RB Leipzig are the toast of European football, knocking Bayern Munich off their perch and kickstarting a potentially explosive race for the championship. At the heart of their rip-roaring start is one Swede, who is the heir to the throne of Zlatan.
Behind the plain statistics, RB Leipzig’s Emil Forsberg is the Bundesliga’s MVP right now. He scores goals, he creates goals, he strategises and delivers. He may play in a team which is embodied more by the collective culture, than of individuals, but Forsberg is without doubt the most indispensable of the squad.
In their first season in the Bundesliga, RB Leipzig have thrown the dynamics of the league upside-down. They’re the first newly-promoted team in the league’s 54-year history to remain unbeaten after 11 matches, and sit top of the league ahead of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. As surprise title contenders go, the eastern German side is well-equipped to cause a stir.
The Red Bull-backed machine has been built for a shot at the championship, and bears no comparison to genuine surprises in Leicester or Montpellier in recent years. “Dietrich Mateschitz (RB Owner) has said he does not want to be 80 when RB Leipzig becomes German champion,” half-joked Ralf Rangnick last year. He was clearly serious about the inherent desire to succeed at the club.
Ralph Hasenhüttl’s electric high-pressure game isn’t innovative, but the execution is impressive. One of the KPIs for the club’s management is the number and location of turnovers. Leipzig excel in the number of challenges won for every opposition attack, according to InStat’s tool. They are well above average in the number of turnovers, as well as, ball recoveries in the opposition half.
But what happens when the eastern German team does recover the ball? Leipzig are aggressive in moving the ball forward with the aim of penetrating each defensive line quickly. Power play, dribbling and excellent combination play in attack makes the league-leaders such a hard team to play against.
Forsberg is the complete forward player, illustrated by his competence in every position. He can dribble one-against-one, as he showed to great effect in the equaliser at Leverkusen on Friday. His final pass is normally played with incision and he is an excellent finisher. The chance of his final pass turning into a goal in 24% – the second highest in the Bundesliga.
Simon Gleave, Head of Analysis for Gracenote Sports, concurs the 25-year-old is among the most important players in the Bundesliga. “With 5 goals and 5 assists this season, Forsberg is the Bundesliga’s best all-round attacking player this season,” assesses Gleave. “This is also confirmed by the quality of goal attempts he has and those he creates for others. Both are consistently among the highest in the league.”
Just Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Munich combines the same goalscoring threat and ability to create major scoring opportunities at an alarmingly quick rate.
Capped 24 times by the Swedish national team, Forsberg represents the sort of signing that has propelled RB Leipzig from 2.Bundesliga to instant challengers. The Swede hails from a football-daft family with his father making close to 500 appearances for local team GIF Sundsvall.
An all-round competitor, Emil would try his hand at all kinds of sports, including ice hockey, before choosing football in his late teens. After winning two domestic championships at Malmo, the forward player headed to second-tier Leipzig for a fee of 3.75 million euros. He didn’t score in his first half-season in Germany, and it would be another year-and-a-half before Forsberg would get his teeth into Bundesliga football.
Crowned as Sweden’s Midfielder of the Year for 2016 just last week, the expectation levels around him are beginning to blossom. Performances like during the European Championship in France and against Les Bleus in the recent break suggest there is life after Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has born the weight of responsibility for Sweden since Henrik Larsson’s retirement. With Champions League football perhaps on the horizon for RB Leipzig next season, the shift in power from Zlatan to Forsberg could be much faster than one would have thought.
While it’s premature to conclude the destination of the championship, we can certainly determine that Forsberg is an outstanding professional. Right now, he’s the Bundesliga’s star man.
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