Leipzig a ti­tle con­tender? Some at Bayern think so

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

If Mats Hum­mels, Bayern Mu­nich's ex­pe­ri­enced de­fender and World Cup win­ner, is to be be­lieved, Bun­desliga newcomer Leipzig could be a ti­tle con­tender.

Bayern has won the last four cham­pi­onships and Leipzig is the pro­moted team play­ing in its de­but Bun­desliga sea­son, but after 10 rounds, Leipzig is un­de­feated, even on points with Bayern and be­hind only on goal dif­fer­ence. The two teams are four points clear of the near­est com­pe­ti­tion, and Leipzig has earned more points away from home than Bayern.

Leipzig is rid­ing a five-match win­ning streak go­ing into Fri­day's match against Bayer Lev­erkusen.

"If we drop points, Leipzig will be a can­di­date for the ti­tle," Hum­mels said re­cently. "Ev­ery­thing I've seen from Leipzig has been con­vinc­ing. They play very at­tack­ing foot­ball, they de­fend as a team very well and they have the in­di­vid­ual class you need."

Hum­mels said Leipzig re­minds him of Borus­sia Dort­mund, which won Bun­desliga ti­tles un­der coach Juer­gen Klopp in 2011 and 2012 when the Ger­many cen­tral de­fender still played there.

Leipzig coach Ralph Hasen­huettl doesn't re­ally be­lieve that his team can em­u­late the Kais­er­slautern's run in 1998, when it swept to the ti­tle in its pro­mo­tion sea­son.

"In foot­ball, noth­ing is im­pos­si­ble," he said re­cently in a news­pa­per in­ter­view. "You saw what hap­pened in Eng­land with the cham­pi­onship for Le­ices­ter City. But It would be a mir­a­cle in Ger­many. I am not even think­ing about it."

Hasen­huettl said he still could not re­ally tell where his team stood.

"Right now, I don't see a limit for us, and I don't know where it should be," he said. "We are ba­si­cally play­ing with a sec­ond­di­vi­sion squad, a team that fin­ished sec­ond in the sec­ond divi­sion last sea­son."

Hasen­huettl left Bun­desliga ri­val In­gol­stadt be­fore the sea­son to re­place Ralf Rang­nick, who be­came the club's sports di­rec­tor. Rang­nick was the ar­chi­tect of Hof­fen­heim's sen­sa­tional run in 2008, when it led the cham­pi­onship half­way into its rookie sea­son.

In­ci­den­tally, Hof­fen­heim is also still un­de­feated and helped Leipzig pull even with Bayern by hold­ing the cham­pion to a draw be­fore the in­ter­na­tional break.

Leipzig is a project cre­ated by the Aus­trian en­ergy-drink maker Red Bull and its bil­lion­aire founder Di­et­rich Mates­chitz, who bought and re­branded a lo­cal fifth-tier club in 2009. The boom­ing for­mer East German city had a sta­dium re­built for the World Cup in 2006 but had no team in the ma­jor leagues.

Ri­val fans strongly ob­ject to Leipzig's links to Red Bull and con­sider it a "test-tube team." The team bus has been stoned and Leipzig play­ers are rou­tinely the sub­ject of deroga­tory chants, and Ear­lier this month, a sev­ered bull's head was thrown near the pitch dur­ing a match.

Hum­mels is not the only one in Bayern to con­sider Leipzig a se­ri­ous ri­val.

Uli Hoe­ness, who is set to be­come Bayern's pres­i­dent again after serv­ing a prison term for tax eva­sion, said in a re­cent tele­vi­sion in­ter­view that he found Leipzig "very strong."

"Of course, they have the ad­van­tage of be­ing able to lie on the couch dur­ing the week while we have to play the Cham­pi­ons League, and if I know Mr. Mates­chitz, he'll lay out a cou­ple of mil­lion more if nec­es­sary at Christ­mas," Hoe­ness said.

Hasen­huettl re­sponded by not­ing that Bayern was "think­ing about us."

"It seems that what we've played so far has been im­pres­sive," Hasen­huettl said.

The two teams meet on Dec. 21 in the fi­nal round be­fore the Christ­mas break.

Leipzig uses a high-press­ing style to win the ball and then at­tacks quickly, of­ten leav­ing op­po­nents out­num­bered in de­fense.

Cen­tral mid­fielder Naby Keita, who ar­rived from the sis­ter club Red Bull Salzburg, is among Leipzig's key play­ers, as are speedy for­wards Timo Werner, Yus­suf Poulsen and Emil Fors­berg.

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