RB Leipzig Watch: the Empire Strikes Back

(Editor: This piece is the beginning of a series covering RasenBallsport Leipzig’s seemingly inevitable promotion to the Bundesliga at the end of this 2015-16 season. The eastern German club is sitting confidently at 1st place in the Bundesliga 2 table with a sizable gap between themselves and clubs #2 and #3. Promotion seems extremely likely for this most polarizing of German clubs. In this series, Max Regenhuber will document the energy drink company-backed club’s march to the top flight. If you’re new to this topic, check out our topic tag for RB Leipzig.)

By Max Regenhuber

If you have no clue what all the controversy surrounding RB Leipzig is about, I suggest you read the first article in this series, which explains what makes RB so attention-worthy.

After last week’s loss at St.Pauli, RB gave chasers Freiburg and Nürnberg an opportunity to close the gap and make this a race again. But neither team was able to come through, so coming into matchday 22, the Red Bulls of Leipzig weren’t exactly desperate to win.
However, Ralf Rangnick and his team couldn’t afford to create negative momentum by dropping points at home against a pretty special mid table club.

1.FC Union Berlin: “Wir aus dem Osten”


If you have never heard about the “Ironmen” here’s a 10 min. documentary in English that gives you a decent breakdown of the beloved club:

As a Hertha supporter, who would normally be supposed to hate the cross town rival, I don’t have any bad feelings towards Union whatsoever and I’ll tell you why.

During the DDR years, Union got screwed by the socialist regime, which favored BFC Dynamo, and made sure Dynamo won as many GDR championships as possible. Sure enough, Dynamo won 10 in a row at one point, while Union, with it’s rowdy non-conformist fans, were a total non factor and went back and forth between the first and second division.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall was a great historic event liberating millions of people from socialism, but it was also a death sentence for East German football clubs.
The DDR’s association, the DFV, was consolidated in 1991 and member clubs joined the West German DFB. A quarter century, later Union is the only former Oberliga team left among the 36 Bundesliga clubs.

It is often mentioned how hard life is for promoted teams who have to deal with the challenges of a new league. Former GDR clubs had to adjust to a different monetary and legal system over a couple of months. At the same time, quality eastern players like Sammer, Kirsten, Thom, Doll, Wosz and Steffen Freund went to West German clubs. GDR teams were supposed to compete with Bayern & co. right away and failed, as expected. I still don’t get what people at the DFB were thinking.


Hansa Rostock, Energie Cottbus, Dynamo Dresden and the now defunct VFB Leipzig are the only East German clubs that have ever played in the 1. Bundesliga. Cottbus was relegated in 2009 and there hasn’t been any Ostklub ever since. Nowadays East German derbies can only be seen in the 3.Liga and below.

Factoring in the historic circumstances, Union might have done the best job in all of German football. They have been in the second division for seven years running and reached a DFB Pokal final in 2001 that sent them to the UEFA Cup. Union has found a niche in the German football system by hard work and dedication over 20 years.

Now Union fans have to watch RB Leipzig fast track into the Bundesliga. Everybody understands the frustration Union fans feel toward the “business of football” and RedBull. Pre-Iron Curtain, the Iron Ones couldn’t win championships because of political interference, while nowadays a constant lack of money is the reason Union isn’t challenging for promotion.

Die Eisernen got their nickname because of steel plants in the Köpenick borough and have always been dealt a bad hand by fate. However, their fans stayed loyal and they are what’s so special about this club.

When DFL regulations forced Union to modernize parts of the stadium and the club couldn’t afford contractors, hundreds of fans took some vacation days and just did the job themselves.

TOPSHOTS Supporters of the German second division football club FC Union Berlin attend the 10th Christmas singing at Stadium Alte Foersterei in Berlin, on December 23, 2012. For two hours, more than 20000 people sang Christmas songs. AFP PHOTO / Jörg Carstensen GERMANY OUTJörg Carstensen/AFP/Getty Images ORG XMIT: -
FC Union Berlin supporters attend the 10th Christmas singing at Stadium Alte Foersterei in Berlin, on December 23, 2012. AFP PHOTO / Jörg Carstensen)

During holiday season, about 30 thousand Union fans fill up die Alte Fösterei stadium just to  sing Christmas carols to raise money for charity. Hertha BSC barely had 40k people in the stands against Wolfsburg this week, even though this was a crucial matchup in the Champions League race that also featured Julian Draxler, who is one of the most exciting young players in Europe right now.

Yes, Union and it’s fans are something special I don’t even know any Hertha fan who dislikes them.

So for the second match in a row RB faced a team that had all the “good karma” on it’s side.

RB Leipzig 3 – 0 Union Berlin


Eisern Union fans boycotted the first 15 minutes of the match in the RedBull Arena to show how disgusted they are with RB and the system. Unfortunately, the game was over before Union supporters were back in their seats.

RB dominated a Union squad that was missing USMNT man Bobby Wood among others. Leipzig’s midfield maestro Dominik Kaiser converted a nice assist by Emil Forsberg (13.) and Defender Willi Orban (25.) made it 2:0 soon after.

