There was a big change at Leipzig last summer: Coach Julian Nagelsmann left the club as did the captain Marcel Sabitzer and key defender Dayot Upamecano to join Bayern Munich. Ibrahima Konaté, one of the best defenders in the Bundesliga last term, also moved on – the Frenchman is now playing for Liverpool. The management at RB certainly had a lot to deal with. Jesse Marsch was quickly brought in as the new coach and the departure of Upamecano and Konaté was to be made up for with the signing of Josko Gvardiol and Mohamed Simakan. But that did not go to plan: The team from Saxony only picked up one win in the first four league games (3 defeats).
The Red Bulls do appear to developing on the pitch in spite of the meagre points return. The club management clearly drew the right conclusions from the false start as the 1-1 draw at FC Köln on matchday five marked the start of a run for Leipzig: RB went seven games without defeat (4 wins, 3 draws). The Marsch team were brought down with a bump by a defeat at TSG Hoffenheim – the 2-0 loss was the first Bundesliga defeat since the start of September. Leipzig’s run is reflected in the league table: Ahead of the clash with the Werkself, the team from Saxony are seventh in the Bundesliga on 18 points and within reach of the European slots.
RB Leipzig will have to manage without head coach Jesse Marsch in the dugout on Sunday. The 48-year-old is currently self-isolating at home after a positive PCR test. As in Wednesday’s Champions League game against Club Brugge (5-0), his place will be taken by assistant coach Achim Beierlorzer. “Coronavirus has brought the team together to fight and work for each other,” reported the 54-year-old in describing the solidarity in the team. He probably also includes the currently injured Yussuf Poulsen who is a motivator and advisor despite his muscle injury. The Dane will be sidelined on Sunday.
The captain Peter Gulacsi will also miss the Leverkusen game. Like Marsch, the Leipzig keeper also has a Covid-19 infection. His replacement Josep Martinez was one of the top performers in the Champions League game with a calm and perfect display. “He did brilliantly. He has a very bright future and he could have a great career,” said Beierlorzer, who, compared with the Brugge game, could welcome back Tyler Adams (suspended in the Champions League) and Mohamed Simakan (recovered from a cold) to face the Werkself. It is also possible that Dominik Szoboszlai and Amadou Haidara could be back after recovering from ankle injuries. “It would help us to get these four back,” said the assistant coach.
RB Leipzig announced on Friday afternoon that results from coronavirus tests after returning from Bruges revealed another six positive Covid-19 tests. In addition to Willi Orban (self-isolating at home since Wednesday afternoon), Yussuf Poulsen, Hugo Novoa and goalkeeping coach Frederik Gößling – who were with the squad in Bruges – it also affected Mohamed Simakan (he did not travel to Bruges due to a cold) plus one member of the support staff who did not travel with the team. All six went straight into self-isolation.
The outstanding player on the pitch for Leipzig in the 5-0 win at Club Brugge was a familiar face: Christopher Nkunku. The Frenchman scored twice and provided one assist confirming his current outstanding form. The attacking midfielder has netted 13 goals and set up 8 in 19 games – an impressive record. Striker Andre Silva, who scored 28 goals (8 assists) in the Bundesliga last term and thereby became one of the most prolific strikers in Germany’s top flight, has only scored 4 goals (5 assists) in this campaign.
While the Werkself are unbeaten on the road in the Bundesliga so far this season (3 wins, 3 draws), RB are currently one of strongest teams in the league at home. Leipzig have collected 15 out of a possible 18 points at home and are currently third in the table – behind Borussia Dortmund (21 points) and Bayern Munich, who also have 15 points at home but with a better goal difference. The Red Bulls are once again the set-piece kings in the Bundesliga: The Marsch team have already scored ten goals from set plays – the highest number in the league.
The Red Bulls have found it very tough away from home this season. The first away win in the Bundesliga campaign has yet to be chalked up. Head coach Marsch was unable to explain why things are not going to plan on the road after the 3-0 defeat at Hoffenheim. “Hoffenheim deserved to win. They showed more determination on the pitch and they played than us throughout. It’s difficult for me to know why.” said the American after the game. It will be interesting to see how the Leipzig players respond to playing behind closed doors for the first time this season – without their home support that has helped to be so successful on their own pitch. Spectators are not permitted to watch the clash with Werkself because of the high number of coronavirus cases in Saxony.
After a poor start, Leipzig have turned the corner and are back in the European slots following an impressive run of results. The win against Brugge in the Champions League was a boost for RB following the setback at TSG Hoffenheim. The Red Bulls have an almost perfect points return at home. That makes it even more important for coach Jesse Marsch to press the right buttons with his team at away games and pick up points on a more consistent basis. RB Leipzig are contenders for a Champions League finish given the quality of the squad and that also makes them a direct rival for the Werkself.
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