Xavi (l.) and Openda have developed a deep understanding at Leipzig. - © IMAGO/07803 169048
Xavi (l.) and Openda have developed a deep understanding at Leipzig. - © IMAGO/07803 169048

Xavi Simons and Openda leading the RB Leipzig charge


RB Leipzig are one of the best teams in transition in the Bundesliga thanks to attacking duo Xavi Simons and Loïs Openda. bundesliga.com breaks down how the pair have made Marco Rose's side a counter-attacking force to fear.

With Christopher Nkunku and Dominik Szoboszlai leaving the Red Bull Arena in the summer and Dani Olmo missing through injury for most of the Hinrunde, Leipzig fans might have feared their team would struggle in front of goal.

Instead, their pair of summer signings - with a massive total of 26 goal involvements between them in the first 16 league games of the season - have ensured Leipzig have barely skipped a beat.

With their ability to break down opponents' attacks before taking off at terrifying pace towards goal, Leipzig have scored seven times on the counter-attack in the league this season. That puts them behind only Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen (8 goals each) in the German top flight.

Watch: Freiburg succumbed to one more Openda-Xavi show this season

With tactician Rose motivating his team to constantly harrass opponents on the ball, the high-energy approach has paid dividends with Leipzig netting a league-high ten goals having won back possession, a tally that represents more than a quarter of the side's goals so far.

Xavi and Openda are key protagonists in that impressive last stat. The Netherlands international's performance in the Matchday 11 defeat of Freiburg was the ideal illustration of just what a menace he can be even without the ball. Nipping in front of Lucas Höler, he left the Freiburg forward bemused while he raced away to open the scoring just six minutes in.

His Belgium international teammate has jet-heeled pace to leave defenders trailing. Among defenders, only Bayern's Alphonso Davies and Leverkusen's Jonathan Tah have been clocked faster this season than the 35.68km/h (22.17mph) Openda has registered, searing speed that makes him the second-fastest forward in the league in 2023/24, behind only Eintracht Frankfurt's Omar Marmoush (35.77km/h, 22.23 mph).

Picture perfect: Xavi (l.) and Openda pose for a selfie after a Leipzig win. - IMAGO/motivio

Pace needs to be allied with possession to be truly a threat, however, but the precision of Xavi makes that possible for Openda. When the former Lens forward hares goalwards, Xavi is able to spot his run and provide the pass that gives Openda the opportunity to score.

But they can also play to feet, linking up together to great effect in the final third. The Bochum game on Matchday 7 was the perfect case in point: the duo's neat interchange led to Keven Schlotterbeck fouling Openda to earn a penalty.

Openda's agility and physical strength gives Leipzig an 'out ball' too when they're under pressure. "I think he's absolutely added value," said Rose in December of the summer addition to the Leipzig squad. "The guy gives us so many things. He's so disagreeable to defend against. He makes so many runs, and is so strong with his low centre of gravity."

Preparing for the restart: Openda (l.) and Xavi are put through their winter paces in La Manga. - IMAGO/Sven Sonntag

Just ask Cologne defender Timo Hübers if you need confirmation of that. On Matchday 9, he and the Billy Goats were picked apart by Xavi and Openda, notably for the latter's first of two goals in a 6-0 win with both strikes teed up by the former.

Five minutes before the break, Xavi started a counter-attack after Amadou Haidara had won possession. With Timo Werner providing width on the left, Openda might have been tempted to race into the space on the right wing. But instead, he remained central before racing to the left of Hübers to latch onto Xavi's through ball that had gone to the right of the off-balance defender's right before smashing a shot high into the net.

"My understanding with Xavi has been very good since the start of the season. What we've done together so far is good," explained Openda after the Cologne match. "I gave him an assist, he's given me more, but the chemistry was there from the start. I'm very happy with it."

Watch: Xavi, Openda and Leipzig run riot against Cologne 

With Spain international Olmo set to make his comeback, and Openda and Xavi still building their understanding, what looked like a transition season for Leipzig could turn into an unexpectedly successful one if their transitions on the pitch continue to tear opposing teams apart in the Rückrunde.