A 2-1 win over Red Star Belgrade ensures that the German Red Bulls will – irrespective of what happens in the final two group stage match-days – compete in Europe’s premier completion in the next calendar year.
RB trainer Rose made three changes to the side that suffered a shock defeat away at Mainz over the weekend. Amadou Haidara, Emil Forsberg, and Benjamin Sesko took the place of Kevin Kampl, Lukas Klostermann, and Christoph Baumgartner. The Saxons returned to their regular 4-2-2-2 formation. Rose’s squad was nearly identical to the XI that topped Red Star two weeks ago; with the only change being Sesko filling in for the injured Yussuf Poulsen. Leipzig entered the match as the only team to have beaten the Serbians in their last nine competitive matches.
The very much in-form Xavi Simons ensured that the German guests started strongly. The PSG loanee capped a strong run into the box in the 8th with an even stronger finish. A spectacular shoot into the right-hand corner gave the Saxons an early 1-0 lead. The young Dutchman continued to dazzle on both slower RB builds and counters. Rose’s charges could have easily increased their lead over the course of the opening 45. Strikers Sesko and Loïs Openda were nevertheless not able to finish chances in which Xavi set them up.
A double change at the half from Belgrade trainer Barak Bakhar yielded little for the trailing side. The German UCL representatives carefully and maturely managed their slender lead. On a few occasions, the German Red Bulls were able to threaten on the counter. Otherwise, much of the action in the second half took place in midfield. Heavy rainfall at the Rajko Mitic stadium soaked the pitch and neither team found themselves in much of a mood to take risks until the final 20 minutes.
Not long after RB keeper Janis Blasich helped preserve the scoreline with a fabulous double save in the 74th, Openda was able to double the advantage with a world class strike. It was the also very much in-form Xaver Schlager who sent the Belgium through on the counter. The expensive new summer arrival fired home an unstoppable distance effort from just outside the box on the 2-0 in the 77th. The Serbians were able to pull a goal back in the 81st when Benjamin Henrichs inadvertently deflected the ball into his own net, rendering the closing stages exciting.
The final minutes were indeed gripping as the Serbian hosts pressed deep into RB territory in the final minutes of normal time and five minutes of additional added play. Blaswich had to be on his toes to make a fantastic save at 90+2. There were appeals for a penalty when Nigerian striker Peter Olayinka went down in the box at 90+4. Match official Daniele Orsato nevertheless ruled the Red Star attacker’s action to be simulation. The match wrapped up with a booking rather than an equalizer.