In their first game since the turn of the year, RB Leipzig welcomed Czech side Dukla Prague to the Red Bull Arena in their annual friendly with the club. Going into the winter break without a win in six games, Die Roten Bullen were hoping to gain confidence from the fixture and start the new year as they mean to go on.
Ralph Hasenhüttl elected to start seven first-team regulars who were accompanied by a Konrad Laimer being experimented with at right-back, as well as Federico Palacios – who hadn’t participated in a fixture since Leipzig’s appearance in the Emirates Cup – and 17-year-old prospect Elias Abouchabaka.
In front of a minuscule audience, Leipzig dominated the early proceedings, creating a few chances, though none of which were too much of a threat to Rada in the Dukla goal. The side that travelled north across the German-Czech border struggled to maintain a period of possession, unable to cope with Leipzig’s press.
The games first threatening opportunity came with 10 minutes on the clock. After a cross-field pass went out of bounds, Leipzig looked to apply immediate pressure to Dukla’s defensive line. The initial attempt was squandered as Bernardo’s cross was blocked and eventually cleared. Naby Keïta intercepted the wayward ball and within three passes found himself with a shooting opportunity, as Abouchabaka manufactured space and produced a delightfully weighted pass with the outside of his foot. Unfortunately, Keïta’s shot was blocked by Podaný.
Just before the quarter of an hour mark, the hosts were rewarded for their spell of dominance. As Dukla looked to pass the ball out from the back, a succession of misplaced passes from their centre-back pairing gave possession back to Leipzig. Once again, Keïta picks up the loose ball, and on this occasion, drives through the lines and provides a through pass to Federico Palacios. The former U19 German international slid the ball past the oncoming goalkeeper into the side netting. 1-0.
Within minutes of the restart, the visitors earned themselves a corner. Opting with the short option in an attempt to entice and disorganise Leipzig’s defence. The attempted cross failed to breach the first line, granting the hosts possession and leaving the visitors susceptible to a counter-attack. Dayot Upamecano carried the ball into the midfield from the edge of his own area, he would then participate in a one-two pass with Abouchabaka, and after a couple of touches, the former found himself inside the area, but the chance came to nothing as his cross was sliced wide.
Dukla Prague continued to struggle to contend with Leipzig’s wave upon wave of pressure, granting them far too much space to have fun with. Another opportunity came to fruition in the 17th minute. Sabitzer’s cross from a corner evaded everyone in the box but was greeted by Keïta on the far side. The Guinean shifted the ball onto his midfield partner Demme on the edge of the box, who clipped in a perfect cross for the incoming Upamecano, but his header was tame and straight into Rada’s hands.
The visitor’s persistence to play out from their defence was causing them too much trouble, thus opting to test the counter-attacking approach by drawing Leipzig in with their deep defensive line. This worked momentarily in the 25th minute. Bernardo was beaten to Demme’s pass by Lukáš Holík, who drove the ball into Leipzig’s half, opting to pass to Holenda, with the Czech native situated on the right flank. Contemplating whether to take on Upamecano in a 1-on-1, he decided to attempt a cross but Leipzig’s French centre-back blocked his attempt, deflecting the ball into the path of the corner flag, which the ball ricocheted off out for a throw-in.
Praha started to circulate the ball well, managing to find space within the midfield, although complacency came back into the frame. Podaný attempts a first-time pass to his side’s centre-forward but the ball fails to make it past Upamecano who heads it down to Keïta and promptly passes to Abouchabaka but the academy prospect is brought down by Kušnír just outside the area. On his return to the pitch, Sabitzer lined up the free-kick, placing the ball wide of the post.
It took 33 minutes for the side from the Czech Republic to have their first shot on target. Upamecano’s misplaced pass fell at the feet of Holík, who ran at the backtracking Willi Orban and produced a shot at goal, but the ball was hit too close to Gulácsi. A few minutes later, Holík is granted another opportunity to level the score, as the ball is lofted over Leipzig’s high line and into the path of the winger, but he loses his composure and blazes his shot high and wide.
The second-half saw Hasenhüttl make wholesale changes, substituting the entire starting XI. Yvon Mvogo was handed his first minutes on the pitch since Leipzig’s 1-0 defeat to Augsburg earlier in the campaign. Klostermann, Konaté, Ilsanker and Schmitz became the new back line. Kevin Kampl and 17-year-old Nicolas Stierlin came on as the midfield pivot, sitting behind a front four of Kaiser, Bruma, Augustin and another 17-year-old in Killian Ludewig.
The first opportunity of the half came within minutes of the restart. Dukla continued to distribute out from defence, once again, buckling under the pressure, as Augustin and Kaiser surrounded the left-back, forcing him to foul the latter and give away a free-kick. Kaiser whipped the set-piece into the box and his delivery was met by Konaté’s head, striking the ball into the far post.
Ten minutes later, Leipzig thought they had doubled their lead. Konaté was once again involved in the action. Having been beaten with a turn of pace, the Frenchman’s recovery speed was too much for his opponent, regaining possession and promptly distributing the ball up the pitch. Both Augustin and Ludewig made a run to retrieve the ball and momentarily thought they were in a 2 versus 1 situation with the goalkeeper, but the linesman had other ideas.
In the 58th minute, Leipzig were awarded a free-kick after Jean-Kévin Augustin was fouled near the half-way line. Bruma took it quickly, giving the ball to Schmitz, who passed inside to Kampl and within two passes, Klostermann was running towards the area and provided a cross which reached Bruma on the opposite side. The Portuguese international did well to beat his man and produce another cross, returning the ball to the Leipzig’s right-back who does well to return the ball into the area with a volley, with Augustin getting his head onto it, but was unable to convert from four yards out.
It was with 20 minutes remaining that Leipzig finally secured their second of the game. An attempt from Rada to produce a first-time threaded pass into the path of his teammate was intercepted by Kevin Kampl, with the former Red Bull Salzburg midfield chipping the ball over the outstretched leg of the lunging defender, into the path of Bruma who takes control and drives at the heart of the Dukla defence, slotting the ball into the bottom left corner past the despairing Rada. 2-0.
Since the break and the bulk changes made by both managers, the quality and flow of the game had declined considerably. Leipzig maintained their superiority throughout, holding the majority of the possession. Although, there were many turnovers in possession as neither side could complete a pass or hold onto their first touch. Other than the goal, most chances failed to force the goalkeepers into making a save, including another opportunity from Konaté after another cross from Kaiser reaches the 18-year-old’s head but he is unable to find the back of the net.
With the game petering out, Augustin wanted to provide the spectators in the ground with one last moment of magic, almost grabbing a third with the last kick of the game. After yet another underweighted pass, the French forward took the ball out wide to exploit the space that had been vacated, running towards the area, he would brush aside a defender looking to nullify his threat but was unable to strike the ball past the keeper from a tight angle.
The final whistle blew with the game at 2-0.