In a game that probably brought about the end of any serious challenges to Bayern’s latest league title, RB Leipzig settled for a 2-2 home draw against the resurgent Hertha Berlin. Leipzig struggled early defensively, and continued to look uncomfortable for much of the game.
Once more we saw Tyler Adams plugged into the game as a last second emergency injury replacement at the right back position, and it seemed that the adjustment threw the team for a loop for the early parts of the game. Hertha struck first as we saw Liverpool on Liverpool crime with Marko Grujić, currently on loan from the English giants, poked a shot past ex-Liverpool reserve keeper Péter Gulácsi. The defensive structure broke down completely on this set piece, and Grujic seemed surprised at the ball finding itself falling to his feet. The goal highlights one of the issues plaguing Leipzig since the return of the Bundesliga and even before that in some circles. Their defense has struggled, with the sheer rate of attrition, to cover and ably defend on set pieces. With such a rotating cast of players, seeing people shut off or miss an assignment has become more and more commonplace. Despite operating one of the stingiest defenses in the league on paper, sometimes the on field product has left some to be desired.
The viewer at home will recall the start to the 2016 RBNY season, and the almost slapstick inefficiency of some of the defensive pairings we were stuck with. I’ll break it down further, during the 2016 RBNY season Jesse Marsch broke out 12 different centerback pairings and eight different players to fill that role. This was before Jesse started to break out the back three as well. Naglesmann has been using the back three for portions of the season and he’s at eight different centerbacks as well. This has meant that Nagelsmann has been forced to rely heavily on twenty one year old Dayot Upamecano, who has often been posted next to fullbacks as his pairing. At least in 2016, Jesse Marsch was able to fall back on a veteran presence as his constant with Aurélien Collin. The constant shifting of planned fullbacks/wingbacks into the centerback position has left the wings of Leipzig as an ever changing who’s who. Six different players have started at the fullback/wingback position across the season. Something that the 2016 RBNY squad didn’t really worry about over the course of their season.
The rest of the game saw Leipzig rebound as best they could, but could not compensate for the massive Yussuf Poulsen sized hole in the center of their attack. Leipzig equalized from the initial Hertha goal with another set piece goal of their own. Lukas Klostermann snuck a quick headed chance in off of a fantastic bit of service from Christopher Nkunku, and Leipzig were level. For the rest of the half Leipzig would threaten intermittently and break down Hertha at times, but never seemed to be out on the front foot. It was Hertha who saw the best chance of the period when former Leipzig man Matheus Cunha broke down the defense on the wing and sent a brilliant ball into the box. Hertha were unable to convert and the halftime whistle blew with the game still in doubt.
The second half saw a comedy of errors that eventually befell a 2-2 draw. Twenty minutes into the half, one of Leipzig’s more important defenders, Marcel Halstenberg, saw red for yellow card accumulation. Leipzig were set to play the rest of the fixture short handed, although for a brief moment it didn’t appear like it would matter. Barely five minutes later and from just outside the box, Patrik Schick sent a shot that went directly into the arms of Hertha goalkeeper Rune Jarstein, who seemed to have misjudged the bounce on the ball and accidentally pushed the ball into his own net. Perhaps he endeavored to push the ball outside the posts if he knew he lacked a good handle on it, and he was far out enough to consider this a feasible option. But it was not to be. All seemed set for Jarstein to play the role of goat for the game, until Matheus Cunha once more thrashed through the Leipzig defense and caught Ademola Lookman flat footed in the box. One whistle and one penalty conversion later, the game was once again level and Leipzig were unable to muster another spurt of luck.
That looks to have the title race done in, and Leipzig are now nine points behind Bayern. However the race to retain their UCL slot is still on, and Leipzig still hold a two point advantage against their two nearest competitors in that regard. It will be another short turn around as the next game for Leipzig is against Köln on Monday.
Köln sit just behind Berlin in the table but have yet to win a game since the return of the Bundesliga. Drawing both Mainz, and Düsseldorf before being beaten by Hoffenheim on Wednesday. This should be a good game for Leipzig, as Köln have repeatedly struggled to maintain clean sheets, featuring only six throughout the entire season, and have conceded a staggering 20 goals against the top three Bundesliga teams (Bayern, Dortmund, and Leipzig). Nagelsmann will still have to contend with the potential lack of Poulsen and now the lack of Marcel Halstenberg, and perhaps we see the return of the two striker approach in Werner and Schick once again. Defensively, I imagine you’ll see Adams at right back again, with Angeliño more than likely being forced to cover for Halstenberg and the team not deep enough to deploy a three centerback formation just yet.
Köln’s attack features Colombian Jhon Córdoba scoring the lions share of chances from his position at forward, current captain and Die Mannschaft player Jonas Hector is not only the captain but their second leading goalscorer and the man who will attempt to keep everything organized Monday against the Leipzig offensive juggernaut
Leipzig and Köln kick off at 2:30pm Monday, broadcast live on FS2. Be sure to check your local listings.