RasenBallsport Leipzig rounded off a disappointing December with a 3-2 defeat at home to 10-man Hertha Berlin. DW's Matt Ford thinks the Red Bull-backed club are falling short of their own high expectations.
Halfway through their second Bundesliga season, RasenBallsport Leipzig are 11 points worse off and three places further down the league table than last year.
The 3-2 defeat to 10-man Hertha Berlin on Matchday 17 saw them end the calendar year with five straight winless games – two losses and two draws in the Bundesliga coupled with a Champions League exit earlier this month.
And despite all the good work done by Pal Dardai and his staff in Berlin, Hertha should not have stood a chance when playing with ten men for 80 minutes against last season's runners-up.
Yet RB looked sluggish, devoid of ideas, and were restricted to shots from distance. Timo Werner cut a lonely figure up front. Yussuf Poulsen was erratic. Both Bruma and Jean-Kevin Augustin worked hard but lacked composure. Not even Naby Keita could save the day. How they miss the craft and guile of Emil Forsberg (unavailable this weekend due to a stomach problem), but the Swede's absence wasn't the reason for the defeat. At the risk of recycling old energy drink puns, RB Leipzig looked tired.
Davie Selke was left unmarked for both of his goals, while Salomon Kalou sent a reminder that set pieces still are RB Leipzig's Achilles' heel this season.
The sustainability of sporting director Ralf Rangnick's preferred pressing game over the course of a long season also has to be questioned. RB struggle to break teams down when they have more of the ball and, when are they are allowed to play their own game, a huge physical strain is put on their own players, only exacerbated by additional midweek commitments.
The 11 extra games compared to last season are clearly taking their toll - and not just on the players. The Red Bull Arena was full to capacity for ten out 17 home league games in 2016/17, but only two games have sold out so far this season. A rather meagre 32,800 watched the 2-2 draw against Mainz last week and thousands of empty seats were visible again on Sunday.
Has the novelty worn off for fans who have only been supporting the club for a small number of years?
Talk of a crisis will be dismissed. This is the youngest squad in the league with an average age of just 23.2 years old, and the first time that squad has had to juggle domestic and international duties simultaneously. At almost any other club and under almost any other circumstances, those would be valid excuses.
Only, RB Leipzig isn't just any other club. Over €150 million ($176 million) spent on new players alone since 2015, a state-of-the-art training center on the banks of the River Elster and an impressive youth academy are all evidence of the extent of Red Bull's ambition.
The professional structures and facilities in place are more than a match for the Bundesliga's biggest clubs - so good in fact that Bayern Munich have improved their own youth academy. Given they're in a league of their own, it is only fair that RB are judged by the parameters they set for themselves and, so far this season, they have fallen short.