Prediction: RB Leipzig vs Stuttgart
Verdict: Home goals over 2.5
Best odds: 7/5
RB Leipzig are set to play host to VfB Stuttgart at the Red Bull Arena on Friday, in what will be the opening game of the 18th round and the second half of the season in the Bundesliga. There is a long way to go and both teams have a lot to play for at the moment.
Founded just 13 years ago, RB Leipzig rose through the divisions for German football very quickly and broke into the Bundesliga in 2016. The progress continues, and these days they are a regular feature of the Champions League, dropping signs that they might soon rise above Borussia Dortmund to establish themselves as the most serious challengers to Bayern Munich’s perpetual domination.
At the moment, Die Roten Bullen are third in the Bundesliga table with 32 points, four less than Bayern at the top and one less than Union Berlin in second, certainly the surprise of the season. Dortmund are one of the teams breathing down Leipzig’s neck with 31, along with Eintracht Frankfurt and SC Freiburg. Every matchay in the German top flight could obviously shake these standings up.
Leipzig were on great form before the World Cup and it continued after as well. Their last-six run of competitive matches consists of five wins and one draw, including a 0-4 Champions League win away to Shakhtar Donetsk, a 1-3 win away to Hoffenheim, a 3-1 win at home over Freiburg, a 1-2 win away to Weder Bremen, a 1-1 draw at home against Bayern, and a 1-6 thumping of Schalke in Gelsenkirchen earlier this week.
Midfielder Kevin Kampl is serving a one-game suspension for picking up five yellow cards this season. Forward Christopher Nkunku, defender Abdou Diallo and goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi are all struggling with knee injuries, while defender Mohamed Simakan has a muscle problem. None of them will be available for selection.
Still, head coach Marco Rose doesn’t have many reasons to change his team. Therefore, Janis Blaswich is set to continue between the posts, with Willi Orban and Josko Gvardiol in the heart of defence flanked by Benjamin Henrichs and Marcel Halstenberg. Konrad Laimer and Xaver Schlager should be in the middle of the park, with Dani Olmo and Dominik Szoboszlai marauding out wide, while Timo Werner pairs up with Andre Silva upfront.
Stuttgart face a few serious issues they must resolve if they’re to even hope of getting anything from the Red Bull Arena other than a thrashing. Without the need to go into too many details about the quality they will be up against there, one of them is surely the fact that they haven’t won a single game away from home this season. Coach Bruno Labbadia will be aware by now that his players feel a different kind of pressure to deliver at this point.
Having narrowly avoided relegation play-offs at the end of last season, merely due to the better goal-difference than that of Hertha Berlin, Stuttgart appear destined for the same fight again. At the moment, they are 15th – again, and again on mere goal-difference ahead of VfL Bochum. The two teams have 16 points each, two more than Hertha who are inside the relegation zone this time, while Schalke sit firmly glued to the bottom with just nine points from 17 matches.
For the time being, Stuttgart are undefeated since the World Cup, having drawn 1-1 at home against Mainz and 2-2 away to Hoffenheim. Before the tournament in Qatar, they beat Augsburg 2-1 at home, lost to Borussia Monchengladbach 3-1 away, beat Hertha 2-1 at home, and lost 2-0 away to Bayer Leverkusen.
Midfielder Ahamada was sent off against Hoffenheim and is consequently suspended. Labbadia’s ranks took two additional hits in that game, with striker Tiago Thomas (hip) and winger Silas (calf) forced off through injuries. Centre-back Dan-Axel Zagadou (ankle), and left-back Borna Sosa (adductor) remain out, while attacking midfielder Laurin Ulrich and winger Tanguy Coulibaly could be back after suffering from flu.
With Florian Muller in goal, Kostantinos Mavropanos should pair up with Hiroki Ito at the back, with Nikolas Nartey and Waldemar Anton covering the flanks. With Silas and Ahamada out of action, Josha Vagnoman should come into the midfield, with Atakan Karazor and captain Wataru Endo. Upfront, Serhou Guirassy is expected to lead the line, with Chris Fuchrich and Coulibaly in support.
Leipzig will seek to continue their fine run and put Bayern Munich under fresh pressure ahead of the Bavarians’ clash against Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday, and there is no cause to expect anything but a convincing home win.
Verdict: Home goals over 2.5
Best odds: 7/5