In the end RB Leipzig only finished five points behind champions Bayern and runners-up Borussia Dortmund, and had the season extended for a few more matches, form suggests that the Saxony side could have leapfrogged both of them into top spot. The excellent finish was in stark contrast to the poor start they made to the season and the turnaround under Marco Rose was highly impressive. The task now is to build next season to mount a serious title challenge now that winning silverware is becoming more of a habit with a second DFB Pokal secured.
Having guided die Roten Bullen to the DFB Pokal in the previous season, the honeymoon was soon over for trainer Domenico Tedesco. After just five Bundesliga matches and one in the Champions League, he became the first coaching casualty of the season when Leipzig took the decision to sack him. Just one win and five points and an embarrassing 4-1 home defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk and it was deemed a situation that he couldn’t rectify and a new man the helm was required.
Leipzig-born Marco Rose looked and proved to be the ideal solution. As fate would have it he was pitched against former employers Borussia Dortmund in his first match, which Leipzig duly won 3-0. A gallant defeat at the Bernabeu to Real Madrid was followed by a loss at another former club Borussia Mönchengladbach, but the recovery had started.
They won six of the eight games running up to the mid-season break and drew the other two to climb from eleventh when Tedesco was sacked to third going into the Winterpause. The Champions League group was also successfully navigated including a 3-2 home win over Real Madrid.
A 1-1 draw with Bayern started the New Year before a 6-1 thumping of Schalke. Union Berlin sneaked a 2-1 win at the Red Bull Arena before a respectful 1-1 draw was achieved against Manchester City in the Champions League knock-out stage. There was a loss away at Dortmund, before the return leg at the Etihad turned into a debacle with the English champions running out 7-0 winners.
That hammering seemed to really hit Leipzig with consecutive defeats in the league to strugglers Bochum and then Mainz. The blip was soon put to bed however with a run of seven wins in the last eight matches- the only slip up being in a very tight 2-1 defeat at Bayer Leverkusen. An historic first win at the Allianz Arena was also achieved. Third spot was secured (one place higher than last year) and the icing was then put on the cake with the 2-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in the final of the DFB Pokal which saw Leipzig defend their title.
The task now for Leipzig is to progress from side that fights for a top four finish to one that is a genuine title contender. The loss of key players this summer won’t help, but having won silverware two seasons running, they are getting a taste of success and want more-even if that will hugely annoy the vast majority of fans outside of the city confines.
The win over Dortmund on matchday six was the ideal start for Marco Rose and the 6-1 win away at Schalke in January saw them ruthlessly put the Königsblauen to the sword. The eight-game unbeaten run before Christmas and the run of seven wins out of eight at the end of the season were also highlights.
Achieving a first-ever league win at the Allianz Arena was another obvious highlight. Beating Real Madrid in the Champions League is not to be sniffed at while the crowing glory of lifting the DFB Pokal for a second successive year was the ultimate highlight.
The poor start culminating in the defeats to Frankfurt (4-0) and Donetsk (4-1) was a low, while the 7-0 thumping at the hands of Manchester City and Erling Haaland’s five goals was the absolute low point. The manner of their consequent defeats to Bochum and Mainz were disappointing, but a direct result of being shell shocked by Pep Guardiola’s side.
Tale of the Tape
Record: 20-6-8, 66 points (1.94 per game), 3rd in Bundesliga
Home Record: 41 points (13-2-2) Away Record: 41 points (7-4-6)
Goals: 64 (1.88 per game), Goals Against: 41 (1.21 per game), Diff: +23
xG: 62.7, xGA: 37.2, Diff: +25.4
RB scored eight goals fewer than last year, but finished a position higher. Christopher Nkunku finished level with Niclas Füllkrug as the league’s top scorer with 16 goals and that was after missing thirteen matches through injury. His imminent departure to Chelsea will be a massive loss to the club as his quality up front guarantees goals as the past two seasons have proved.
Timo Werner came ‘home’ from his disappointing spell in the Premier League and he scored nine, with Andre Silva scoring four from his twenty starts (31 appearances). Veteran (he’s still only 28) Yussuf Poulsen was limited to three starts and chipped in with two goals from his nineteen appearances.