This was almost the same RB squad that lost at St.Pauli last week, but Rani Khedira (little brother of Juventus’ Sami) ran the show in midfield instead of Ilsanker.

Union did not have a dangerous scoring opportunity over 90 minutes and when Yussuf Poulsen made it 3:0 shortly after the break, this game was dead.

What was amazing about Poulsen’s goal was the way he converted it. One touch towards the far post with his left foot from a tricky angle while in the air. The margin for error on that volley was extremely small, it is almost impossible to direct the ball past the goalie inside the far post from that angle.

On Thursday night in Augsburg, Liverpool’s highly rated striker Daniel Sturridge missed wide from a similar spot even though his cross was low while Poulsen’s assist came in waist high with velocity. We will see Yussuf Poulsen on a Champions League squad sooner than later, the only question is if it’ll be with RB or somebody else.

The fact that Khedira (Rani) was playing against Kroos (Felix) became the most interesting thing about this lopsided game after RB killed any remaining comeback hopes Union might have had.

When RB goes ahead early they seem impossible to beat 2.Liga teams and I bet many Bundesliga teams would have a hard time, too. Rangnick’s system squeezes opponents like a giant python in the opening minutes with gegenpressing and a high line of defence. Once RB scores, they get conservative and possession-oriented but still create pressure by sending only three of four players forward.

In terms of atmospherics, Die Roten Bullen had solid vocal support and RB’s fans even did a choreo before the game.

Many RB critics will probably kill me in the comment section below, but I think this club will be a nice addition to the Bundesliga next year. The team plays an exciting brand of football and the people of Leipzig create an atmosphere that is way better than what Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim have. 3000 away fans were in St.Pauli last week at a 18:30 friday night match that was a 4h drive away from Leipzig.

At the end of the day the people of Leipzig are the ones who get to decide what this “project” is going to be, if the support keeps growing the way it does this could become a special club where even casual fans feel welcome. What is also cool about RB is that they are the first club founded in a re-unified Germany and totally transcend any Ossi vs. Wessi narrative since they are located in the East yet have never played a game in the DDR Oberliga.


RedBull gets the marketing exposure it seeks and kids in Leipzig get to experience top quality football in a tolerant and peaceful environment, seems like a fair deal to me.

Who am I to tell a family in Leipzig that they should rather watch 5th division Lokomotive where the talent level is crap and many fans are violent, right wing drunks?

The only thing that needs change immediately is the terrible jingle the DJ plays after every goal. James Brown’s “I feel good” is such an uninspired choice, especially if you consider that the perfect “Bulls anthem” is already out there. Whoever is in charge of the music needs to get this song licensed ASAP.

Ralf Rangnick on TV talkshow “Sky90 – Die KIA Fussballdebatte”


On Sunday, the Professor had to answer some tough questions about his beloved RB Project. He made many intelligent arguments, but the best one was about the so called democratic principles that RB isn’t complying with.

Rangnick pointed out that members and fans of traditional clubs also don’t have any say in the club’s business. They only vote the board members who then decide what happens, Rangnick also added that fans meddling with club decisions is something that has no place in modern football.

The host of the show also asked him (as a joke) if Lucien Favre will take over as a coach, when Rangnick is returning from the bench to his office job after this season.

The way Rangnick smiled tells me that he didn’t hear that name for the first time.

Favre in Leipzig with Rangnick as the GM seems like a match made in heaven and a hiring that RedBull needs to make. The swiss coaching wizard transformed Hertha and Gladbach into Top Four clubs on a limited budget, now imagine Favre working with RedBull’s warchest …. who wouldn’t love to see that team play?

Promotion Race Implications

Obviously RB is still the undisputed number one. Last week I outlined that RB would need 20 points from 13 games, so after this matchday they only need 17 from 12 by that logic.

4th place St.Pauli lost,  with 36 points they are closer to 14th place FSV Frankfurt at 26 points than they are to RB who have 47.

Freiburg stopped their two game losing streak with a win at Sandhausen. Nürnberg only took one point from their Düsseldorf trip and are three games behind RB now.

These two clubs are the only serious threats to Leipzig’s plans and both are flawed.

There isn’t much to talk about in RB’s next two games and the promotion race won’t be decided before Leipzig’s road trips to Franken and Baden. If RB wins three out of the next five and manages a draw in Freiburg & Nürnberg that should do it for the Bulls.

The next Update in this RB Watch series will be online after the Paderborn & Heidenheim games, ahead of the Monday night clash with Freiburg on March 7th.

Next Up (Rank after Matchday 22)

@ Paderborn (16th), Heidenheim (10th)

Remaining Schedule

  • @Freiburg (2nd)
  • 1860 Munich (17th)
  • @Nürnberg (3rd)
  • Bochum (5th)
  • @Düsseldorf (15th)
  • Sandhausen (8th)
  • @K’lautern (7th)
  • Bielefeld (12th)
  • Karlsruher SC (9th)
  • @Duisburg (18th)


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