Ten-man RB Leipzig won the DFB-Pokal for the first time in their history after a 4-2 penalty shoot-out win over Freiburg at the end of a 1-1 draw in Berlin on Saturday.

Freiburg, who were competing in their first-ever major final, went ahead in the 19th minute thanks to Maximilian Eggestein's fine strike, despite a clear handball from Roland Sallai in the build-up.

Leipzig were reduced to 10 men shortly before the hour mark when Marcel Halstenberg received a straight red card for pulling down a clean-through Lucas Holer, yet they levelled in the 76th minute through Christopher Nkunku.

Domenico Tedesco's men had lost two finals in the last three years, but they finally got their hands on the trophy at the Olympiastadion as Freiburg's Christian Gunter and Ermedin Demirovic missed their spot-kicks in the shoot-out.

RB Leipzig are into the DFB-Pokal final for the third time in four years after a dramatic stoppage-time header from Emil Forsberg sealed a 2-1 comeback win over Union Berlin.

For a while, Union themselves looked on course for next month's final after taking a 25th-minute lead, but Leipzig fought back in the second half and sealed progress at the death.

During a first half of few chances, Union proved the more clinical as Sheraldo Becker guided home impressively on the break.

But there were warning signs from a Leipzig side that dominated possession and parity was restored by an Andre Silva penalty in the 61st minute, and just when extra time seemed to beckon, Forsberg nodded in to spark bedlam in the Red Bull Arena.

Freiburg reached the DFB-Pokal final for the first time in their history with a 3-1 semi-final win at second-tier Hamburg.

Goals from Nils Petersen, Nicolas Hofler, and Vincenzo Grifo fired Freiburg into a commanding half-time lead as the visitors produced a scintillating counter-attacking display.

The Bundesliga's third-best defensive outfit then held on comfortably after the break, despite Robert Glatzel providing a late consolation for the hosts, and Freiburg will meet either RB Leipzig or Union Berlin in next month's final.

11 years after first joining the visitors, head coach Christian Streich continues to make history, with Freiburg's dreams of cup glory and a top-four Bundesliga finish remaining in their sights.  

Hamburg fell behind after just 11 minutes when Petersen headed home after a goalmouth scramble, with a quick VAR check ascertaining Roland Sallai was not interfering with play.

That goal gave Freiburg a huge boost, and they doubled their lead within five minutes when Hofler's long-range strike cannoned off Sebastien Schonlau and into the roof of the net.

Hamburg almost responded when Anssi Suhonen forced a save from Mark Flekken, but were out of the contest after 35 minutes when the VAR awarded Freiburg a bizarre penalty, with Vincenzo Grifo smashing home from the spot after Moritz Heyer clumsily kicked Nico Schlotterbeck in the neck.

Suhonen had a cool finish ruled out in a marginal offside call as Hamburg's nightmare half drew to a close, before Sallai rippled the side netting with a fierce strike shortly after the break.

The 2.Bundesliga team took the game to Freiburg in the second half, with Sonny Kittel's deflected volley drawing a decent save from Flekken after 67 minutes.

Hamburg were finally rewarded for their improvement when Glatzel nodded a consolation goal after 87 minutes, and Freiburg's Ermedin Demirovic struck a post from range as the visitors claimed a historic win.

What does it mean? Fantastic Freiburg reach new heights

Freiburg had never previously reached the German domestic cup final, losing to Stuttgart on their only previous semi-final appearance in 2013. 

Streich's men, however, will compete for their first major trophy in May's final, and could beat their highest-ever Bundesliga finish of fifth (in 2012-13) as they continue to chase a top-four spot.

Cup hero Petersen sets the tone

With a packed Volksparkstadion producing a boisterous atmosphere, Freiburg needed an early goal to quell any nerves, and got one through Petersen's header. The 33-year-old has now scored 12 in the competition, with no other player scoring more (Alexander Iashvilli also has 12).

Visitors make fast start count

After putting their hosts to the sword before the break, Freiburg have now scored six first-half goals in their four DFB-Pokal games this season, with only RB Leipzig scoring as many in the competition.

Streich's team also became just the second to hit three first-half goals in an away DFB-Pokal semi-final. Bayern Munich are the other team to do so at Schalke in 1984.

What's next?

