March 25, 2017

RB Leipzig Watch: Reeperbahn Hangover

(Editor: This piece is part of our 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

StPauliFans
FC St.Pauli, the “Kultklub.”

 

You don’t often see games where this much is at stake both on and off the field.

For 4th place hosts St. Pauli, this was must-win situation in many ways. Coming into the match they were trailing 3rd place Nürnberg by only 3 points. Meanwhile, 1st place RB Leipzig would have been happy with a draw, which would have kept RB’s 11 point cushion between themselves and 4th place intact. And this is only the on-field part of the storyline.

As for the off-field storylines, let’s just say that if Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump would support a German club, I bet St.Pauli and Leipzig would be their picks. RB stands for cut throat capitalism, “greed is good” and in your face marketing, while St. Pauli represents everything liberals love. This game wasn’t “just” a clash between #1 and #4, it was also a battle of philosophies.

If you want to learn more about St.Pauli, I recommend the VICE documentary, “FC St. Pauli – Germany’s Progressive, Punk Soccer Club” on YouTube:

St. Pauli vs. RB represents the kind of  good vs. evil matchups you normally only see in 1980s sports movies like Mighty Ducks or Karate Kid.

St. Pauli has always been THE left wing, progressive club in Germany since forever.
Not only does St.Pauli’s kit feature the homosexual flag on the sleeves to oppose homophobia. Paulis bosses also removed the sponsor logo from their jersey for the RB match and replaced it with the slogan “Kein Fussball den Faschisten” (no football for fascists/ it was Holocaust memorial day in Germany that week).

The Match

Rangnick picked the same outfield players who beat Braunschweig last week, but had to throw out his gameplan after only 8 minutes when St.Pauli ran a perfect counter-attack and went up 1-0. In this sequence, every touch and every pass was played precisely and Rzatkowski sent two RB defenders flying the wrong way before he cooly converted.

Millerntor stadium almost exploded and from then on – an environment that became a real test of character for RB’s players. You can’t really face more adversity in German football than being down 1-0 at the Millerntor. Every big club (even Bayern) has had tricky games in this crazy arena, where even a throw-in gets a huge response from the crowd.

St. Pauli’s fans also know how to work the referees with whistling and booing. For example, a clear penalty to RB somehow wasn’t awarded and the physical style of St. Pauli’s players went unpunished (a little too often for my taste). Referee Tobias Welz didn’t hand out a yellow card until the 77th minute, and let Pauli’s warriors have their way with RB’s artists.

St. Pauli effectively parked the bus after their goal and the game became a one way street.

Leipzig played such a high line of defence, that the central defenders Orban & Compper were posted up 10 meters inside Pauli’s own half whenever RB had possession. For stretches, only replacement goalie Gulasci stayed inside RB’s own half. The Bulls created chance after chance but were unlucky to go into halftime down by one.

The second half wasn’t any different; you could almost feel how frustrated and annoyed RB’s players were in this match. St. Pauli’s tactics and fans got under Leipzig’s skin.

The terrible pitch didn’t help. RB’s quick passing and skill was ineffective against a “10 man inside the own box” defense, but RB’s shot conversion was abysmal and the main reason they lost. Forsberg alone could have scored a hattrick and there were at least another five sitters that all went wide or were kept out by Pauli’s amazing keeper Robin Himmelmann.

St. Pauli actually should have put the dagger into Leipzig’s back on two different set pieces and another well run counter in the second half. All-in-all Pauli did hit the woodwork twice, so Pauli earned the win fair and square. Defending this way successfully is a skill.

It’s not St. Pauli’s fault that they played a destructive style – this is the only way any 2.Liga club can beat Leipzig’s talent. What else can you do against a team able to bring Davie Selke and Massimo Bruno off the bench (!) after 60 minutes? Besides, the FCP is back in the promotion conversation with this statement win and doesn’t have to apologize for anything.

Personally, I was torn apart emotionally during this match, I was loving St.Pauli’s David beating RB’s Goliath, but on the other hand I normally can’t stand destructive football and wanted RB to get rewarded for their beautiful build up play.

Takeaways for RB

There isn’t much RB’s squad or Rangnick could have done better. St.Pauli caught lightning in a bottle early, and, for RB, not a single lucky bounce or call by the ref went their way.

This game was a reminder that anything can happen during 90 minutes, no matter how well prepared you are or how much talent you have. Does anybody remember that match?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxiBdX5F2I8

The offensive formation Leipzig deploys will always give opponents openings for a counter attack. But normally, Rangnicks style creates more goals than it allows if the chance conversion rate is at least normal. During the last two games, RB wasted a ton of good chances by over-passing or getting fancy. Additionally, Leipzig scored the least number of goals of the top three teams, so offense might be a problem Rangnick needs to fix.

Still I wouldn’t go as far as calling the St.Pauli game the blueprint for beating RB. After all, Pauli was extremely lucky not to be down or tied by halftime.

What was disappointing about RB was the away support. Leipzig’s had a proper amount of aways fans in the arena, but they were just standing there in silence when the game didn’t go their way, the same mentality could be seen in the player’s eyes. This is a young team and club that hasn’t been through many battles together, so they did not deal with adversity well and got frustrated a little too easy.

Another interesting story is that 2.Liga record signing and “8 million Euro man” Davie Selke wasn’t a starter for the second time in a row. When he was subbed in after an hour of play you could see why he was on the bench though.

Of the two, Yussuf Poulsen is simply a more complete striker. He can play with his back to the goal like Mario Mandzukic one minute then sprint at defenses like Thierry Henry the next. You can even feed Poulsen long balls, while Selke hasn’t added this aspect to his game yet and needs to bulk up more to play as a lone striker.

Promotion Race Implications

RB’s cushion to 4th place is down to 8 points after this matchday.

The good news: for all RB critics is that RB’s 6 game winning streak is over. This also was RB’s first away loss of the season.

The bad news: RB has 44 points at the moment, since the Relegation Playoffs were introduced point totals of 59, 62, 68, 65, 64, 63 and 67 were good for 2nd place & direct promotion. This breaks down to a 64 point average, which means Leipzig needs another 20 points or 6 wins with 13 games left to play. And this is not even factoring in that the teams chasing Leipzig will drop points. For example, Freiburg started the Rückrunde with two losses, Nürnberg drew Bochum on Monday so 15 points might even be enough.

Next Up

Union Berlin (12th in table).

Remaining Schedule

  • @Paderborn
  • Heidenheim
  • @Freiburg
  • 1860 Munich
  • @Nürnberg
  • Bochum
  • @Düsseldorf
  • Sandhausen
  • @K’lautern
  • Bielefeld
  • Karlsruhe SC
  • @Duisburg
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