Group G: Leipzig relishing Champions League debut

Just eight years after starting life in the local leagues, RB Leipzig will enhance its rags-to-riches tale on Wednesday by hosting Monaco on the German club's Champions League debut.

Ralf Rangnick is proud of his club’s sharp rise.   -  AP

Just eight years after starting life in the local leagues, RB Leipzig will enhance its rags-to-riches tale on Wednesday by hosting Monaco on the German club's Champions League debut.

Backed by energy drinks giant Red Bull, which bought the licence of a fifth-division club, Leipzig began climbing Germany's football pyramid in 2009. It is widely unpopular with German fans, due to the commercialism it represents, but after four promotions in seven years it finished second last season in the Bundesliga to qualify directly for a Champions League place.

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Leipzig makes its debut against last season's semifinalist Monaco at the Red Bull Arena and director of sport Ralf Rangnick is proud of its achievement. “When you think we were still in the fourth division five years ago, then the Champions League is another promotion,” said Rangnick.

"Something like that has never happened before and most likely won't happen again in the next 50 years."

o This is the first ever game in European competition for RB Leipzig, and therefore its first encounter with Monaco.

o Monaco has only lost one of its eight Champions League games against German clubs (W5 D2), a 3-0 defeat away to Bayer Leverkusen in December 2016 when the French side was already guaranteed of top spot in the group.

o RB Leipzig will be playing in the Champions League group phase for the first time in its history. It is the 12th German club to reach that stage.

o RB Leipzig qualified for the group stages after finishing second last season, its first ever campaign in Germany’s top-flight.

o This is Monaco’s 8th Champions League campaign. Only Lyon (14), Paris SG (10) and Marseille (9) have more among French clubs.

o Monaco has reached the knockout stages in six of its previous seven Champions League participations, including the final in 2004 (0-3 v Porto).

 

Lacking in experience

This is a step into the unknown for Leipzig with only four members of its squad having Champions League experience. Swedish playmaker Emil Forsberg, plus new-signings Bruma, Jean-Kevin Augustin and Kevin Kampl are the only ones to have played at this level. The quartet have a combined tally of 31 Champions League appearances.

In contrast, 17 of the Monaco squad have 236 Champions League appearances between them and last season's semifinal defeat to Juventus is still fresh. But Leipzig's coach Ralph Hasenhuettl sees his team's lack of experience as an advantage. "We want to collect some experience for ourselves. It means you more alert, sharper, more focused," said the Austrian.

Rangnick is confident of a win. "If we can show our full power on the pitch, then we are capable of winning," insisted the RB boss.

Long break

This is the first time for nearly 29 years that European football will be played in the former East German city. On the last occasion, Diego Maradona's Napoli drew 1-1 at Lokomotive Leipzig, RB's arch-rival, on October 26, 1988, in the second round of the UEFA Cup.

Fast-forward to Wednesday and Monaco will want to bounce back after being beaten 4-0 by neighbour Nice last weekend in its first defeat of the season after straight wins to start its French league title defence. It was the first time it has failed to score in 37 top-flight games. Leipzig is set to welcome back Forsberg, who missed Friday's 2-0 Bundesliga win at Hamburg with a cold.

However, Liverpool-bound midfielder Naby Keita, who scored the superb opening goal at Hamburg, is set to miss out after picking up a groin strain. In-form striker Timo Werner, who has scored five goals in his last four games and has been linked to Real Madrid, will lead the attack in a 4-4-2 formation.

Monaco is missing France international left winger Thomas Lemar, who Arsenal bid 100 million euros for in the summer, but is out with injury.

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