RB Leipzig have enjoyed victories against Monaco, Zenit and Napoli in Europe this season. Marseille stand between them and the last four of the Europa League, with coach Ralph Hasenhüttl integral to their growth.
It's easy to forget this is RB Leipzig's first season in Europe. With the likes of Naby Keita and Timo Werner regularly displaying quality beyond their years and head coach Ralph Hasenhüttl seamlessly adjusting to new challenges, Leipzig already look at home in continental competition.
Ousted from the Champions League, Hasenhüttl and his team find themselves on the verge of a Europa League semifinal. Victories over Napoli and Zenit put them up against Marseille. After a 1-0 win in the first leg, Leipzig travel to the south of France hoping to add the French giants to the list of top clubs they have put to the sword in Europe this season.
For all the criticism of the Red Bull project, Ralph Hasenhüttl has still managed his role as head coach extremely well. Adjusting to the Doppelbelastung (German for double burden, in this case two competitions at the same time), Leipzig have grown from a side that suffocates to one that knows when to knock the wind out of their opposition. Their win against Bayern Munich was an example of how this group, and their coach, are improving.
Leipzig growing fast
As with any growth though, there have been setbacks. On Monday night,Leipzig were swept aside by a ruthless Leverkusen side that punished them for uncharacteristic errors. "They're things that just cannot happen," goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi said when asked about Leverkusen's second and third goals. Hasenhüttl said his side "weren't an equal opponent" after the hammering.
This season, those things have been happening more often than expected as Leipzig adjust to life as a team that regularly plays twice a week. And yet they are within touching distance of a Europa League semifinal and still have a good chance of finishing in the Bundesliga's top four.
Despite losing to Leverkusen, Bayer's tough fixture list might aid Hasenhüttl's side yet, as might a general inconsistency from the league's chasing pack. The Europa League could hold the key. Ultimate victory there would result in Champions League qualification. Such a victory would also be an important, albeit somewhat unpopular, success story for German football in an otherwise disappointing European season for the Bundesliga's best.
To get there, Leipzig will have to continue looking like they belong, all the while adjusting to the increased number of games, better oppositon and smaller margin for error. "I can now say I am a better coach than I was a year ago and the same is probably true of my players," Hasenhüttl said ahead of the first leg against Marseille. With many watching on with vested interest, it's time to find out just how much better he and his team can be.