RB Leipzig’s prospects of making the 2018-19 UEFA Europa League knockout phase looked good as its final game of the group stage ticked into its final five minutes. RBL needed to win the match - against Rosenborg - but also needed sibling club and Europa League group-mate RB Salzburg to beat Celtic. Both matters appeared to be hand by the 85th minute of both games: RBL could look forward to extending its latest European adventure into the new year.
And then those expectations were snatched away by Tore Reginiussen’s 86th-minute equalizer for Rosenborg.
Not getting out of the group stage was very much a realistic outcome for RBL heading into the last round of games in Europa League’s Group B. But not like this. Not by failing to win at home against an opponent that hadn’t won a game or even a point in the preceding five matches of the group stage.
RBL kicked off in Leipzig against Rosenborg expected to win somewhat comfortably and hope that Salzburg managed the altogether harder task of beating Celtic in Glasgow.
Salzburg did its part, thanks to second-half goals from Moanes Dabour and (ex-RBNY) Fredrik Gulbrandsen - whose brazen mugging of Celtic ‘keeper Craig Gordon would have been the talking point of this round of games but for Leipzig’s slip-up.
Celtic - perhaps merely to add insult to insult - celebrated its progress to the knockout rounds with an injury-time goal: demonstrating to Leipzig that it was possible for a home team in the group to find the net in the dying minutes.
RBS’ 2-1 win would have been sufficient to help RBL out of Group B, if Leipzig had managed more than a 1-1 draw with Rosenborg. But Leipzig could not find a winner and Salzburg is joined by Celtic in the next round of Europa League.
The mood in Leipzig is not great, understandably. Post-match reports carry news of a squad turning on itself. Per Leipziger Volkszeitung’s Anne Grimm, Marcel Sabitzer was not pleased with teammate Jean-Kevin Augustin:
Everyone knows what he has shown. If he thinks that’s enough, then please. But it is not enough.
Willi Orban lamented the team’s lack of “the 100% spirit”. Timo Werner (an unused sub on the night) reportedly found the result unsurprising given head coach Ralf Rangnick’s squad rotation policy: “It’s no wonder to exchange half the team”.
Ultimately, the result means RBL will be able to focus on its Bundesliga campaign for the rest of the season. That too has been a struggle recently: the team has lost two of its last three league games.
Leipzig’s newest recruit, Tyler Adams, may benefit from the team’s Europa League exit. RBL has a small squad and would benefit from reinforcements, but Rangnick has suggested that without European competition to play after December, the club might limit its winter transfer window activity. That could make Adams the primary beneficiary of whatever minutes are available for newer members of the squad as RBL seeks to keep key players fresh for rest of the season.