May 27, 2017

RB Leipzig Watch: Showdown at the “Betze”

(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, just behind 1st place SC Freiburg. Regardless, promotion seems extremely likely for this most polarizing of German clubs as 3rd place 1.FC Nurnberg slows slides away. 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

Matchday 30: RB Leipzig vs SV Sandhausen 0:1

If you have never heard of SV Sandhausen, don’t worry you are not alone. The club from the South-West of Germany might be the most boring and forgettable one in the whole country. Nobody outside of that region knows where this small town of 15.000 even is. However the SVS is currently the 30th best football club in Germany.

Which is a pretty great position for a club as bland as Sandhausen.

SV_Sandhausen.svg
MS Word 98, anyone?

Please look at that logo!

It looks like somebody designed it in 30 minutes using MS Powerpoint on a Windows 98 PC. The logo features no colors, no animals, no regional symbols and not even a clever use of letters and numbers.

Seriously?

It tells you the name of the club and the year it was founded. That’s it? And the color scheme? White home jerseys, black away ones.

Maybe the fans are worth remembering? Nope, Sandhausen was dead last in attendance last season. Only 6.000 fans attend an average Sandhausen game even though the stadium has room for 15.000. And the team doesn’t even have a nickname.

There used to be a “Create your Club” mode in football video games, where the game gave you a generic placeholder team that you got to redesign as you liked.
SV Sandhausen reminds me of that placeholder team. (No offense to the people of Sandhausen and the great organisation they’ve built!)

Just look at these spunky guys.
Just look at these spunky guys.

Yet, “FC Placeholder” has 36 points and sits in 12th place, free of any relegation worries. Sandhausen also managed to beat RB Leipzig 1-0 at home in front of 30.000 people.
It was a real tactical masterpiece in terms of team defending and counter attacking. Even though Leipzig’s strikers were a little unlucky in front of goal, it would be disrespectful to call this game a “Leipzig choke”. Sandhausen was just brilliant in what they did and won the game fair and square.

Elsewhere, No Progress

For RB this Sandhausen loss meant that the door was wide open for Nürnberg, who played on Saturday, to reenter the race for direct promotion. And Nürnberg went ahead in Karlsruhe after just three minutes. “Oh boy.” That’s what every RB fan probably thought.

But Nürnberg is in some kind of self destruction mode right now, they conceded an equalizer before halftime and allowed Karlsruhe to score the winner in extra time.

Is Der Club losing the plot?
Is Der Club losing the plot?

We all know that feeling: You have dropped your phone and after picking it up you realise that it still works fine and the protection case took all the damage. Puh.

That’s how RB Leipzig fans probably felt this weekend.

All in all RB Leipzig had to take a disappointing loss but on the other hand really dodged a bullet thanks to Karlsruhe. After 30 games played the Bulls’ lead over Nürnberg is still at six points, while the number of games left is down to four.

First place SC Freiburg played Monday Night at Braunschweig, escaped with a draw due to a last minute equalizer and took advantage of the situation. That single point was huge. Seven points clear of Nürnberg, Freiburg needs just two more wins to go up directly. Leipzig needs seven points to be 100% safe.

By the way, congratulations to Freiburg and Leipzig!

Both clubs clinched at least 3rd place and will enter the Relegation Playoffs no matter what in the final weeks.

For Nürnberg, the season gets interesting in multiple ways now. Direct promotion is still in play. In four games Nürnberg needs to outgain Leipzig by six points and hold on to their +2 goal difference. Sounds hard, but there have been crazier comebacks in German football history. But the FCN also needs to look down nown.

Fourth place St. Pauli are only seven points behind the FCN. Both teams play each other on Matchday 32. For Nürnberg the St.Pauli game could become a “Final for 3rd place” should the Franconians drop points in the next two games.

Matchday 31 Preview: It’ll come down to this

maxresdefault

(Nürnberg needs a vintage “FCK Betzenberg Night” to keep hopes up)

Freiburg vs. Duisburg (18th) / Friday 22nd of April
Düsseldorf (15th) vs. St.Pauli / Friday 22nd
Nürnberg vs. Union Berlin (6th) / Saturday 23rd
Kaiserslautern (11th) vs. RB Leipzig / Monday 25th 20.30h EST

The three way “Battle for Direct Promotion”  could be over next week, not mathematically but realistically.

