Julian Nagelsmann says his RB Leipzig team are ready to push Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich all the way this season as they prepare for today’s trip to lowly Mainz. “We’re still within striking distance (of Bayern) and want to keep attacking,” said Leipzig coach Nagelsmann.
Mainz are second-from-bottom and winless in their last nine games but gave Bayern a huge scare three weeks ago, taking a two-goal lead before losing 5-2 at Munich’s Allianz Arena. However, Nagelsmann says his team were “incredibly mature” on Wednesday against the stubborn defence of Union Berlin, which eventually cracked in Leipzig’s 1-0 home win. Ten minutes into his cameo appearance on Wednesday, Emil Forsberg combined with Dani Olmo to unpick the Union defence with great footwork.
Nagelsmann dubbed the pair “phonebox kickers” for the close-quarters skills which led to Forsberg’s winning goal, and the Swede could feature at the weekend.
Bayern meanwhile are at bottom side Schalke tomorrow with goalkeeper Manuel Neuer chasing a league record at his former club. On Wednesday, Neuer equalled Oliver Kahn’s record of 196 Bundesliga clean sheets. But Bayern have looked vulnerable in recent weeks. They have won their last two league games, but were lucky to get a 1-0 victory at Augsburg on Wednesday after Alfred Finnbogason hit the post with a late penalty. “We had to fight tooth and nail at the back,” admitted Neuer after his first clean sheet in the league since October.
Bayern Munich coach Hansi Flick said their record thrashing of Schalke last September will play no role when the Bundesliga leaders travel to the league’s bottom club this weekend. Bayern’s 8-0 hammering of Schalke in Munich four months ago was the highest score for the opening game of a German top-flight season.
The clubs meet again this weekend in Gelsenkirchen with Schalke 10 points from safety while Bayern are four points clear at the top but Flick dismissed reminders of the crushing win ahead of the match. “That is zero percent in our thoughts,” Flick said. “Schalke have a team with good individual players and their place in the table doesn’t reflect their quality.”
Yet Schalke have endured a miserable season. A fortnight ago, they were just one short of the league record of 31 games without a victory before US teenager Matthew Hoppe scored a hat-trick in a 4-0 win over Hoffenheim.
Hoppe has also scored in both of Schalke’s defeats since. The Royal Blues have added to their attack with 37-year-old Dutch veteran Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who has returned from Ajax, set to feature at the Veltins Arena.
Fixtures (1430 GMT unless stated)
Today: Bayer Leverkusen v Wolfsburg, Freiburg v Stuttgart, Mainz v RB Leipzig, Augsburg v Union Berlin, Arminia Bielefeld v Eintracht Frankfurt, Hertha Berlin v Werder Bremen (1730)
Tomorrow: Schalke v Bayern Munich,
Hoffenheim v Cologne (1700)
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