Lewandowski absence an issue? Who has midfield edge?


Saturday’s Bundesliga summit meeting between RB Leipzig and Bayern Munich is live for viewers in the USA in English on ESPN2 and ESPN+ (tune in at 12 p.m. ET). Our lead Bundesliga commentator Derek Rae guides you through his tale of the tape ahead of the big showdown.

It’s too early to call this a title decider, so I prefer to describe it as a hugely instructive chapter in the story of a compelling title race. Hopefully that covers it! A win for Leipzig to reduce the gap to a single point would really get the pot boiling with seven matchdays remaining. Even a draw would keep the drama front and centre. A Bayern victory, on the other hand, would increase their advantage to a whopping seven points, and might make many observers believe the title race is effectively over. After all, no team has let slip such a sizable lead at this corresponding stage of a Bundesliga season.

But that’s for the future. This week, ahead of the “Spitzenspiel” (“top of the table clash”), I thought I would compare and contrast the two teams in their current guises with a couple of key players absent.

Goalkeeper

If you look purely at numbers, the contrast couldn’t be more stark. Leipzig’s Peter Gulasci has more clean sheets than any other Bundesliga keeper, a grand total of 13. Bayern’s Manuel Neuer has managed only six while conceding 35 goals to Gulacsi’s league best 21. The world’s No.1 last shipped that many back in 2010-11 with Schalke. But in reality, Neuer has regularly saved Bayern amid their numerous defensive missteps this season. That’s where he truly comes into his own.

Gulacsi has benefitted from having a more compact unit in front of him. In truth, his only really bad game was the error-strewn 3-2 defeat against Mainz.

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Defense

Statistically speaking, you have to give the edge here to Leipzig. As a team, they just defend better than Bayern, but we have to take into account the personnel situation for both teams heading into Saturday.

Leipzig will be without Marcel Halstenberg after the local health office refused to cut short his quarantine period. Halstenberg was named as ”contact person 1” after playing backgammon with Jonas Hofmann, who tested positive when both were away with Germany last week. Meanwhile, Angelino is set to miss a seventh straight competitive game due to a hamstring injury.

2 Related

The big question is whether Dayot Upamecano, who pulled up with a muscle injury in the 1-1 draw against Frankfurt on March 14, will be fit to face the club he’s joining this summer. Lukas Klostermann and Willi Orban are virtually certain to begin the game, and it’s not as though coach Julian Nagelsmann is short of other options, from Nordi Mukiele to Ibrahima Konate, who hasn’t started a Bundesliga match in 2021, to Benjamin Henrichs as a possible wing-back solution.

The Bayern defence just about picks itself if Niklas Sule, who ended up missing all three Germany games over the international period, is declared fit. Then it’s pretty much cut and dried that he and David Alaba will line up in central defence for manager Hansi Flick, while Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez occupy the full-back positions. With Jerome Boateng and Alphonso Davies both suspended, the only other realistic option would be to field Javi Martinez, who last started a league game in the 3-3 draw with Leipzig, in the backline and make the most of his expansive passing.

What Bayern will lose in speed, they could gain in solidity. Hernandez has been a bringer of luck and resolve, and the same could be true this weekend as Bayern have won 10 and drawn twice in his 12 starts this term. Time will tell if these enforced changes have a big impact on the game.

Midfield

This is where the game could really be won and lost, and I give Bayern a big edge here. Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka form one of the best central midfield partnerships in the world. Both know intuitively where to position themselves and what the other is doing. Goretzka is in the form of his life, too, while Kimmich has a habit of being the key performer in big matches.

Derek Rae, ESPN’s TV voice of the Bundesliga, brings us his weekly columns on why Germany, its language and its football are part of his identity.

It hasn’t been widely discussed, but the absence of the suspended Kevin Kampl will be keenly felt by Leipzig. Kampl picked up a late yellow card in the 1-0 win at Bielefeld and has paid the ultimate price for his fifth booking of the season in being forced to sit out his side’s biggest game of the season. It all means that Leipzig captain Marcel Sabitzer and U.S. international Tyler Adams will have their work cut out for them. Their play when not in possession will be of particular significance.

Attack

Normally Bayern would get the nod in this category too, but when you take out the injured Robert Lewandowski and his 35 league goals, not to mention his all-around class, the argument can change. Bayern must make do without their talisman for the next month, but for this weekend, the general consensus is that Serge Gnabry will fill the Lewandowski position with Thomas Muller in his usual role, interpreting space better than anyone. That leaves Leroy Sane and Kingsley Coman to star on the flanks.

Thomas Muller, pictured heading the ball, will have a big role to play as Bayern adjust to not having Lewandowski in Saturday’s clash of first vs. second in the Bundesliga. ALEXANDER HASSENSTEIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The other variant would be Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting playing from the outset, which would give Bayern more of a physical presence to unsettle Orban & Co. at the back. Choupo-Moting also has the benefit of being well-rested without international commitments.

Leipzig, as usual, have decisions to make. They don’t have one prolific scorer to call upon — in fact, no-one has managed more than six league goals this season in the entire squad. I won’t be surprised if Nagelsmann again uses Emil Forsberg almost as a false nine with support coming from Dani Olmo and Christopher Nkunku. The alternative would be a more traditional centre forward like Yussuf Poulsen or Alexander Sorloth but both are good options off the bench.

It’s going to take a 90-minute effort from whomever leads the Leipzig line, though Nagelsmann often has success changing the shape at half-time as circumstances dictate.

Final notes

Leipzig have trailed for only 202 minutes all season, while Bayern have been behind for 525 minutes, placing them a relatively lowly eighth in the Bundesliga when it comes to this particular table.

Since winning promotion to the Bundesliga in 2016, Leipzig are second overall in points (309) after Bayern (387). Dortmund are third, with 307.

This will be the 10th Bundesliga meeting of the clubs. For the sixth time and fourth meeting in a row, it is a top of the table clash.

Bayern have only lost once in 11 total encounters with Leipzig in all competitions, which came back in March, 2018.

Bayern have scored in their last 39 Bundesliga games. They last failed to score in the 0-0 draw at home against Leipzig on Feb. 9, 2020.



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