RB Leipzig Are The Underdogs in Europe Refusing to Slow Down

RB Leipzig's hateful, yet astronomical rise

RB Leipzig are not everyone's favourite club in Europe. Since being founded in 2009 after purchasing the playing rights of local team SSV Markranstädt, their rise to the Bundesliga has been met with unparalleled heat.

The Red Bull-fueled commercial structure doesn't sit well with the German fans, similar to how the Class of '92 have contracted a lot of negativity over their billionaire-backed rise through non-league. Although, in Germany, things are a little different. Since the rulebooks were formed, clubs have not been allowed to name clubs after sponsors, with German football proud of its heritage and remaining as fan-based as any European top country.

You'd imagine an unrivalled rise through the divisions, a groundbreaking training facility and a 10-year lease on a 43,000-seat stadium would be celebrated in football. Perhaps, but not in Germany; a country where football has barely changed since the 60s.

Nowadays, after an eight-year rise from the fifth tier to the Bundesliga, title challenges are a regular occurrence, whilst European football has become an expectation and not a dream.

At the beginning of the season, many doubted if Leipzig were capable of progressing through their Champions League group that contained potentially tricky encounters with Lyon, Zenit and Benfica, let alone make it far in the knockout stages in convincing fashion.

Now after, dismantling Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur in the last 16, many are starting to take notice of the German outfit. Here’s why the Red Bulls could just be the dark horses in the competition this season and are an underdog to be concerned of for years to come.

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Their Bundesliga record is as strong as any contender to Bayern

Winning the Bundesliga is as hard to come by as any league title in Europe. Bayern Munich are simply too dominate and other than Borussia Dortmund early last decade, nobody has come close. However, in what was their debut season, Leipzig ran with the German champions right until the final chunk of games, eventually finishing three points clear of third-placed Dortmund.

This quickly cemented them as a force to be reckoned in Germany. When in the right form, Leipzig can be a real joy to watch. Julian Nagelsmann’s men started the season in incredible form, finding themselves top of the Bundesliga table going into the winter break. Whilst Bayern were struggling and undergoing managerial changes as they tried to return to their usual dominant selves, Leipzig were at the summit of Germany’s top tier, holding off the likes of Dortmund and Borussia Monchengladbach.

Since the winter break, Bayern and Dortmund have regained their form as Leipzig have slipped, leaving them in third place behind the usual German giants. The team that have climbed up through the five top tiers of German football are far from down and out of this title race though.

Leipzig haven’t finished outside the top six in the Bundesliga since their debut season in the competition, and they’ll be hoping they can make this year their highest year yet – succeeding that runner-up finish in their debut 2016/17 campaign. Leipzig have had the least amount of defeats in the Bundesliga this season, and a title challenge in the league could provide a springboard for European success.

German clubs often make it to the latter stages of Europe, fueling themselves off sensational form from the domestic competitions. The magnificent competitive nature in Germany is unlike few others, with the clubs inside the top 10 fighting for European spots, with little difference between fourth and eighth.

Leipzig are already ahead of this, securing Champions League football with much more ease than most. Their success in the Bundesliga is only one measurement that shows how great this team is and can be.

Their idea for youth is a concern for others

With a squad that has an average age of 23.6 years, Leipzig have some of the best young talents in Europe. You only have to look at the man leading the team, Julian Nagelsmann, who is the youngest senior manager in Europe's top leagues today. The German tactician guided Hoffenheim to the first-ever Champions League qualification in the club’s history, before joining Leipzig at the beginning of this season.

Nagelsmann has showed his quality in first with Leipzig and gained many plaudits. He likes to set up his team with a narrow formation that’s tough to get past, before utilising his pacey and creative players that are too hot for any team to handle. A game plan that been successful, shown by the lack of defeats in the Bundesliga this season as well as the fact that, along with Bayern, they have conceded less goals than any other German outfit.

One of the stars in the Leipzig defence is undoubtedly Dayot Upamecano. The centre-back has been linked with some of Europe’s biggest teams, including both the Manchester giants. The 21-year-old has been a rock at the back for the Bundesliga side this season, as well as showing his quality when creating chances from the back. In fact, statistics show that on average, the Frenchman dribbles past an opponent more times per 90 minutes (1.36) than he gets dribbled past (0.83).

Despite his young age, Upamecano has been playing like an experienced centre-back which has made clubs around the world keep tabs on him. His stocks will only improve as he reaches his peak in years to come.

As for now, the 6ft 1 defender will certainly improve in value if he can be a star in Leipzig’s European adventure. He’s part of a team that features some of the hottest young talents around such as 22-year-old midfielder Christopher Nkunku, 21-year-old attacking midfielder Dani Olmo and 20-year-old centre-back Ibrahim Konate.

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The Wonderful Werner

Speaking of talents with many bright years ahead, there’s not a lot of strikers in the world as talented as Timo Werner. The 24-year-old forward has been linked with many of the biggest clubs in the world because of his performances in Leipzig shirt.

The lightning-fast German can play up front or on the left wing and has been attracting interest for some time, which has been increased even more following the 21 goals and seven assists in 25 Bundesliga appearances this season. Only Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski has scored more goals in the league than Werner, managing four more, which is only a testament to his astonishing ability.

The RB Leipzig number 11 is a star player for his side and will be the spearhead of the attack if they’re to mount a challenge on Europe’s top table, as he has already proven.

Spurs are the first to underestimate this powerhouse

Mourinho's record in Europe is unlike most. In both of his Champions League title-winning moments with Inter Milan and Porto, each club were the underdog - the latter perhaps the biggest shock since the competition's rebranding in 1992.

So, he more than more anybody, should be aware of such deadly squads on the rise, under everyone's radar. But, he wasn't. After a strong and professional 1-0 win at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium from the German outfit, Leipzig smashed Mourinho's men out the Champions League, with a 3-0 win at the Red Bull Arena.

Not just were Spurs outclassed, outworked and made to look like a partaker rather than a contender, they were coming off the back of a sensational route to the final itself last year.

If this result is anything to go by, Leipzig are perhaps not even an underdog anymore, as their power is well and truly established after knocking out a European regular. At the end of the day, barely anybody has got past a Mourinho side in the Champions League, nevermind as easily as Leipzig did.

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The Underdog Mentality

Leipzig are nowhere near favourites for the Champions League. That doesn’t mean they’re to be written off though, you only have to look at the final in the 2003/04 season for a reminder. The surprising deciding clash didn’t feature a European heavyweight such as Real Madrid, Manchester United or even the then-invincible Arsenal. Instead, the unlikely contest in Germany featured the two surprise packages of Monaco and FC Porto, with Mourinho’s Porto emerging as the shock winners of the competition.

It just goes to show that you can never write off an underdog. There isn’t as much pressure on the lesser teams to perform, and that could swing in favour for Nagelsmann’s young starlets. Chelsea are another prime example, surprising everyone to lift the trophy in 2012 against Bayern in their own back yard, despite having a torrid season in the league and finishing sixth.

The future looks bright for Nagelsmann’s young fleet of stars, and what better way to elevate their careers by shocking everyone to capture European glory.

Leipzig are the underdogs too many of us are forgetting about. After just four years in the Bundesliga, they are just getting started.

By Jordan Edmonds

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