Christopher Nkunku’s delicate goal helped RB Leipzig stay in the Bundesliga title race with a vital win over Bayer Leverkusen.
RB Leipzig relied on their defensive players as they secured a narrow 1-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen at the Red Bull Arena on Saturday’s Topspiel.
It was a cagey affair as the two sides were tightly matched in midfield and in defence, failing to create too many clear cut scoring opportunities. As a result, they both employed a cautious defensive approach in an attempt to avoid a defeat that could have proven costly at this stage of the competitions.
Some questionable tactical changes by Leverkusen boss Peter Bosz made things particularly difficult for the visitors. And the Die Werkself eventually fell behind thanks to an excellent goal from Christopher Nkunku in the 51st minute.
The goal, seemingly out of nowhere, gave Leipzig incentive to defend deep, with an impressive second-half masterclass from the likes of Nordi Mukiele, Dayot Upamecano and company, sealing a much-needed three points for the home side.
Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will take a closer look at how the two teams performed in this tightly contested fixture at the Red Bull Arena this weekend.
Peter Gulacsi: 6.5/10
Peter Gulacsi made a late save to deny Bayer Leverkusen an opportunity to level the scoreline. His safe hands in between the sticks were indeed key for RB Leipzig. Didn’t have much to do, though.
Nordi Mukiele: 7.5/10
Nordi Mukiele had a good game on the right side of the defence. He minimised the attacking output provided by Leverkusen, with the defender particularly impressing the onlookers with his athleticism.
Dayot Upamecano: 8/10
Dayot Upamecano was simply a rock at the back for RB Leipzig. The Frenchman’s solid presence at the heart of the backline made it almost impossible for the opposition to find the breakthrough.
Lukas Klostermann: 7.5/10
Lukas Klostermann provided excellent defensive cover for Upamecano and looks like a much better defensive option compared to his national teammate Marcel Halstenberg.
Kevin Kampl: 7.5/10
Kevin Kampl orchestrated the midfield for Leipzig with his neat and tidy passing. He dropped deep as well, whenever it was necessary, putting in a good shift overall.
Tyler Adams: 7.5/10
Tyler Adams worked really hard on the right flank, moving forward and supporting the attackers. He also provided the defensive aid for Mukiele when needed.
Dani Olmo: 6.5/10
Dani Olmo looked lively whenever he had the ball, but he wasn’t really useful going forward for Leipzig. Some delightful touches here and there without any sustained pressure.
Marcel Sabitzer: 7/10
Marcel Sabitzer had a decent game in the middle of the park. The Austrian international helped Kampl during possession and was always keen on moving forward.
Angelino produced some excellent crosses from the far side, but still lacks the penetration that was so prevalent during the first half of the campaign.
Christopher Nkunku: 8/10
Nkunku had an excellent game for Leipzig, notably scoring a delightful goal by taking Florian Wirtz out of the equation with an equally sublime touch. The goal truly deserved all three points for Leipzig.
Alexander Sorloth: 7/10
Alexander Sorloth largely had a difficult time in the number nine role. But, the former Palace attacker worked hard, even creating a few late chances for himself before making way for Yussuf Poulsen.
Yussuf Poulsen: 6/10
Speaking of Poulsen, it was great to see the Dane returning to from his injuries woes. Didn’t really impact the game, though.
Justin Kluivert: 6/10
Justin Kluivert showed his tricks after coming on for Nkunku during the final phase of the game.
Willi Orban: N/A
A late replacement for Mukiele as Julian Nagelsmann opted for more defensive bodies. Did not play enough to warrant a rating.
Amadou Haidara: N/A
A late replacement for Kampl. Did not play enough to warrant a rating.
Marcel Halstenberg: N/A
A late replacement for Angelino. Did not play enough to warrant a rating.
Lukas Hradecky: 6.5/10
Much like Gulacsi, Lukas Hradecky didn’t have much to do as Leipzig only amassed two shots on target. He had no chance to save Nkunku’s vicious effort though.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah: 7/10
On the bright side, Fosu-Mensah looks pretty good. Hope he gels well with the other players. Team Spirit is important and it doesn't look like we have a lot since our decline in form
— Maybe One Day (@Treblekusen) January 30, 2021
It was a promising starting debut for Fosu-Mensah, who remained strong defensively for the most part of the game. Certainly looks like a better option than Mitchell Weiser and Aleksandar Dragovic.
Jonathan Tah: 7/10
Jonathan Tah had a solid game as well, aside from a couple of minor difficulties in dealing with the imposing presence of Sorloth. The German international kept the Leipzig attackers pretty quiet.
Edmond Tapsoba: 7.5/10
Edmond Tapsoba produced a good defensive display as well, using his intelligence and positional sense to good effect. Unfortunate to have lost the game.
Another Leverkusen defender who impressed on the night, Wendell used his experience and discipline to good effect when dealing with the likes of Olmo and Adams.
Daley Sinkgraven: 6/10
Peter Bosz’s move to deploy Daley Sinkgraven in central midfield certainly didn’t pay off as the Dutchman failed to provide the creativity needed to trouble the Leipzig backline. He did make them defensively strong, though.
Kerem Demirbay: 6/10
Starting in the absence of Nadiem Amiri, Kerem Demirabay failed to fill in the shoes of his former Hoffenheim teammate. He was quiet for the large parts of the game.
💬 Demirbay: "We needed a bit to get into it in the first half, but then we came into the game well. We have to play the counterattacks better and force a goal. We didn't succeed. We did well today, but in the end it just wasn't compelling enough."#RBLB04 | 1-0 | #Bundesliga
— Bayer 04 Leverkusen (@bayer04_en) January 30, 2021
Charles Aranguiz: 7/10
Charles Aranguiz sat at the hub of Leverkusen’s three-man midfield, making it difficult for Leipzig to penetrate the opposing backline. The Chilean international has certainly grown into one of Bundesliga’s best midfielders.
Moussa Diaby: 6/10
Moussa Diaby had a disappointing evening against Leipzig. It was one of those rare occasions where his electric pace was matched by Upamecano, who clocked over 35 kmph today.
Leon Bailey: 6/10
Leon Bailey certainly wasn’t the best fit in the central role as he couldn’t utilise his pace to aid Leverkusen on the counter. Failed to influence the game even after shifting into a wider role after the hour-mark.
Florian Wirtz: 6/10
RB Leipzig midfielders deserve a lot of credit for neutralising the threat of Florian Wirtz, who was often hassled in possession. A smart tactic by Nagelsmann.
Karim Bellarabi: 5/10
Karim Bellarabi came on for Diaby around the hour-mark, picking up a yellow card only a minute after his introduction. Couldn’t really use his pace to influence the game.
Patrik Schick: 5/10
Replaced Sinkgraven around the 60th minute, but couldn’t add that X-factor that was needed to make a difference.
Lucas Alario: N/A
A late replacement for Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Did not play enough to warrant a rating.