Hamburg will look to revive their slim hopes of promotion from the 2.Bundesliga at Jahn Regensburg on Saturday, while Freiburg host Borussia Monchengladbach on the same day.

Borussia Dortmund head coach Marco Rose admits he is "angry" after his side spurned a golden opportunity to win a title after crashing out of the DFB-Pokal 2-1 to St Pauli on Tuesday.

DFB-Pokal holders Dortmund conceded twice in the first half before Erling Haaland pulled back a 58th minute penalty but they could not find an equalizer in the last-16 clash.

The defeat means for the first time since 2006-07, neither Dortmund or Bayern Munich will contend in the DFB-Pokal quarter-finals, with Rose admitting it was a major missed opportunity.

"I'm just angry. The cup is a chance for a title and we're generally in good shape," Rose told Sky. "Then we just give the game away in the first 10 minutes.

"The fact that you then get into problems with the ground and the strong opponent under the conditions is inexplicable and cannot be excused."

Dortmund had come into the DFB-Pokal game fresh from beating SC Freiburg 5-1 in the Bundesliga on Friday, as well as coming from behind to win 3-2 over Eintracht Frankfurt.

"It's a pity and a bit stupid of us that after a top performance against Freiburg and the game we played in Frankfurt, we didn't do it again," Rose said.

"Unfortunately, we are again confirming a few things that have been held up to us in the last few weeks, months and years. It's just our fault.

"The end pisses me off because it was a chance for a title and we're just giving the game away."

Erling Haaland's penalty was not enough to rescue Borussia Dortmund as they crashed out of the DFB-Pokal following a shock 2-1 defeat by St Pauli.

The reigning champions' title defence came to an abrupt end at Millerntor-Stadion, where the 2. Bundesliga leaders claimed a memorable victory.

Dortmund arrived in the tie having netted five goals without reply in their opening two matches of this season's DFB-Pokal, defeating Wehen Wiesbaden 3-0 and Ingolstadt 2-0.

Meanwhile, only Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg had beaten them in this competition since 2011.

However, they fell behind to Etienne Amenyido's fourth-minute strike, while an Axel Witsel own goal doubled the hosts' lead before the break.

Haaland halved the deficit from the penalty spot 13 minutes into the second half but ,despite eight shots on goal and 70.4 per cent of the possession, the visitors were unable to avert a shock exit.

Borussia Dortmund boss Marco Rose is "deeply relaxed" about Erling Haaland's future, despite the striker hinting that he is growing frustrated with the Bundesliga side.

Haaland was on target twice in Friday's 5-1 win over Freiburg to make it 15 league goals for the campaign and 55 in 56 games for Dortmund in all competitions since joining.

Only Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski (79 goals in 62 games) has found the net more often over the past two years among players from Europe's top five leagues.

The Norway international has been regularly linked with a move away from Dortmund, with Real Madrid and Barcelona rumoured to be particularly eager to strike a deal.

And Haaland, who reportedly has a €75million release clause in his contract that will activate in July, stated last week a decision on his future will be made soon.

"The last six months I have chosen not to say anything out of respect for Dortmund, but now the club has started to press me into making a decision," Haaland said.

"All I want to do is to play football. But they press me to make a decision now about my future. So that means that I have to make a decision soon.

"They have started to put a lot of pressure on me, I have to accept that. I have chosen not to say anything out of respect for the club and the fans. 

"But now a lot of pressure is coming from the club, so now is the time to get things started. This is what they want. It means that things will happen now."

 

That was seen as Haaland venting his frustration at the speculation regarding his future, but head coach Rose does not see it that way.

"It's not a big issue for us," he said at a news conference previewing Tuesday's DFB-Pokal last-16 tie with St. Pauli.

"We spoke briefly on Sunday, but it was mainly about football. I'm deeply relaxed about this topic because I see Erling here every day.

"Erling is looking forward to the cup game and that's the most important thing for me as a coach."

While Rose has no concerns over Haaland, the Dortmund boss admitted to being worried by Giovanni Reyna's recovery from a hamstring issue.

Reyna has been restricted to just four appearances for BVB this term due to an injury picked up on United States duty in September.

He had been expected to return after the mid-season break this month, but the 19-year-old will once again be missing for the midweek cup tie with St. Pauli.

