March 22, 2017

RB Leipzig Watch: The Best (and only) Title Race in Germany

(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, three points behind the rampant 1st place SC Freiburg. Still promotion is all but guaranteed 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

Friday April 22nd: Freiburg (1st) vs. Duisburg (18th) 3:0

SCF Willkommen Zurueck
Welcome back to the Bundesliga, SC Freiburg Supporters!

There’s not really much to talk about. The best team in the league beat the worst team at home. Yet, if you look at Nürnberg and RB, taking care of business has been a problem for Freiburg’s promotion rivals, so this win should not be taken for granted.

Freiburg built up a seven point lead over 3rd place Nürnberg and need just three points from three games to get promoted. They also own the best goal difference (+34) of the “big three”, but that probably won’t matter.

Freiburg will play Bayern and Dortmund next year, period. It’s true that “anything can happen in football”, but come on… Congrats Freiburg! Nice to have you back!

Saturday April 23rd: Nürnberg (3rd) vs. Union (6th) 6:2

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhR5dDQ4JNc

When Nürnberg’s players went into halftime, they looked like zombies from the Walking Dead. Der Club,  coming off back to back losses, was down by two goals against a good Union team until the 58th minute.

At this point, Nürnberg’s season seemed dead. Direct promotion wasn’t in play anymore and securing the 3rd place and Relegation Playoffs seemed like the only realistic goal left.

How did Nürnberg’s players react?

They simply scored six (!) goals in 30 minutes and are back in the race. This great comeback win put the FCN back into the promotion conversation and all but secured the Relegation Playoffs. St. Pauli in 4th is trailing Nürnberg by nine points and minus 21 goals. So Nürnberg has secured the valuable 3rd spot, what happens from now is just the icing on the cake. The “Clubberer” need outside help though.

Monday April 25th: 1.FC Kaiserslautern (11th) vs. RB Leipzig (2nd) 1:1

The “homecoming present” Willi Orban didn’t like.
The “homecoming present” Willi Orban didn’t like.

You could call this game the “Willi Orban Homecoming”. RB’s young junior international left ‘Lautern for RB last summer and of course FCK fans wanted to give him a little “welcome home” party. Orban was booed all game whenever he touched the ball and banners with his face in crosshairs were all over the place.

“Orban ist ein Hurensohn”, which means Orban is a son of whore, was the favorite song of the day. While I can understand the FCK fans, I think they were out of line. Booing and “Judas” or “Asshole” banners are OK in my book, words like “Hurensohn” and drawn crosshairs on player faces are simply beneath this great club. The name 1.FC Kaiserslautern represents fair play, hard work and pure class. “Hurensohn” is not classy, it is probably the meanest and most serious insult the German language offers. Another banner was insulting RB coach & GM Ralf Rangnick and wishing him more burnout syndrom issues. Rangnick once stepped down at Schalke because of it.

I’m pretty sure Fritz Walther, who the arena is named after, would have been ashamed if he was still alive to see his club represented in that context. Attacking players is one thing, attacking player’s families and making fun of health problems has no place in sports.

If FCK fans care about tradition so much, why do they disrespect their own colors like that?

Oh yeah, there also was the “regular” Anti RB protest on top of that Anti Orban stuff.

This was a  sneak preview of what RB’s players can expect in 2016/17, should they go up. The Südtribüne in Dortmund will give them hell, that’s for sure. Even though RB is still in Division Two, BVB ultras are already selling Anti-RB shirts on eBay.

BVB's ultras say Nein, Nein, Nein to RB Leipzig.
BVB’s ultras say Nein, Nein, Nein to RB Leipzig.

From a neutral standpoint you have to admire how RB’s young squad is handling these hostile away games with class and fair play. It must feel and sound like Werder Bremen playing in Hamburg on the pitch, RB’s players get that every other week.

FCK players were extremely pumped up by the mood in the arena and played extremely physical. The referee did a poor job of containing the aggression early and handed out yellows way too late.

So the first half was turned into an ugly dogfight, RB had two big scoring chances but otherwise were harmless. In the second half things clicked better and Forsberg made it 1-0 right in front of the famous Westtribüne.

It looked like RB would cruise from there, the Kaiserslautern stone wall was broken and RB should have easily closed out the match.

Anti-RB and Anti-Willi Orban banners.
Anti-RB and Anti-Willi Orban banners.

But then Will Orban committed his second foul of the night and was sent off. Only the ref knows why he carded Orban on both fouls (they were both pretty harmless) but the Westtribüne exploded when their nemesis was sent off and Kaiserslauterns team also woke up.
Instead of booing and insulting RB and Orban, FCK fans started to cheer for their own team and minutes later the scoreboard said 1:1. In the final minutes Leipzig was lucky that they escaped with a point from Kaiserslautern’s “hellhole.”

One point gained or two points los? That’s always the question after any draw.

I’d say RB got a little bit of both. RB’s goal difference is worse than Nürnberg’s so a six point lead isn’t much better than a four point lead, since RB needs six more points in any case to be sure.

Escaping from such a hostile environment with a point is also a sign of maturity, RB’s players are extremely young after all and kept a pretty cool head.

On the other hand, RB’s record over the last seven matches is three losses, three wins and a draw. You never know which RB team shows up. Sometimes they look like a team that will challenge for a European spot next year and just minutes later they look like a team that doesn’t belong in the Bundesliga.

Over the next three games, all depends on which version of RB shows up.

Promotion Finale

(1st and 2nd go up directly, 3rd place enters Relegation Playoffs)

  1. Freiburg 66 Points +34 goals
  2. Leipzig 63 +21
  3. Nürnberg 59 +27

Remaining games

SC Freiburg: Paderborn (17th), Heidenheim (9th), Union (6th)

RB Leipzig: Bielefeld (13th), Karlsruhe (7th), Duisburg (18th)

Nürnberg: Braunschweig (10th), St. Pauli (4th), Paderborn (17th)

So the clinching scenarios are pretty straightforward. Freiburg needs another win, while RB needs two, then they’ll both go up no matter what Nürnberg does in these last three matches.

Nürnberg’s task hasn’t gotten any easier, even though they’ve reduced the gap to Leipzig by two points. They’ll face two pretty good teams next and also need Leipzig to choke twice.
RB controls it’s own destiny, they will play two consecutive home games before they travel to the worst team in the league on the final matchday.

One of these teams (unfortunately) must finish third, which is a shame, since Nürnberg already has as many points as Darmstadt 98 had last season, and Darmstadt finished second with that total. This year 59 points after 31 games translate to third place and long odds to reach second.

Matchday 32 Preview

Friday April 29th, 6.30pm EST

  • Paderborn vs. Freiburg
  • RB Leipzig vs. Bielefeld

Saturday April 30th, 1 pm EST

  • Braunschweig vs. Nürnberg

No more speculation from me at this point. Nürnberg and Leipzig are both too erratic and entirely unpredictable lately. They could each win or lose all three games and it wouldn’t surprise me. All I know is that Freiburg will get the job done.

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