In a space of days, RB Leipzig booked their ticket to the German Cup final in Berlin on Tuesday and followed it up with qualification for next season Champions League. 2019 has been almost perfect in terms of performances and results so far – 14 victories, three stalemates and one defeat at the start of the year against then leaders Borussia Dortmund. April has been a flawless month for Die Bullen; six games, six victories. The year’s journey started on a false note when the Bulls fell to an Axel Witsel lone goal for Dortmund at the start of Rückrunde – the second half of the Bundesliga season. Since then, they have grown in leaps. Today’s Bundesliga victory over Freiburg not only secured Champions League football for the second time in three seasons for Ralf Rangnick’s team but also extended their unbeaten run to 17 games in all competitive games.
What has been the key to success in Saxony? There are several factors; including continuity in the playing squad. The core of the starting eleven has been at the club before winning promotion to the Bundesliga. Captain Orban, goalkeeper Gulacsi, Halstenberg, Klostermann, Sabitzer, Poulsen and Forsberg were part of the team that won promotion with the club. The club has continued to invest wisely in players’ development which is very important. The players have better understanding and have become a tight knit bunch which producing results – they have conceded only six goals in 13 Bundesliga matches in 2019. “It’s incredibly difficult to score against us. We always stay very compact at the back, and we again defended tightly today. That’s what we’re built on.” Austrian midfielder Sabitzer said after the 2-0 victory over Wolfsburg. Leipzig have also developed the meanest defence in the Bundesliga under Rangnick. They conceded just 23 goals in their first 30 league games, comfortably better than league leaders Bayern (29) or second-placed Dortmund (40).Hungarian goalkeeper Gulacsi kept eight clean sheets in 13 league matches after the winter break. Club captain Willi Orban has excelled in the heart of defence alongside Ibrahima Konate who is having a dream second season in Germany. The 19-year-old has started 24 league games so far, and was rewarded with an extended contract in January. “Ibrahima Konate has developed brilliantly here so far, and his qualities have led to him becoming an integral member of our defence,” said Rangnick, who also serves as Leipzig’s sporting director. “We are convinced of his huge potential and think that he will take huge strides with us over the coming months and years. We’re delighted to have agreed an early contract extension.” The Bulls have option in another French centreback Dayot Upamecano who has been solid whenever he plays. Full-back Halstenberg has become indispensable; his performances earned him a second German cap in March while Klostermann’s impressive progress saw the right-sided defender earn his first cap for his country in the same game.
They have been sharp in attack as well; fourth highest scoring team in the division with 59 goals only behind Bayern Munich (79), Borussia Dortmund (70) and Hoffenheim (65). Timo Werner has been leading the attack for Leipzig since his arrival in 2016, scoring 21 league goals when they finished second to Bayern that season before netting the same number in all competitions in 2017/18. The Germany striker has had another excellent campaign – with 18 goals across all competitions and counting – but he has been slightly outshone by Yussuf Poulsen in the Bundesliga. The Dane is enjoying his most prolific season to date, and has 15 league goals in 27 appearances after Matchday 30. He and Werner have found the net a combined 29 times in this season’s Bundesliga, putting both players among the 10 leading scorers in the German top flight. The pair have also netted five times between them in the DFB Cup, with Poulsen getting the opener against Hamburg.
Perhaps their lighter work load this campaign has allowed the team flourish. Last season’s deep run in the Europa League starting from the Champions League took its toll. This year, they crashed out of Europe in the group stages in the Europa League. With less matches to worry about, their league form has continued to improve.
In just three seasons in the Bundesliga, Leipzig can be proud of their achievements. A runners-up position, a top-six finish and have secured Champions League for next season in addition to booking a place in the DFB Pokal finals. The future looks bright for the Easterners; Leipzig only made three signings last summer, with youngsters Nordi Mukiele, Marcelo Saracchi and Matheus Cunha all adding to the armoury. New recruits Tyler Adams and Amadou Haidara joined in January to give Leipzig fresh energy for the second half of the campaign in what has been a successful push to seal a European place. The final feather to the cap is the arrival of Julian Naggelsmann – Hoffenheim current boss who will take over from Ralf Rangnick in the summer. Maybe the arrival of this talented young coach could see the club founded in 2009 raise the bar by targeting a Bundesliga title next season.