Undermanned Leverkusen face stern test against stung Leipzig

Florian Wirtz (L) in action for Bayer Leverkusen. File photo

Xabi Alonso’s unbeaten Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday face one of their toughest remaining tests this season, travelling to an RB Leipzig side stung by a last-up defeat.

Looking to shore up their spot in the top four from a chasing Borussia Dortmund, Leipzig lost 1-0 to Eintracht Frankfurt last weekend, their first home loss in the league this season.

Leipzig manager Marco Rose said Thursday “the defeat against Frankfurt really bothered us” and called on his troops to respond against the league leaders.

The Red Bull Arena has become a fortress in recent seasons for the two-time German Cup winners.

Manchester City, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund have all tasted defeat in Saxony, while Bayern Munich have not won there in the league since 2021.

Four points behind with a game in hand, Harry Kane’s Bayern are hovering dangerously close to a Leverkusen side hoping to break through for a first ever league title.

Leverkusen almost dropped points away at Augsburg on Saturday but

With three players away on AFCON duty and striker Victor Boniface out until April, Leverkusen were rescued late at Augsburg on Saturday, with World Cup winner Exequiel Palacios scoring in the fourth-minute of injury time for a narrow 1-0 win.

Even without some first-team players, Rose knows the threat Alonso’s Leverkusen pose.

Rose praised Alonso on Thursday, calling him “a great guy, but above all a winner (who) passes that winning gene on to his players.”

Leipzig were the first Bundesliga side to get a taste of Alonso’s re-tooled Leverkusen this campaign, losing 3-2 away on the opening round just a week after beating Bayern 3-0 in Munich to lift the Supercup.

Leipzig striker Lois Openda agreed with his coach in an interview with AFP and other media on Wednesday.

The Belgian said “Xabi Alonso, as a player he was top, a top midfielder, he was quality with his passing and his assists.

“As a coach he’s also good, what he’s doing now with Leverkusen, it’s top.”

Bayern, who host Werder Bremen on Sunday, stand to benefit most should Leverkusen drop points.

Bayern have a stunning record against the green and whites, having not lost since 2008 when a teenage Mesut Ozil ran riot, scoring once and assisting two more in a 5-2 Bremen win.

Elsewhere, Dortmund, who are three points behind fourth-placed Leipzig, travel to Cologne, who have won just twice all season and sit second-last on the table.

Dortmund have won just two of their past eight in the cathedral city, although the returned Jadon Sancho boasts a good record against Cologne, having scored twice and laid on two assists in four games.

One to watch: Lois Openda (RB Leipzig)

Since arriving from Lens in the summer, Leipzig forward Lois Openda has been so impressive that its easy to forget the German Cup holders lost Christopher Nkunku in the same window.

Openda has 11 goals and four assists in 17 league games for Leipzig, as well as four in six Champions League fixtures.

Still just 22, the lightning-fast Openda told AFP and other media on Wednesday his quick adjustment was because “I feel like I’m at home here”, while vowing to “do more”.

“I know I’m young and I want to be better, to score goals every game and top be the top scorer.”

Key stats

966 days: Sancho returned for Dortmund on Saturday and laid on an assist for Marco Reus, 966 days since his last appearance with the club.

21 seconds: Gladbach’s Robin Hack scored after 21 seconds in Sunday’s 3-1 win over Stuttgart, the fastest goal of the Bundesliga season so far.

26 wins in 27: Bayern have won 26 and drawn one of their past 27 games with Werder Bremen.

Fixtures (1430 GMT unless stated)

Friday

Mainz v Union Berlin (1930)

Saturday

Bochum v Stuttgart, Heidenheim v Wolfsburg, Darmstadt v Eintracht Frankfurt, Cologne v Borussia Dortmund, Freiburg v Hoffenheim, RB Leipzig v Bayer Leverkusen (1730)

Sunday

Bayern Munich v Werder Bremen, Borussia Moenchengladbach v Augsburg (1630)

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