"Gio Reyna is on the right track overall, but of course, he has lost something over time," Rose said.

"We have to get him playable and fit to play. Without wanting to promise too much, let's aim for the break after the Hoffenheim game [next weekend] to get him fully fit again."

Reyna scored and assisted a combined nine goals in the Bundesliga last season, the fifth-most of any Dortmund player, with Haaland leading the way (33).

Julian Nagelsmann conceded Bayern Munich's 5-0 thrashing by Borussia Monchengladbach will take a while to heal.

Nagelsmann – who was absent again from the touchline for a fourth game due to a positive COVID-19 test – saw his side miss out on the DFB-Pokal last-16 stage after a crushing loss at the hands of Gladbach.

Wednesday's demolition was the first time since December 1978 that Bayern had lost by a five-goal margin as the Bavarian giants look to bounce back against Union Berlin in Saturday's Bundesliga clash.

However, Nagelsmann warned that a defeat of that magnitude will take a while to heal from as they look for a fourth consecutive victory on the road in the German top flight.

"We didn't cry to ourselves on the phone about how bad everything is," said Nagelsmann on Friday.

"It was important to me that the players not only look for mistakes in themselves but also in me. At the end of the conversation, I had the feeling with everyone that we could get this out of their heads – but also that it would take a while.

"Our aim is to solve it playfully, but it is easier on a good day. We need solutions that we will use again and again in the future in order to survive such moments.

"That was one new experience for us. With that we can close the Wednesday book."

 

Nagelsmann will be hoping for improvements against Union Berlin, who have not won any of their first four matches against Bayern in the Bundesliga.

The former RB Leipzig head coach also revealed he held important conversations with some of his key players after the Gladbach game as they quickly looked to resolve issues.

"The conversations were yesterday," he continued. "I won't tell you which players I spoke to. That remains a trade secret. I have tried to send messages that can also be passed on [to other players].

"I try to have the best possible influence. As a head coach, being able to hand over responsibilities is a great asset.

"There was a lot received, but that stays between us. Everyone has different issues. In the end we all agreed that this shouldn't happen to us again. Simply because it hurts. It doesn't work about what other people write about us.

"It's not about making amends. Experiences are shaped by uniqueness, you can no longer eradicate something like that in life. The stone from Wednesday will lie there forever."

 

Nagelsmann, who confirmed he will return to the touchline for the Champions League clash on Tuesday against Benfica, also insisted he can handle the pressure of the Bayern role.

"I always feel pressure, it hasn't changed much," he added. "I know how Bayern Munich works. I've prepared myself for it.

"It's not about life and death, but about making good games and learning from them. The pressure is no different now than it was before."

Thomas Muller has apologised to Bayern Munich supporters following his side's "catastrophic" 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday.

Bundesliga champions Bayern were three goals down inside 21 minutes and conceded twice more before the hour mark in the DFB-Pokal second-round tie.

The heavy defeat at Borussia-Park marks the first time Bayern have lost a game by at least five goals since December 1978 in a Bundesliga clash with Fortuna Dusseldorf.

Muller played a full part in the Bavarian giants' heaviest loss in 43 years and was taken aback by the manner of his side's performance, which came despite a strong line-up being fielded.

"We never got to the point where our Bayern engine kicked in," he said. "We can only apologise to the fans and apologise to Gladbach. 

"With the exception of [Manuel] Neuer, it was a catastrophic performance from us.

"I haven't experienced anything like that before. It's difficult to wrap your head round. We have to put it behind us now, because we've got a game on Saturday."

 

Bayern had scored in their previous 83 competitive matches in a run spanning back to February 2020, which includes 60 goals in 15 games in all competitions this season – at least 17 more than any other side in Europe's top five leagues,

The visitors were pulled apart at the back, with Ramy Bensebaini and Breel Embolo helping themselves to a couple of goals each after Kouadio Kone's early opener.

Bayern's loss came in the absence of head coach Julian Nagelsmann, who is continuing to isolate at home after testing positive for coronavirus.

Stand-in boss Dino Toppmoller oversaw Bayern's biggest ever cup defeat and is aware of the importance of hitting back with victory at Union Berlin in Saturday's Bundesliga clash.

"It was an absolutely bad day. I'm sorry that we disappointed our fans today," he said at his post-match news conference.

