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Back RB Leipzig to beat Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga this weekend. The Wolves have suffered a dip in form and they could be punished by Marco Rose’s men.
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A couple of weeks ago, it looked like RB Leipzig might emerge as Bayern Munich’s closest challengers in the Bundesliga title race. The two teams drew 1-1 in the first fixture following the lengthy winter break, and Leipzig subsequently gained ground on the champions by winning their next two games as Bayern were held to two more draws.
At the end of January, Leipzig were just two points adrift of top spot. Since then, however, they have taken only one point from six available, drawing with Koln and then losing 2-1 to Union Berlin last weekend.
Bayern have won both of their last two matches, which means Leipzig are now some way behind Julian Nagelsmann’s men. The gap stands at seven points, which will be difficult for Marco Rose’s side to overturn.
In fairness to Leipzig, a title tilt was not on the agenda just a few weeks into the campaign. They won only one of their first five top-flight encounters in 2022/23, a run which led to the dismissal of Domenico Tedesco as the club’s manager. Leipzig were 11th at that point, meaning there was a complete absence of title talk.
Since Rose took the reins in September, Leipzig have collected 31 points. Only Bayern, with 32 to their name, have accumulated more. That shows what a fine job Rose has done, but there is still plenty of work to do at the Red Bull Arena.
The race for the top four looks set to be extremely competitive, with Union Berlin, Borussia Dortmund, Freiburg, Leipzig and Eintracht Frankfurt battling for the three remaining Champions League qualification spots after Bayern, who will almost certainly get over the line.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Leipzig close the gap to the summit of the standings, but they cannot afford many more slip-ups if they are to compete with Bayern.
Wolfsburg have also suffered a dip in form after a fantastic run either side of World Cup 2022. After a 2-2 draw with Bayer Leverkusen in October, the Wolves were 14th in the table. They then went on a remarkable six-match winning run, culminating in a stunning 6-0 shellacking of Freiburg and a 5-0 thrashing of Hertha Berlin.
That sequence of results sent Wolfsburg shooting up the standings. Following the destruction of Hertha, Niko Kovac’s team moved to within five points of the top four. But back-to-back defeats by Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich, followed by a 0-0 draw with last-placed Schalke, have surely put paid to Wolfsburg’s Champions League hopes.
Indeed, Leipzig are now seven points behind fourth spot. That is not an insurmountable margin, but Wolfsburg are undoubtedly outsiders in that particular battle - as evidenced by the latest odds offered by the best online sportsbooks.
That suspicion is confirmed by the underlying statistics. A glance at the expected goals data suggests Wolfsburg are a little fortunate to be as high as seventh. Based on the quality of chances created and conceded, the Wolves rank 10th in the division.
Even so, Kovac’s side are very much in the race for Europa League or Europa Conference League qualification. That would represent a good outcome for a team that was only a few places above the relegation zone a few months ago.
Only Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have a higher average possession than RB Leipzig in this season’s Bundesliga. Yet although they routinely dominate the ball, Leipzig still look most comfortable when breaking forward quickly at speed.
It is notable that only Union Berlin have scored more than Leipzig’s five goals on the counter-attack. Finding the right balance has been a conundrum for virtually every manager of the club in recent years.
Jesse Marsch looked to return Leipzig to the counter-attacking roots, but he lasted only a few months in the dugout. Tedesco embraced possession, whereas Rose has tried to find the sweet spot between those two extremes.
It has broadly worked, as Leipzig’s record since the change of manager shows. But after losing to Union Berlin last time out, Rose’s side could do with a win against one of the other sides involved in the conversation for European soccer.
A victory at the Volkswagen Arena would not only boost Leipzig’s hopes of a top-four finish, it would give the team confidence for the crunch clashes with Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Dortmund that lie ahead.
We fancy Leipzig’s chances of coming out on top on Saturday. Wolfsburg have gone slightly off the boil of late, and Leipzig’s quality in forward areas could decide this match in their favor.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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