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European Red Bull Round-Up: busy home stretch for Leipzig and Salzburg

Leipzig fight to consolidate European position while Salzburg look to seal title

RZ Pellets WAC v FC Red Bull Salzburg - tipico Bundesliga Photo by Josef Bollwein/SEPA.Media /Getty Images

With the Bundesliga title clinched, and only Europe to play for RB Leipzig featured two games in a short week, mirroring their sister club in Salzburg.

Playing fellow investor upstart 1899 Hoffenheim, the very team which gave Julian Nagelsmann his start as manager when he was just 28 years of age, Leipzig won a 2-0 game that was far closer than the score line suggests. A frantic first fifteen minutes saw a brace from the young Spaniard Dani Olmo, and Leipzig would continue on the front foot for most of the first half. As mentioned last week, Leipzig lost their only fit center back due to a red card and this week saw a backline featuring all fullbacks. For the situation they were placed in, they did remarkably well.

As for Hoffenheim, most all of the players and staff there were familiar with the tendencies of a Julian Nagelsmann team, he’d been their boss just the last year. Were it not for the quick strike brace that surprised and briefly quelled the Hoffenheim attack, the game easily could have finished in a scoreless draw. Leipzig, particularly in the second half, struggled to get anything going and saw Hoffenheim combating the midfield on an even level. Leipzig, held on and continued to press whatever advantage they could. But Hoffenheim hadn’t just read the book on Nagelsmann, they’d helped to write it. The two clubs were at a standoff for the rest of the fixture, and the men from Leipzig probably would have felt relieved to keep all three points.

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim v RB Leipzig - Bundesliga Photo by Uwe Anspach/Pool via Getty Images

In their midweek fixture, Leipzig once more saw three points slip away to a team in the relegation zone. Fortuna Düsseldorf scraped together a 2-2 draw as Leipzig were left on the outside looking in once again. In another unfortunate home fixture, Leipzig looked stuck in second gear throughout most of the game. Düsseldorf did a fine job frustrating a rotated Leipzig attack and kept it scoreless in the first half. There was a touch of drama, as Leipzig had a shout for a penalty early in the game denied, but mounted nothing serious afterwards.

Two long range shots finally broke down the Düsseldorf block as Leipzig sorted through the second half, and looked to be clear through. A Dortmund loss earlier in the day had practically ensured the chance for Leipzig to bottle up their 2020-21 UCL spot, all that was required was the three points. Unfortunately Leipzig once again failed to put the game away, and in a similar situation to the now relegated Paderborn, stoppage time set pieces proved to be the downfall. Andre Hoffmann leapt above ersatz center back Marcel Halstenberg and made it all level at the death, forcing Leipzig to wait another week before being able to punch that ticket to Champions League football next year.

It is tough to level meaningful criticism at a team playing, essentially, any remaining defender with a pulse at center back, but to see another game where points are dropped because of a mistake on a set piece is frustrating. The teams gaining these advantages know their only equalizer to Leipzig’s offensive output is these set pieces, and you’d expect Julian Nagelsmann to be preaching this as well. Sure Halstenberg isn’t an everyday center back, but you don’t have to be a center back to be entrusted with marking another player during a set piece.

Leipzig look to hopefully wrap up their UEFA Champions League aspirations as they face Borussia Dortmund and former Salzburg prodigy Erling Håland on Saturday. Should Leipzig defeat Dortmund, they will likely pass the Black and Yellow on goal differential and move themselves into second place and guarantee Champions League football for 2020-21. It’ll be an early one, and you can find the game at 9:30am on either FS2 or Fox Deportes. Check your local listings!

RZ Pellets WAC v FC Red Bull Salzburg - tipico Bundesliga
Red Bull Salzburg’s Hee Chan Hwang shields the ball
Photo by Josef Bollwein/SEPA.Media /Getty Images

Continuing down to Austria, Jesse Marsch and Salzburg wrapped up another six-point week. This time dispatching both Stürm Graz and rivals for the title LASK. The scoring bug that bit Salzburg continued, and Salzburg scored eight times across both games. What is more important is the fact that by beating LASK, Salzburg have pulled out to a seven point lead in the championship round with six games left to play. The only club close at this point is the ancient superpower Rapid Wien, the 32-time champions sit seven points back. However, pending results, Salzburg could clinch this year’s Bundesliga title as early as next Sunday.

Six games remain for Marsch’s men to shepherd a seven point lead, as we know, this is football and anything can happen. Especially with Salzburg having to play third place Wolfsberger AC for two consecutive games this week. It is very difficult to beat a team twice in a row, particularly back to back. Salzburg also must avoid scoreboard watching, with two games a week a seven point lead can just as easily become a one point lead in the blink of an eye. Rapid Vienna play TSV Hartberg twice this week as well, and haven’t lost since their first game back after the pandemic (against Salzburg).

Keep an eye on the trajectory of 19-year old Salzburg winger Dominik Szoboszlai, ever since Salzburg have returned, he’s made a dedicated effort to put his stamp on the club and stepped up. With four goals the past week, the Hungarian teen has boasted his stock across Europe and internally as well. Don’t be surprised if you start to hear chatter of Szoboszlai either moving up or moving on during this upcoming transfer window.