There were mixed emotions at the Red Bull Arena at the end of the regular Bundesliga season with a mixture of satisfaction and regret the prevalent mood. Satisfaction that the club had achieved their pre-season goal of Champions League qualification and had reached this season’s quarter finals for the first time. There was however regret that the excellent Hinrunde form that saw them finish as Herbstmeister couldn’t be maintained in the Rückrunde.
Season one under Julian Nagelsmann had plenty of positives, but there is still some way to go if die Roten Bullen are going to seriously challenge Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund for the Bundesliga title.
Starting the season with largely the players he inherited Nagelsmann quickly began to get his ideas across to the players and they began the season really well. They came out of the blocks quickly with four wins from their opening five matches- the only points ‘dropped’ came in the 1-1 home draw with Bayern Munich so not exactly points dropped.
Then came the reality check of a shock defeat to Schalke, successive draws with Leverkusen and Wolfsburg, then a defeat at Freiburg. That however was just a temporary blip as Nagelsmann’s men went on a tremendous run of seven wins and a draw in the run up to the Winterpause. A 3-3 draw with Borussia Dortmund the only minor hiccup on the road to a perfect run. The goals were flowing with 34 goals scored in that eight-match spell. Mainz were demolished 8-0 to start it off, while they scored at least three goals in all the other encounters.
This was Championship form indeed and Leipzig spent the winter break occupying top spot four points ahead of Bayern Munich. However, the second half of the season was to see mentality play a huge role as Bayern steamrollered their way to the title on the back of an almost perfect Rückrunde, while Leipzig faltered an lacked the fire shown in the first half of the campaign.
Whereas RB’s points per game average was 2.17 in the Hinrunde, it fell to 1,7 in the Rückrunde with far too many drawn games and far too many occasions when they conceded first and had to fight back from a losing position. In the eight matches between January and the lockdown, they drew four and lost one (Eintracht Frankfurt). After the restart it was a similar picture with consecutive wins eluding them. In the end they had to settle for third place a full 16 points behind champions Bayern.
Injuries had affected Julian Nagelsmann’s season with fatigue playing a role due to the fact that certain players had to play near enough every game. Willi Orban, Kevin Kampl and Ibrahima Konaté were out for between six to nine months each, US midfielder Tyler Adams missed almost the entire Hinrunde, while some of the squad players were playing below their potential and not stepping up to the mark.
Third place and a quarter-final place in the Champions League should be viewed as a success, but RB Leipzig want more and demand more. The factors that impinged upon their disappointing Rückrunde will need to be addressed ahead of next season. Was the RB Leipzig glass half full or half empty come the end of the season?
The eight-match streak in the Hinrunde that saw them win seven and draw one showed just what they were capable of and was the form of potential champions. The 8-0 demolition of Mainz at the Red Bull Arena was an extravaganza of attacking football against which the poor Nullfünfer had no defence. They were 5-0 up by halftime with Timo Werner ultimately helping himself to a hat trick (one of three he scored last season).
The return at the Opel Arena brought an impressive 5-0 victory while Schalke were beaten by the same scoreline at the Veltins Arena on matchday 23. They remained unbeaten against Bayern and in fact lost only once to the sides in the top four.
Away from the Bundesliga, their progression to the Champions League quarter final stage was also a highlight with their 4-0 aggregate win over Tottenham in the round of 16 particularly impressive.
Not being able to maintain their title challenge after Christmas was the main disappointment as was the news that Timo Werner was moving to Chelsea.
