Opposition Report: RB Leipzig

Will Morley
Read Time:4 Minute, 23 Second

An abysmal 2021 has not only left titles hopes in tatters for Liverpool but has even threatened their chances of making the top four. However, league form is mere guidance for the Champions League knockout stages. In other words, it is a clean slate as they face RB Leipzig over two legs.

The Reds Round of 16 opponent is Bundesliga outfit RB Leipzig, whose meteoric rise over the past decade or so, is nothing short of extraordinary. Founded in only 2009, Die Roten Bullen have soared up the German hierarchy to become one of Europe’s finest. They are now consistent Champions League attendees, even reaching last year’s semi-final; where they lost to eventual runners up, PSG.

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Ahead of the first ever game between Liverpool and Leipzig, let us take a deeper look at Germany’s latest high-flyers.

The Team

Despite establishing themselves as one of the Bundesliga’s best, RB Leipzig have become somewhat of a stepping stone club. Star players Timo Werner, Naby Keita and, more recently, Dayot Upamecano have been snatched by the vultures of European football.

Regardless, they still possess a crop of highly talented players and with an average age of 24, the best is yet to come. Manager Julian Nagelsmann often adopts a 3-4-2-1 formation, utilising his wide players as the main attacking source. Angeliño, recently signed on a permanent basis from Manchester City, has been a revelation this season. The left wing back’s 19 goal contributions in all competitions highlights his importance to Leipzig’s effective system.

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With Timo Werner’s departure last summer, Nagelsmann has mainly alternated between Yussuf Poulsen and Alexander Sørloth up top. Coping with Leipzig’s aerial prowess may prove challenging for Liverpool, seeing as both Scandinavians stand at 6′ 4″. To put that into context, that is nearly two inches taller than our tallest uninjured player, Nathaniel Phillips.

Although potent going forward, Leipzig are also solid in defence. They deploy a back three, typically consisting of Dayot Upamecano, Ibrahima Konate and Willi Orban. With reserves such as Lukas Klostermann, Nordi Mukiele and Marcel Halstenberg, it makes sense that they have conceded the fewest goals in this season’s Bundesliga (18). Liverpool will need a performance of yesteryear to dismantle this unyielding backline.

RB Leipzig: Season So Far

RB Leipzig are having one of the best seasons in their brief history. They currently sit second in the Bundesliga, four points behind giants Bayern Munich. With the league’s best defensive record and a young batch of talented forwards, they could push the German champions all the way this season.

Nagelsmann’s side also have a DFB Pokal quarter-final against Wolfsburg to look forward to. Leipzig have a genuine chance of winning the cup, after 2. Bundesliga side Holstein Kiel eliminated Bayern Munich in the second round. Will Die Roten Bullen finally atone for their heartbreaking loss to the Bavarian side back in the 2018/19 final?

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Then, of course, they are through to the knockout stages of the Champions League. If there were a time to play Liverpool, it would be now. With only three wins in their last dozen matches, the Reds are going through their worst run of form in decades. Leipzig also have a knack for eliminating English teams from the competition with Manchester United and Tottenham both falling to the sword within the last year.

Klopp vs Nagelsmann

Julian Nagelsmann boasts a youthful and pretty impressive coaching career. Not only did he mastermind Leipzig’s European run last season, but also guided Hoffenheim to their first ever top four finish in his debut managerial season. Here he met Klopp in the 2017/18 Champions League qualifiers – up till now, the Germans’ only ever meetings.

We played against Julian Nagelsmann, the coach, when he was at Hoffenheim, which was a tough one.

Jurgen Klopp
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The first leg was won by Liverpool in a cagey affair at Hoffenheim’s Rhein-Neckar-Arena. Notably, an 18 year-old Scouse right-back announced himself on the European stage with a tremendous free kick in what was only his ninth game for the Reds. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s strike and a posterior Nordtveit own goal left Liverpool within touching distance of the coveted Group Stage.

The second leg was more comfortable. Anfield witnessed a Klopp-esque “rock ‘n’ roll” display to kill the game before it had even started. A ruthlessly blistering start culminated in three goals within the opening 21 minutes, including Mohamed Salah’s second goal for the club.

What Could’ve Been For Liverpool

Liverpool famously reached the Champions League final that season, where they fell agonisingly short of winning football’s grand prize. However, that ignited the Reds subsequent dominance in recent years, where they became English, European and World champions.

Had Hoffenheim overcome Liverpool back in August 2017, who knows where we would be right now?

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Although Klopp currently holds a 1-0 lead over his managerial compatriot, Liverpool’s recent form hands Nagelsmann a golden opportunity to get his long-awaited revenge.

Read more by Will Morley.

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