Leipzig a title contender? Some at Bayern think so
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) If Mats Hummels, Bayern Munich's experienced defender and World Cup winner, is to be believed, Bundesliga newcomer Leipzig could be a title contender.
Bayern has won the last four championships and Leipzig is the promoted team playing in its debut Bundesliga season, but after 10 rounds, Leipzig is undefeated, even on points with Bayern and behind only on goal difference. The two teams are four points clear of the nearest competition, and Leipzig has earned more points away from home than Bayern.
Leipzig is riding a five-match winning streak going into Friday's match against Bayer Leverkusen.
''If we drop points, Leipzig will be a candidate for the title,'' Hummels said recently. ''Everything I've seen from Leipzig has been convincing. They play very attacking football, they defend as a team very well and they have the individual class you need.''
Hummels said Leipzig reminds him of Borussia Dortmund, which won Bundesliga titles under coach Juergen Klopp in 2011 and 2012 when the Germany central defender still played there.
Leipzig coach Ralph Hasenhuettl doesn't really believe that his team can emulate the Kaiserslautern's run in 1998, when it swept to the title in its promotion season.
''In football, nothing is impossible,'' he said recently in a newspaper interview. ''You saw what happened in England with the championship for Leicester City. But It would be a miracle in Germany. I am not even thinking about it.''
Hasenhuettl said he still could not really tell where his team stood.
''Right now, I don't see a limit for us, and I don't know where it should be,'' he said. ''We are basically playing with a second-division squad, a team that finished second in the second division last season.''
Hasenhuettl left Bundesliga rival Ingolstadt before the season to replace Ralf Rangnick, who became the club's sports director. Rangnick was the architect of Hoffenheim's sensational run in 2008, when it led the championship halfway into its rookie season.
Incidentally, Hoffenheim is also still undefeated and helped Leipzig pull even with Bayern by holding the champion to a draw before the international break.
Leipzig is a project created by the Austrian energy-drink maker Red Bull and its billionaire founder Dietrich Mateschitz, who bought and rebranded a local fifth-tier club in 2009. The booming former East German city had a stadium rebuilt for the World Cup in 2006 but had no team in the major leagues.
Rival fans strongly object to Leipzig's links to Red Bull and consider it a ''test-tube team.'' The team bus has been stoned and Leipzig players are routinely the subject of derogatory chants, and Earlier this month, a severed bull's head was thrown near the pitch during a match.
Hummels is not the only one in Bayern to consider Leipzig a serious rival.
Uli Hoeness, who is set to become Bayern's president again after serving a prison term for tax evasion, said in a recent television interview that he found Leipzig ''very strong.''
''Of course, they have the advantage of being able to lie on the couch during the week while we have to play the Champions League, and if I know Mr. Mateschitz, he'll lay out a couple of million more if necessary at Christmas,'' Hoeness said.
Hasenhuettl responded by noting that Bayern was ''thinking about us.''
''It seems that what we've played so far has been impressive,'' Hasenhuettl said.
The two teams meet on Dec. 21 in the final round before the Christmas break.
Leipzig uses a high-pressing style to win the ball and then attacks quickly, often leaving opponents outnumbered in defense.
Central midfielder Naby Keita, who arrived from the sister club Red Bull Salzburg, is among Leipzig's key players, as are speedy forwards Timo Werner, Yussuf Poulsen and Emil Forsberg.