Bundesliga Club Recap 2019/20: RB Leipzig

As Bundesliga gears up for a return to normalcy, we equip you with an in-depth view of everything about RB Leipzig and their season so far.

Less than one week from now, it will be eleven years since RB Leipzig was founded, as Red Bull GmBH purchased the playing rights of fifth-tier outfit SSV Markranstadt. And the club’s rise into one of the top Bundesliga sides and a regular fixture in European football has been rapid to say the least.

RB Leipzig have been criticised and derided by rival fans, managers and owners alike for being a “marketing club” at every step of the way. But, that hasn’t derailed Die Roten-Bullen’s ascent on the pitch.

Having started in the Oberliga (fifth-tier) in 2009, the club achieved promotion to the Regionalliga (fourth-tier) in their very first season. Three years later, in 2013, RB Leipzig jumped up another step to 3. Liga (third-tier) and twelve months later, would be plying their trade in the 2. Bundesliga (second-tier).

RB Leipzig will celebrate their 11th anniversary in a week (Photo by Matthias Kern/Bongarts/Getty Images)
RB Leipzig will celebrate their 11th anniversary in a week (Photo by Matthias Kern/Bongarts/Getty Images)

In the process, they became the first team since the introduction of the 3. Liga to win promotion to the 2. Bundesliga after only one season. Having spent two years in the second division, Leipzig won promotion to the Bundesliga in 2016 and haven’t looked back since. At the time, it had been 22 years since a club from Saxony had participated in the German top-flight.

In their very first season at the top level, Die Roten-Bullen created history, finishing second behind perennial champions Bayern Munich and in the process, earning qualification to the UEFA Champions League. The subsequent campaigns saw the club finish sixth and third, respectively.

RB Leipzig’s 2019/20 Season so far…

The 2019/20 campaign, Leipzig’s first under new manager Julian Nagelsmann, has seen them push for the Bundesliga title. Prior to the season getting suspended, the Saxony-based outfit were sitting third in the table, five points behind leaders Bayern and just a point below second-placed Borussia Dortmund.

Nagelsmann replaced Ralf Rangnick, who is widely regarded as the architect of the club, having played a key role in their rise as sporting director as well as head coach for two seasons, including the last campaign when he took over the reins on an interim basis after Ralph Hassenhuttl parted ways with the club.

Ralf Rangnick has played a huge role in RB Leipzig's rapid rise to the top (Photo by Simon Hofmann/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Ralf Rangnick has played a huge role in RB Leipzig’s rapid rise to the top (Photo by Simon Hofmann/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Under the 32-year-old tactician, Leipzig have elevated themselves into one of the most exciting teams in Germany and Europe.

Playing an attractive, attacking brand of football, the club have plundered 62 goals in the Bundesliga this season, being outscored only by Bayern (72) and Dortmund (68). At the same time, Die Roten-Bullen have been solid at the back, letting in just 26 goals, which is the joint-best defensive record in the league, along with leaders Bayern.

Leipzig have not lost even once in their six matches against the rest of the top five teams in the table (Bayern, Dortmund, Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen) this term, but have picked up just one victory in those matches. The 8-0 thrashing of 1. FSV Mainz 05 in November last year remains one of the major highlights of the 2019-20 campaign.

Along with their progress in the Bundesliga, Leipzig have also been going strong in the UEFA Champions League. Having topped the group that also consisted of Benfica, Olympique Lyon and Zenit St. Petersburg, Leipzig toppled Premier League giants Tottenham Hotspur in the Round of 16 quite comfortably.

The Manager: Julian Nagelsmann

RB Leipzig manager Julian Nagelsmann (Photo by Maja Hitij/Bongarts/Getty Images)
RB Leipzig manager Julian Nagelsmann (Photo by Maja Hitij/Bongarts/Getty Images)

One of the youngest managers in the top five European leagues, the 32-year-old Nagelsmann has been compared to Jurgen Klopp for the impact that he has made, first with TSG Hoffenheim and now with Leipzig.

Nagelsmann spent close to four years at Hoffenheim. The highlight of his tenure came in the 2016-17 campaign, when he led the club to a fourth-placed finish in the Bundesliga, helping the team go on the verge of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League group stages for the first time ever before being beaten by Liverpool at the final hurdle.

Nagelsmann became the youngest ever Bundesliga manager to reach the 100-match milestone, when he achieved the landmark in 2019. The 32-year-old also became the youngest coach in history to win a UEFA Champions League knockout tie after ousting Tottenham earlier this year.

Tactics & Style of Play

Nagelsmann’s teams are known for their aggressive pressing of the opposition when not in possession and direct, vertical attacking once they have regained the ball. The 32-year-old has opted to switch between a 4-4-2 formation and a three-man defensive system depending on the nature of the opponent.

