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Analysing what’s gone wrong for RB Leipzig

 • by Sam McGuire
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RB Leipzig are having a bad case of second season syndrome. Last year’s Bundesliga runners-up find themselves in sixth position, just four points above tenth placed Hertha Berlin.

Ralph Hasenhüttl’s men are also winless in five are being outscored a rate of three to one.

The Bundesliga side have conceded 18 goals during this torrid run of form. For context they had lost by a three-goal margin just once in the campaign, now that figure stands at four.

The season, which started off with such promise, appears to be coming to an end with a whimper. Since the turn of the year, RB Leipzig have won just eight of the 21 matches they’ve played. A Europa League semi-final looked on the cards with the team taking a 1-0 lead to the Stade Vélodrome but Marseille blitzed the German side to win 5-2 on the night and 5-3 on aggregate.

It’s a far cry from the heights of last season. If Hasenhüttl isn’t able to turn it around in the remaining two matches of the league campaign, there’s a real chance the RedBull Arena won’t be playing host to European football next season.

If the unthinkable happens then a summer of transition is on the cards.

Naby Keïta will be on his way to Liverpool in a deal worth around £50million. The deal, struck last summer, was structured so RB Leipzig were paid more if they qualified for the Champions League.

Not only will they miss out on a payday for playing in Europe’s premier competition, there could be a £10million shortfall in the amount they receive for their No.8.

Hasenhüttl may also be replaced in the summer. He has just 12 months remaining on his current deal and the RB Leipzig hierarchy aren’t best pleased after he flirted with Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich over potential job openings before deciding he wanted to extend his stay. 

That, coupled with the team’s disappointing form this term, hasn’t left the former FC Ingolstadt 04 manager in a strong negotiating position. Red Bull Salzburg manager Marco Rose, born in Leipzig, has been tipped to make the move in the summer.

Liverpool-bound Keïta might not be the only player on his way out this summer. Manchester United transfer target Emil Forsberg, linked with a move away for the best part of three seasons now, recently posted a cryptic tweet which put his future with the German club into doubt.

Timo Werner, courted by by Europe’s elite, hasn’t been able to replicate last season’s prolific season. He’s netted just once in his last six starts and, with two games left to play in the Bundesliga season, is ten shy of last season’s tally of 21.  Can the 22-year-old, who has aspirations of being the first choice striker for the German national team, afford to be the spearhead of a side in transition?

His form, just like this season, will take a hit. He recently revealed that he’d been told that he wouldn’t be able to leave the club for the foreseeable future: “Ralf Rangnick says to me that I will stay, no matter what happens – as will those around me, I think we will have two or three very good new players coming in the summer”.

But can RB Leipzig keep hold of one of Germany’s biggest talents without Champions League football?

Similarly, Dayot Upamecano is already being linked with big money moves away. The 19-year-old centre-back has impressed this term with Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid all reportedly keen.

Goalkeeper Péter Gulácsi, who has been one of RB Leipzig’s most consistent performers, is reportedly a Chelsea transfer target with the 2016/17 Premier League champions unsure whether Thibaut Courtois will be with the club beyond the current campaign.

It’s the polar opposite of last summer when the Bundesliga newbies were viewed by many as the place to be.

What’s gone wrong at RB Leipzig?

It’s too simplistic to say the club have struggled to adapt to meet the demands of playing in Europe. Granted, they don’t have the most experienced of squads, but they do have depth and Hasenhüttl has looked to rotate in an attempt to keep key players fresh for important fixtures. 

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What’s gone under the radar are the tweaks the manager has made to the style of the team. They’re less explosive this season and are averaging an extra 75 seconds on the ball during each phase of play as well as an extra 31 passes. The team are also taking 50 more touches per game. Despite this, their average distance per possession hasn’t increased – this shows they’re playing at a slower tempo. 

A lot of the joy RBL had last season stemmed from the speed in which they got the ball forward to the front four.

They’re still counter-pressing but, again, it’s at a slightly slower speed. The opposition average more time on the ball this season and complete more passes. When compared to the stats last season, Hasenhüttl’s team aren’t winning possession back as often during matches – down by five. It may not sound like much it’s clearly having an impact on their style. 

They may be taking more shots on a per 90 basis and their xG (expected goals) total stands at 47.58 – 6.58 more than they’ve actually scored – but their post-shot xG (a stat which gives a value to where the effort goes on target) is just 41.64. The players aren’t adding value to their shots this season when this was an area they excelled in last year, with their post-shot xG total being six greater than their actual xG tally for the campaign.

Having to juggle European football with the Bundesliga isn’t the sole reason for their downturn in results and performances, but it is part of the reason with Hasenhüttl tweaking his system to lessen the workload on his players. In doing so he’s inadvertently stunted what made his side so good last term.  

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