RB Leipzig travel to Serbia on Tuesday to face Red Star Belgrade in Group G, hoping to keep control of their Champions League knockout fate.
When the teams clashed at the Red Bull Arena two weeks ago, the German giants won 3-1, putting them two places and five points ahead of their upcoming hosts in second position in the section.
When David Raum’s furious 12-minute drive struck the back of the goal, a Red Bull Arena devastation appeared to be on the cards for Red Star, but as Leipzig made a feast of a number of passing sequences in their defensive third, Barak Bakhar’s side were suddenly granted a sliver of optimism.
Xavi Simons attempted to extinguish that glimmer of hope with a brilliant long-range curler, only for Red Star to cut the deficit in half 20 minutes before the end through Marko Stamenic, but Dani Olmo poked home the game’s fourth and final goal to finally put Leipzig out of sight, leaving the Serbian powerhouses still searching for their first European win of the season.
Few would have predicted Bakhar’s team would beat Manchester City or Leipzig to a last-16 qualification spot, and this week’s hosts appear to be in a straight shootout with Young Boys for the consolation prize of Europa League football, with both teams on a point apiece at the halfway point.
However, Red Star’s poor disciplinary record keeps them in fourth position for the time being, and defeat against Leipzig would officially throw them out of top-two contention 32 years after their epic European Cup victory over Marseille in the 1991 final.
Red Star have been one of the Champions League’s leakiest defenses since that fateful day in Bari, conceding 35 goals in their last 11 top-tier European matches, but they will enter Tuesday’s match on the back of a 3-1 league win over Radnik Surdulica, extending their unbeaten domestic run to seven matches.
While Red Star have made up for their European failures with a streak of strong domestic successes, RB Leipzig have seen their powers erode over the past week, beginning with a Halloween scare in a 1-0 DFB-Pokal defeat at the hands of Wolfsburg.
Marco Rose’s men attempted to right those wrongs when they traveled to Mainz for Saturday’s Bundesliga clash, but they were thwarted by their hosts’ backline and then hit with a second-half sucker punch as Lee Jae-sung and Leandro Barreiro handed Leipzig their second loss in a row.
This week’s visitors have not suffered back-to-back defeats in any tournament since April, and the fact that both losses have come on the road may make Rose’s men nervous as they travel to Belgrade, but a return to winning ways could see them through to the last 16 with two games to spare.
Leipzig are second in the group with six points and will be confirmed as knockout representatives alongside Manchester City if they win against Red Star and the holders manage at least a draw against Young Boys, who are five points worse off than Rose’s men.
On Tuesday, Leipzig could write a new chapter in club history by winning four Champions League group-stage away games in a row for the first time, having already defeated Celtic, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Young Boys away from their German base.
Red Star Belgrade Champions League form
L D L
Red Star Belgrade (all competitions) form
W L W L D L
RB Leipzig Champions League form:
W L W
RB Leipzig (all competitions) form
D W W W L L