For what seems like the umpteenth time this January, RB Leipzig sporting director Ralf Rangnick has once again refuted claims that Naby Keita will join Liverpool this window: “Neither the player has told us that he wants to change, nor is there an offer from Liverpool. A sale [in January] would have only been possible if we had secured an additional, exorbitantly high transfer fee.” You have to admire the persistence within the Liverpool camp at their attempts to lure the Guinea international to Anfield earlier than the planned summer deal. Had Philippe Coutinho not been sold to Barcelona, then this whole saga perhaps wouldn’t have been a thing. That said, Liverpool were reportedly willing to increase their offer to €105 million to get their man early and for any other club that would be a substantial increase but for what it’s worth, RB Leipzig don’t need the money.
Backed by energy drinks company Red Bull, Leipzig have a net spend of approximately €104.5 million in since their promotion to the Bundesliga in 2016. Players have come and gone but ultimately, they’re no worse off. One thing is for certain, and it’s that they’re not a selling club. Prior to their agreement to sell Keita to Liverpool, Rangnick & Co. never had any intention to sell their star players largely because they hadn’t a need to, unlike Borussia Dortmund in the past. “They don’t have to sell players. When I was at [Borussia] Dortmund we always had to sell players,” Jürgen Klopp was quoted as saying in July following their pursuit of Keita. But at some point, footballers evidently want to leave and this seemed to be the case surrounding Keita, according to Fussballstadt’s Chris Williams.
Prior to Coutinho’s departure to Barcelona, there had been very little talk of Liverpool attempting to lure Keita to Anfield in January while Leipzig were once again adamant that he would not be leaving the club this window. Speaking prior to their match against Schalke 04 on Saturday, head coach Ralph Hasenhüttl said: “We don’t have reason to sell before summer. I think Naby wants to finish the season in a good way in Leipzig,” and judging by his performance, Keita certainly seemed content remaining at the club until July 1.
His goal opened the scoring as a dominant performance dealt Domenico Tedesco’s Schalke just their fourth defeat of the season following a 3-1 rout. But within the Schalke camp, like Leipzig, there’s a player that is continuously being linked with a move away.
With just six months remaining on his contract at the Gelsenkirchen club, Leon Goretzka’s future has been up in the air. Since the summer, reports have suggested that he’s ready to sign a contract extension given he likes the work ethic under Tedesco, while others suggest that he’s close to signing for Bayern Munich. Also linked with Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid, the German isn’t short of options.
Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge spoke to Sky Deutschland where he was questioned about the potential arrival of a Germany international: “Now it is up to the player to decide, and it would be nice if he chose Bayern in the end. You only have an agreement when you sign the contract. All top clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United or Juventus wanted him, so it is perfectly legal and normal that the top club from Germany is interested in this player, too.” These quotes would suggest that Bayern’s signing of Goretzka seems to be imminent, while the 22-year-old could be the missing cog in their quest for European dominance. A key player in Germany’s Confederations Cup win, it’s hard to imagine nothing but future success for Goretzka while he has the potential to reach the stature that players such as Bastian Schweinsteiger and Michael Ballack have done previously, for both club and country.
There’s no questioning the work ethic of Goretkza either. With more than 100 Bundesliga appearances to his name, this future superstar has all the makings of a potential Ballon d’Or candidate, just like Xavi and Andrés Iniesta.
1 | Bayern Munich couldn’t have asked for a better start to 2018. Their dominant win against Bayer Leverkusen once again proved their dominance in the Bundesliga with summer signing James Rodríguez running the show. Although promising going forward, from the off Leverkusen were destined for failure given that Heiko Herrlich opted to start Wendell on the left-side of a three-man defence. Great going forward, the Brazilian doesn’t have the positional awareness to play such a role, which showed in the opening Bundesliga fixture of 2018. Despite that, both Leon Bailey and Kevin Volland looked impressive once again. The duo were Leverkusen’s best chance of getting on the scoresheet, with the latter doing so through a deflected effort. Even with the defeat, Bailey showed glimpses of just what he can achieve against a top club while he’s arguable one of the Bundesliga’s best performers this season, which has resulted in interest from Premier League clubs.
