The last time RB Leipzig visited Manchester City, they attacked with gusto. They were brave and bold. Christopher Nkunku bagged a hat-trick. A repeat of that this week wouldn’t be enough. City returned fire with interest, scoring six.

That was in September 2021 under Jesse Marsch, with the team struggling for identity and control, despite the club going for continuity in appointing from the Red Bull stable. By the time the teams met again in Saxony for the return leg in December, Marsch had been shown the door and the club were about to appoint Domenico Tedesco – whose last match in charge of Schalke had been at the Etihad Stadium in March 2019, a chastening 7-0 defeat, if we’re looking to bring the City link full circle.

Now the connections matter less, even if Leipzig will return on Tuesday with much of the same personnel. Of the XI who simultaneously chased and were given a chasing that night in Manchester, only Nordi Mukiele and Angeliño are no longer at the club. For what it’s worth, the former scored an own goal that night while the latter was sent off, to warm applause from the fans of his former club.

Marco Rose was born in the city in which he now works and was also seen as a safe pair of hands, having coached Red Bull Salzburg to successive Austrian Bundesliga titles in 2018 and 2019, thus knowing the system. Yet the contrast with Marsch’s reign couldn’t be greater. Since Rose took over in September, three days before his 46th birthday, no team in the Bundesliga has picked up as many points as Leipzig, a position maintained by the 3-0 win against Borussia Mönchengladbach on Saturday.

Their ruthlessness has really caught the eye under Rose. Leipzig are efficient at the back – progress for the coach, whose defence at Borussia Dortmund was often calamitous, leaking 52 goals in 34 games last term – and they require little encouragement in the final third. Their attacking versatility is really something. Clearly Nkunku is the star. Rewatch the footage of that 6-3 loss at City 18 months ago and you’ll be amazed how people went so long denying he was cut out to be a centre-forward.

But with Nkunku ruled out through injury, there are myriad options. It is really a peek into the future, with Nkunku expected to join Chelsea in the summer, but Timo Werner’s explosive opener against Mönchengladbach was a reminder that it might not be so bad for the team to have him as a reference point. Emil Forsberg scored the second from the penalty spot with Josko Gvardiol knocking in the third with this thigh against dispirited opposition, who had nine defenders to cover four home attackers. Those numbers are irrelevant, however, if none of the defenders actually move. It summed up Mönchengladbach’s current state of listlessness in a nutshell.

There are still some issues for Rose to bear in mind. Like many sides that prefer to counterattack, they don’t look as comfortable when given the ball and compelled to play. In the first half, Mönchengladbach had less of the ball and more of the chances – with Marcus Thuram spurning a great opening to given them the lead. Daniel Farke’s team had another opportunity to go in front in the second half when Jonas Hofmann was wiped out by David Raum, only for Alassane Pléa to fire a weak penalty into the arms of Janis Blaswich. Managing surplus possession is not a problem Leipzig can expect to face at City, of course.

There are issues to fix because the first portion of the season has conditioned what came next. The lack of tempo, as well as early season results, under Tedesco is what persuaded Leipzig to part company with him in September and since then they have been playing catchup. This season, according to the sporting director Max Eberl, is about “getting into the Champions League”, with nothing to be taken for granted after that false start. As for the current title contenders: “If they slip, we want to be there.”

Quick Guide

Bundesliga results


Cologne 0-2 Bochum, Bayern Munich 5-3 Augsburg, Eintracht Frankfurt 1-1 Stuttgart, Hertha Berlin 1-1 Mainz, RB Leipzig 3-0 Borussia Mönchengladbach, Schalke 2-2 Borussia Dortmund, Freiburg 2-1 Hoffenheim, Werder Bremen 2-3 Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg 1-1 Union Berlin

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Eberl, who received the expected level of flak from the fans of his former club, one banner depicting an Oscar, implying he had faked the illness that forced him to quit Mönchengladbach last year after two decades at the club, acknowledged that finding a regular, reliable niche is the important thing in maintaining a model, telling young talents: “If you come to Leipzig, you can always play in the Champions League.”

There is a further level, though. The re-signing of Werner recognises that quality experienced players are also needed to grow, rather than to just be a high-class talent farm. There is also a trophy to defend, with the DfB Pokal won under Tedesco in May last year and a quarter‑final with Dortmund to come next month. Punking City, after the 2020 Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain seemed a step too far, would definitely speak for growth, rather than potential to grow.

Leipzig, Christopher Nkunku
Leipzig will almost certainly be without Chelsea-bound Christopher Nkunku after his thigh injury. Photograph: Ronny Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images

Talking points

Bayern have a two-point lead at the top of the table after Saturday’s entertaining 5-3 win over Augsburg, coupled with Dortmund twice losing the lead in the Revierderby at Schalke and having to settle for a 2-2 draw. Defenders led the way in attack for the leaders (if not always in defence) with João Cancelo’s first for the club and a Benjamin Pavard brace overcoming Mërgim Berisha’s early opener for the visitors. Sadio Mané started for the first time in four months and laid on two. “It’s not easy to find your rhythm,” he insisted nevertheless.. BVB’s two goals, by Nico Schlotterbeck and Raphaël Guerreiro, were works of art but “we lacked clarity and focus,” according to sporting director Sebastian Kehl.

Freiburg are back in the Champions League mix, with Ritsu Doan’s smart late finish downing struggling Hoffenheim and bringing them level on points with Union, who conceded a late equaliser to Patrick Wimmer at Wolfsburg. Both have huge Europe League ties this week, against Juventus and Union Saint-Gilloise respectively.

Bochum ended a run of four straight defeats with a surprise 2-0 win at Köln, catapulting them out of the bottom three to 14th – there are still only three points separating the bottom five – with iconic goalkeeper Manuel Riemann returning to his best form after last week’s derby nightmare against Schalke (incidentally Die Königsblauen are second-bottom despite the aforementioned inspiring derby draw and a seven-match unbeaten run). Stuttgart and Hertha picked up valuable points with the former having Silas’ fine strike to thank for a point at Eintracht Frankfurt, while Ludovic Ajorque’s banger in Berlin allowed Mainz to take a point away from Hertha.

Meanwhile, Hertha can breathe a sigh of relief after confirmation, at last, of the investment of 777 Partners. A report in Monday’s Kicker suggested, however, that the Miami-based private equity firm might have had influence on club decisions for a while, including the dismissal of sporting director Fredi Bobic.