Almost every single team has had a rocky start to the 2016-17 German Bundesliga season, except for one. RasenBallsport Leipzig. Who are RasenBallsport Liepzig? The German club based in Saxony are a rising team of young talents who have mounted all the way up to the top flight after playing in the fourth tier of German football as recent as in 2012-13. After rising up all the way to the 2nd Bundesliga, the Bulls spent just two seasons there before they were promoted up to the Bundesliga for this 2016-17 season. Now, after bringing in a host of smart summer acquisitions, they sit top of the Bundesliga table on 27 points.
If Leicester City had not won the 2015-16 Barclays Premier League season, we’d all be saying no, it can’t be done, RB Leipzig can’t possibly win the German Bundesliga! But after Leicester defied odds to win the Premier League in extroadinary circumstances last year, we now live in a world where the impossible can become possible. Head coach Ralph Hasenhüttl has led his side to an unbeaten start this season, beating the likes of Borussia Dortmund, VFL Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen to sit top of the table on thirty points. In 12 matches so far, Hasenhüttl’s side have picked up nine wins and three draws and in the process have scored 27 goals, more than any other team in the league other than Dortmund.
So how have Rasenballsport Leipzig, a team of relatively unknown players managed to achieve such great success so far this season? It can’t be all down to the manager can it? Well Hassenhuttl has been brilliant in letting his players go on and express themselves in attack, but the players themselves have to be given a tremendous amount of credit for their unbeaten run so far. One of the keys to Leipzig’s success so far has been the youthful energy about them. Central defender Marvin Compper is the only player in the squad over the age of 30 and the average age of the most common starting 11 they’ve used in the Bundesliga is just under 24 years of age. Minus maybe Emil Forsberg, these are players that you have never heard of before. Players like Timo Werner, Marcel Sabitzer, Naby Keita and Willi Orban have been the key names to Leipzig’s fantastic success so far and all of them have done so well that they have each earned their own subsection of this article.
Let’s start with Leipzig’s key man, Emil Forsberg.
A full Swedish international since 2014, Emil Forsberg was a staple for Malmo FF in Sweden’s top flight Allsvanskan, helping them win the league title and the supercup in both seasons he was at the club. But ever since moving to Leipzig in January 2015, his career has soared to new heights. The 25-year old played a key role in helping the German club achieve promotion to the Bundesliga last season and this season, has been on a different planet, scoring 5 goals with 7 assists in just 11 league matches so far. This incredible run of form has seen him achieve more Mastermind Team of the Week appearances than any other player in the Bundesliga so far. Forsberg’s rise to the top has also seen him be named Sweden’s Midfielder of the Year for 2016 and with more goals + assists than any other player in Europe’s top 5 leagues, he has been one of the very best players in not just Germany but the entire continent so far this season.
The goals haven’t been coming just from Emil Forsberg though, they also have a clinical goal scorer on their side in the form of young German international, Timo Werner. Werner is just 20-years old but despite his age he had plenty of experience before this season playing in the Bundesliga for VFB Stuttgart, scoring a best ever season total of 6 league goals. But since his move to Leipzig for a fee of 10 million euros, the goal scoring centre forward has already beaten that former best, scoring 7 goals in 12 matches so far and adding a furhter two assists along the way. That tally of goals is more than any other U-21 player in Europe’s top five leagues. Those seven goals have also come about despite Werner taking just 2.3 shots per game, giving him a very impressive conversion rate of 25%, more than Ronaldo (16%) and Messi (17%) and only lower than Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (32%) and Vedad Ibisevic (27%) in terms of Bundesliga strikers.
Another key member to Leipzig’s attack has been Marcel Sabitzer, a full Austrian international who has plenty of experience playing in Austria’s top flight for both Salzburg and Rapid Vienna, despite being just 23 years old. Sabitzer only scored 8 goals with 5 assists in 32 appearances last season in Germany’s 2. Bundesliga, but has already netted 4 times with 3 assists in just 11 matches played so far this season. The wing wizard has been so influential in both attack and defense for Leipzig so far this season and has already occupied four different positions for Hassenhuttl’s team.
For all the attacking talent that Leipzig have, they also have quite a bit of defensive prowess as well. Although many players have stood from a defensive side of things for the German club this season, it is Naby Keita and Willi Orban who have caught the eye of clubs around the world.
Likened to be a second coming of Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, 21-year old Guinea international Naby Keita has arguably been better than any other midfielder in Germany so far this season. With 2.4 tackles, 3 interceptions and 3 dribbles completed per game you can see for yourself where the Kante comparisons have been coming from. And despite being the tough tackling defensive midfielder that he is, the Guinean international has only picked up 2 yellow cards this season, proving his effectiveness at timing a tackle to perfection. But on top of his amazing defensive displays in front of that solid Leipzig back-line, the defensive midfielder has also managed to score 4 goals this season and has also added 1 assist, proving to also be a key member of Leipzig’s attack.
Naby Keita’s performances this season have been impressive and have certainly caught the eye of clubs around the world but there is still one more player that we just simply can’t ignore, Willi Orban.
After consistently being one of 2. Bundesliga’s best defenders with SC Kaiserslautern, Willi Orban made a move to RB Leipzig in the summer of 2015 and was one of the club’s most instrumental figures in helping them earn promotion to the Bundesliga last season. Despite this being only his second season at the club, Willi Orban has already taken over as vice-captain and has had the honour of wearing the captain’s armband on several occasions this season with club captain Dominik Kaiser moving to the bench in place of other options. On top of being an instrumental leader at the back for RB Leipzig, Orban has been statistically one of the best defenders in the Bundesliga so far. Only Augsburg’s Konstantinos Stafyldis has made more defensive actions in the Bundesliga so far this season (102) and no other player has made more clearances than the German (63). Orban has also won 53 duels in the air, the third highest in the league and has even popped up in the other end with a goal and an assist. Oh and did I mention he’s still only 24? Willi Orban has been instrumental to RB Leipzig’s success but he is just one of the many key pieces to the puzzle that has seen this newly-promoted side become the first ever team to go 12 games unbeatern after earning promotion to the Bundesliga and go top of the table in stunning fashion.
The names above, Forsberg, Werner, Sabitzer, Keita and Orban are just five of the most instrumental players to Leipzig’s success so far. There are plenty more we could give a mention to including tough tackler Diego Demme, fulbacks Marcel Halstenberg, Benno Schmitz and Bernardo and even Hungarian goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi. This has just been a wonderful group of players, full of positivity, pace, enery and power doing what they do best and somehow defying expectations to go top of the Bundesliga table and stay there.
RasenBallsport Leipzig might not be able to do the impossible, they might not be able to do what Leicester City did and win the league title, but they have been incredible so far this season and the Mastermind would sure love to see them try.
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