August 23, 2017

2016-17 Season Preview: At Last RB Leipzig Are Here

Basics

Name: RasenBallsport Leipzig e.V,
Nickname: Die Roten Bullen
Founded: 2007
Club colors: White and Red
Primary rivals: Every traditional club in Germany
Fan friendship: Red Bull Salzburg, Red Bull New York

Red Bull Arena (Zentralstadion)

Capacity: 43,000
2015-16 Attendance: 470,000 (29k per match)

RB Leipzig HeimStadion

Trophies

Winner: Bezirksliga Leipzig (7th Division), Sachsenliga (6th Division), NOFV-Oberliga (5th Division), Regionalliga North-East (4th Division)
Runner up: 3.Liga, 2.Bundesliga

2015-16 Finishes

2. Bundesliga: 2nd place, 67 points (20W-7D-7L), 54 goals scored, 32 allowed, +22 GD.
DFB Pokal: 2nd round exit (0-3) at Unterhaching.

Top 2015-16 Scorers

Emil Forsburg
Emil Forsberg could be one of the breakout stars in the 2016-17 Bundesliga season.

Emil Forsberg: 8 Goals, 7 Assists

Davie Selke: 10 Goals, 4 Assists

Marcel Sabitzer: 8 Goals, 5 Assists

Summer Test Results

Record: 5-3-0
Record against quality opposition: 1-2-0

1:1 vs Real Betis

3:2 vs SD Eibar

0:0 vs FC Torino

When last we saw them

RB Leipzig Wir Uns Eins

Red Bull started from the bottom in Germany’s 7th division less than a decade ago. Nine years and six promotions later, Leipzig is finally “here” in the Bundesliga.

Die Roten Bullen are coming off a fierce three way battle with Freiburg and Nürnberg last season in 2.Bundesliga. Freiburg pulled away in spring, so the battle became a duel which lasted until match day 33. It was a thrilling dogfight, maybe even the best Promotion Battle in 2.Liga history. In the end RB sealed the deal with a 2:0 home win against Karlsruhe. (Here is an in depth article about RB’s origin story.)

Aspiration

Sebastian Vettel
Red Bull’s biggest feat so far: Sebastian Vettel won four back to back F1 Driver’s Championships.

Everything is about “aspiration” when it comes to Red Bull sports marketing, but in the Bundesliga your bank account dictates what your “aspirations” are. The amount of funds Redbull makes available will decide whether RB will go mano e mano with Bayern or become Hoffenheim 2.0. I don’t believe Red Bull got into the Bundesliga to compete for mid table positions with Augsburg and Frankfurt. Just take a look at what Red Bull accomplished in Formula 1.

When Red Bull launched their Formula 1 team in 2005, the established superpowers probably thought “Oh how cute!”. I mean, how could an Energy Drink manufacturer beat Mercedes and Ferrari at racing cars? Well, it took “Red Bull Racing” only five seasons to win their first championship. Red Bull added three more titles, bought a second F1 team (Torro Rosso) and became the main sponsor of the “Austrian GP at the Red Bull Ring.”

Red Bull has invested 100 to 200 million Euros to get RB Leipzig where they are today. This investment will only yield a proper ROI if Leipzig plays in front of a global audience at some point. In Leipzig’s case ROI equals screen time in big Champions League games. According to Handelsblatt a single second of airtime on German TV during the UCL final broadcast sells for 2200€. Let’s assume RB Leipzig makes a UCL final and the Red Bull logo is clearly visible on screen for 30 minutes during the match. A half hour of airtime during the German pregame coverage would cost RB 3.960.000 Euros, you can imagine how valuable a minute of air time during the actual game is. Where fewer people hit the bathroom or get a beer from the fridge. Of course, a UCL final is a pipe dream for now, but Red Bull has already locked up 360 minutes of high value air time as we speak, because Red Bull gets four guaranteed games against Bayern and Dortmund this year. And by the way, even a small website like Bundesliga Fanatic is part of Red Bull’s strategy, just count the Red Bull logos and name drops in this article. q.e.d.

