Editor’s note: Sportzshala’s lead Bundesliga commentator Derek Ray is in Leipzig this week to watch Friday’s German top division game and is exploring the possibility that a club with little time left for its most dedicated fans could nonetheless represent Bayern’s closest pursuers in the long run.


January in East Germany can be a gloomy time of harsh cold weather, a reminder of why the Bundesliga has historically favored long winter breaks lasting until Christmas and into the new calendar year. Despite the bitter cold of Saxony and the forecast hinting at a generous helping of snow showers, there is optimism among those clinging to the newest of the new clubs in the East that RB Leipzig can at least finish second in the House of Lords as they have done twice already in their short, controversial history.

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The fact that they are not to everyone’s taste is important to know for those who do not follow German football. A few years ago a colleague from the UK asked me about RBL and suggested that their rapid rise in the divisions should be seen as a wonderful romance story. Maybe if they were an English club this might be true – few in the German fan scene consider it even remotely lovely or romantic.

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Red Bull searched long and hard before settling on Leipzig as the right city to exert their influence, essentially taking over the then fifth level SSV Markranstadt and renaming it. It should be noted that the “RB” in “RB Leipzig” means Rasenballsport – “lawn ball sport”. In Germany, new clubs cannot take the name of a sponsor or company and are limited in what a sports club can be called, so someone cleverly thought of RasenBallsport or RB. It’s amazing how many people in the English speaking world actually think they’re officially called “Red Bull Leipzig”, which was the whole point of the exercise. Leipzig’s marketing department loves the nickname.”Red Bulls(Red Bulls) and conveniently ignores their RasenBallsport branding.

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Their original interpretation of the 50+1 rule, which stipulates that fans should have control of a club with very few members, all connected to the energy drink business, allowed them to run afoul of the club. norms in Germany. By 2016, RB Leipzig, under the astute leadership of Ralf Rangnick in football, had risen to the top division.

Ever since they established themselves in the top half of the Bundesliga table, well-known figures in the German game have sung their praises. Former Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said he considers them “enrichment(“enrichment”) for the league.

RB Leipzig’s sporting position in Kottaweg is the envy of most other clubs and their financial backing certainly helps, but Rangnick had a plan that worked. The idea was to sign the best young players, polish them up, get them to play the RBL Gegenpressing (“counter-pressing”) style, and then eventually transfer them for a lucrative transfer fee. This is a technique they have repeated over the years.

They are helped by the presence of partner clubs also called RB, especially FC Salzburg in Austria.

German football is at its core an expression of the wider community and the suspicion remains that RB Leipzig have not yet built it properly, preferring to skip the line at the expense of structural advantages while ignoring what makes football sing in the country with the highest average attendance. in Europe.

A strong dislike for RBL does not go away either. Fans of ordinary clubs said they would rather see record holder Bayern win the title for the 11th year in a row, which is forced to see RB Leipzig break the cycle.

Borussia Dortmund were once accused of not doing enough to prevent their top players from moving directly to Bayern. The truth in 2023 is that anyone who believes this is still happening should look at the other direction of travel: from Leipzig to Munich.

It actually all started with Joshua Kimmich in 2015 but has intensified in recent years. As soon as Dayo Upamecano agreed to commit his future to Bayern in 2021, Julian Nagelsmann, who made Leipzig a more cohesive team in possession, became the one Rummenigge & Co wanted to see as their head coach. His presence then helped secure the signing of another Leipzig stalwart, Marcel Sabitzer. It now seems only a matter of time before Bayern confirm the signing of Austrian midfielder Sabitzer Konrad Laimer this summer.

They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but you don’t need to imitate when you have everything you need to get exactly what you want from your main rival. The fact is that Bayern, with its successful track record, remains a dream for most German footballers.

So how is RBL keeping up with this fact? That’s the challenge facing Max Eberl, Borussia Mönchengladbach’s longtime sporting chief, who has returned to the game in Leipzig after a nearly year-long hiatus.

To begin with, RB Leipzig have an excellent track record when it comes to succession planning. The loss of Naby Keita, Ibrahima Konate and Upamecano didn’t hurt the RBL too much. It’s a plus when you can stay ahead of expected exits by identifying and signing players like Josko Guardiol, Mohamed Simakan and Dani Olmo. Eberl’s contacts and attention to the player should only raise this aspect of the club’s conveyor belt even if – as is likely – Bayern keep coming calling on the best of the rest in the Bundesliga.

RBL was a semi-finalist in the Champions League and Europa League and won its first major trophy last May by beating the people’s choice, SC Freiburg, in the DFB-Pokal final.

They went from hegenpressing to possession with Nagelsmann, to even more hegenpressing under Jesse Marsh, and then back to ball control with Domenico Tedesco. Now trainer Marco Rose has come up with an effective hybrid formula. To use an English-sounding expression now common in German, “the trend is your friend.” Closing a 3-0 gap against Augsburg at the end of October, Leipzig handily picked up four consecutive victories over Bayer Leverkusen, Hoffenheim, Freiburg and Werder Bremen as their Champions League form showed a similar series of victories in a row.

Against Bayern on Friday (2:30 pm ET, live on Sportzshala+ and Sportzshala2) however, RB Leipzig know they have to swim against the tide of history, having only beaten Germany’s top club once, in March 2018. It will not be easy to repeat this feat without an injured Christopher Nkunku, but there is enough quality in Rose’s team to strike. a blow to the chasing pack as a whole, especially to the Bayern team, deprived of Manuel Neuer for the next few months.

RB Leipzig will remain a largely unloved player. Admire them or hate them, however they are not going to leave the scene anytime soon.