From a distance, it looks like a green light. It represents… Well, what does it represent. It could represent money, obviously. Greed. Envy. Jealousy. Lust. But for what? Power, success, love? The green light has all of these meanings, but at its most basic level it is simply the Rasen (or, pitch) on which RB Leipzig play their Ballsport.
When you see the inside plasterings of Leipzig’s stadium, it makes a mockery of the Bundesliga rules that mean the RB stands for RasenBallsport instead of Red Bull. The Red Bull arena is in Red Bull colours with pictures of Red Bulls and Red Bull heads and Red Bull players around the walls below the first tier of fans, and below that are ad boards on which every now and then are adverts for Red Bull. It is loud, it is brash, it is unashamed, it is the new money of German football which is disrupting the ‘natural order of things’. It is Gatsby.
Games have narratives, stories. For much of this game, the story was of defensive stability and organised, planned pressing. Leipzig made it very difficult for Dortmund to progress the ball and for large periods, this led to a pretty dull game for a neutral, and a tense one (presumably) for both sets of fans.
When Dortmund did get through Leipzig’s midfield line, they looked threatening. Or maybe Leipzig looked vulnerable. Schürrle on the left-wing combined with Schmelzer the left-back and Götze in a number 10 role to create danger on that side, but they could only combine infrequently. Dortmund had a brief, ten-minute spell of half-dominance up until the sixteenth minute, at which point the game opened up – space had been created, and with that space brought further spaces that could be countered into. But none of these counters, in truth, were very good.
The two other consistent threads of the first half – other than a good RasenBallsport defensive system and Dortmund’s strong left side – were Leipzig’s lack of anything substantial to offer offensively and young Julian Weigl offering glimpses of hope for the men in yellow that they might break through the Bulls’ defence. He offered passing options to the centre-backs and found passes through midfield, but, again alas, infrequently.
As to Leipzig’s lack of anything substantial to offer. Is this a surprise? A recently promoted outfit, recently rebranded, well-funded, a big house to welcome all who decide to come, a hint of a magical tale but in truth they are trying to buy a sense of love and history, nostalgia. “Gatsby, what Gatsby?”. Leipzig are football’s Gatsby.
Around the edges of the pitch, hanging down from the wall in front of the first wall of fans (covering the tops of a few red bulls’ heads) were a myriad of supporters’ flags. Skatstadt Bullen, Leichholz Bullen, Bulls United all represented. Impressive. The fans must love this club. But, pan backwards. Pan backwards from the first layer. And, if you look closely, you’ll see the tier above is bare of flags. Unobscured concrete, briefly seen only from certain camera angles. How odd, that such a disparity exists between what is front and centre and what is kept just a little further back.
You can’t blame a club for wanting to look good on camera, I suppose, putting on a good show for the principal part of their stands which face out to the waiting world. I suppose you could call it a façade.
Leipzig came back onto the pitch very early during half-time, for what reason I don’t know, and whatever had happened at half-time didn’t seem to have made much of a difference at first. They still offered little in attack, Schürrle and co still threatened down the Dortmund left, but still this was only infrequently.
The half hour mark was the nadir of the match. Dortmund’s centre-backs, unable to find a suitable path through the Leipzig midfield, retained the ball. Despite the relative statures of the two sides, this was a stand-off. Perhaps Dortmund should have done more in terms of variety or in terms of movement. Perhaps they could have put an extra man into central midfield, to try and gain some control of that important area of the pitch and offer another option when trying to build from the back. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…
In the 71st minute, Dortmund took off Götze and right-winger Castro for Ousmane Dembélé and Raphaël Guerreiro and, immediately, it looked as if they would have a big impact on the game. Straight from their substitution, Dortmund found Schürrle between Leipzig’s midfield and defensive lines, and he passed it on to Dembélé who passed it on to Piszczek who was surging forwards from right-back. His cross along the six-yard box almost, almost found Schmelzer, rushing forward on the other side.
Dembélé wasn’t done there, but this time, seven minutes later, his choices were poor. Receiving the ball on the edge of the box in the right-hand halfspace, he jinked inside, defender falling flat in front of him at his feet. “Please. No,” he begged as he crumbled to the floor. But Dembélé, foolishly, showed mercy. Instead of driving through the opening towards goal on his left foot, he cut back onto his right, into the path of the falling defender who managed to snag the ball away.
Dortmund’s best chance was still to come, and, like so much of their attacking play, featured a full-back heavily. This time it was Piszczek, jinking through what seemed like half of the Leipzig team, drawing one of only two defenders who were still between him and goal before passing to Schürrle. Schürrle, ahead of his man, shot from just on the edge of the box, but hit the bar.
Something else had been building, behind Dortmund’s back, for quite some time. Over the course of the last 25 minutes of the game, Leipzig’s counter-attacks had become more frequent and more dangerous, Dortmund’s defensive structure becoming tired and opening up.
In the 89th minute, two substitutes, two young bucks, combined and struck. Dortmund lost the ball in the centre of the pitch, forty yards from their own goal. Sokratis was drawn towards the ball and pushed the play wide, but no-one was there to cover his spot. Oliver Burke drove and crossed across the six-yard box, and Naby Keita poked the ball in, right in Sokratis’ spot.
Money, greed, envy, jealously, envy, lust, the physical manifestation of the pitch itself. In the end, the green light represented a win and three points.
FT: Leipzig 1 (Keita 89′) – Dortmund 0