RB Leipzig take on FC Koln in the Bundesliga on Saturday.
The DFB-Pokal winners are looking for their first league win of the season having been held by Stuttgart last week.
Despite losing 5-3 to Bayern Munich in a thrilling DFL-Supercup encounter, Leipzig boss Domenico Tedesco would have been encouraged by his side’s offensive fluidity heading into their Bundesliga opener away to Stuttgart.
That encouragement was justified after Christopher Nkunku picked up from where he left off last season, with the France forward ruthlessly firing the ball into the far corner to provide the visitors with an eighth-minute lead.
Keeping hold of Nkunku – who scored 35 goals in all competitions last season on top of scooping the Bundesliga Player of the Year award – for another season could prove pivotal to helping Leipzig achieve their objectives this season. Moreover, the acquisitions of David Raum, Xaver Schlager and former hero Timo Werner have clearly improved Tedesco’s first XI.
However, after Naouirou Ahamada‘s equalised for Stuttgart with a fine effort later in the first half, the visitors could not break their stubborn opponents down despite testing Florian Muller on nine occasions overall.
Nkunku fired straight at the stopper from close range before Muller spared his best save for last when somehow clawing away Willi Orban‘s bullet header. A frustrating day at the office for Tedesco and his players, then, but plenty to build on ahead of Saturday’s home match against Koln.
After being dumped out of the DFB-Pokal on penalties by second-tier side Jahn Regensburg, last weekend’s comfortable 3-1 victory against Schalke 04 was exactly what the doctor ordered for Steffen Baumgart and his players.
In his debut season last time out, Baumgart guided Koln to their highest Bundesliga finish since finishing fifth in 2016-2017, with their points tally of 52 actually being their best effort since a win became worth three points as opposed to two in the mid-1990’s.
Given their struggles in recent seasons, with only a relegation playoff the season before saving them from a second relegation in four seasons, the 50-year-old has clearly sparked a dramatic upturn in fortunes at the club.
In truth, Dominick Drexler‘s straight red card for a studs-up tackle in the 35th-minute hugely helped his former side last week, with Koln inevitably instigating one-way traffic after the half-time interval.
Defender Luca Kilian tapped home into an empty net from close range to break the deadlock on his debut, before Schalke goalkeeper Alexander Schwolow fumbled a cross to allow Florian Kainz to do similar and double Koln’s lead.
Baumgart will not have been impressed with the amount of freedom that his defence afforded Marius Bulter, who provided the visitors with brief hope of an unlikely comeback before Dejan Ljubicic‘s header wrapped up the three points with 10 minutes to spare.
Saturday’s trip to Leipzig will almost certainly be a far harder test, and a better indication of where Koln can realistically aspire to finish this season, especially following last season’s top goalscorer Anthony Modeste‘s sale to Borussia Dortmund.
Leipzig have been handed a major blow with the news that Lukas Klostermann sustained a serious ankle injury during last week’s 1-1 draw at Stuttgart, which could keep the defender out for a number of weeks.
Mohamed Simakan seems the natural replacement on the right-hand side of Tedesco’s back three, while Josko Gvardiol may replace Marcel Halstenberg on the left side having gained match fitness from the bench last weekend.
Yussuf Poulsen and Konrad Laimer remain doubtful with ankle and thigh injuries respectively, so Werner could be thrown straight in for his second debut at the club.
With the likes of Nkunku, Andre Silva and Dani Olmo all pushing for starts, too, Todesco will be scratching his head as to how to achieve the right balance within his starting XI. Given his side are at home against a side they are expected to beat, Olmo could start in a deeper role than usual, with Benjamin Henrichs shifting to right wing-back and youngster Hugo Novoa dropping out of the side.
Koln, meanwhile, will travel without Dimitrios Limnios due to a knee injury, while Mark Uth remains doubtful with a thigh strain.
After starting the season with a routine win, Baumgart is unlikely to make any changes to his side, with new signing Sargis Adamyan likely to play a key role from the substitutes’ bench.
RB Leipzig possible starting lineup:
Gulasci; Simakan, Orban, Gvardiol; Henrichs, Kampl, Olmo, Raum; Nkunku; Werner, Silva
FC Koln possible starting lineup:
Schwabe; Schmitz, Kilian, Chabot, Hector; Schindler, Ljubicic, Skhiri, Kainz; Dietz, Thielmann