Unloved Leipzig emerge as Bay­ern’s clos­est chal­lengers


RB Leipzig’s re­mark­able un­beaten start to the Bun­desliga sea­son has seen them sud­denly emerge at the head of the pack chas­ing reign­ing cham­pi­ons and league leaders Bay­ern Mu­nich.

The newly-pro­moted team have won five and drawn three of their eight matches so far in their de­but Bun­desliga sea­son. Guinea in­ter­na­tional Naby Keita net­ted twice in Sun­day’s 3-1 win over Werder Bre­men to leave them sec­ond, two points adrift of Bay­ern, who they face away on De­cem­ber 20 in their last out­ing be­fore the win­ter break.

It is no sur­prise, then, that Bay­ern are pay­ing close at­ten­tion to what’s go­ing on at RB Leipzig, who earned their Bun­desliga place with four pro­mo­tions in seven years.

“They could be very dan­ger­ous, per­son­ally I find Leipzig very con­vinc­ing,” said Bay­ern de­fender Mats Hum­mels, whose team-mate Joshua Kim­mich, signed from RB in 2015, was in the Red Bull Arena to watch his ex-club beat Bre­men.

But the Bun­desliga new boys are work­ing hard to keep their feet on the ground, re­sist­ing the tags of ‘Bay­ern­hunters’ im­posed on them by a Ger­man me­dia ea­ger to talk up a po­ten­tial title race.

RB Leipzig’s sport­ing di­rec­tor Ralf Rang­nick says any title talk is far too pre­ma­ture, in­sist­ing: “We’ve made a good start so far, noth­ing more.”

It cer­tainly has been a very good in­tro­duc­tion to life in Ger­many’s top tier. They have claimed the scalps of Borus­sia Dort­mund, Ham­burg and Wolfs­burg, and RB Leipzig are clos­ing in on the record of 10 games un­beaten at the start of a sea­son for a pro­moted club, set by MSV Duis­burg in 1993/94. Aus­trian head coach Ralph Hasen­huettl says his side must “stay hum­ble and keep be­ing greedy” for league points. The club, which was founded by en­ergy drinks gi­ants Red Bull in 2009, have been given the cold shoul­der by Ger­man foot­ball fans.

A sev­ered bull’s head was thrown onto the pitch dur­ing a Ger­man Cup game at Dy­namo Dres­den in August.

Then Cologne fans staged a sit-down protest in Septem­ber which meant the Leipzig team bus ar­rived late for an away league game.

Plac­ards with anti-RB Leipzig slo­gans from ri­val fans reg­u­larly ap­pear dur­ing games, but the neg­a­tive sen­ti­ments pull the team to­gether.

“We take the ag­gres­sion from ri­val fans and turn it into pos­i­tive en­ergy for us,” said de­fender Willi Or­ban.

Any RB fans dream­ing of Europe next sea­son would be well ad­vised to re­mem­ber Hof­fen­heim, who fin­ished the first half of their de­but Bun­desliga sea­son in 2008/09 top of the ta­ble-only to end up sev­enth. But there are good rea­sons to be­lieve RB Leipzig can fin­ish in the top four to earn a Cham­pi­ons League berth for next sea­son.

The young team, which has no su­per­stars, is ea­ger to learn and is flex­i­ble.

“We changed the for­ma­tion against Bre­men af­ter 45 min­utes-and the boys did it su­perbly well,” said Hasen­huettl. “At the mo­ment, there is an an­swer for ev­ery­thing.” They have had sell-out crowds of over 40,000 for three of their four home games and there is a eupho­ria build­ing in the city-for­merly part of the com­mu­nist East Ger­many-at hav­ing a top-flight team.

The pre­vi­ous dom­i­nant force in town was Loko­mo­tiv Leipzig, Ger­many’s very first cham­pi­ons in 1903 and Cup Win­ners’ Cup fi­nal­ists in 1987 who have since gone bank­rupt and are now in the fourth tier­a­long­side RB’s sec­ond team-af­ter be­ing re­formed.

“There was al­ready a huge amount of pro­mo­tion eupho­ria amongst the fans and that’s good,” said Rang­nick of RB’s run. On top of that, spon­sors Red Bull will be able to splash out for a new sign­ing in Jan­uary, should Hasen­huettl want to strengthen his squad.

And while most of their ri­vals are in­volved in two or even three com­pe­ti­tions, Leipzig can fo­cus just on the Bun­desliga for the rest of the sea­son hav­ing been knocked out of the Ger­man Cup in August. —AFP beIN SPORTS 2 HD beIN SPORTS 12 HD EN beIN SPORTS 1 HD beIN SPORTS beIN SPORTS beIN SPORTS beIN SPORTS beIN SPORTS beIN SPORTS beIN SPORTS beIN SPORTS

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