RB Leipzig looking forward to Champions League debut
RB Leipzig are set to kick off their first-ever European campaign at home against French champions Monaco. Meanwhile, Borussia Dortmund, who are no strangers to Europe are at Wembley facing Tottenham.
Football fans in eastern Germany are finally about to imbibe their first taste of Champions League football. Just eight years after Austrian energy drink company Red Bull purchased the playing rights of a small local football club and changed its name to RasenBallsport Leipzig, the club has made it to Europe's premier club competition. It all starts on Wednesday evening, when RB Leipzig host French champions Monaco at the Red Bull Arena, and sporting director Ralf Rangnick is relishing the challenge.
"When you think we were still in the fourth division five years ago, then the Champions League is another promotion," Rangnick said, before adding that a similar feat "most likely won't happen again in the next 50 years."
Leipzig got where they are with a squad full of young, expensive but often rather inexperienced players. Only four members of RB's current squad have previously played in the Champions League, with a total of 29 appearances between them. By comparison, the French side's squad can draw on the experience of 236 appearances in Europe's most prestigious tournament.
One of those inexperienced players is Timo Werner, one of the most celebrated strikers in Europe at the moment. The 21-year-old former Stuttgart player has been in blistering form of late, scoring seven goals in his last six outings for both Leipzig and Germany's national team.
Champions League debut not sold out
Head coach Ralph Hasenhüttl is confident that despite their lack of European experience, his young stars are ready to showcase their talents on Europe's biggest stage.
"If we can show our full power on the pitch, then we are capable of winning," the Austrian said. Leipzig started their Bundesliga season with a defeat away to Schalke, but won their subsequent two matches, including an impressive victory at Hamburg.
Football fans in Leipzig haven't been treated to European competition in 29 years, with the last match coming in the old UEFA Cup, as Lokomotive Leipzig of the former East German Oberliga faced Napoli in the second round. So you would think the city would be brimming with excitement, but tickets were still available a day before Wednesday's match. Some are blaming the fact that the Red Bull Arena hasn't been sold out for the club's first ever Champions League match on the high price of tickets, which range between €52 and €75 ($62-$90).
Speaking of the business side of things, by qualifying for the group stage of the Champions League, RB Leipzig are starting to generate a serious return on Red Bull's eight-year investment, which has been estimated at a total of around 300 million euros. The fact that RB are backed by Red Bull means they aren't short of funds to begin with, but a reported potential €57 million in performance-based rewards and TV-rights revenue would certainly not go amiss.
Tickets are still available, but at much higher prices than for Bundesliga matches, for RB Leipzig's European debut
Liverpool-bound midfielder Naby Keita is in doubt for his team's Champions League debut due to an injury he suffered in Leipzig's win in Hamburg over the weekend, while winger Emil Forsberg is expected to make his return to the side.
Meanwhile, their opponents Monaco will be looking to bounce back after being beaten 4-0 by regional rivals Nice last weekend. Their first defeat of the season after straight wins to start their French league title defense. It was also the first time they failed to score in 37 top-flight games.
Dortmund away at Tottenham
Elsewhere on Wednesday, Borussia Dortmund are to face Tottenham Hotspur. The match is to be played at Wembley, Spurs' home ground for the season while their new stadium is being constructed at White Hart Lane. This makes it Dortmund's first match at Wembley since the 2013 Champions League final, which the Schwarzgelben lost to Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich.
The two teams met as recently as the 2015-16 season, when Dortmund beat Tottenham twice in the Europa League round of 16. The numbers seem to be against the home side, especially as Spurs have been struggling at their temporary Wembley home, winning just two games out of 12 there since its 2007 reopening.
Dortmund's list of injured players includes captain Marcel Schmelzer, Marco Reus and Andre Schürrle, while defender Marc Bartra is doubtful.