July 24, 2017

RB Leipzig Watch: Is This Really Happening?

(Editor: This piece is part 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 currently sitting at 2nd place in the Bundesliga 2 table, level on points with 1st place SC Freiburg, but with a weaker Goal Differential. 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

After seven long years of controversy it seems like this “Red Bull Bundesliga club in Leipzig thing” is really happening. Whether you and me like it or not, is not the subject of this article.

The Bulls need three more wins from five games, then they get to play Bayern, Hertha and the HSV instead of 1860, St.Pauli and Union next season. While Die Roten Bullen did a great job in the last two games, the focus this week is on Nürnberg’s Shakespearean tragedy.

It is crazy how quickly a season can turn. RB Leipzig went into the Matchday 28 & 29 with many doubts and a ton of pressure on them. RB had lost both clashes with promotion rivals Freiburg and Nürnberg in the previous  weeks. Freiburg leaped past the Bulls in the standings and RB-chaser #1, FC Nürnberg cut down a deficit of nine points to three. The promotion race that seemed over for RB just three weeks ago was back on track.

It’s tough to get promoted, but in 2016 it might be tougher than ever. In 2015, Darmstadt 98 finished second with 59 points after 34 games, Ingolstadt won the league with 64 points.

However, this year Freiburg and RB already have 62 points, while Nürnberg is at 56 and we still have 5 games left. One of those teams (probably the FCN now) has to finish third and will enter the Relegation Playoff crapshoot. It’s a shame, because all three of them are playing a season that would be good enough for first place in most years.

Leipzig_Bochum_169_rdax_70

Matchday 28: RB Leipzig vs VFL Bochum 3:1 (0:0)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1nKf_Ub5B0

This was Leipzig’s cross roads game. Another loss might have derailed RB’s season for good. Yet there was also a chance to send a message to Nürnberg and Freiburg, that RB will march on no matter what happened in the promotion candidate duels.

RB’s first half performance in the Bochum game was nothing worth mentioning. The city of Leipzig and 32.000 people in the stands went into halftime with major worries that RB will have to play a tough Relegation matchup at the end of the season.

After the break the Bulls stormed out of the gates, shut up all doubters and killed off the game in just 12 minutes. It was an offensive performance worthy of a promotion spot. First Kapitän Dominik Kaiser got a lucky deflection on his long range try and Bochum’s concrete wall was cracked open.

Just 120 seconds later RB produced a beautiful team goal to make it 2:0. The Belgian Massimo Bruno finished off a beautiful attack with a pretty outside foot shot (check out the video, it’s worth it), he added his second goal just ten minutes later.  Bochum made it 3:1 in the 88th minute, but that was just Ergebniskosmetik (“result cosmetics,” or “garbage time goal”) as we say in Germany.

Yet Leipzig’s win didn’t do them any good since Nürnberg and Freiburg also won their Matchday 28 games. “When everybody’s winning, nobody’s winning”.

Matchday 29: “The Gesture that (may have) decided the Promotion Race”

Bulthuis sees redThe Red Bulls played in the nationally televised game on Monday night, while their rivals had to play on Sunday afternoon. RB players probably watched the channel Freiburg vs St Pauli was on because Nürnberg hosted Duisburg, the worst team in the league. Nobody in Leipzig had any hope that Nürnberg would stumble in this game.

But the MSV travelled to Nürnberg’s Grundig Stadion and shocked the hottest team in the league. The scoreboard somehow said “1:2” after the final whistle. It was an über upset, after all Nürnberg hadn’t lost in the previous 18 games and won six straight. That loss decreases Nürnberg’s direct promotion odds by quite a bit. “Der Club” will play four teams from the upper half of the table next.

They will have to make do without some key players for now.

Midfielder Leibold collected a 2nd yellow and will miss the next one. Center back Dave Bulthuis received a straight red (90’+4) for unsportsmanlike conduct and might be gone for a while. Duisburg, like every last place team would do in that situation, deployed a “park the bus & kill the clock” tactic. Nürnberg was chasing a late equalizer and got more frustrated by the minute.

Nürnberg’s Dutch center back Bulthuis, who is as irreplaceable for Nürnberg as Mats Hummels is for Dortmund, lost his cool. He pushed Duisburg’s Albutat to the ground and was sent off. To make matters even worse, he then got into Albutats face with a gesture that mimicked a close range headshot.

If the DFL judges are hard on him, Bulthuis might be done for the season. Werder Bremen’s Papy Djilobodji received a two game ban by the DFL for a decapitation gesture just a few weeks ago. Bulthuis will get some games for his initial flagrant foul on top of that.
People in northern Bavaria often use the phrase “Der Club is’ a Depp”. It means “our club is an idiot”, in FCN history Der Club often failed in the most stupid and unnecessary fashion possible. To give you an example: In 1999 Nürnberg went into the last Bundesliga matchday with three points and a couple of goals ahead of the other relegation candidates and still didn’t make it.

Another piece of old German football wisdom says: “Winning glamorous games means nothing, if you don’t take care of your weekly chores.”

Nürnberg convincingly beat the two best teams in the league, but they dropped seven points in “chore games” against Duisburg, Düsseldorf and Bochum during this Rückrunde. Should the FCN miss out on promotion this year, those seven points will be a major reason.

