Sevilla gave RB Leipzig a first taste of European football as the German side prepare for the Champions League. DW’s Michael Da Silva was at the London friendly to get an indication of how they will fare in the big time.
Now the dust has settled on RB Leipzig’s astonishing debut season in the Bundesliga, their attention has turned to this term, when they will rub shoulders with European football’s giants for the first time.
Leipzig's first proper test of preseason was in the midsummer north London drizzle against a Sevilla side that reached the last 16 of the Champions League last season. A penalty by Wissam Ben Yedder gave Sevilla a deserved 1-0 victory in the friendly against a Leipzig team that saw plenty of the ball but were shut out by their savvy opponents.
The early signs are that Ralph Hasenhüttl's side will need to learn fast if they’re not to crash at the first hurdle.
Leipzig’s low UEFA coefficient ranking gives them pot 4 status and means they will, in all likelihood, face at least one European powerhouse in their group and could easily be drawn into a group of death.
On the evidence of this display against Sevilla, who outfought and outthought Leipzig for most of the game, Hasenhüttl’s team may be wise to reassess the swashbuckling style that got them this far - but goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi says the team will keep faith in their gung-ho approach.
"I don’t think we will change our style in the Champions League," Gulacsi told DW. “We play in an attacking style but that comes from our approach without the ball, and I doubt we will change that. Of course you can always adjust your style a little depending on who we play against, but our style will always be defending high to win the ball in the opponents’ half and then make a quick counterattack."
No experience, no problem
Leipzig’s young team have no Champions League experience, but Gulacsi believes that won’t hold them back, and could even play into their hands, when they play their first game in the competition in September.
"It’s true that as a team we don’t have much Champions League experience, but I don’t think that will be a problem. Last year we didn’t have much Bundesliga experience and we finished second,” he said.
"We’re a young team but a very motivated team and that could actually be an advantage in the Champions League. Of course we are newcomers and lack the experience of others teams, but we are perhaps hungrier for success than others - this could be the difference."
Leipzig had a small but vocal pocket of support in the corner of Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and, although they had little reason to cheer, Gulacsi says the game offered the team their best fitness test yet of preseason.
"This was a great opportunity to test ourselves against a good side with a lot more international experience than we have. I think we started the game well and were good for 55-60 minutes. Our goal was to get a good 90 minutes under our belts and I think from a fitness perspective we have benefited," he said.
"The new signings will add some depth, because last year when we had a couple of injuries it had a big impact. Next year we’ll play three games a week and that will be a big change for us so it’s really important that we have cover for every position and more competition for places."
‘100 percent clear Keita will stay’
While Leipzig were in London, Liverpool were in Berlin beating Hertha, and it was Liverpool’s interest in Naby Keita that dominated Hasenhüttl’s post-match press conference.
Leipzig fended off two bids for Keita, the last of which was around 70 million pounds (78 million euros), but Hasenhüttl was emphatic that his "most important player" was going nowhere.
"It’s 100 percent clear the Naby will play for Leipzig next season," Hasenhüttl said. "At the beginning of the transfer window we said we will start next season with the same players that were with us last year.
"Everyone can see how important Naby is for our game and he is our most important player. When you play such a famous season like we did last year it’s normal that our players will receive interest from other clubs. I have told the players that it’s very important that they stay another year with this team. It’s our first time in the Champions League and that’s a new situation for all of us as we are a young team."
Hasenhüttl insisted that Keita hasn’t had his head turned by the interest. On the contrary, the coach insists he remains more committed to Leipzig than ever.
"Naby’s behaviour has changed. He has become even more focused on us and has even more fun on the pitch than last year. He knows that the Champions League with us will be a fantastic thing and I would say he is even more focused than last year."
Leipzig kick off their Bundesliga campaign at Schalke on August 19.