Reality

Bull head Dresden
Dynamo Dresden fans “greet” RB with a chopped off Bulls head and banners I won’t translate.

Red Bull’s project in Leipzig might sound like a genius business move in a vacuum. However, in the world of football tradition and emotional attachment are big factors. So any outsider who messes with the balance of power will feel the backlash. RB Leipzig is in the Bundesliga at the expense of FC Nürnberg, a beloved club with exciting rivalries and fans that travel well, after all.

The Anti RB protests have already evolved from “valid criticism of corporate interference in the Bundesliga” to extreme, borderline criminal behaviour. Last year Karlsruher SC fans attempted to rush the RB team hotel, this year Dynamo Dresden “fans” tossed a chopped off Bulls head from the stands.

I have followed German football for 20 plus years and have never seen anything like it.

As long as no violence is involved, any protest is valid and legal. The only problem with aggressive banners and “props” is, that this stuff spreads to bars, train stations and town squares. Attacks against innocent RB fans will happen, let’s hope there are only a few of them and nobody gets seriously hurt. That’s the “not so fun subplot” of Leipzig’s season. (You can read an in-depth article about “The Leipzig controversy” here.)

The Boss

Ralf Rangnik RB Leipzig
Ralf Rangnick, General Manager.

Ralf “Der Professor” Rangnick has been responsible for Red Bull’s football operations since 2012. Last season Thomas Tuchel picked Dortmund over RBL, so Rangnick took care of that “promotion thing” himself. This summer he switched back to his GM job and hired former FC Ingolstadt coach Ralf Hasenhüttl to…..you know…. do stuff.

Normally the coach is “the man” but Ralph Hasenhüttl might be the weakest coach in the whole league. Rangnick has already implemented a system, philosophy, playstyle, transfer policy and youth program. The only job left for Hasenhüttl is to make sure everybody is on the bus in time. In case RB wins the Championship all mic’s and cameras will be pointed at Rangnick, because RB is his baby.

Under Hasenhüttl Leipzig has already been knocked out of the DFB Pokal and if the Bundesliga campaign gets off to a bad start, it will get really tough for Hasenhüttl. The poor guy works under a GM that has secured promotion as a coach last summer. My favorite subplot of the season: At what point will Rangnick say “Move over, I got this”?

Philosophy

RB’s Youth Facilities.
RB’s Youth Facilities.

All the Red Bull football teams around the globe are based on two foundational principles:

Principle #1 is the youth academy system. Rangnick has never coached a German champion, but he is the Bill Belichick of youth development. Kevin Kampl, Joshua Kimmich and Sadio Mane are the biggest names that came through Red Bull’s youth system so far. If you check out Germany’s U17, U19 and U21 teams, you’ll find RB Leipzig players on every roster.

Principle #2 is the “buy young” transfer policy. All players Rangnick buys must accept less than three million Euros in annual salary and need to be 23 or younger. Right now, Leipzig has a roster worth 63 million Euros in total (13th in the Bundesliga), which is more than Eintracht Frankfurt but less than Werder Bremen’s total.

Plan B

Lerot Sane ManCity
Players who fit Rangnick’s profile cost 50 million Euros a pop nowadays.

A self-imposed salary cap and age limit is only fun as long as the on field results are positive. Will these strict guidelines still stand if Leipzig finds itself in last place at Christmas time? I have my doubts.

Not too long ago you could get some amazing young talent with the money Rangnick is willing to spend. Yussuf Poulsen cost just 1.3 million in 2013, RB paid four million for Emil Forberg in January 2015 and was able to sign Davie Selke for eight million last summer.

Well, those days are over, thanks to the new TV deal in England. The Manchester clubs have totally screwed up the market segment RB operates in. City and United paid roughly 50 million each to sign Leroy Sane and Anthony Martial and handed out massive contracts.

