Bayern Munich coach Julian Nagelsmann will get a large dose of déjà vu when his team visits Leipzig in the Bundesliga on Saturday.
After all, Nagelsmann was Leipzig coach until the end of last season and two of his Bayern players, defender Dayot Upamecano and midfielder Marcel Sabitzer, were on that Leipzig team, too.
Sabitzer was a Leipzig player until 10 days ago, when he signed on to Bayern. Leipzig coach Jesse Marsch said on Thursday his team might have to tweak its tactics to stop Bayern making full use of Sabitzer’s insider knowledge.
For Nagelsmann, it’s a chance to push ahead of potential title rivals such as Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund. Leipzig and Marsch are aiming to kickstart their underwhelming season so far and become the first team to beat Bayern in the new Nagelsmann era.
“I’m looking forward to it a lot, it’s obviously a special game for me,” Nagelsmann said this week in a question-and-answer session with Bayern fans. “That’s normal when you play against your former club. I’m slightly worried that the Leipzig fans won’t welcome me back that warmly because they didn’t agree with the move.”
Bayern’s record under Nagelsmann looks spectacular at first glance — four wins, one draw and 24 goals scored. However, half of those goals came in a near-meaningless 12-0 German Cup win against fifth-tier opposition. Nagelsmann’s two trickiest games so far were far from convincing, a 1-1 draw with Borussia Mönchengladbach and a 3-1 Super Cup win over Dortmund.
The clash between last season’s champion and runner-up comes at a bad time for both. Bayern will find it hard to rest players newly returned from international duty before Tuesday’s Champions League game at Barcelona. Leipzig travels to Manchester City for its own group stage opener on Wednesday.
Leipzig doesn’t believe Bayern’s summer spending spree has fatally weakened its own hopes of finally winning the German title and stopping Bayern winning a historic 10th in a row. Leipzig has lost to Mainz and Wolfsburg so far but beaten Stuttgart.
“Our cupboard isn’t bare in Leipzig. The coaches and players who are with us now are just as important as those who left,” club CEO Oliver Mintzlaff said in comments published on Wednesday by Sport Bild magazine. “Bayern hasn’t emptied us out with its purchases.”
Leipzig needs time to let new signings adapt. Striker André Silva has one goal in four games since arriving from Eintracht Frankfurt and younger signings such as defenders Josko Gvardiol and Mohamed Simakan need time to settle in. Midfielder Ilaix Moriba has yet to play since signing from Barcelona for 16 million euros ($19 million) as a long-term replacement for Sabitzer.
Marsch has tipped Spanish midfielder Dani Olmo to play a key role against Bayern, saying he’s “fitter and more prepared” after sitting out Spain’s World Cup qualifying games over the last two weeks.
Dortmund is another team in transition ahead of a tough game at Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday and Champions League action against Besiktas of Turkey four days later.
New coach Marco Rose won two of his first three games but conceded six goals in the process, suggesting Dortmund’s longstanding defensive frailties remain unresolved. The 18-year-old American midfielder Gio Reyna has started brightly with two goals.
But the season so far has been a calamity for another German team with big ambitions.
Hertha Berlin has lost all three of its Bundesliga games — including 5-0 at Bayern last time out — and is bottom of the table. That’s unacceptable for a team whose spending over the last two years rivals that of Germany’s biggest clubs, bankrolled by investor Lars Windhorst, though there was no major deals in the last window.
Next up for Hertha on Sunday is newly promoted Bochum, which operates on a comparatively tiny budget. Anything less than a win could provoke Hertha fans’ ire.