Monday , February 17 2020

RB Leipzig CAN win the Bundesliga… and Germany had better get used to it!

Ordinarily the arrival of a new force to smash the monotonous monopoly of one club in a title race is welcomed with rejoicing.

But when that pretender to the throne is a certain RasenBallsport Leipzig, much of the remainder of German football would probably rather Bayern Munich won the Bundesliga for an eighth successive year.

The antipathy and hatred towards RB Leipzig from Germany’s traditional powerhouses is now well-established and takes many forms, from supporter banners instructing them to ‘p*** off’ to bylaws in club constitutions forbidding friendlies being arranged against them.

RB Leipzig players and staff celebrate after they rescued a point against Monchengladbach

The title challengers fell 2-0 behind at home on Saturday but battled back to get a vital draw

The title challengers fell 2-0 behind at home on Saturday but battled back to get a vital draw

Leipzig manager Julian Nagelsmann encourages his team during the Bundesliga match

Leipzig manager Julian Nagelsmann encourages his team during the Bundesliga match

But the rest of the Bundesliga and wider German football is going to have to come to terms with the very real prospect that RB Leipzig will be crowned champions just 11 years after their controversial foundation.

Julian Nagelsmann’s team were the Bundesliga’s Herbstmeister – champions of the autumn or table toppers at the mid-way point – back in December, and though they have dropped points of late, they remain just one point off the top.

We will learn much more about their credentials this Sunday evening when Leipzig travel to Bayern in a summit meeting that is being billed as upstarts against the establishment.

A win will return Leipzig to the first place they occupied throughout December and until a surprise 2-0 reverse at Eintracht Frankfurt a fortnight ago that was followed by a 2-2 draw with fourth-placed Borussia Monchengladbach.

And taking all three points from the Allianz Arena will serve as the ideal slingshot for the remaining 12 rounds of the season and the Red Bulls’ title charge.

Leipzig slipped behind Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga title race last weekend but the two teams are set to meet at the Allianz Arena this Sunday evening

Leipzig slipped behind Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga title race last weekend but the two teams are set to meet at the Allianz Arena this Sunday evening

Borussia Dortmund fans hold up a series of banners in protest against the Red Bull-owned club

Borussia Dortmund fans hold up a series of banners in protest against the Red Bull-owned club

Fans of Union Berlin suggested RB Leipzig fans should 'support their local team'

Fans of Union Berlin suggested RB Leipzig fans should ‘support their local team’ 

With reluctance, the rest of German football is now reconciling itself with the fact their worst fears about Leipzig winning the main prize could be about to be realised.

If and when Liverpool win the Premier League, their first English title in 30 years, there will be a grudging acceptance from fans of other English clubs that this powerhouse club had waited long enough and are by some considerable distance the best team in the division this season.

But Leipzig, who came into being in 2009 when the Red Bull corporation took control of fifth division SSV Markranstadt, changed their name, logo and colours before rampaging to the Bundesliga in just eight seasons, will leave a sour taste in the mouth.

They deliberately flouted German football’s unique ’50-plus-one’ ownership rules designed to keep power in the hands of supporters by issuing a limited number of shares, selling 49 per cent of them to Red Bull and then making the remainder prohibitively expensive.

And then there was the circumventing of rules prohibiting teams to name themselves after companies by making the official name ‘RasenBallsport’ – which literally means ‘lawn ball sports’ – as opposed to Red Bull.

Bayern Munich have won the Bundesliga title for seven years straight - but their monopoly is under severe threat this season with Leipzig, Gladbach and Borussia Dortmund challenging

Bayern Munich have won the Bundesliga title for seven years straight – but their monopoly is under severe threat this season with Leipzig, Gladbach and Borussia Dortmund challenging

Timo Werner celebrates in front of the RB Leipzig logo that looks very similar to Red Bull's

Timo Werner celebrates in front of the RB Leipzig logo that looks very similar to Red Bull’s

Of course, nobody is fooled. When the former Schalke and Bayern midfielder Hamit Altintop paired them with Tottenham in the draw for the last 16 of the Champions League, he called them ‘Red Bull Leipzig’.

The situation was summed up well by the Suddeutsche Zeitung writer Klaus Hoeltzenbein before Christmas: ‘RB remains a controversial artificial product and a start-up, set up in the fifth division as a shell that had millions of euros and ambition pumped into it.