Therefore Leipzig’s “3 million a year” salary cap makes it impossible to get elite youngsters these days. That’s why RBL lost out on all but one of their transfer targets. Elite U23 players like Shkodran Mustafi, Bernd Leno, Niklas Süle, Kevin Volland, Leroy Sane, Julian Brandt and Breel Embolo make a lot more than three million a year and prices will go up some more once the new 1.2 billion a year German TV deal kicks in next season. At some point RB will have to adjust their age and salary caps or risk relegation.

Notable Transfers

Frankfurt - RBLeipzig / Fußball Testspiel Frankfurt/Oder, 17.07.2016, Stadion der Freundschaft, Fußball, Testspiel , 1.FC Frankfurt/O. vs. RB Leipzig 0:10 (0:6) , Im Bild: Timo Werner (m., RB Leipzig) vor Dawid Nowakowski (Frankfurt). , Frankfurt RBLeipzig Football try out Frankfurt Or 17 07 2016 Stadium the Friendship Football try out 1 FC Frankfurt o vs RB Leipzig 0 10 0 6 in Picture Timo Werner m RB Leipzig before Dawid Nowakowski Frankfurt
Timo Werner in preseason action for RB Leipzig. (Photo by Dawid Nowakowski.)

Out: No essential player left the club

In:

  • Naby Keita, CM (RB Salzburg; 11m€).
  • Timo Werner, AM (Stuttgart; 8m€).

What’s special about RB, is their global structure. Players who don’t cut it in Leipzig get shipped to Salzburg and vice-versa. Therefore, Naby Keita wasn’t a true signing, since he had been on Red Bull’s payroll already. Anyways, Keita looks like the Guinean version of Arturo Vidal in this video, but as always we have no clue how well his game translates to the Bundesliga.

Best Case: Keita becomes a dominant physical midfield workhorse like Arturo Vidal or Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante.

Worst Case: He never “gets” the mental and tactical aspect of Bundesliga football and turns into Serey Die without a mohawk.

The “Königstransfer” (blockbuster deal) of this summer for RB Leipzig was signing VfB Stuttgart’s Timo Werner. At just 20 years old, Werner has already earned 95 Bundesliga appearances and averaged one created goal in four matches (13 goals and 10 assists). These numbers sound pretty “meh” if you forget to mention that the VfB was in relegation trouble and switched coaches all the time during Werner’s Stuttgart days. Not an easy environment for an underage prospect to get a career off the ground, so there is a lot of room for improvement. Werner’s numbers should increase in any case, because Werner doesn’t have to play alongside that sorry 2015/16 Stuttgart strikeforce anymore. Stuttgart’s “strikers” Artem Kravets, Martin Harnik, Daniel Ginczek and Jan Kliment produced seven goals combined last season, which puts Werner’s scoring total (six goals) in perspective.

Best Case: Werner has a little Antoine Griezmann in him and could become a world class CAM-Winger hybrid like “Grizou”.

Worst Case: A speedier version of Marko Marin.

Strengths: Offense & Finesse

Rangnick has assembled an “U21 European All Star team” on offense. Yussuf Poulsen is Denmark’s striker of the future. Attacking midfielders Emil Forsberg and Marcel Sabitzer started every game for Austria and Sweden at Euro 2016. RB’s tall center forward Davie Selke was a starter on Germany’s Rio 2016 Silver Medal team. Now the Bulls have added another gem in Timo Werner.

During last year’s promotion campaign every RB game came down to shot conversion. The Bulls had the ball all game long in every match and created chance after chance after chance, but too often RB was stone walled and got punished on the break. However any deep analysis of Leipzig’s 2.Liga run seems pointless, because RB won’t face eight man defenses week in week out the Bundesliga. Coach Hasenhüttl needs to build a solid defensive foundation and let Poulsen, Selke and co. do their thing. If he can do just that, the talent in Leipzig’s attack will keep them in every game. I’m actually really excited to see what Leipzig’s playmakers can do with the extra time and space they’ll get this year.

