Hello and welcome back all, it is almost time for sports to come back...if by sport, you mean a big popular one with major English-language broadcast deals. You did it!
This weekend, we see the return of the Bundesliga as the German sporting competition reaches the end of it’s 57th campaign. The Bundesliga is a popular league, and if you’re new to this sort of thing, you’ll probably recognize the Bundesliga from those viral fan videos that circulate across social media every week or so. It is a product that prides itself with the involvement and integration of support. However you might not be here for a full rundown of what the Bundesliga is, claims to be, and will try to do. Instead, this will seek to let you know about the sister club to our Red Bull New York franchise, RB Leipzig.
For those unaware, RB Leipzig makes up one of the several clubs in the current sporting labyrinth operated by Red Bull. Leipzig is the youngest of the Red Bull investments, as the team did not partake until the 2009-10 season, a full three years after our club rebranded from MetroStars to Red Bull. They built themselves up through the lower tiers of German football on a meteoric rise from the fifth tier on their debut, all the way to regular champions league football in 2019 and 2020. Along with Union Berlin, Leipzig are one of two teams from the former East Germany in the current frame of the Bundesliga.
Now that the abridged history lesson is out of the way (without touching on the third rail controversies around corporate branding of clubs) perhaps one might be curious how the team plays. If I can quickly ask you to recall the strategy of the 2018 New York Red Bulls, who utilized a revolutionary plan of being better than other teams and scoring a lot of goals, that is what you can expect with the current RB Leipzig team. They’ve already nearly matched their total goals scored in league play from the 2018-19 season, and have formed a lethal attack spearheaded by German striker Timo Werner. Werner is already at twenty seven goals across all competitions and is a Leipzig success story, having been nabbed from Ralf Rangick’s former club, VfB Stuttgart. At only twenty-four years of age, he’s helped set a torrid pace for the club since his and their arrival in the Bundesliga. He’s assisted by Austrian stalwart, Marcel Sabitzer and Swedish midfielder Emil Forsberg. Each of them have reached double figures in goals with nine fixtures left to play in the Bundesliga.
Of course the main point of interest for a RBNY fan will be RB2 alumni Tyler Adams, and his return to prominence in the squad. Adams spent most of this season with an adductor injury, the same type of knock that kept Bradley Wright-Phillips out of action over the course of the 2019 season. His slow return to fitness was unfortunate for a team riddled with injuries and he has only seen action in six games throughout the entirety of Leipzig’s season. It is uncertain where Adams will fit into, positionally, for the rest of the campaign.
Having two months off has doubtlessly helped address Leipzig’s largest issue, fitness, but much depends if they continue their recent shift to a three centerback formation due to injuries. Under this three CBs formation, Adams has been deployed as an advanced wingback, a position we had seen him take up with RBNY on occasion. Once again, it is important to stress that much of this development had come about by the decimation of Leipzig’s defensive core and particularly their captain, Hungarian international Willi Orban. The loss of such an important part of the defensive structure for a prolonged period led to a shuffling of defensive pairings and Adams fell into the role of fireman when he returned from his initial injury.
The burden of putting this team back together and pushing for the final few months falls to the manager of RB Leipzig, German wunderkind Julian Nagelsmann. The thirty-two year old manager took over for Ralf Rangnick in the offseason and has continued the hone the machine left by his predecessor. Nagelsmann came over from fellow upstart team Hoffenheim, where he made headlines in taking over a team while still only twenty-eight years of age. Under Nagelsmann, you’ll see a less frantic press than what you might remember under the Rangnick/Marsch side from 2018-19 and the current Salzburg side. But the precision and attack mindset is still drilled into the team, and has yielded results. Leipzig remains able to smother teams and take the game to them, but has adapted to call off the dogs in some way or another and slow themselves down (in comparison to the traditional Red Bull press). Unfortunately, Leipzig still has a white whale they are continuing to hunt.
Sitting comfortably in third, five points behind Bayern Munich, Leipzig have been unable to break down their two top table foes for three points. Leipzig drew both their games against Bayern, which with the benefit of hindsight may be seen as crucial games where they could’ve put a Bayern in revolt away. Leipzig also failed to put Dortmund away in their first fixture of the season, and look to play them in the penultimate game of their campaign. A result which could be a title decider should Bayern drop points along the way. While not out of it, Nagelsmann surely can look back on the season wondering what could have been with a healthy roster. Keeping the team treading water in the title picture has been an excellent coaching job, despite poor “recent” results in the league.
Leipzig return to the fore on Saturday, May 16th (on FS2 or TUDN, check your local listings!) and their opponent for the goat Bundesliga match in nearly two months will be against Freiburg, the Baden Boys sit eight in the table and managed to come out with a 2-1 victory against Leipzig when the teams last played in October. It is fundamentally impossible to predict how players will perform after such a long hiatus, and to expect peak performances might be a bit much. In one man’s opinion, it will fall back on coaching and which squad has prepared itself more and was able to keep cohesion amongst themselves.
May Bulli the Bull guide you on your Leipzig journey, hopefully it lasts!