a great game,” Rangnick said of Haidara after he capped his home debut with a goal against Hertha.

“That we have another absolute top player on our hands, I’ve known for a little longer.”

New recruits like Adams and Haidara have given Leipzig fresh energy for the second half of the campaign in what has been a successful push to seal a European place. But they also look like they will be major assets to Hoffenheim boss Julian Nagelsmann, who will take over from Rangnick at the end of the current campaign.

Mark Rodden