‘But some traditionalists will have to recognise that this project has shaken up and challenged an industry that was a little too in love with itself.’

It styles RB Leipzig as the bold and ambitious start-up taking on the cosy corporations as a disruptor and naturally they don’t like it very much.

But though their mere existence causes revulsion, Leipzig are going about their title bid in the right way.

Contrary to expectations, they haven’t spent crazy money, instead choosing to buy young talents from other clubs in Germany or elsewhere and developing them in house.

Leipzig doubled their money on midfielder Keita when they sold him to Liverpool for £54m

Leipzig doubled their money on midfielder Keita when they sold him to Liverpool for £54m

Leipzig welcomed the young Spaniard Dani Olmo from Dinamo Zagreb during January

Leipzig welcomed the young Spaniard Dani Olmo from Dinamo Zagreb during January

Olmo made his debut off the bench during Leipzig's 2-2 draw with Gladbach on Saturday

Olmo made his debut off the bench during Leipzig’s 2-2 draw with Gladbach on Saturday

The club’s record signing was the midfielder Naby Keita, who cost them £26.78million when bought from sister club Red Bull Salzburg and later sold to Liverpool for £54m.

Dani Olmo, the 21-year-old Spanish playmaker signed this January from Dinamo Zagreb, is their second most expensive buy for £18m.

Timo Werner, their superstar centre forward who has scored 25 goals this season, cost just £12m from Stuttgart back in 2016.

Now linked pretty much every week to Chelsea and Liverpool in the Premier League, Werner is likely to command a fee of over four times that.

The other thing starting to slowly win over sceptical hearts and minds is that Leipzig play a very attractive brand of football and are exciting to watch.

Leipzig's brilliant striker Timo Werner skips past Dortmund keeper Roman Burki to score

Leipzig’s brilliant striker Timo Werner skips past Dortmund keeper Roman Burki to score

Werner has scored 25 goals this season and is attracting interest from Premier League clubs

Werner has scored 25 goals this season and is attracting interest from Premier League clubs

Nagelsmann, 32, who took the helm last summer after moving from Hoffenheim, is an obsessive when it comes to minute tactical details but he has also fostered a superb team spirit within his young squad.

It helps that he inherited a hugely talented group of players as a result of the vision of former manager turned Red Bull’s Head of Sport Ralf Rangnick, who put the club’s strategy into action these past few years.

Until their recent blip, Leipzig boasted the Bundesliga’s most watertight defence, with French duo Dayot Upamecano and Nordi Mukiele, plus German Lukas Klostermann, offering a physical edge.

In midfield, Christopher Nkunku, formerly of a bright young thing at PSG before Leipzig poached him for £10m, is enjoying an outstanding season with four goals and 10 assists.

Captain Marcel Sabitzer and Emil Forsberg provide the thrust down either flank in support of Werner, with the Czech Patrik Schick and Dane Yussuf Poulsen back-ups when it comes to scoring.

Ralf Rangnick, Leipzig's former coach, was the man with the vision for taking the club forward

Ralf Rangnick, Leipzig’s former coach, was the man with the vision for taking the club forward

French defender Dayot Upamecano (left) offers the Leipzig team a physical edge at the back

French defender Dayot Upamecano (left) offers the Leipzig team a physical edge at the back

Midfielder Christopher Nkunku is enjoying a fine season as Leipzig push for the title

Midfielder Christopher Nkunku is enjoying a fine season as Leipzig push for the title

In sum, Leipzig have a squad of players aged 25 or under, inexpensively acquired yet with tremendous potential to either improve or be sold on for chunky profits.

Nagelsmann isn’t exactly the only manager who demands his team press in order to win the ball back seconds after losing it, but there’s still a freshness about Leipzig.

And even when not bossing possession, they are punchy on the counter-attack. A good example was in their 3-3 draw at title rivals Borussia Dortmund before the winter break, when they came back from 2-0 and 3-1 down to take a crucial point despite being overwhelmed for long periods.

So if Leipzig do end Bayern’s streak of title wins, it will be a triumph well-earned but not exactly celebrated by the rest of German football.

In the meantime, we find ourselves in a curious situation where neutrals who have been willing ‘anyone but Bayern’ to win the title for years and years now find themselves willing them to get the better of an even more disagreeable foe.