How will RB Leipzig cope with absence of Naby Keïta during his three game suspension?
In RB Leipzig’s 2-2 stalemate with Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Bundesliga’s Topspiel of matchday 4, Naby Keïta earned a red card for a high boot that bloodied Christoph Kramer’s face. As always, the recipient of the red card and his teammates briefly protested the referee’s decision, but, upon seeing a replay, there is really no argument to be made. The question quickly changed from “Was that challenge deserving of a sending-off?” to “Against which opponents will Leipzig be without their star player?”
At first glance, the fixture list is relatively kind to Leipzig during this three game stretch. Leipzig play in Bavaria against FC Augsburg (who have been one of the surprise teams so far) on Tuesday during the Bundesliga’s englische Woche, then host Eintracht Frankfurt at the Red Bull Arena four days later, then make the long trip to take on FC Köln at the RheinEnergieStadion. While Leipzig will feel fortunate that they are not matched against who they consider to be direct competitors (Bayern, Dortmund, Schalke, Hoffenheim), playing three matches without their key central midfielder will not be an easy task. In these fixtures last season, Leipzig earned only five points from a possible nine.
FC Augsburg will like their chances against a weakened RB Leipzig side that has dropped points in two of its four games of the Bundesliga season. After a 1-0 loss to Hamburg on matchday 1, Augsburg have taken seven points from three games, while remaining undefeated at the WWK Arena via a draw against Mönchengladbach and a win against Frankfurt. Augsburg come into this game on a two game win streak and will definitely look to take all three points against an RB Leipzig side that is without Keita, who many consider to be their most important player.
After Leipzig take on Augsburg midweek, they will play host to Eintracht Frankfurt. Leipzig will feel confident about this game, given that they won this fixture 3-0 last season and are playing in front of their home crowd. However, there is a chance Frankfurt will be comforted by the fact that they are unbeaten in their two games on the road thus far. Still, this challenge will not be made any easier by the long-term absences of key players Alexander Meier, Omar Mascarell and Marco Fabian. Frankfurt will be looking for redemption after last season’s 3-0 defeat in Leipzig, in which goalkeeper Lukáš Hrádecký earned a bizarre red card for a handball outside of the penalty area and forced his side to play a man down for 87 minutes. It was an unforgettable moment and the fastest dismissal for a keeper in Bundesliga history.
Despite the absence of Keïta, Leipzig will feel good about their chances in Cologne. Effzeh is winless in their first four games of the Bundesliga season and, if their 5-0 thrashing in Dortmund is anything to go by, playing Thursday night Europa League matches is not making life any easier for FC Köln, who have also lost star man Jonas Hector for an extended spell. Leipzig do have a European fixture of their own prior the match in Cologne, though. RB will travel to Istanbul to take on Beşiktaş and, luckily for last season’s Vizemeister, Naby Keïta is eligible to play as his suspension only applies to domestic fixtures. This match against Leipzig comes at an inopportune moment for FC Köln, who have scored just one goal in four games and have a goal differential of -11. With or without the creative presence of Keïta, Leipzig will feel confident about leaving Cologne with all three points.
Keïta‘s brilliant season so far and what his absence means
In addition to anchoring the midfield and making scoring contributions, Naby Keïta leads his team with two key passes per match and is top 10 in the league in several categories. Two of which are ground challenges and dribbling; in these categories, Keita leads all other Bundesliga players by significant margins.
Keïta’s suspension raises the question: how have RB Leipzig fared without the Guinean midfielder in the past? Keïta featured in all but three of Leipzig’s Bundesliga fixtures last season, with Leipzig failing to win all three matches. In the three matches without Keïta (Hoffenheim away, Mönchengladbach home, Bremen away), Leipzig drew twice and lost once, meaning they earned only two points from a possible nine. For perspective, Leipzig won all three of the reverse fixtures of these matchups, with Keïta featuring in all three. This seven point contrast sheds light on Leipzig’s reliance on their Liverpool-bound star; RB Leipzig, for the time being, will have to adjust to life without Naby Keïta a bit earlier than they would have preferred. Luckily, with the additions of Konrad Laimer and Kevin Kampl, there is a new depth to the RB midfield that might be able to replace some of Keita’s brilliant production. While it’s foolish to think that Laimer, who has shown flashes of defensive skill and pressing resistance (both big parts of Keita’s game) against BMG and Kampl, whose passing and dribbling looked sharp against HSV, can make up for Keita’s absence, RBL are at least much better equipped to do so than last season.
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