UEFA Champions League: Rebuilt RB Leipzig ready for Man City test

RB Leipzig faces UEFA Champions League defending champion Manchester City on Wednesday, having emerged strongly from a summer rebuild that could have derailed the young club.

Champions League regulars that had just won its second German Cup in succession, Leipzig lost four first-team players to big money deals in the summer, underlining their place in the European soccer hierarchy — still viewed as a small-club outsider.

Central defender Josko Gvardiol moved to Wednesday's opponent Manchester  City, midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai to Liverpool and top scorer Christopher Nkunku to Chelsea all for large transfer fees, while Konrad Laimer went to domestic rival Bayern Munich on a free transfer.

But continuing its remarkable ability to identify and develop young talent, RB brought in several new players from across Europe, many of whom have already shone in a Leipzig uniform.

Leipzig's record so far this season — seven wins and just one loss from nine matches in all competitions while having faced Bayern twice — shows Coach Marco Rose's rebuilt side is ahead of schedule and likely to be a real challenge for Man City.

- 'So much chemistry' -

Leipzig took in more than 240 million euros ($250 million) in the summer, much of which was promptly reinvested in new arrivals.

Lois Openda (top photo), who scored 21 goals to help Lens finish just one point behind champions Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1 last season, joined the club, as did 20-year-old PSG loanee Xavi Simons.

RB Leipzig coach Marco Rose said his team's strong start is based on chemistry.

Leipzig brought in Castello Lukeba, 20, from Lyon to replace Gvardiol at central defender, while Slovenian striking prodigy Benjamin Sesko, also 20, joined from sister club Red Bull Salzburg. The additions, particularly those up front, have quickly taken to life in Leipzig.

Of particular concern was replacing Nkunku's output, with the France forward scoring 47 and assisting 43 in 119 matches during his time in Saxony.

Simons has three goals and four assists after six league games, while Openda already has four strikes and has laid on two more across the same period.

Sesko, a towering striker who has been compared with Erling Haaland, has five goals in all competitions despite starting just two of his eight games with the club.

Speaking after Leipzig held Bayern to a 2-2 draw on Saturday night, Rose admitted "too much happened to us in the summer" but put the club's form down to immediate chemistry.

"The squad, from day one in the training camp, (came together as) a real group."

"There was so much chemistry straight away, so much energy, the way the boys work together every day — it's fun."

Rose said maintaining such a strong connection was not a given.

"We need to keep working on it, because you can lose something like that quickly if you're not careful, if you're sloppy, or if you start getting full of yourself.

"I'm the boss and I'm taking care that this doesn't happen, so we can take this energy and this togetherness with us in the next few weeks into phases where maybe it doesn't work so well."

Even the untimely firing of sporting director Max Eberl on Friday that RB said was due to "a lack of commitment to the club, to the city" amid rumors he is following the well-trodden path to Bayern was not enough to destabilize Leipzig.

- 'Try and do better' -

One constant in RB's recent form has been the Leipzig-born-and-raised Rose.

Since taking over early last season, no team has tallied more points in the league than Leipzig. Rose has won two and drawn two of his four meetings with Bayern.

Last year however, Leipzig met eventual champions Man City in the last 16.

Manchester City striker Erling Haaland scored five in his team's last meeting with RB Leipzig.

A 1-1 draw in Germany was followed up by a 7-0 thumping in Manchester, with Haaland — who played under Rose at Salzburg — scoring five goals before Pep Guardiola took him off in the 63rd minute.

City's 2-1 defeat at Wolves on Saturday followed a midweek defeat to Newcastle in the League Cup, the first time it has lost two in a row since January.

But Man City remains on top of the Premier League and is a force to be reckoned with.

Rose said on Saturday "there's no secret what we've got waiting for us" but was confident "we'll get our chances there."

"We'll try and do better than we did in Manchester a few months ago, but I have complete trust in the boys that they're up for it."


© Agence France-Presse

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