The 3-1 home loss to Schalke on matchday 6 put a spanner in the works of their excellent start while losing at Freiburg two weeks later wasn’t a result many people saw coming. Dropping points with home draws against the likes of Paderborn, Fortuna Düsseldorf and Freiburg in the season run-in almost saw them lose third place to Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Tale of the Tape
Record: 18-12-4, 66 points (1.94 per game), 3rd in Bundesliga
Home Record: 29 points (7-8-2) Away Record: 37 points (11-4-2)
Goals: 81 (2.38 per game), Goals Against: 37 (1.09 per game), Diff: 44
xG: 71.5, xGA: 37.5, Diff: 34.1
Leipzig scored 81 goals giving them an average of 2.38 per game. This was 18 goals more than last season with Timo Werner enjoying his best-ever scoring season with 28 Bundesliga goals in 34 appearances. Patrik Schick, who came in on loan from Roma scored 10, with Marcel Sabitzer contributing nine goals and seven assists.
Die Roten Bullen ranked 2nd overall for shots (539) but slipped to third for percentage of shots on target (38%). Individually it will come as no surprise that aside from Robert Lewandowski, Timo Werner had the most shots in the league (117) and tied with the Pole for shots on target (59).
Defensively Leipzig were not as solid as last season conceding 37 with an average of 1.09 per game compared to 29 conceded in 2018-19. Peter Gulacsi maintained his excellent reputation in goal, and he missed just two matches all season. Julian Nagelsmann used both a back three and back four this season, although the absence of both Willi Orban and Ibrahima Konaté was a blow. Marcel Halstenberg and Lukas Klostermann were both used as centre backs at times rather than their usual full back roles.
Dayot Upamecano made 27 starts, with Nordi Mukiele making 21. Orban was limited to 9 starts and Konaté just 6.
In the defensive midfield role Konrad Laimer had an excellent season. The 23-year-old Austrian. This season Laimer won 344 duels putting him 15th overall in the Bundesliga. He led the entire league for tackles in the midfield third with 52, while also topping the division for tackles in the attacking third with 16- showing that he is not just content to sit in front of the defence and mop up the danger. When it comes to pressures (the number of times he applies pressure to the opposition ball carrier) he leads the Bundesliga by a long way with 831. Tackles made (99) and tackles won (60) put him at the top of all Bundesliga teams as well.
As mentioned Sabitzer and Nkunku had great seasons, while Dani Olmo made a good impression following his January arrival from Zagreb. Kevin Kampl also made a positive impact once he’d returned from injury.
The most expensive arrival of the summer was €18 million Ademola Lookman from Everton, but his second spell at the Red Bull Arena was nowhere near as successful as his first stint and he endured a disappointing season. The €13 million paid out for PSG’s Christopher Nkunku was much better value for money as the 21-year-old was one of the club’s better performers.
Hannes Wolf cost €12 million but then suffered a horrible leg break at the U-21 European Championships. With first team action severely limited he has now joined Borussia Mönchengladbach on loan. Luan Candido was also a failed transfer costing €8 million and he too has been sent out on loan.
Patrik Schick was more of a success with a ten-goal return on his loan from Roma. Leipzig are keen to turn his temporary sojourn into a permanent deal. The other arrival on loan, Ethan Ampadu wasn’t really given enough opportunity to impress.
The 19 million signing of Spaniard Dani Olmo from Dinamo Zagreb in January was a typical Leipzig signing and he scored three goals in twelve appearances. Fullback Angelino also did a good job on loan from Manchester City and he is another player the club are keen to retain.
Player of the Season
Timo Werner grabbed the attention and the big money move to the Premier League on the back of his goals, but Marcel Sabitzer was the team’s best player for my money. He scored nine goals and provided seven assists and was instrumental in Leipzig’s victory over Tottenham in the Champions League.
“I’ve always said I want more goal threat from midfield. He clearly took that both literally and personally. He’s a very important player for us,” Nagelsmann said.
Going on the Hinrunde alone it would have been an A for RB Leipzig, but their second half of the season saw them struggle to replicate their opening 17 games. They did achieve their objectives and there is still the chance for more glory in the Champions League. Impressive? Yes, but are they on a par with Bayern and Dortmund yet? Not quite. Nagelsmann season 2 should be a cracker though.