RB’s other rival Freiburg enjoyed a better Sunday afternoon at home. Freiburg survived a late game scare in a dramatic 4:3 win against 4th place St. Pauli and accepted the gift  Nürnberg handed them. The SCF, six points clear and a better goal difference in hand, is out of Nürnberg’s range for now and looks like the clear cut favorite to win the 2.Bundesliga Meisterschale.

Düsseldorf vs. Leipzig 1:3 (1:1)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0l1B_R3MR6g

RB Leipzig also wanted to cash in on Nürnberg’s misfortune and draw level with Freiburg.
A tricky away date with relegation candidate Fortuna Düsseldorf at the ESPRIT Arena had to be won first. Düsseldorf somehow plays good teams pretty well. Fortuna drew Nürnberg at home and beat Freiburg away. They are better than their table rank suggests and also happen to play in what is probably the finest second division stadium in the whole wide world:

F95 Stadium

For the first 30 minutes of the game Düsseldorf was better and deserved to go ahead by 1:0. Unfortunately for Fortuna they couldn’t maintain that intensity, RB slowly took over control.

RB Leipzig picked the perfect time to score: Before and after the break. A goal is always welcome, but a 45th / 46th minute goal does a lot of psychological damage to your opponent. Yussuf Poulsen found some space and chipped Fortuna’s goalie Michael Rensing before the break. The Dane then he assisted Davie Selke, subbed in at halftime, who made it 2:1 for RB with his first touch of the game. Selke returned the favor when he set up Poulsen for Leipzig’s third goal later. Game over.

Leipzig is now in the same commanding position Freiburg is in. I don’t know how much RB cares about the Championship trophy, but that’s still in play for Leipzig, since they only trail Freiburg on goal difference. After watching the last two RB games, it would be complete shock if RB doesn’t get the missing nine points from five games, three of them are at home.

Promotion Race-Clinching Scenarios

Pep title win BuLi flag

Well, the top three spots in the 2. Bundesliga are pretty much set in stone now.
Bochum trails Nürnberg by nine points and even though Nürnberg looked shaky this weekend, they will certainly collect the necessary points to clinch third place.
But in this crazy season anything can happen, so nothing has been decided.

1st place: Championship & Direct Promotion

SC Freiburg (62 points, +31 goals):
– clinches Direct Promotion with three wins and a draw (all teams have five games left)
– clinches Championship with five wins, if RB doesn’t outscore them by 10+ goals
– clinches Relegation Playoffs with a draw
– Hinrunde record against remaining opponents: 3 Wins – 2 Draws – 0 Losses (11 points)

2nd place: Direct Promotion

RB Leipzig (62 points, +22 goals):
– same scenario as Freiburg
– clinches Championship with five wins, while outscoring Freiburg by at least ten goals
– Hinrunde record against remaining opponents:  4 – 0 – 1 (12 points)

3rd place: Relegation Playoffs

1.FC Nürnberg (56 points, +24 goals):
– can’t clinch Direct Promotion or Championship without outside help
– clinches Relegation Playoffs with two wins and a draw
– Relegation opponent if season ended today: Werder Bremen
– Hinrunde record against remaining opponents: 3 – 2 – 0  (11 points)

Transfer Rumours

VfB Stuttgart's Timo Werner.
VfB Stuttgart’s Timo Werner.

The season is winding down, but the so called “Transfer Carousel” is spinning a little faster every day now and of course RB will be a player in the market next summer. Both as a seller and buyer if the rumors are true.

Stuttgart’s Timo Werner, Leverkusen’s Bernd Leno and World Champ Shkodran Mustafi of Valencia CF are on Ralf Rangnick’s list as summer transfer targets. That looks like the shopping list of a Champions League contender.

Apparently RB is in a head to head battle with Borussia Dortmund over Timo Werner’s signature. Stuttgart’s price tag of 20 million Euros seems to be only a minor issue for Leipzig. A 2.Bundesliga team fights over a player with one of Europe’s Top Ten clubs, when did this ever happen before?

On the other hand, all that premium young talent RB has hoarded didn’t go unnoticed by the British clubs. Tottenham is apparently keen on Leipzig’s left back Lukas Klostermann and there will always be demand for young offensive standouts like Selke, Forsberg and Poulsen on the other side of the channel. Forsberg just extended his contract in Leipzig, but if he plays well at the Euros, he could receive some insane offers. Selke will get exposure in Rio for the German Olympics Team and due to his length and big frame, he will always get Premier League scouts excited. Offers in the 30-50 million range could arrive in a couple of month.

The guy who will coach RB’s first ever Bundesliga game still hasn’t been found.
Rangnick the “Professor” will trade the bench for the GM office next summer.
German magazine SportBild published a list of potential replacements:
Ralph Hasenhüttl (Ingolstadt), Martin Schmidt (Mainz Bundesliga), Lucien Favre (free agent), Roger Schmidt (Leverkusen) and “darkhorse candidate” Sandro Schwarz (Mainz U23) are the coaches Red Bull desires, if SportBild’s sources are solid.

Next RB Games: Sandhausen at home, Kaiserslautern away

We’ll be back after the Kaiserslautern game on April 25th.

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