Bundesliga: Christopher Nkunku leads forward as Marsch finally makes his mark | Sportsman | German football and major international sports news | DW
RB Leipzig 2-1 Borussia Dortmund, Red Bull Arena
(Nkunku 29 ‘, Poulsen 68’ – Reus 52 ‘)
Greuther FÃ¼rth, Bochum, Hertha Berlin, Stuttgart. The list of clubs that Jesse Marsch had beaten in the first months of his Bundesliga tenure hardly raised the pulse. And without a Champions League win, the American admitted that it was “time for us to show a great performance and win against a top opponent” on Saturday.
When he hit the night air at the final whistle, he knew he had gotten the performance and points he dreamed of. Against them Angstgegner (team bogey), which RB has failed to beat in Leipzig since their first top home game five years ago, Marsch’s team delivered a performance of relentless energy, total commitment and high quality.
Even though Yussuf Poulsen’s winner, and the pressure evident from the opening seconds, reminded of the old days before Julian Nagelsmann, it looked like the moment Marsch finally managed to impose his authority on this team.
Leader of the pack
The man who led the charge, in many ways, was, once again, Christopher Nkunku. The Frenchman cut Manuel Akanji trying to stab the ball almost straight from the kick-off and never allowed Dortmund’s makeshift back line to settle on the ball. His teammates, especially Amadou Haidara and Tyler Adams in midfield, were equally tireless, with Axel Witsel, Mats Hummels and Jude Belligham all withered under the pressure.
But pressing alone is not enough and it took a real class in possession to finally break the deadlock. Josep Gvardiol spotted Nkunku running another smart run along the last row trying to capitalize on Hummels’ lack of pace and Thorgan Hazard’s discomfort at left-back. The Croatian’s curled pass was perfect, Nkunku’s touch was healthy and he kept his cool to roll the ball into the empty net after leaving Gregor Kobel sprawling.
Almost unplayable before his goal, Nkunku never let go. He has now contributed at least one goal or assist in each of his side’s league wins this year, as well as five goals in a largely lost Champions League battle.
“He’s developed remarkably and I think he’s going to be a top player for us,” Poulsen told Sky after. But, as with Timo Werner, Naby Keita, Dayot Upamecano, and others before him, a lot of talk revolves around Nkunku’s future.
“If I had to think about the other clubs, we might forget about our goals for the season right now,” he said. SportBild ahead of the match. “Our big goals are only realistic if we achieve something with Leipzig. Otherwise, these questions do not arise. I still have a contract until 2024 and I feel very comfortable in Leipzig.”
Those goals, which presumably include qualifying for the Champions League again, seemed to drift further away after Marco Reus completed a smart move moments after Poulsen missed a glorious opportunity at the other end.
Despite his goal, Marco Reus accepted his team to be the second best
But unlike recent games against Eintracht Frankfurt, Paris-Saint Germain and Friborg, the Bulls have lived up to their name. And played for their coach.
A sloppy and calm Dortmund side fell apart as Leipzig kept up the fire and fury and were rewarded when Poulsen brought home a measured cross from Nkunku, the former player combining with the new star to make a statement to his boss.
“They were more aggressive than us,” Reus admitted after the game, adding that Dortmund deserved the defeat. “Overall, it was too little. It is sobering that we haven’t done enough.”
Without Erling Haaland, Dortmund haven’t done enough. But they weren’t allowed to. After months of trying to impose his own identity, albeit forged in the Red Bull factory, it looked like Marsch’s first victory of any real significance, both in sporting and emotional terms.
âAs a leader I have always said that the hardships come from the opportunities,â Marsch said of his slow start after the game. “This is what I have tried to do every day. It has not been easy. Every night I stay in bed and think about what is right. We have a lot more to do but tonight was very, very important to us. “
After a performance and result like this, Marsch can sleep soundly knowing that he has fulfilled his obligations. For now, at least.