RB Leipzig had a light schedule when they came second last season but that's not the case anymore. With fixtures in three competitions against some big clubs coming up in October, their strength in depth will be tested.
After exiting the German Cup at the first hurdle, RB Leipzig played just 35 games last season and tied with Werder Bremen for the lightest fixture list of the Bundesliga clubs. They took full advantage of their one-game-per-week schedule, building on a strong start to finish behind only Bayern Munich.
But this season, Leipzig's fixture list is much more packed, with Champions League matches and at least one more German Cup game to be taken in to account. As a result, the Red Bulls have struggled to find their best form both in Europe and at home. In the two games they have played after Champions League fixtures, Leipzig drew with Borussia Mönchengladbach and made heavy weather of beating Cologne, who have collected just one point this season.
Ralph Hasenhüttl's men now start a grueling October stretch against some of Europe's best teams. First on the docket is a showcase against Borussia Dortmund at Signal Iduna Park this weekend, then a Champions League match against perennial Champions League participant Porto before two matches in four days against Bayern Munich in the German Cup and Bundesliga respectively.
How they handle this run could determine if they can still compete with the best or if they are destined for mid-table irrelevancy.
Uncomfortable with the ball
Last season, Leipzig made a name for themselves with their quick transitions and menacing counter-attacks, but they have proven to be one dimensional in their second top-flight season. Their opponents have forced them to play increasingly on the front foot in possession and their scoring rate has dropped slightly as a result.
In fact, Leipzig have had more of the ball than their opponents in every game this season. Schalke, Gladbach and Augsburg were all able to take points from them by allowing last year's runners up to take the initiative. Freiburg also had a halftime lead when Leipzig hosted them in August before the Red Bulls woke up and scored four goals in the second half. - they also failed to win in the Champions League against Monaco and Besiktas despite holding more possession.
Against ball-hogging, attack-minded Dortmund, Leipzig's one dimension may come in handy. But they might have to round out their game in order to survive this month's tough stretch of fixtures.
Leipzig's struggles domestically also stem from the absence of Naby Keita. The Guinean midfielder has been serving a three-game suspension after being sent off against Gladbach for hitting Christoph Kramer in the face with a high boot.
In the Bundesliga, Leipzig have averaged 2.1 points- and 2.0 goals-per-game when Keita plays as opposed to 1.3 points- and 1.2 goals-per-game when he doesn't.
Keita also has happy memories of playing against Dortmund. When the two faced off in Leipzig in September of last year, it was Keita that scored the decisive goal to hand Leipzig their first-ever Bundesliga win.
But Leipzig may have to go another game without Timo Werner, who missed their last Bundesliga game and Germany's World Cup qualifiers with a neck issue and circulatory problems. Werner is responsible for nearly half of Leipzig's goals this season in the Bundesliga.
"I think that we will see on Friday if it makes sense to actually consider him already," coach Ralph Hasenhüttl told German sports magazine kicker.
"We also have to be sure that he can help us. And this point in time no one can seriously gauge that."
Hasenhüttl has had the squad depth to replace his two stars, using recently acquired players Konrad Laimer and Jean-Kevin Augustin to replace Keita and Werner respectively. But despite the extra bodies they have, Leipzig still seem to rely on Keita and Werner to get the job done. The Red Bulls may need both in order to have a chance of beating the current Bundesliga leaders.
Elsewhere on Matchday 8
- Jupp Heynckes, who was unveiled as Bayern Munich's coach on Monday, makes his return to the Bundesliga when the defending champions host Freiburg.
- Cologne will have to kick start their season away from home. They face Stuttgart in Mercedes Benz Arena, the first of four away games in October for the Billy Goats.
- Martin Harnik, who has scored in all but two of Hannover's league games this season, will try to get his side back to their winning ways when the newly promoted club hosts Eintracht Frankfurt.
Matchday 8 fixture list
Stuttgart vs. Cologne (Friday, 20:30 CEST)
Bayern Munich vs. Freiburg (Saturday, 15:30 CEST)
Hoffenheim vs. Augsburg
Hertha Berlin vs. Schalke
Mainz vs. Hamburg
Hannover vs. Frankfurt
Borussia Dortmund vs. RB Leipzig (Saturday, 18:30 CEST)
Leverkusen vs. Wolfsburg (Sunday, 15:30 CEST)
Werder Bremen vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach (Sunday, 18:00 CEST)