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Champions League: Manchester City hit RB Leipzig for six

  • September 16, 2021

Manchester City 6-3 RB Leipzig, Etihad Stadium
(Ake 16′, Mukiele o.g. 28′, Mahrez pen. 45+2′, Grealish 56′, Cancelo 75′, Jesus 85′ — Nkunku 42′, 51′, 73′)

It’s not so long ago that goals outnumbering away fans was commonplace at top level football matches. But, with only 25 RB Leipzig fans making the journey, recent history wasn’t too far from being repeated on a wild Wednesday night in Manchester.

Those fans, scattered in even smaller clusters among a huge bank of seating, would have had plenty to discuss as they filtered out, not least their new coach.

After three losses in his first four Bundesliga games, most recently a tepid defeat to Bayern Munich, this was a different kind of low. The pendulum had swung too far. Control, and any defensive stability, had been lost. “Today was our worst day for defending,” Marsch admitted after the game.

As the final whistle echoed around a rapidly-emptying Etihad Stadium, Marsch’s demeanor told its own story as he rose from the bench to shake the necessary hands. For the previous 90 minutes, he’d been a constant whir of movement, offering more positional changes than his opposite number in a big knockout game.

As good as City were going forward at times, the Bundesliga side did themselves few favors, as Emil Forsberg acknowledged to broadcaster DAZN after the game: “The goals we conceded were too easy,” he said. “If you concede goals like that it’s hard to win here.”

Nathan Ake’s early header set the tone for the home side

Early setback

Especially if you concede them early. After Nathan Ake headed in a routine opener from a corner, Nordi Mukiele rubbed some salt in the wound, heading in to his own goal soon after. At that point, it already felt like some measure of respectability was the best RB could hope for, though Marsch’s intense glare suggested he felt otherwise.

Stung in to action, the Red Bulls started to show glimpses of the sort of company-brand football Marsch was employed to hone further, with former City fullback Angelino and Emil Forsberg, earlier the target of a mid-match bodyshape seminar from his American coach, growing in influence. It was Forsberg who dug out the ball that led to Christopher Nkunku nodding in after Mukiele’s knockdown.

Marsch was suddenly re-animated, and the “belief” and “fearlessness” that he identified as his key qualities in an interview with kicker this week became visible once again. But only fleetingly.

A questionable handball decision allowed Riyad Mahrez to restore City’s two goal cushion. Though they would relinquish it briefly now and again, City never truly looked in danger. Fearless? Maybe. Frustrated? Well, partly. “We haven’t found a rhythm yet but we have to take a lot from the second half,” Marsch said.

Expectation management is always a significant part of stepping up a level, as Marsch did when he swapped Salzburg for Leipzig. The viral video of his odd but endearing mix of German and English at halftime during a gallant 4-3 defeat 35 miles west of here in Liverpool two years ago, introduced him to a wider global audience and brightened the spotlight.

Nordi Mukiele heads into the wrong net

A class apart

Though his German has improved considerably and the glare has become harsher still, he appears to have retained the knack for motivation at the break, with Nkunku adding a second early in the second half. But even the Frenchman completing his hat trick wasn’t enough to really lay a glove as City eased home thanks to Jack Grealish, Joao Cancelo and Gabriel Jesus.

These are, of course, early days in Marsch’s Leipzig reign, but his side are clearly struggling to adapt to the loss of their coach, two central defenders and best midfielder in one transfer window. In truth, he won’t be judged on his result here, but by a forthcoming run of Bundesliga fixtures either side of a home clash with Club Brugge. He’ll hope to build some momentum there before taking on the other oil-rich Group A favorites Paris Saint-Germain.

While his Salzburg side were lauded by some as underdogs going toe-to-toe with the best who should feel no shame about an entertaining defeat, that won’t always cut it at the top of the energy drink chain.

This was better than the tame surrender to Bayern, but it was still a comprehensive loss. It’s still four defeats from five. The balance still remains elusive. The questions still hang in the air.

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