A disciplined and impressive Hannover side gave RB Leipzig quite the scare on Saturday. But the Red Bulls dug deep, used their squad wisely and won ugly, re-stating their title-challenging credentials in the process.
Once again, Timo Werner’s sense of space, timing and theatre ensured a win for his side and a standing ovation for the striker as he left the pitch in injury time.
But, despite the familiar headline-grabbing heroics of their star man, the 2-1 victory over visiting Hannover was the display of a side with the depth of squad, resources and mental fortitude to make a sustained title challenge.
Leipzig’s first season in the Champions League has seen Ralph Hasenhüttl shuffle his pack much more than last year, when a settled eleven took the Bundesliga by storm early on. The sight of Emil Forsberg and Naby Keita on the bench for a game against the side a place below them in the table would have been unthinkable this time last year. Saturday’s eleven was the eastern club’s youngest ever Bundesliga starting line-up.
With an hour gone, it looked like Hasenhüttl had dealt himself a hand unsuitable for such a challenge. Leipzig were missing Keita’s bite in the middle and Forsberg’s knack of cracking open the game with a pass.
Visitor's width caused problems
Hannover, who have impressed all season despite their off-field problems, were good value for the 1-0 lead they’d secured just after the break. Andre Breitenreiter’s back five were well-organised and kept Werner and Yussuf Poulsen quiet but Hannover were also able to take advantage of Leipzig’s narrow midfield on the break, with wide forwards Ihlas Bebou, excellent again after a brace against Dortmund last weekend, and Felix Klaus menacing throughout.
The goal that gave Hannover the lead was justification of Breitenreiter’s tactics. Bebou dummied and span as he looked to receive the ball from deep. It ran through to Jonathas, who sent it back out to the Togolese who then returned the favor, allowing the Brazilian to score his third in six Bundesliga games.
By that point Forsberg had been on the pitch three minutes and Keita was on five minutes later. With Hannover’s efforts off the ball taking their toll, the pair were able to exert their influence almost immediately. It was the Swede who made the equalizer, picking the lock to set Werner free before he squared to Poulsen for a simple tap in.
Demonstration of strength
Keita ensured that Leipzig wouldn’t stop there, driving through the tiring Hannover midfield to set up a pair of chances for Poulsen to double his tally, both were passed up. To their credit, Hannover still found the energy to summon a couple of half chances but as the clock ticked down, quality told. Again Forsberg was instrumental, his intelligent run ended with a pull back to Werner, who adjusted his body, flicked out a boot and won the game.
A home win over a Hannover side who are impressive but over-achieving is nothing out of the ordinary for a side with aspirations and resources the size of Leipzig’s – and the lack of penetration when missing a couple of key men is something of a concern.
But using your squad to find a way to win games when you’re up against it, is a hallmark of contenders. RB Leipzig may not prevent a sixth straight Bayern Munich title this season but they’ve once again shown they have the tools to compete, both now and in the future.