RB Leipzig beat 10-man Man City in grim reminder of football without fans

RB Leipzig 2-1 Man City: Szoboszlai and Andre Silva put the German side out of reach before Mahrez pulled one back and Walker was sent-off

Karl Matchett
Tuesday 07 December 2021 20:49
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<p>Walker sees red after a rash challenge </p>

Walker sees red after a rash challenge

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The advertising signs around the perimeter of the pitch read “priceless”, but the only thing about this game to fit that description was the reminder of how much better the game has been since fans returned.

With the Covid situation escalating in Germany, RB Leipzig are one of the teams playing behind closed doors and viewers were served up the type of fixture everyone hoped had been consigned to 2020/21: a backdrop entirely empty, soundless, soulless.

On the pitch it was barely any more emotive until the final 15 minutes, as the final Champions League group stage game ended in a 2-1 win for the hosts.

Leipzig needed to match or better whatever result Club Brugge achieved at PSG in order to stay third and ensure Europa League football in the new year – but with Kylian Mbappe striking twice in Paris in the opening 10 minutes, the Bundesliga club’s staff must have known they would be safe in short order.

Achim Beierlorzer was in the dugout for Leipzig, appointed as interim boss following the weekend sacking of Jesse Marsch. Improvements, whether by his design or the circumstances of the match, were apparent in Leipzig’s defensive organisation, and the fact that they managed to keep hold of a lead. They have been in front at some stage during five of their six group stage games, but ended up winning only two. That’s why they’ll now be in Europe’s second-tier competition.

Leipzig have suggested they’ll name a permanent replacement for Marsch in the coming weeks; if this was Beierlorzer’s audition for the role, he certainly did all he could.

Pep Guardiola, meanwhile, had the luxury of rotating as he wished and taking a host of youngsters along for the ride, with top spot already assured. He opted to hand starts to players short of first-team opportunities recently: Zack Steffen, Nathan Ake and Kevin de Bruyne.

The Belgian made his first start since 6 November and the Manchester derby, and the rust accumulated over the past month showed.

He was booked on the half-hour mark for apparently taking a free-kick too quickly, while his other major contributions were mainly from set plays and one beautiful through-pass. Guardiola will hope he can get back up to speed for the Christmas and New Year fixtures.

Of the other players coming into the side, goalkeeper Steffen was the standout – which highlights City’s lethargy and lack of incision for part of the game.

Konrad Laimer’s near-post effort was turned around the post by the American stopper, before he raced off his line to dive and tip the ball away from Andre Silva as he ran through on goal. There was little he could do though to deny Dominik Szoboszlai midway through the half, the Hungarian racing onto a pass, rounding Steffen and finishing for the opener.

The best came before the break, as Steffen again denied Andre Silva a close-range header with a fine reaction stop. It was not the last time the Portuguese striker would feature prominently in the match, as he lashed in a second goal with 20 minutes left on the clock, then was booted several yards into the air by Kyle Walker’s bizarre moment of frustration late on, resulting in a straight red card for the right-back.

At the other end of the pitch, City’s chances came and went in training ground fashion: repeated patterns of build-up play, calls of the players easy to hear and no great emotion whether they went in, off target or forced Peter Gulacsi into action.

Jack Grealish hammered one over on the turn, Phil Foden struck the post and Nathan Ake twice headed over in the first half. Finally, Riyad Mahrez pulled one back with a smart diving header.

A defeat, then, but a meaningless one in the greater scheme of things.

City head into the last 16, Leipzig will head into the Europa League. Walker won’t be with the Premier League side when they next feature in Europe but the Bundesliga outfit will hope their fans will be once more.

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