RB Leipzig rose rapidly through the lower divisions after the Red Bull corporation took over fifth division side SSV Markranstädt in 2009. Fulfilling its ambitions of competing in the Bundesliga within eight years, Leipzig expectations last season with a second place finish and direct qualification into the Champions League.
RasenBallsport Leipzig e.V. enjoyed an unprecedented rise to prominence since the clubs foundation in 2009 by energy drink-maker Red Bull. The company decided to expand into the German market in 2006, but resistance from the German Football Association, clubs and supporters meant that attempts to take over FC Sachsen Leipzig, FC St. Pauli, TSV 1860 Munich and Fortuna Düsseldorf were all rejected.
On the advice from Franz Beckenbauer, Red Bull returned to Leipzig in the eastern German region of Saxony and successfully invested in fifth division side SSV Markranstädt. With a population of 500,000, no Bundesliga clubs within close proximity and existing infrastructure including the 2006 FIFA World Cup venue Zentralstadion, Leipzig was the perfect location to put their plan into action.
Unable to use the Red Bull name, the club cheekily used RasenBallsport to preserve the RB corporate identity. Adopting the nickname Die Roten Bullen (The Red Bulls), they won the 2009/10 Oberliga Süd at the first time of asking and moved from the 5,000 capacity Stadion am Bad to the 43,000 capacity Zentralstadion which was renamed, you guessed it, Red Bull Arena.
After two seasons in the fourth division, the 2012/13 season began with a new man in charge as former Schalke head coach Ralf Rangnick became sporting director. Leipzig went undefeated in winning the Regionalliga Nordost and earned promotion to the 3. Liga. 2013/14 was another successful season with promotion to the 2. Bundesliga secured.
The club invested €22m for the 2014/15 campaign but finished in fifth place. The 2015/16 season began with more investment, €19m spent on new players which was more than all the other clubs in the 2. Bundesliga combined and Rangnick deciding to take over as head coach in addition to his sporting director role.
Rangnick duly delivered. Leipzig secured second place in the league and direct promotion to the Bundesliga. With job done, Rangnick stepped down as head coach and appointed former FC Ingolstadt manager Ralph Hasenhüttl as the man to lead them into the uncharted waters of the Bundesliga.
RB Leipzig were undefeated in the first 13 league matches and found themselves atop the Bundesliga. They were overtaken by Bayern Munich on matchday 14 but remained in second place for the remainder of the season, a truly remarkable achievement from the newcomers who secured a place in the 2017/18 Champions League group stage.
The Red Bulls played to their strengths with a quick and aggressive brand of football, characterised by a high press designed to keep constant pressure on their opponents. Emil Forsberg was sensational with 8 goals and 19 assists, Naby Keïta a revelation in central midfield with 8 goals and 7 assists. Striker Timo Werner tormented defenders in a breakthrough season with 21 goals and a call up to the national team.
Much of the credit must go to Rangnick who masterminded the on-field philosophy and proved an astute buyer of young and intelligent players. Bernardo, Keïta and Werner proved to be vital components in Leipzig’s success and have all significantly increased in value after just one season. Despite Rangnick being the main orchestrator, we can’t forget the work done by manager Ralph Hasenhüttl.
Hasenhüttl did a fantastic job at FC Ingolstadt, the former Austrian striker guiding the Bavarians to the 2. Bundesliga title in 2014/15 and achieving eleventh place in their Bundesliga debut. Taking over at Leipzig last season, Hasenhüttl proved to be a manager that instils confidence and belief in his team, able to adapt his tactics to suit the quality of players at his disposal.
Recently discussing Leipzig’s philosophy with bundesliga.com, Hasenhüttl said: “The focus of our play is our work off the ball. When we have the ball ourselves, then our quality within the team makes it hard for teams to defend against us.” Hasenhüttl demands maximum effort from his players which guarantees the supporters are always fully behind the team.
Hasenhüttl deserves huge credit for achieving the league’s third-best defence with a young and inexperienced line-up that often played on the front foot. Leipzig were also the second-best team away from home where his players were vociferously abused by hostile crowds.
Out: The only player of note to leave RB Leipzig thus far has been 22-year-old striker Davie Selke. Sold to Hertha BSC for €8m, Selke was primarily used off the bench last season and scored four goals in 436 minutes of Bundesliga action. Despite being a promising talent, Selke was deemed surplus to requirements and will hope for first-team opportunities in Berlin.
