Bundesliga: Leipzig hot on Bayern’s heels after champions’ performance at Schalke | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 22.02.2020
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Bundesliga: Leipzig hot on Bayern’s heels after champions’ performance at Schalke

They may have got some help from Schalke goalkeeper Alexander Nübel, but Leipzig were convincing on Saturday. The big win keeps them in the mix for the Bundesliga title.

Schalke 0 - 5 RB LeipzigVeltins-Arena
(Sabitzer 2’, Werner 61’, Halstenburg 67’, Angelino 80’, Forsberg 90’)

On first viewing, it seemed to be a rocket from Marcel Sabitzer. The RB Leipzig captain let fly with a soaring drive from distance which flew into the top corner, a little over a minute in. TV replays would tell a different story though, with Alexander Nübel, the man joining Bayern Munich this summer, completely misjudging the flight of the ball.

Not that it stopped Schalke’s army of support from bouncing in unison behind Nübel’s goal throughout the game and at full time to console their crestfallen players.

While it would be absurd to pin the blame of such a thumping defeat on one man, Nübel's performance set the tone for Schalke. Indecisive, anxious and littered with dropped crosses and nervy passes from the back, Nübel struggled badly. Such indecision is anathema to defenders, who seemed to be affected by the man in goal.

Alexander Nübel had a tough night in the Schalke goal (Getty Images/Bongarts/A. Grimm)

Alexander Nübel had a tough night in the Schalke goal

Schalke remain a work in progress under David Wagner, but there’s no escaping that this was a harrowing night for them and a brutal reminder of the gulf that still remains between them and the teams above them.

Nagelsmann gets it right

From a Leipzig perspective, it was another step on the path to what could yet be a maiden Bundesliga title in Julian Nagelsmann’s debut season. They say it’s attacks that win games and defences that win titles, and Leipzig are starting to shore up a side of their game that was holding them back earlier in the campaign. Back-to-back clean sheets in the Bundesliga - three in a week including the impressive win at Tottenham on Wednesday - suggests this title charge is built on solid foundations.

"We defended well and hardly let them get a shot off. It was a great performance from us," said Nagelsmann after the match. "The boys used the space well."

Nagelsmann’s 3-4-3 formation manages to mould the best features of a back three - defensive solidity while not compromising on width - with the best features of a 4-3-3: a compact and interchangeable forward line. That fluidity is difficult to deal with, even for a Schalke team whose defensive record was one of the Bundesliga’s best going into this game.

Leipzig are at their best when they pounce on defensive mistakes and swarm forward in numbers, and the goal that put this game beyond Schalke was crafted in just that manner. Timo Werner, who is currently enjoying the best season of his career, ended his barren run in the Bundesliga with an powerful finish that slipped through Nübel's hands after another slick move. 

Title within grasp

Marcel Halstenburg added a third midway through the second half, and by the time Angelino lazered in a fourth with 10 minutes to play, the white seats that make up the word ‘Schalke 04’ in this vast arena were visible. The home fans could hardly be blamed for leaving early. Schalke had been well beaten, by five in the end after substitute Emil Forsberg rubbed salt in the wound in the final minute - and the manner of the defeat was testament not only to Schalke’s shortcomings, but the quality of opponent.

Leipzig are just a point behind leaders Bayern Munich and the Red Bull outfit’s run-in is a favorable one. With Nagelsmann at the helm, it seems to be a matter of when not if Leipzig are crowned champions. In this form, it could be sooner rather than later.

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