DFB-Pokal final 2019: Is RB Leipzig the new pretender to Bayern Munich's throne?

Bayern Munich is maintaining its dominance of German football, but RB Leipzig continues to emerge as a growing force in the game.

Despite ending the league campaign with a slump of three winless matches, Leipzig secured a Champions League return.   -  Getty Images

RB Leipzig has a chance to collect the first major silverware of the club's brief history when they face Bayern Munich in Saturday's DFB-Pokal final.

Much has been written about the club's ownership status and how the backing of drinks company Red Bull has fuelled its rise, but on the pitch there is much to admire about Leipzig.

Despite ending the league campaign with a slump of three winless matches, Leipzig secured a Champions League return by finishing third in the Bundesliga, albeit some 12 points behind champions Bayern.

Niko Kovac has the double in his sights in his first season in charge of the Bavarian giants, even if victory in Berlin may not be enough to keep his job. And Leipzig will be tough opponents, though the final will be a new experience for many of them.

Much of its progress has been down to the steady leadership of Ralf Rangnick, who will be in the dugout for the final time of his second spell in charge.

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Hoffenheim's Julian Nagelsmann, one of the world's most exciting young coaches, is set to take over with Rangnick moving upstairs into a director of football role once more.

It was Rangnick who was at the helm when Leipzig was promoted to the Bundesliga in the 2015-16 season, writing an important chapter for the new kids on the block.

"I think not one of our team [has played] in a cup final," he said after the 3-1 semi-final victory at Hamburg.

Leipzig was only formed in 2009. Red Bull, who also run Salzburg - Austrian champions six years running - took over SSV Markranstadt and controversially rebranded the club, whose progress since has been rapid.

Put simply, it has achieved what nobody else has in the history of German football, eclipsing some of the country's traditional powerhouses to take a seat at the game's top table.

Borussia Dortmund supporters are among those to have protested against Leipzig's sudden appearance among the elite, while the club's interpretation of German football's vaunted 50+1 rule regarding ownership structures has invited criticism.

Set against Dortmund's 139,000 members holding the majority of club voting rights on matters such as ticket prices, Leipzig has 17 members and charge an annual feel of €1,000 for the privilege – leading to accusations that they sign up to the letter of the law but not the spirit.

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But Leipzig is not the first German club to have been bolstered by big money. Bayer Leverkusen has intrinsic ties to the Bayer pharmaceutical company, Wolfsburg is closely associated with car giant Volkswagen, and Hoffenheim is backed by software billionaire Dietmar Hopp.

That Leipzig has little history to speak of is not in doubt, but the future of the club looks incredibly bright and it is no exaggeration to suggest it could be the most likely pretender to Bayern's throne, despite Dortmund's near-miss in the title race and impressive early work in the transfer window.

What is for certain is nobody at Bayern will be taking anything for granted when it faces Leipzig with the DFB-Pokal on the line. Germany winger Serge Gnabry, whose fine form has made him a vital player for club and country this season, expects Leipzig's rise to continue in the near future.

"Leipzig has always been in the top four in the Bundesliga the last four years," Gnabry said. "Now it will be getting a new coach and new players. Nagelsmann is a fanatic and that [will transfer] to his players. Leipzig always want to become better, so I think Leipzig will be a big player in years to come."

How Bayern approach Leipzig muscling in on its territory will be interesting. It has traditionally cherry-picked the star players of its closest rivals, taking Leon Goretzka from Schalke last year -it subsequently plummeted down the league - while two of its most important players, Mats Hummels and Robert Lewandowski, built their careers and reputations with BVB.

It is Leipzig striker Timo Werner who Bayern are said to have an eye on next, with Gnabry's Germany team-mate only having a year left to run on his contract at the Red Bull Arena. Bayern is set for a lavish revamp, having already landed defensive duo Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez.

Leipzig has signalled they will not keep Werner and risk losing him for nothing in 2020, so the club has been put in a difficult position. They may need to sell Werner, but will not want to lose the player to a direct rival. Champions League finalist Liverpool is also reportedly keen, having already signed Naby Keita last year.

Whether or not the DFB-Pokal final proves Werner's last game for his current employers remains to be seen, but the striker may yet fire Leipzig to their first major trophy. Despite what opposition fans may think about the club, it could be the first of many.

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