There have been plenty of ups and down in the opening weeks of the season for RB Leipzig, but the Sachsen outfit have shown in recent games that it would be unwise to write them off as serious contenders for a top four finish.
A stuttering start followed by an embarrassing performance in Europe coupled with a breakdown in team discipline saw the club struggling for form and under threat of seeing others building up an early lead in the table. However, Ralf Rangnick has overseen a resurgence and everything now seems much rosier.
It all started on a downer as a fired-up Borussia Dortmund put them to the sword on the opening weekend at the Signal Iduna Park before they were disappointingly held to a 1-1 draw with newly promoted Fortuna Düsseldorf, which could easily have ended in a another reverse.
A 3-2 win over Hannover got the first win on the board, but there was to be another trough before any more peaks were experienced. The eagerly awaited clash against their fellow Red Bull stable mates from Salzburg in the Europa League ended in a debacle for the German version of the energy drink franchise.
Ralf Rangnick’s side produced a terrible first-half performance riddled with individual errors and poor decision making. So angry was the coach with what he’d witnessed in the first half, he substituted two of the main miscreants- namely Nordi Mukiele and Jean-Kevin Augustin and half-time.
The following day a scandal emerged with the RB trainer venting his rage at the players in the Bild Zeitung in what has now become ‘Phonegate’. It seems prior to the game at the Red Bull Arena both Mukiele and Augustin were missing from the team meeting and it later transpired they were located on their phones with their earphones in completely oblivious as to what was going on.
“There are things that explain why some players were not ready for the game” he fumed. “It is completely perverse that we’ve travelled across Europe for three months to qualify for this competition- and then some players see this as a chore. I did not hear about the incident until Friday morning. Sure, we’ll sanction them hard.”
That sanction saw both Augustin and Mukiele dropped from the squad that faced Eintracht Frankfurt on matchday 4. A second half penalty from Emil Forsberg secured a point at the Commerzbank Arena and with a line seemingly drawn under Phonegate and the suspended players back in the fold, Leipzig have gone on a four-match winning streak, which has seen them getting back to something like their best form.
They first beat VfB Stuttgart at home before following that with an impressive win away at Hoffenheim where Rangnick won the tactical battle against his successor Julian Nagelsmann by mirroring his 3-5-2 formation and denied Pavel Kaderabek and Nico Schulz the space they were used to by defending deep.
A 3-1 win over Norwegian side Rosenborg restored some pride after the Salzburg debacle and the last weekend saw them notch up a whopping 6-0 demolition of Nürnberg. Timo Werner was on top form with two goals and was heavily involved in two others. Emil Forsberg and Marcel Sabitzer were also firing on all-cylinders which was most welcome. When Leipzig’s key men step up to the plate, there a few clubs that can stand-up to them.
“We’re over the moon with this result and the performance today” explained Rangnick after the big win. “We wanted to keep the same tempo for the whole game and win lots of possession, and after doing this, we then created a lot of goal-scoring chances.
“It was important that we kept it tight at the back and played on the front foot for the whole game. We’re on the right track, and if we carry on going, we can achieve a lot this season!”
Trainer/ Sporting Director Rangnick had targeted a two-point average and with 14 points from 7 games that has been achieved and with 16 goals scored they’ve been outscored only by Dortmund.
Going into the second international break of the new season, the mood at the club is much more optimistic than it was three weeks ago. While the current state of the Bundesliga table is only a snapshot, it is nonetheless a snapshot that is pleasing on the eye for fans, players and trainer alike as they sit second behind Borussia Dortmund.
Die Roten Bullen’s debut season in the top flight saw them out-do expectations only for last season to be more than a little underwhelming. They will be desperate to achieve Champions League football for next season as a sort of welcome gift to incoming trainer Julian Nagelsmann. The slow start and the Salzburg debacle aside, RB have made a solid start and will return after the international break keen on keeping pace with early-season front-runners Dortmund.
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