Nürnberg’s only lifeline seems to be a Leipzig away loss to Kaiserslautern. To catch RB, Nürnberg needs to win every game from now on. This is hard, but doable. Moreover they need RB to drop six points in four matches. This is the bigger problem.

Take a look at RB Leipzig’s schedule and it becomes apparent how crucial this game is. After K’lautern the Bulls have two back to back home games against Bielefeld and Karlsruhe, then they will travel to last place MSV Duisburg on the final Matchday.

Anything can happen in football, but Nürnberg really needs Leipzig to lose or draw at Kaiserslautern.

While the Red Devils of Kaiserslautern are just a mid table team at the moment, their history, fans and that legendary stadium make them a tough away fixture no matter what division they play in. Even though Kaiserslautern has nothing left to play for this year and doesn’t need the points, this game will be a “War of Systems”. The übertraditional FCK sure would love to derail “plastic club” Leipzig’s season.

Check out the FCK Wikipedia page for more detailed information about this great Traditionsverein. The Betzenberg is probably the “Anfield Road of Germany” (sorry BVB fans, but your stadium was built 50 years later). Bayern Munich used to lose here all the time, and even Barcelona and other European giants had a tough time on that little hill.
For example, once upon a time Real Madrid received a 5-0 spanking at the “Betze” in 1982 for example.

Like many traditional clubs with antiquated structures, the FCK had terrible financial management and their big picture decision-making was crap. Incompetent “glory boy” managers and executives forced a stadium deal that was too expensive. K’lautern wanted to be a 2006 World Cup venue so badly that corners were cut to make the stadium construction numbers work. This stadium deal, in combination with relegation, almost killed the club. The FCK actually had to be bailed out by the taxpayers.

At clubs like Kaiserslautern the loudest guy in the room, who promises fans the most shit, wins elections. After all most guys who vote for board members are fans not auditors or HR reps. So a guy who presents a concept like “Championship by 2020” has better odds than a guy who proposes sensible spending and realistic goals.

If stuff doesn’t work out, the loudmouth is gone. What they leave behind is a run down club with a crap roster, tons of debt and no future. That pretty much sums up why the Rote Teufel play Monday night games against Leipzig nowadays instead of Wednesday night games at the Nou Camp.

Those were the days, Otto Rehagel and Ciriaco Sforza celebrate the last FCK Championship in 1998.
Those were the days, Otto Rehagel and Ciriaco Sforza celebrate the last FCK Championship in 1998.

Transfer Rumours & Search for a New Coach

Apparently Lucien Favre (in talks with Galatasaray) and Augsburgs Thomas Weinzierl (candidate #1 at Schalke) will not coach at the Red Bull Arena next season, at least not for the home team.

Ralf Hasenhüttl, the father of FC Ingolstadt’s meteoric rise, is the leading candidate now. The magazine SportBild predicts that Hasenhüttl, an Austrian just like Red Bull owner Mateschitz, will sign his RB deal the second Leipzig secures promotion. Ingolstadt will receive two million Euros for letting Hasenhüttl go.

Ralph Hasenhuettl, head coach of Ingolstadt looks on prior to the Bundesliga match between FC Ingolstadt and VfL Wolfsburg at Audi Sportpark on September 12, 2015 in Ingolstadt, Germany.  (Photo by Micha Will/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Ralph Hasenhuettl (Photo by Micha Will Bongarts/Getty Images)

Sounds like a pretty smart move for Leipzig, since Hasenhüttl knows how to secure promotion with a newly promoted team. He just did it this year, with a less talented roster. What a sensible hire this would be, he is the perfect man for the job.

Finally, at the Mercato, RB and Wolfsburg seem to be in a bidding war for Basel’s 19 year old starlet Breel Embolo. According to Bild, the highest bid is 27 million right now. You can check out Embolo’s ScoutNation evaluation here:

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