In: Yvon Mvogo joins from BSC Young Boys for €5m, the 23-year-old Cameroon born Swiss goalkeeper set to battle Peter Gulacsi for a starting role. Promising 18-year-old French defender Ibrahima Konaté was signed from Ligue 2 side Sochaux after playing just 12 senior first team games, while Leipzig paid fellow Red Bull club Salzburg €7m for 20-year-old Austrian central midfielder Konrad Laimer.
Jean-Kévin Augustin joins from Paris Saint-Germain for €13m, the 20-year-old striker top scorer with 6 goals as France won the European U-19 Championship last summer. The man he beat to the scoring title? Kylian Mbappe, who scored 5 times. Scoring 4 goals in three games in the recent U-20 World Cup, Augustin was unable to break into PSG’s first team but gained invaluable experience alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani.
The attack has been further bolstered with the addition of 22-year-old speedy Portuguese winger Bruma from Galatasaray for €12.5m. The former Sporting CP youth product flourished in Turkey last season with 11 goals and 6 assists, making the most dribbles in the Super Lig with an average of 4.4 (whoscored.com).
Emil Forsberg – Signed from Malmö in January 2015 for just €3.7m, Forsberg has emerged as Leipzig’s key contributor and creative outlet. With 8 goals and a European-high 19 assists, the Swede’s electric pace, passing from open play and effectiveness from set pieces proved difficult to stop. Primarily playing centrally as an attacking midfielder, Forsberg spends a lot of time on the left wing to confuse the opposition.
With interest understandably high in the Swedish international and the club unwilling to sell, his agent caused a storm by telling Bild: “They will have to live with the fact that they are destroying his dreams.” The ugly confrontation has apparently been resolved, Forsberg telling Kicker: “For me everything is good and I am fully motivated and focused and I want to have an even better season than the last with RB.”
Naby Keïta – Born in Guinea without the luxuries that many enjoy, Keïta made his way to Europe in 2013 with Ligue 2 side FC Istres. Rangnick visited Keïta in 2014 to sign him for RB Salzburg for just €1.5m where he was a double league winner and Austrian Bundesliga Player of the Year.
Becoming Leipzig’s record signing last summer for €15m, the powerhouse box-to-box player is the definition of complete midfield player. Able to snuff out opposition attacks, dribble past mesmerised opponents and score or set up a teammate, Keïta scored 8 goals and provided 8 assists last season.
With Liverpool determined to buy the 22-year-old, Leipzig have rejected offers in the region of €75m with Hasenhüttl recently saying: “Until next summer we keep the door closed and then we have a look.”
U21 player to watch:
Timo Werner – The 21-year-old striker enjoyed a breakout season after moving from relegated Stuttgart for €10m last summer. Werner dramatically increased his productivity with 21 goals and 5 assists in the Bundesliga last season, taking his top flight appearances to 126 in the process.
Scoring 34 goals in 48 matches for Germany at youth level, Werner was called up for the recent Confederations Cup in Russia and didn’t disappoint. He produced 3 goals and 2 assists to win the Golden Boot award and establish himself as the likely candidate to take over as first choice striker for Die Mannschaft.
Hasenhüttl is clearly enamoured with the young striker, saying: “He’s already a very good player, but I think he will be a massive player… In terms of forwards, he has the biggest and best stock in German football. He’s matured with us and become a more complete footballer. He has an unbelievable path ahead of him.”
RB Leipzig have caused controversy in Germany with many traditional and prominent figures labelling them a commercial club. However, the club are superbly managed and clearly have a long term strategy in place which has been executed in swift and ruthless fashion thus far. Establishing a successful youth academy and adhering to a policy of acquiring talented players under the age of 23 is bearing fruit.
Rangnick and his scouting network have a track record or unearthing gems and developing them into world class players. Keeping hold of their stars has presented obvious challenges, but as we have seen with Forsberg and Keïta, the club have been able to resist the financial might and lure of some of Europe’s biggest clubs. For now…
With the bar set high in Leipzig, it will be fascinating to see how Hasenhüttl fares with the expectation and increased workload of the Champions League. The haters gonna hate, but RB Leipzig just gonna shake it off and continue to stick it to the establishment.
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