Weakness: Defense & Mental Toughness

Last year’s promotion race became interesting only because Die Bullen lost every crucial head to head matchup (St.Pauli, Nürnberg, Freiburg). Midfield and Defense look pedestrian compared to attack, where Rangnick’s focus seems to be. Skipper Dominik Kaiser, newly signed Keita and Austrian International Stefan Ilsanker are the biggest names in midfield. On defense RB has a nice selection of current and former U21 internationals (Willi Orban, Markus Halstenberg, Lukas Klostermann), but Marvin Compper is the only guy with experience at the highest level. Adding an experienced center back and a holding midfielder definitely wouldn’t hurt.

In this year’s DFB Pokal 1st Round matchup against second tier Dynamo Dresden, Leipzig choked away a two goal halftime lead and lost on penalties. “They are soft finesse guys” would be an easy explanation for RB’s shortcomings, but it’s a little more complicated than that. First, Leipzig’s players are extremely young and hostile crowds can get into their heads. Second, RB Leipzig gets treated like Real Madrid playing at the Camp Nou on every single away trip. Combine these two factors, and Leipzig’s poor away form makes sense. How well Leipzig’s starlets handle the abuse, will determine how far they can go this year. Talent-wise relegation shouldn’t be an issue, but Leipzig sucks in the art of “Gegner den Schneid abkaufen,” which roughly means “winning ugly.” This lack of grit and physicality will definitely make Leipzig drop some points in rainy February Friday night matches against Ingolstadt or Darmstadt.

Crucial Stretch in Schedule: Match Day 5 to 10

Bulli_Titelbild
RB Leipzig’s mascot is a Bull. Who would have thought?!

Leipzig’s first four games are brutal: Hoffenheim away, Dortmund at home, HSV away and Gladbach at home. But in October the schedule gets easier. Leipzig will face Cologne, Augsburg, Wolfsburg, Bremen, Darmstadt, Mainz and must take at least ten points from those six games. If the Red Bulls come out of October with roughly 15 points in hand, relegation will be highly unlikely. However should RB fail to hit that point total before November, they probably won’t get to make up those dropped points down the road. Three of RB’s final six games of the Hinrunde are Leverkusen away (a likely loss), Schalke at home (maybe a draw) and Bayern away (an automatic loss).

Verdict: 2nd to 16th

I have covered RB Leipzig since last year during the Rückrunde and have learned that this is an extremely talented team with a beautiful attacking game. But you simply can’t trust them with a game on the line. When the pitch is in pristine condition and RB jumps out to an early lead, Leipzig games were amazing entertainment. But when things didn’t go their way, they too often rolled over and cramped up. However that was last year in a different league, under different circumstances.

Additionally, Ralf Rangnick has done all this before. His first “corporate promotion club,” TSG Hoffenheim, sat in first place ahead of Bayern at the 2008/09 winter break. At Hoffenheim, Rangnick’s system actually worked better in the top flight than it did against the packed defenses in 2. Bundesliga. However, during the 2009 Rückrunde Hoffenheim’s system got figured out, the momentum was gone and the TSG dropped to 9th place. Something similar could happen with RB Leipzig; however, there are too many moving targets and open questions in Leipzig to make a more specific prediction.

Die Roten Bullen could add 100 million worth of talent before deadline day or in the winter transfer window and make any prediction obsolete. They could also have a go at Bundesliga football with an inexperienced squad (plus Keita and Werner), that lost seven games and couldn’t finish ahead of Freiburg in the second division last season. Nobody has a clue.

The sample size of Leipzig Bundesliga games is zero; most RB players are Bundesliga newcomers, too. Then you have all that controversy, which will influence RB’s season one way (they embrace the villain role) or another (psychological damage).

Seriously, RB could make the Champions League or get relegated. Both scenarios are in play. The only thing I’m willing to predict is that RB Leipzig will finish below Bayern, but ahead of Darmstadt and Ingolstadt.

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4 Comments

  1. you have a lot of wrong information. RB Leipzig was founded in 2009 not in 2007. and they started their first season in the 5th tier not the 7th.

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