Hopes against Manchester City were pinned to Leipzig’s mute superstar. But Christopher Nkunku should fit well. A preview of the upcoming season.
When RB Leipzig players warmed up in the last practice session against Manchester City before the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 (21:00), Christopher Nkunku was unable to play. As other outfielders released the balls, the French star juggled an extra circle with coach Marco Rose and a fitness coach.
Rose: “Don’t take the risk”
As Rose later explained, Nkunku was unable to fully function due to the stress reaction in his muscles. “We have to see if it can be there, how the problems develop,” Rose said. That’s the big wish of everyone in Leipzig, “but we shouldn’t take risks either”.
After tearing the lateral ligament in his knee, the doctors and therapists at Nkunku and RB Leipzig worked for three months to ensure that the outstanding player was fit for this game. Now it will probably only play for a few minutes. The team urgently needs a master technician for the bright moments.
Nkunku takes RB Leipzig to another level
After his first 20 minutes of action at VfL Wolfsburg on Saturday, coach Marco Rose sighed with relief: “When you’re with him, you can feel him coming back in many small moves”, that is, lightness.
Nkunku and RB Leipzig act on a different level offensively. The man from the small town of Lagny-sur-Marne on the outskirts of Paris changed the statics in Leipzig’s offensive game and improved the Rose team. Like in his comeback at Wolfsburg, when he agilely creates a 100% goal-scoring chance and Konrad Laimer cleverly puts the ball in to make it 2-0.
“He has a good feeling for deep runs, he can drag the ball, he can lift the balls, he can challenge deep, he can go one on one,” the coach said enthusiastically. “He’s a dangerous goalkeeper, he has a good shot, he even scored a goal.” He scores with a head… He’s just a very complete player.”
A short match against Guardiola’s team?
Nkunku is expected to make a difference in big games, especially against a billion-euro team coached by Pep Guardiola. Giving the team “a lot to be more unpredictable at the highest level”, Rose was happy over the weekend. Now, the X-factor Nkunku, Leipzig’s answer to Manchester’s miraculous striker Erling Haaland, has probably only appeared briefly at most.
For the fifth-placed Bundesliga team, the possible loss of the best against one of the best teams in the world is a preview of the upcoming season. Unless there’s a sudden change of mind, Nkunku will do magic at Chelsea next season.
Rose: “Many more options” with Nkunku
For Rose and the new president of the sport, Max Eberl, this is also a test of how resilient and efficient the team is against one of the favorites for the non-top scorer world-class championship. There is still no outside candidate for Nkunku’s successor. It will not be possible to replace the silent star exactly.
“We miss Christo, it gives us a lot more options, but we are in a good position and we are prepared,” said Rose. RB’s focus on Manchester City is primarily to destroy and counter the guests’ combination play in a well-organized manner.
Coach Marco Rose trusts his team
“I have a lot of confidence in the team. We shouldn’t find it painful to work against the ball, we should enjoy defending their good, clean positional play and constantly picking up shifts,” Marco Rose demanded.
So much hard work – and no relief from Nkunku’s flashes of inspiration.
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