Nagelsmann's teams are known for their high-intensity pressing (Photo by Maja Hitij/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Nagelsmann’s teams are known for their high-intensity pressing (Photo by Maja Hitij/Bongarts/Getty Images)

The manager has developed a system that suits his vibrant squad perfectly, and that has been seen in their performances at both ends of the pitch this term.

Players are encouraged to press the opponents in their own half and once they win the ball back, they hit the them on the counter, making the most of their numerical advantage. This is one of the key reasons behind their high chance-creation in the Bundesliga this season.

Another key feature of the team’s play is the utilisation of inverted wingers. Nagelsmann, in his 4-4-2, doesn’t always use natural wingers, but deploys attacking midfielders in slightly wider roles. They end up playing in the inside channel, leaving space for the full-backs to make marauding runs forward on the flanks.

It further allows the two attacking midfielders to stay close with the strikers and offers numerical advantage when they hit opponents on the counter. This is one of the reasons behind the high goal/assist contribution from the likes of Marcel Sabitzer and Christopher Nkunku.

Squad Overview

The RB Leipzig squad is one of the most exciting units in Germany. While there are a lot of young players within the ranks, there is also a good blend of experience provided by Peter Gulacsi, captain Willi Orban, Marcel Halstenberg, Emil Forsberg and Marcel Sabitzer.

Marcel Sabitzer has been brilliant this season for Leipzig (Photo by Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Marcel Sabitzer has been brilliant this season for Leipzig (Photo by Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Three of the most promising young defenders from France in Nordi Mukiele, Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate form the crux of the Leipzig backline, although Konate has missed large parts of the ongoing season with injuries. Halstenberg, Orban, Lukas Klostermann make up the rest of the defensive unit, along with the on-loan duo of Ethan Ampadu and Angelino.

Konrad Laimer is the leader of the midfield unit following the January departure of Diego Demme, which has also resulted in Nagelsmann opting to use Marcel Sabitzer in central midfield more often. There are also promising prospects such as Tyler Adams and Amadou Haidara. Seasoned campaigner Kevin Kampl has spent most of the season out on the treatment tables.

Christopher Nkunku has grown into a key player since his arrival from PSG last summer. Timo Werner and Youssuf Poulsen are the regulars in attack for Die Roten-Bullen, with on-loan forward Patrik Schick also contributing with some important goals this term.

Marquee Player: Timo Werner

Leipzig's main man (Photo by Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Leipzig’s main man (Photo by Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

In Timo Werner, Leipzig possess one of the most consistent and prolific goalscorers in Europe. The 24-year-old German international has been in top form for the past couple of years and is one of the most-sought after players heading into the summer transfer window. His pace and ability to play in the wider roles makes him the ideal fit in the system Nagelsmann employs.

Werner is the second-highest goalscorer in the Bundesliga this season, having plundered 21 goals in 25 matches so far. The German forward also has seven assists to go along with it. In addition, the 24-year-old has six goals and five assists in the Champions League and DFB-Pokal combined.

Academy Watch

Leipzig have built up the reputation of bringing in youngsters with potential from sister club Red Bull Salzburg in recent years. However, they have some promising young talents coming through their own youth ranks.

Versatile forward Fabrice Hartmann has done very well in the U19-Bundesliga this season. The 19-year-old, who has been with the club since 2012, made his first-team debut in 2018, but is yet to add to that solitary appearance. He has been on the bench once this season. With five goals and six assists in 16 league appearances for the U19s, he is surely one to watch out for in the future.

Hartmann, though, will not be playing a part for the rest of the season, after picking up a cruciate ligament injury last month. Apart from him, Tom Krauß, Mads Bidstrup and Frederik Jakel are a few more players knocking on the first-team doors. 18-year-old striker Dennis Borkowski is another who has impressed heavily.

Writer’s Opinion

Can Leipzig end Bayern's reign in Bundesliga? (Photo by ROBERT MICHAEL/AFP/Getty Images)
Can Leipzig end Bayern’s reign in Bundesliga? (Photo by Robert Michael/AFP/Getty Images)

RB Leipzig might not be very popular among old-school Bundesliga fans, but for a neutral such as myself, watching Julian Nagelsmann’s side in action is a delight. A young, ground-breaking manager with a squad filled with young and exciting stars playing eye-catching football is something that any football fan yearns for. And with Leipzig, you get just that.

While it is still too soon to say that they will topple Bayern and Dortmund to go on and clinch the Bundesliga title, it must be taken into consideration that they probably have the easiest run-in of the top three teams. Will they end Bayern’s stranglehold on the top prize in Germany? Only time will tell.

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