James Rodríguez’ Hinrunde may not have been the most impressive but that could be down to several factors. Injuries hadn’t helped – thus missing five Bundesliga games – while playing under two coaches in his debut season. Not only that, what is his position? According to Whoscored, the Colombian has played in six attacking positions for Bayern this season while Friday’s fixture saw James play behind Thomas Müller, before moving a little deeper where he then ran the game. Playing that little deeper allowed the 26-year-old to dictate the game more, assisting Franck Ribery for Bayern’s second. In stoppage time, the Colombian added Bayern’s third with a sublime free-kick from 18-yards and if this fixture was anything to go by, 2018 could be a rather big year for James.
2 | If you ever get the chance to attend the Rheinderby between 1. FC Köln and Borussia Mönchengladbach, then you must take it. It’s a fixture that doesn’t disappoint, while Sunday’s meeting between the two sides was no different. A football mad city, Köln have suffered heartbreak this season after qualifying for European football for the first time in 25 years last season. Selling 25 goal striker Anthony Modeste to the Chinese Super League hasn’t paid dividends with the Billy Goats sitting rock bottom of the Bundesliga, appointing Stefan Ruthenbeck in December following the dismissal of Peter Stöger after four years. The final matchday in the Hinrunde saw FC pick up their first win of the season against VfL Wolfsburg while their Rheinderby on Sunday was eagerly anticipated.
Jonas Hector returned to the starting XI for Köln after picking up an injury against Arsenal in September while Simon Terodde returned to the club he played for in the 2010/11 Bundesliga season. Playing at a sold-out stadium is the norm in Germany while Köln-Borussia Mönchengladbach created an electric atmosphere. As always between these two elite clubs, tensions were high. Freelance reporter Archie Rhind-Tutt stated that he had counted 127 police vehicles on his 15 minute commute to the stadium which isn’t unheard of, given the history between the two clubs. Against the run of play, FC had taken the lead through Frederik Sörensen before Raffael equalised for the visitors. What followed was nothing short of extraordinary. Prior to this fixture, Köln had picked up just six points in 17 league games but a last-second header from Terodde sent the Südtribüne into a frenzy. Suddenly it looks as though the great escape may truly be on given they are now just six points behind 17th placed Hamburger SV, whom they face next weekend. Only time will tell their Bundesliga fate.
3 | “We had an important team meeting yesterday with every player, including injured guys. [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang didn’t show up, leading me to believe it’s not that important to him right now,” stated Peter Stöger ahead of Borussia Dortmund-Wolfsburg. At the minute, there’s nothing but controversy that surrounds the Gabon international. For the third time in such a short time-frame, Aubameyang has been left out of the squad due to ‘disciplinary reasons’, while questions have been asked by fans why he wasn’t sold during the summer, if this is the way he acts. According to Lars Pollmann, Borussia Dortmund were close to selling their striker to a Chinese Super League club in the summer and if you fast forward six-months, that may not have been a bad idea. There’s an argument that no player is bigger than the club while the 28-year-old seems to be testing the patience of both fans of Borussia Dortmund and perhaps even his teammates.
But for all the controversy, it did allow Peter Stöger to field both Jadon Sancho and Alexander Isak – with help from various injuries – against Wolfsburg to bring MD18 to a close and although the 0-0 draw, the duo impressed. One thing that you must remember is that Sancho is just 17-years-old, while his abilities on the pitch suggest otherwise. Although raw, his first 90 minutes provided glimpses of brilliance with his intelligent positioning and ability to beat his man. Perhaps a little more composure and he could have earned Dortmund three points with his effort that cannoned back off the post, but the early signs are promising. Not only that, Isak played well in the 70 minutes he was given. Like Sancho, the Sweden international saw one of his efforts hit the post while his ability to find space inside the area is a sign of things to come. Whether a loan move happens or not, 2018 is a year where Isak really needs to be playing football while the future of Aubameyang could determine that.
D.K and D.P.