Bayer Leverkusen will be hoping to pip second-placed RB Leipzig on the Bundesliga table when the two teams go head to head on Saturday.
Losing simply is not an option for RB Leipzig anymore following their shock 3-2 defeat to relegation-threatened 1.FSV Mainz 05 last week. It was a result that allowed league leaders Bayern Munich to extend their gap at the top to seven points, effectively ruling out the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen from the title race as both the clubs also fell to a defeat in their respective matches.
Such a turnaround at the top end of the league table also allowed the chasing pack in Borussia Monchengladbach and VfL Wolfsburg to make some ground. Hence, Matchday 19’s topspiel featuring Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig could be an important one, especially for Die Roten Bullen as they look to keep up with their Bavarians rivals.
Leverkusen, on the other hand, are coming on the back of a 1-0 defeat to Wolfsburg, meaning Die Werkself have now failed to win five of their last matches, after initially retaining an unbeaten record heading into those games. Dropping more points this weekend could spell further trouble for Peter Bosz’s side, who are hoping to finish inside the top four this season.
Leverkusen are currently third in the league table, but are ahead of Wolfsburg only due to a superior goal difference while the in-form Gladbach and Eintracht Frankfurt are following closely behind. The chasing pack also includes the mighty Borussia Dortmund, who are currently at seventh.
It all points to a fascinating encounter as both sides desperately look to seal all three points that could considerably help them reach their goals this season. Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will take a closer look at these two in this enticing match-up in the Red Bull Arena this weekend.
Team News & Tactics
ℹ️ Team news ahead of #RBLB04:
➡️ @yussufyurary is available again for Saturday's game.
— RB Leipzig English (@RBLeipzig_EN) January 28, 2021
Julian Nagelsmann has some key decisions to make after his side generously gave away three goals against one of the worst-performing teams in the division. In addition, key attacker Emil Forsberg picked up a knee injury, which means the RB Leipzig head coach may have to revert to a lone striker upfront.
Alexander Sorloth is naturally the front-runner, but Yussuf Poulsen is another option after overcoming a groin issue. The Norwegian international drew a blank against Mainz and will be hoping for better fortunes this time around, with additional support from the two attacking midfielders in Christopher Nkunku and Dani Olmo.
Nagelsmann is devoid of reliable options in the final third, especially with new signing Dominic Szoboszlai still suffering from a groin problem while his former Red Bull Salzburg teammate Hwan Hee-chan has had difficulties settling in the Bundesliga. Justin Kluivert remains the number one alternative, along with the young Lazar Samardzic.
Nevertheless, there could be a potential reshuffle in midfield for the home side, with Kevin Kampl, in particular, replacing Amadou Haidara. Nordi Mukiele should also come in for Tyler Adams, even though the US international scored his first Bundesliga goal last weekend. Mukiele should operate in the right wing-back slot, with Angelino on the opposite flank.
As for Kampl, he will form the double pivot alongside the ever-reliable Marcel Sabitzer. The second line of press could be key in offering support for the central defensive trio of Lukas Klostermann, Dayot Upamecano and Willi Orban. These three are in need of improved performances, however, after making amateurish errors against Mainz.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Gulacsi; Klostermann, Upamecano, Orban; Mukiele, Sabitzer, Kampl, Angelino; Olmo, Nkunku; Sorloth
After Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen boast the best defensive record in the league, having conceded 18 goals in just as many games. So, it is needless to say Peter Bosz’s men will emphasise on solidity and discipline in an attempt to frustrate the Leipzig attack. It could force them to push forward in numbers, thus leaving gaps in behind the backline.
That could serve as the perfect opportunity for pacy attackers like Leon Bailey and Moussa Diaby to infiltrate the Leipzig defence, which has conceded just one fewer goal than Leverkusen this season. However, a lot in B04’s supposed counter-attacking approach could depend on the quality of service provided by the creative lynchpins in midfield – Kerem Demirbay and Florian Wirtz.
ℹ️ Nadiem Amiri has tested positive for COVID-19 and has been in quarantine at home since Tuesday. pic.twitter.com/ztlCoRR00R
— Bayer 04 Leverkusen (@bayer04_en) January 28, 2021
Wirtz, in particular, has been in inspiring form in the Bundesliga this season, becoming the fastest player to score four goals in the league. His partner this time around will be Demirbay in the absence of Nadiem Amiri, who has tested positive for COVID-19. The onus, however, will be on captain Charles Aranguiz to provide the cover from the number six position.
In addition to counter-attacks, Leverkusen could also rely heavily on set-pieces, especially after how Leipzig struggled in defending them in the last game. So we are expecting Bosz to start with Lucas Alario ahead of Patrik Schick even though the Argentine drew a blank against Wolfsburg. His superior aerial prowess could be useful in set-pieces.
Another player who could be devastating from set-pieces is defender Jonathan Tah. His main priority, however, will be to prevent Leipzig from scoring, as he partners the likes of Lars Bender, Edmond Tapsoba and Daley Sinkgraven in defence.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Hradecky; Bender, Tah, Tapsoba, Sinkgraven; Wirtz, Aranguiz, Demirbay; Bailey, Alario, Diaby
- A league-high 15 different players have scored for RB Leipzig so far this season.
- Angelino, Emil Forsberg and Yussuf Poulsen lead the way for RB Leipzig with four apiece.
- Four of the nine Bundesliga meetings between RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen have ended in draws, including the last three in a row (all 1-1). Leipzig have won four, with Leverkusen prevailing in just the one match.
- Lucas Alario is Leverkusen’s eight-goal leading marksman but has not found the net in seven games.
- Leon Bailey, along with Lucas Alario, has had a direct hand in the most goals: nine all told, comprising four goals and five assists.
Player to Watch
RB Leipzig had a difficult time getting the better of the Bayer Leverkusen defence the last time these two teams faced other in Matchday 2, with Dani Olmo having one of the worst games of his career. The tides have turned, however, and the young Spaniard has come a long way since, notably being involved in eight goals in the Bundesliga so far.
With Emil Forsberg and Dominik Szoboszlai missing, Olmo’s technical prowess, combined with his ability to take on defenders and penetrate the opposition lines could be an important asset to Leipzig’s approach play this weekend.
Olmo will also presumably feature in a right-sided role, where he will have the advantage of going up against Daley Sinkgraven, who loves to move forward, thereby leaving spaces in behind the backline. Therefore, Olmo could be a safe bet this weekend as RB Leipzig look to keep up with the league leaders with an important win over Die Werkself.
RB Leipzig 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen
This could be a tight affair and indeed a difficult game to predict. Leipzig do have the advantage as Bayer Leverkusen have looked more vulnerable than ever in last few weeks and are missing their key playmaker Nadiem Amiri.
While RB Leipzig also miss a few key players, even more than B04, they do have the necessary to cover for those individuals, and despite a loss to Mainz, we expect Julian Nagelsmann to get the better of Die Werkself this weekend, with a narrow 2-1 win on Saturday.