Football

RB Leipzig v Liverpool: five players for Jürgen Klopp to be wary of


Peter Gulacsi

If the name rings a bell that you cannot quite place it is probably because, for half a decade, he was a squad goalkeeper at Liverpool who never progressed beyond the substitutes’ bench. Loans with Hereford, Tranmere and Hull put 50 Football League appearances under his belt but it was at Red Bull Salzburg that he began to showcase the potential that had persuaded Liverpool to take him from MTK Budapest in 2007. That inevitably alerted RB Leipzig, then a promotion-chasing Bundesliga 2 club, and he has been more or less immovable since their ascent to the top flight five years ago. Like one of his idols, Petr Cech, Gulacsi is unshowy but exudes quiet competence and authority. At 30 he is in his prime and, in his home town, will be ready to show his old club how much he has grown up.

Angeliño

RB Leipzig’s biggest attacking threat may well be a dynamic 24-year-old wing-back who, a little over a year ago, was playing a bit-part role at Manchester City. Angeliño has a peach of a left foot, as Manchester United discovered when he cracked in a superb opener two minutes into their decisive group-stage meeting in December, and possesses a knack for turning up in positions more familiar to a centre-forward. It all adds up to eight goals and 11 assists in the Spaniard’s first full season in Leipzig, where he signed up for a second campaign on loan after spending the second half of 2019-20 there in a similar deal. He made the move permanent this month and it means a player who spent several loans at City’s partner clubs, as well as a season with PSV Eindhoven, now has a place to call home.

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Dayot Upamecano

A dominant Rolls Royce of a centre-back with the physical, technical and mental attributes to be the world’s best? Liverpool might be missing Virgil van Dijk but, in Upamecano, Leipzig have a younger model with at least as much potential. They will have to enjoy the 22-year-old while they can, though, because on Sunday his €42.5m summer transfer to Bayern Munich was confirmed and this will be his final opportunity to scale the Champions League heights in Saxony. Upamecano is a product of the ever reliable production line between Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig, although he started out in his native France with Valenciennes. Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United have all tracked him and he now has another first-hand opportunity to show Premier League clubs what they will miss.

The powerful centre-back Dayot Upamecano will join Bayern Munich at the end of this season
The powerful centre-back Dayot Upamecano will join Bayern Munich at the end of this season. Photograph: Leon Kuegeler/Reuters

Dani Olmo

Olmo’s career path is especially curious given that, after spending much of his youth at Barcelona’s La Masia academy, he chose Dinamo Zagreb for his pathway to senior football. Five and a half years in Croatia, where he pitched up at the age of 16, brought increasing levels of visibility and a Champions League breakthrough in 2019-20 , when some sparkling group-stage performances also brought a goal against Manchester City. Within weeks he was a Leipzig player and his influence has steadily grown. Olmo can play across the attacking midfield positions or even, as he did in the win over Manchester United, as a false nine; he has shown the intelligence and adaptability to plug into Julian Nagelsmann’s complex set of demands, leading to suggestions that one of the top La Liga clubs would readily bring him back to Spain this summer.

Christopher Nkunku

There must have been a few regrets at Paris Saint-Germain when, back in November, Nkunku arrowed in a vital equaliser against his old club. RB Leipzig have shown an aptitude for finding value in the French market and Nkunku increasingly looks a bargain at the €13m for which he joined in July 2019. Like Olmo he is highly flexible and can operate across or behind the front line; his star-studded competition at PSG meant Leipzig was a better venue to get his career firing and, while he is not quite Kylian Mbappé or Neymar, he has plenty of gifts that can trouble Liverpool. Bright, efficient and rapid on the counter – as a goal at Bayern Munich in December showed – his best years are still ahead of him at 23.



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