Accuracy could improve for Leipzig as they ranked third overall in the Bundesliga for shots per game, but only eighth for shots on target. They preferred to attack on the ground with the third fewest crosses in the league registered. They were also second only to Bayern for being caught offside.
They conceded just 41 goals putting them second overall in the league behind joint-first Bayern and Union Berlin (although four more than the previous season). A back four was the usual line-up although there were times when the personnel and the opponent allowed for a 3-4-3 formation. Willi Orban remained the cornerstone of the back line with Josko Gvardiol his main partner.
Benjamin Henrichs and David Raum offered options at fullback, while Mohamed Simankan made eighteen starts. There was also game time for Lukas Klostermann and Marcel Halstenberg, with Abdou Diallo’s appearances (just five starts) affected by injury. The enforced absence of Peter Gulacsi in goal was massively eased by the success of Janis Blaswich as his deputy. Untried at Bundesliga level in the past, he was thrown in at the deep end and did very good job for the team.
Leipzig made the third fewest tackles in the defensive third, but the fourth highest number of blocks. Benjamin Henrichs was the top tackler and the top blocker.
The arrival Xaver Schlager was a good move from Leipzig and he went somewhat under the radar as one of the star performers with his consistency and effectiveness in the middle of the pitch. The team were well stocked in the centre of midfield with the burden being shared equally between Schlager, Konrad Laimer, Kevin Kampl and Amadou Haidara.
Dominik Szoboszlai had a top season scoring six goals and providing eight assists. He is another player in danger of having his head turned with a potential big money move to England. The evergreen Emil Forsberg continues to have a valuable role and he chipped in with six goals and four assists.
Dani Olmo was sorely missed when injured and Leipzig’s game took on an added dimension in the run-in when the Spaniard returned to the team. Getting him to commit for next season has been a huge boost to the club.
Leipzig’s summer business was relatively small compared to other but they brought in players to strengthen the back, middle and front of their team. German international left back David Raum came in from Hoffenheim for €26 million with Angelino going the other way on loan. He did okay but never really hit the heights that he did last season in terms of consistency and assists.
When it became apparent that Chelsea would listen to offers for Timo Werner, bringing the striker home seemed a no-brainer. €20 million sealed the deal and he settled right back into life at the Red Bull Arena bringing goals (and his usual old frustrations). Central midfielder Xaver Schlager rejoined the Red Bull family from VfL Wolfsburg and at €12 million proved to be a real bargain and put in numerous impressive displays. Abdou Diallo was brought in on loan from PSG to provide defensive cover, but injuries hindered his appearances.
The final arrival proved to have quite the season with reserve keeper Janis Blaswich signed from Dutch side Heracles Almelo on a free and then being thrust into the number one spot for most of the season following Peter Gulacsi’s serious knee injury. The club didn’t regard it as necessary to bring in anymore players in the January transfer window.
Player of the Season
To score 16 goals in just 25 appearances (20 as a starter) showed that the previous season was no flash in the pan and Christopher Nkunku is a going to leave a big hole in the Leipzig attack should his expected move to the Premier League materialise.
A cruel injury kept him out of the World Cup, but his return to fitness coincided with a rich vein of form for Leipzig, which ultimately saw them secure Champions League football next season and a second successive DFB Pokal. He goal in the final was the perfect farewell gift to the RB fans.
At the age of 31 it seems a push to label Janis Blaswich as a newcomer, but having spent his entire career either as a reserve player (Borussia Mönchengladbach II), in the lower divisions (Dynamo Dresden and Hansa Rostock on loan), or abroad Heracles Almelo in the Netherlands, he finally realised his ambition of being a Bundesliga player.
Initially only a back-up to Peter Gulacsi, he got his chance when the Hungarian suffered a serious knee injury in the Champions League and for the rest of the season he was the de-facto number one. He proved himself well and truly up to the task and rarely let Leipzig down. A DFB Pokal winner and more than an able deputy.
The poor start was very quickly rectified by the appointment of Marco Rose and with his background with the city, it looks like a match made in heaven and one that could see real development at the club. A position higher than last season and a successful defence of the DFB Pokal points towards a very successful season.
The loss of key players (Nkunku, Laimer, Gvardiol, Szoboszlai) will be a blow to their progress, but the men behind the scenes will already have their plans in place to deal with the exodus.