Bayern Munich versus RB Leipzig – if ever a fixture was about more than the game itself, this was it.
In its plainest reading, absent any nuance, Sunday’s Bundesliga clash at the Allianz Arena pitted history, heritage and prestige against, well, Leipzig.
Bayern, with their 29 league titles and five European Cups, are a global powerhouse, a team that would spring more readily to mind than almost any other if one were prompted to name one.
As with any club that boasts such a well-stocked trophy room, Bayern are not without their detractors, but respect for the Bavarians is universal, even if sometimes begrudging.
The same cannot be said for Leipzig.
Created in 2009 in circumstances not compatible with any club seeking to be ordained as ‘proper’ in the eyes of football’s ardent traditionalists, RB Leipzig – and the prefix matters here – were at first perceived as a distasteful anomaly.
Just before our growth spurt… #10YearChallenge
— RB Leipzig English (@RBLeipzig_EN) January 16, 2019
Having assumed SSV Markranstadt’s spot in the fifth tier, consuming that club in the process, the Red Bull-owned franchise were far enough down the pecking order that their business model, a source of concern and even disgust to many, was not considered a threat to the established order.
But their very existence, at whatever level, was still too much for a great many supporters in Germany, who found little trouble distinguishing between Leipzig’s unbridled commercialism – typified by their subversion of the ’50+1′ ownership rule – and their own clubs’ multi-million Euro deals for stadium naming rights, kit sponsorship and the like.
It is against this backdrop of cynicism and widespread antipathy that Leipzig have risen to the heights of top-flight title contenders, making Sunday’s trip to Munich a genuine six-pointer.
Julian Nagelsmann insisted before the game that it would not be decisive, with his side heading into it one point behind the reigning champions.
Leipzig’s head coach, himself just 32, has a young and exciting squad at his disposal – the youngest, in fact, in the division – and they play in a manner that makes you want to forget the stuffy off-field issues that colour people’s judgement of this fledgling club.
But Bayern are the toughest of nuts to crack and, seeking an eighth consecutive Bundesliga title, it was the hosts who carried themselves with greater purpose on the pitch.
Thomas Muller passed when he should have shot, while Robert Lewandowski did get an effort away but saw it deflected wide during a first half in which the hosts were on top.
Bayern were awarded a penalty that was soon taken away after Lewandowski had strayed offside before being fouled, while Timo Werner’s profligate finishing ensured the lively Christopher Nkunku’s excellent cross went unrewarded.
Goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi’s excellent late stop from Leon Goretzka ensured that, as in September’s meeting in Leipzig, the spoils were split between two clubs who share little else in common.
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