Champions League

Leipzig relishing Champions League debut

2017-09-12 14:31
Monaco (AFP)

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

Backed by energy drinks giant Red Bull, who bought the licence of a fifth-division club, Leipzig began climbing Germany's football pyramid in 2009.

They are widely unpopular with German fans, due to the commercialism they represent, but after four promotions in seven years they finished second last season in the Bundesliga to qualify directly for a Champions League place.

Leipzig make their debut against last season's semi-finalists Monaco at the Red Bull Arena and director of sport Ralf Rangnick is proud of their 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."

This is a step into the unknown for Leipzig with only four members of their squad having Champions League experience.

Swedish play-maker 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 semi-final 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.

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-rivals, 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 neighbours Nice last weekend in their first defeat of the season after straight wins to start their French league title defence.

It was the first time they have failed to score in 37 top-flight games.

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

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