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FEATURE | Bundesliga Review: Week 11 – Christopher Nkunku proves he’s the real deal as RB Leipzig blossom

“Christo is a fantastic person and such a great player, he’s also my neighbour,” RB Leipzig head coach Jesse Marsch sang the praises of Christopher Nkunku after his man of the match performance against Borussia Dortmund in this weekend’s Bundesliga Topspiel. The Frenchman has been at the forefront of Die Roten Bullen’s recent success and added to his impressive tally this season with the opening goal against Dortmund before assisting Yussuf Poulsen to make RB Leipzig unbeaten in seven Bundesliga games.

When Nkunku is at his best, he’s unstoppable. The 23-year-old started out on RB Leipzig’s right on Saturday but would often find himself playing through the middle, often operating as the furthest player forward. Nkunku has come on leaps and bounds this season with his best football coming when he’s given freedom to play, “I’m a player who likes to get plenty of touches on the ball. The coach gave me quite a bit of freedom in that sense. He didn’t have me stuck to the last defender, so I played my part,” he told Bundesliga.com.

The omnipresent Nkunku caused Borussia Dortmund several headaches throughout the first half. He tested Gregor Kobel inside 15 minutes before darting through the middle to latch onto an exquisite through-ball by Joško Gvardiol, Nkunku showing his composure, rounding Kobel and putting the ball into the net from an acute angle after 29 minutes. The former PSG man then rattled the post in the second half after a superb showcase of skill that involved two Marseille roulettes, Kobel could only watch on as the ball travelled past him – the left post his saviour.

After Marco Reus’ equaliser, Poulsen gave RB Leipzig the lead again with 20 minutes remaining. The Dane latched on to a ball back across the box from Nkunku, who registered his fifth Bundesliga assist of the season. With a tally of 11 goals and seven assists in 17 games in all competitions for RB Leipzig this season, Nkunku is the star of this squad, and the Frenchman is starting to prove he’s the real deal.

Averaging a goal contribution every 77 minutes, he is outperforming his xA (3.3) whilst he’s currently on course to have his best season for RB Leipzig. Possessing excellent ball control, silky dribbling and explosive pace, Nkunku has developed his game immensely from when he arrived at the club in 2019.

A great deal of that is down to both then Julian Nagelsmann and now Marsch, who both tailored to Nkunku’s strengths. “RB Leipzig have given me a lot,” he told Bundesliga.com. “It’s what I was looking for when I moved here. I’m really happy at the moment and I hope there will be a lot more matches to come.” In his RB Leipzig career, Nkunku has scored 23 and created 34 in 101 games for RB Leipzig, averaging a contribution every 119 minutes. After a mixed time at PSG, speaking at the time (via The Athletic), Nkunku has rediscovered his love of playing football again, is blossoming and is at a club in RB Leipzig that wants him.

RB Leipzig themselves must also be given some credit. Saturday’s 2-1 win at the Zentralstadion against Borussia Dortmund was their best performance of the season. Pressure had already been mounting on Marsch after just three points from a possible 15 to start his Bundesliga campaign but now unbeaten in seven, RB Leipzig are starting to click under the American coach.

Upon their promotion in 2016, RB Leipzig had been tipped, by many, to challenge Bayern Munich for the Bundesliga title but in truth, they’ve been well off the pace despite two second-place finishes. Although the recent departures of Timo Werner, Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate, RB Leipzig must not turn into a selling club. Now is the time for continuity, both Nkunku and Marsch can be at the forefront of that.

 

1 | Steffen Baumgart’s FC Köln fought back once again to earn a point at home against Union Berlin. After a frantic first ten minutes, both teams found themselves level at 1-1. Just before the break, the Berliners went ahead through Grischa Prömel after confusion at the back left Köln exposed. Coming from behind to earn points is starting to become a bit of a trend for Baumgart’s side this year. With just four minutes to go, Anthony Modeste got his head on the end of a corner and glanced the ball beyond the Union goalkeeper. Modeste has started to become a hero of late for Köln and his eighth goal of the season sent Der Dom Stadt into rapture. Modeste sealed his cult-hero status by taking Baumgart’s flat cap and celebrating with it himself!

2 | SC Freiburg suffered their first league defeat of the season at the hands of the champions, Bayern Munich. On the half an hour mark, Leon Goretzka found space in Freiburg’s backline and coolly finished the ball past Freiburg’s Mark Flekken. The Breisgau-Brasilianer might have found themselves a little hard done by when Thomas Müller’s original pass was intercepted but only to land straight at his feet for a second chance of playing in his team mate. Freiburg have been a resilient side this year but were ultimately undone for a second time when who else but Robert Lewandowski tapped home from close range. This was Bayern’s 100th league goal in a calendar year, a feat that they’ve never achieved before. Freiburg did get a goal back in the 90th minute when Janik Haberer got past his man and fired smartly beyond Manuel Neuer who could only watch as the ball hit the net. Despite their first loss this season, Freiburg still sit third on an impressive 22 points and have the league’s strongest defence on record.

3 | Bochum made it three Bundesliga wins in four as they defeated Hoffenheim 2-0. In the first half, chances were few and far between as both teams appeared to be cancelling each other out. However, it was the away side who took the bull by the horns in the second half when a shot from range seemed like it was dipping in only for Riemann to tip the ball around the post at full stretch. After that scare, the 20,000 home supporters rallied their team on and got their breakthrough in the 66th minute. Two substitutes combined when Milos Pantovic’s cross was met by the head of Soma Novothny. Just three minutes later, Bochum were awarded a penalty, not for a tackle but a blatant push on Novothny when his original appeals were dismissed. Up stepped Bochum goalkeeper Manuel Riemann to take the important spot kick! The last time a goalkeeper scored in the Bundesliga was in 2010 and that record was to remain intact when Riemann blazed his shot over the bar. In the 97th minute, Hoffenheim had every man forward for a corner which was soon turned into a deadly counterattack. Seasoned striker, Pantovic had the accuracy and technique to find the unguarded net from within his own half. The Ruhrstadion was sent into a frenzy once again as Bochum made it back-to-back home victories in the Bundesliga.

Daniel PinderJamie Allen

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