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German Cup: Historic feat cements Leipzig's elite status

Tom Gennoy in Berlin
June 4, 2023

Leipzig's German Cup title defense is a feat few before them have achieved. It rounds out a triumphant first season in charge for local-born coach Marco Rose and cements their place among German football's elite.

Leipzig's Willi Orban lifts the trophy as he celebrates with teammates
Christopher Nkunku stole the show as Leipzig retained their German Cup title in BerlinImage: Annegret Hilse/REUTERS

RB Leipzig 2-0 Eintracht Frankfurt

(Nkunku 71', Szoboszlai 85')

For the RB Leipzig players who lifted the German Cup last year and were around to repeat the feat against Frankfurt, the triumph in Berlin will have felt familiar. For head coach Marco Rose, everything about it was brand new.

This first major trophy in German football is his greatest achievement as a coach, and confirmation once more that his hometown is the right place for him — and that he's the right man for Leipzig. 

"Right from my first day, a lot of things clicked," reflected Rose after Leipzig's 2-0 win over five-time winners Frankfurt on Saturday. "I inherited a great team, I'm surrounded by professionals, the club is well-run, the stadium is always full and things like this are only possible when you work together.

"And yes, it feels great to win a major trophy in your hometown."

Nkunku's fitting farewell

More than anyone else, Rose had Christopher Nkunku to thank. In the face of more than a little adversity at Berlin's Olympiastadion it was Nkunku who stepped up and made the difference. The Frenchman's likely departure in the coming summer break makes the result all the sweeter. 

The 25-year-old has seen his personal stock skyrocket during four excellent seasons in Germany, and will leave a certified star if his much-expected move to the Premier League materializes.

Having already distinguished himself this season as the league's joint top scorer, despite an injury setback that kept him out of France's World Cup squad, Nkunku's match-winning performance was a perfect way to say goodbye to German football. 

Frankfurt coach Oliver Glasner, too, had striven for a triumphant sendoff ahead of his departure in the summer and the Eagles' fans certainly made the task as tough as possible for the titleholders. 

From the off, Frankfurt's supporters staged a deafening concert of whistles whenever their opponents began to mount an attack, or were awarded a free kick, or at one stage whenever a Leipzig player even so much as touched the ball.

'Not about silencing' Frankfurt supporters

Leipzig's own fans at the other end of the ground — the Marathon Gate end which traditionally houses away supporters at the Olympiastadion — were loud too. But with as many as 80,000 Frankfurt supporters having made the journey to Berlin for the final, it was inevitable that they'd have the upper hand in the stands.  

"Even Barcelona were made to feel like the away team at their home ground," said Marco Rose after the game, a reference to a Europa League fixture last season at which 30,000 Frankfurt fans made the Camp Nou their own.  

Leipzig know their way around this ground better than most — this was, after all, their fourth German Cup final in five years. It's a place they feel at ease — seven out of seven visits in the Bundesliga have ended with them taking maximum points off Hertha Berlin.

Frankfurt fans at German Cup final
The Frankfurt fans made their overwhelming presence felt inside Berlin's OlympiastadionImage: Fabrizio Bensch/REUTERS

So while Frankfurt's black-and-white-striped supporters outnumbered their opponents by something like three to one, their home advantage on the stands failed to make itself felt on the pitch. 

"They're great fans, and it wasn't about silencing them or anything like that," Rose added.  

But silence them they did thanks to their most reliable attacking asset. Two deflections inside the box meant there was an element of good fortune involved in Nkunku's opener, but the second five minutes from time was trademark as he evaded challenges before sliding a perfect through ball to Dominik Szoboszlai, whose emphatic finish put the game to bed. 

New look to Rose's revolution?

When Leipzig first had their name engraved onto the German Cup trophy last year, it was a watershed moment for German football; one which cemented their place among the Bundesliga's elite. Their successful retention of the trophy sees them enter an even more exclusive group. 

"Bayern are German champions and Dortmund fought for the title until the final day," said Red Bull's managing director Oliver Mintzlaff. "We aren't expecting ourselves to stake a claim as the new No. 1, but we've shown that we can win and defend titles, which makes us proud."  

While his squad will be weakened by the departures of both Nkunku and Konrad Laimer, the midfield mainstay headed for Bayern in the coming break, Rose was sanguine on the matter at full time.  

"Squad fluctuation is normal, including for us," Rose told German broadcaster ZDF. "That makes it all the sweeter that we get to part ways like this, so that when we meet again somewhere in Europe, we'll have tonight to talk about."

As Rose knows, players come and go, but titles endure. And while clubs too, can be transient, a second successive German Cup title reaffirms what's long been clear: RB Leipzig are here to stay. 

Edited by: James Thorogood

Tom Gennoy
Tom Gennoy Reporter@TG94__