Probably very few people would have expected this result. RB Leipzig, who previously displayed impressive consistency in the Bundesliga and, above all, were always dominant against the so-called ‘little teams’, suffered a 3-2 defeat at next-to-bottom Mainz last weekend. The third defeat of the season was described by coach Julian Nagelsmann as “not undeserved.” The team from Saxony remain in second place ahead of the big match against the Werkself. If Bayer 04 win at Leipzig then RB will have to relinquish their position to the Bosz team; A home win for Leipzig would see them significantly extend their lead. Four days after the clash with the Werkself, RB are in the Round of 16 tie in the DFB Cup against top second division team from Bochum – and then attention turns to a fascinating encounter on the European stage: Nagelsmann and Leipzig meet Jürgen Klopp and Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League.
This Leipzig squad has no less depth than FC Bayern’s. That has proved to be incredibly important this season as RB have had to compensate for a number of players being sidelined throughout the campaign. Leading the way was Konrad Laimer, who came to the fore last year with some very impressive performances, but has not played a single minute this term due to an injury. Winter signing Dominik Szoboszlai has not lined up for Leipzig yet due a groin injury and will probably miss the game against the Werkself, and the homegrown former Leverkusen player Benjamin Henrichs will also miss a reunion with his old teammates. The full back, who progressed through all the youth teams from the U8s at Kurtekotten and went on to make 76 appearances for the Werkself, has been sidelined for a long time due to a knee problem.
There is hope for the return of a trio who are normally in the starting eleven – and that includes a former Leverkusen player. Kevin Kampl, also a graduate of the youth ranks at Bayer 04 with a total of 73 appearances for the Black and Reds, who missed the game at Mainz but should be available again now – just like striker Yussuf Poulsen who was ruled out by a groin injury. Central defender Ibrahima Konaté has been out of action with an ankle injury since the middle of December but the Frenchman is now back in full training and he could return to the squad for the first time against the Werkself. It does seem unlikely that the tall defender will go straight into starting eleven.
What Edmond Tapsoba is amongst central defenders, so is Leipzig’s Angelino amongst full backs: the best in the Bundesliga. At least in the view of the kicker sports journal that declared the Spanish left-back was ‘world class’ in their winter rankings of the Bundesliga. And the loanee from Manchester City did a lot in the first half of the season to deserve that recognition. Angelino covers the left flank and can also be part of a back three or four and he is always keen to attack. Over halfway through the season, the stats almost appear outlandish – but also incredibly impressive: Over all three competitions, the left-back is Leipzig’s top goalscorer and Leipzig’s best provider. Particularly impressive is his record on the biggest stage: Angelino scored three goals and provided three assists in the six games in the group stage of the Champions League. The right flank of the Werkself should certainly be busy.
Angelino’s haul is absolutely impressive given his position – but, the fact it is enough to make him Leipzig’s top goalscorer is a bad sign for RB. The team from Saxony have suffered up front since Timo Werner left in the summer. Hee-chan Hwang, signed from Salzburg, was hit by a Covid-19 infection, Alexander Sörloth from Trabzonspor had to wait for a long time for his first Bundesliga goal before it finally came at the start of January at Borussia Dortmund. Yussuf Poulsen is the highest-scoring Leipzig striker with four goals in the Bundesliga but he has not found the back of the net again since the middle of December. Nagelsmann has played the midfielder Emil Forsberg as the central striker on several occasions this term.
The defeat at Mainz was the first real slip-up in an otherwise incredibly consistent campaign for RB Leipzig. Given Nagelsmann’s clear plan, it is to be assumed that RB will very quickly get back up to speed and, in all probability, play in the Champions League again next season. But first up, Leipzig will want to demonstrate against Bayer 04 that they can win against the ‘big teams’ in the league. Leipzig are waiting for their first win against the current top seven in the Bundesliga.
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