Hinrunde Reviews: RB Leipzig

The 2017/18 Bundesliga season has reached the halfway stage, giving us here at the Bundesliga Fanatic the opportunity to take stock of each club’s progress so far. Here, we look at how RB Leipzig fared in the Hinrunde.

The story so far

It was always going to be difficult for RB Leipzig to match the superb season they enjoyed in 2016-17 as a newly promoted side with the added ‘burden’ of the Champions League, but with the Hinrunde behind them, they can be satisfied with their position in fifth.

Without the surprise factor and with the requirement to rotate his squad more than last season, coach Ralph Hasenhüttl has managed to maintain Leipzig’s position as a real contender for a top four finish.

The season began with defeat to Schalke to serve as a confirmation that things were going to be more difficult this season, but RB recovered to beat Freiburg and Hamburg in their next games. After their Champions League debut and first point against Monaco came a draw against Mönchengladbach and a surprise defeat away at Augsburg. Leipzig only lost twice in the whole of the previous Hinrunde, they’d now lost twice in the opening five games.

Again they bounced back to register four consecutive league wins (including a 3-2 away win at Dortmund) before facing Bayern Munich in both the DFB Pokal and the Bundesliga in the space of four days. Despite having Naby Keita sent-off (again!) Leipzig took the lead in the Cup only for Jerome Boateng to equalise. The penalty shoot-out however went in Bayern’s favour with Timo Werner missing the vital spot-kick.

The league encounter was a little more straight-forward for the Bavarians with a 2-0 win at the Allianz Arena, although another red card this time for Willi Orban, tipped the scales in Bayern’s favour.

With Champions League duties still putting a strain on the squad, results in the Bundesliga included wins (Hannover, Bremen), draws (Leverkusen, Mainz, Wolfsburg) and losses (Hoffenheim, Hertha) with Leipzig struggling to find their winning rhythm.

In the end progression from the group stage of the Champions League at their first attempt eluded them, but they did qualify for the next stage of the Europa League. The end of the Hinrunde saw die Rote Bullen finish fifth, 13 points behind Bayern (it was three last season), but well within touching distance of the top four with four teams on 28 points and second placed Schalke on 30 points.

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Stat central

P17 W8 D4 L5 F27 A25 Pt28 (5th)

  • Leipzig are the dribble kings of the league averaging 34 per match. Naby Keita leads the team with 104 in total (average 9 per match).
  • Timo Werner has been caught offside more than anyone in the league. He’s been flagged 23 times in the Hinrunde.
  • RB are statistically the most attacking side averaging 106 attacks per game. Bayern Munich have averaged 101.

Top Performer: Peter Gulacsi

Last season it was Leipzig’s flair plays like Timo Werner, Emil Forsberg and Naby Keita who earned the plaudits, but this season the unsung goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi deserves the praise.

He was good last season, but is a player, who has raised his game even more in Leipzig’s tricky second season. He has been Mr. Reliable at the back and has pulled off a number of quite brilliant saves. The one against Mainz to deny Gerrit Holtmann springs to mind, as do the series of saves he pulled off to deny Divock Origi against Wolfsburg.

Kicker have him down as the league’s top keeper and also the third best plater ratings-wise from the Hinrunde. The 27-year-old Hungarian has been rewarded with a contract extension until 2022 on the back of his impressive displays.

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The summer signings

Leipzig knew that their squad needed more depth having qualified for the Champions League and they used the summer to bring in players that matched their profile of ‘young and ready to shine’.

The signing of Jean-Kevin Augustin from PSG was quite a coup and the forward began well starting five of the first eight matches scoring three goals in the process. Injury sustained against Porto curtailed his season and he’s been largely eased back as a second half substitute.

Portuguese winger Bruma burst onto the scene with a spectacular goal against Freiburg, but has since not really repeated that promise. A regular starting place has been hard to come by and he’s not added to his goal tally, although he did provide two assists. Austrian midfielder Konrad Laimer has been solid, if unspectacular, while French defender Ibrahima Konaté has made seven starts (he was however taken off after just 32 minutes in the loss to Hertha).

Kevin Kampl was a surprise acquisition, but the midfielder was known to Ralf Rangnick from his time at Red Bull Salzburg. He’s played 14 matches in the Bundesliga and scored his first goal in the 2-2 draw with Mainz.

Swiss back-up keeper Yvon Mvogo’s only appearance came in the 1-0 loss at Augsburg when Hasenhüttl opted to rotate.

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Hinrunde highlight

Leipzig’s previous visit to the Signal-Iduna Park saw a 1-0 defeat so to come away from their matchday 8 encounter with a deserved 3-2 win was a real feather in their cap.

Three days before an important Champions League clash with Porto, they travelled to Dortmund and despite going down to a 4th minute goal equalised six minutes later through Marcel Sabitzer. Yussuf Poulsen fired the visitors in front on 25 minutes. Leipzig had turned the game following Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s early goal and four minutes into the second-half saw the game turn even more in their favour.

Sokratis was forced to foul the onrushing Augustin leading to both a red card for the Greek defender and a penalty. Augustin fired home the spot-kick to send Leipzig two goals clear. Stefan Ilsanker was sent-off ten minutes later for a second yellow card and Dortmund did pull one goal back via an Aubameyang penalty, but Leipzig held out for an historic three points at the Signal-Iduna Park.

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Hinrunde lowlight

With Hoffenheim in the middle of a mini-crisis matchday 14 seemed the ideal time for Leipzig to face them, but in the end it was the wrong time as Julian Nagelsmann’s side came out of their depression with aplomb.

Nadiem Amiri gave the home side a 1-0 lead going into the half-time break, but the second half was to see a dominant display from Hoffenheim, which Leipzig just couldn’t combat.

Two goals from Serge Gnabry made it 3-0 with the second one seeing him lob keeper Peter Gulacsi from around 45 meters! Mark Uth added a fourth late on as RB had no answer to the Kraichgauer’s play.

The forecast

It is no surprise that Leipzig have struggled at times to find the sparkling form they showed last season, but it is to their credit that once again they are genuine contenders for the Champions League places.

As they get more and more used to the rhythm of Bundesliga and European games on a four-day cycle and as the players adapt to squad rotation, they will start to string together a series of wins like last season.

There is little doubt the squad is more than capable of repeating its second-placed finish from last season, but with the likes of Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen on the up and Borussia Dortmund bound to improve, there will be a real fight for that top four finish.

It’s now up to trainer Ralph Hasenhüttl to manage the squad under these new conditions.

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.

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