1-0 Defeat To Real Madrid Highlights Lack Of Squad Chemistry

There will definitely be some sense of frustration when RB Leipzig looks back to the first leg against Real Madrid. The Bundesliga side lost 1-0 thanks to a brilliant strike by Brahim Díaz (48’) just after halftime.

“It was an open match in the second half,” RB Leipzig goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi said after the game to Amazon Prime. “A lucky punch decided the game. We played well and were definitely not the worst team.”

Based on all the statistical data, Gulacsi is undoubtedly correct. The game ended with an even 50-50 split in possession, and Real Madrid would only slightly edge Leipzig in shots on goal (14 to 15), played passes (547 to 547), and completed passes (88% to 87%).

All that data points to a very balanced game. Indeed, Leipzig, after the fact, will also feel that Benjamin Sesko’s goal in the third minute should have stood. But despite all those positives, the truth is that Leipzig lost a significant opportunity to put a Real side to the sword that played a backline consisting of Ferland Mendy, Nacho, Aurelien Tchouameni, and Dani Carvajal backed up by goalkeeper Andriy Lunin.

“The result counts in football, and that is where we lost,” Leipzig midfielder Xaver Schlager said after the game. “If you ignore that, we did a lot right. We played offensively, had chances, didn’t let them play. But at the moment, it’s just that our opponents can make a lot out of very little.”

One factor might have been the disallowed goal in the first half. Sesko, in particular, had several chances to right a wrong but simply could not get past goalkeeper Lunin. “I’m happy to be getting into those kinds of positions,” Sesko said to TNT Sport after the game. “Now it’s up to me to finish them, which is really important for the team in general and to win the game.”

Sesko symbolizes a Leipzig side that is not only in transition but also out of form since before the winter break. The Slovenian striker might be one of the most talented center-forwards in the European game, but his goalscoring rate at the moment is far from reflecting his potential.

The 20-year-old has scored ten goals in 28 games across all competitions this season. Not bad, but his two goals in seven Champions League goals suggest that there is room to grow.

In fact, you could argue that Leipzig, who have won just one of their six games since the winter break, feels like a team with significant room to grow into it. One factor is Sesko and his lack of goalscoring. Another is the Dani Olmo.

The Spaniard started the season with a sensational performance against Bayern Munich in the DFL Supercup but hasn’t been the same since picking up an injury in the fall. Without Olmo at his best, Leipzig has been too reliant on the talented Xavi Simons. Simons, without a doubt, has been sensational, but opponents have caught on that taking the Dutchman out of the game seems to stifle Leipzig’s attacking play.

Those are two factors of Leipzig’s recent problems. A third is that the mix seems to be somewhat off on Marco Rose’s side. Maybe that was to be expected after Dominik Szoboszlai, Christopher Nkunku, and Josko Gvardiol left the club in the summer.

Part of the Red Bull philosophy has always been for Leipzig to develop players and move them on with a profit. In the past, those players were always replaced with future stars, and it felt like in the summer that the likes of Xavi Simons, Nicolas Seiwald, and Christoph Baumgartner could close the void left by the outgoing stars. But only one, Simons, has met expectations.

Indeed, both Seiwald and Baumgartner remained on the bench against Real Madrid on Tuesday. In fact, it took until the 75th minute for Rose to make any changes, and the only new signing to come on was Eljif Elmas.

Elmas was signed in the winter from Napoli to replace club legend Emil Forsberg. Forsberg left in January for sister club New York Red Bulls. But his departure might be the final factor of Leipzig’s recent issues. Although getting on in age, the Swedish midfielder brought plenty of experience, and with him gone, there seems to be a lack of balance on that Leipzig side.

It is, of course, now too late to address that lack of balance. But the decision-makers in Leipzig will undoubtedly have noticed that Leverkusen is currently on a championship course after the club brought on several experienced players last summer to supplement a talented core of players.

Indeed, the Leverkusen way could be a sign for things to come in the Bundesliga as clubs realize that they have to be more than development pipelines for the Premier League if they want to win something.

Manuel Veth is the host of the Bundesliga Gegenpressing Podcast and the Area Manager USA at Transfermarkt. He has also been published in the Guardian, Newsweek, Howler, Pro Soccer USA, and several other outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @ManuelVeth and on Threads: @manuveth

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