"We were in constant contact with Julian. We prepared the game plan together and discussed the lineup via FaceTime. 

"I don't think it was a system problem – it was just a dark day and we were late to every ball. It's difficult to accept now but we've to show a reaction."

Bayern have now failed to reach the last 16 of the DFB-Pokal in back-to-back seasons for the first time since between 1994 and 1996, having suffered a shock loss to Holstein Kiel at the same stage last year.

A stunned Hasan Salihamidzic felt Bayern Munich suffered from a "collective blackout" in their "inexplicable" 5-0 DFB-Pokal thrashing at Borussia Monchengladbach.

The Bundesliga champions suffered a humiliating second-round hammering at Borussia-Park, where they were three goals down after 21 minutes on Wednesday.

Ramy Bensebaini scored twice after Kouadio Kone opened the scoring in the second minute and Breel Embolo rubbed salt into Bayern's wounds with a second-half double.

Bayern were a shambles as they were ripped to pieces by Die Fohlen in the absence of head coach Julian Nagelsmann, who had to watch on at home as he isolates after testing positive for coronavirus.

The Bavarian giants' sporting director Salihamidzic was taken aback by such a woeful performance.

Asked for his reaction to the defeat, he told ARD: "Absolutely shocked. We just weren't there. We didn't win a duel in the first half, it was a collective blackout."

He added: "For me, this is inexplicable. We knew how difficult it would be here, we discussed everything. It is difficult to explain."

Dayot Upamecano endured a nightmare outing on his 23rd birthday, looking totally lost and making a poor mistake for the fourth goal from Embolo.

The centre-back was replaced straight after that error, but Salihamidzic says he put a bad night behind him.

"We win together, we lose together. We will rebuild Upa. It's inexplicable because he played really well recently," Salihamidzic said.

Bayern defender Lucas Hernandez also started on a day in which in was revealed he had has avoided jail time for disobeying a restraining order in 2017 after a Madrid court accepted his appeal.

Joshua Kimmich has also been in the headlines recently after stating he had not been vaccinated for COVID-19, but Salihamidzic says off-field issues cannot be used as an excuse.

He said: "[It is] Difficult to say. There were a lot of stories in the past week, but we got along with that in the games before that too. The lack of vaccination was not the reason today that we did not get into the duels and could stop the balls."

Ramy Bensebaini and Breel Embolo scored doubles as Borussia Monchengladbach unceremoniously dumped Bayern Munich out of the DFB-Pokal with a stunning 5-0 victory.

It was a horror show for shambolic Bayern at Borussia-Park on Wednesday as the Bundesliga leaders were put to the sword, conceding three times in the opening 21 minutes.

Bensebaini struck twice after Kouadio Kone opened the scoring with his first goal for Die Fohlen, with Bayern at sixes and sevens as head coach Julian Nagelsmann watched on at home as he isolates after testing positive for coronavirus.

Embolo helped himself to a quickfire brace early in the second half to help Gladbach cruise into the third round, knocking Bayern out at the same stage they were sensationally beaten by Holstein Kiel at last season.

Kone capitalised on slack Bayern defending to open the scoring in the second minute, side-footing in with his right foot after Alphonso Davies gifted Gladbach possession with a poor pass.

Jonas Hofmann should have doubled their lead when he failed to hit the target after racing clear and Manuel Neuer showed great reflexes to tip Embolo's drive over the crossbar, with the Bundesliga champions all over the place at the back.

Bayern were caught napping again in the 15th minute and Bensebaini made them pay, bursting into the penalty area unmarked and sweeping in Hofmann's cutback with his right foot.

Things went from bad to worse for the Bavarian giants when Lucas Hernandez was adjudged to have fouled Embolo and Bensebaini nonchalantly slotted into the back of the net from the spot.

Dayot Upamecano was enduring a nightmare on his 23rd birthday, and he gifted Gladbach a fourth goal six minutes into the second half, failing to deal with a high ball down the middle and allowing Embolo to get on the scoresheet.

Upamecano was hauled off after that mistake, but there was no improvement in the Bayern defending as Embolo struck again soon after, beating a stunned Neuer after Luca Netz sent him clear.

Yann Sommer denied Serge Gnabry with a brilliant save after keeping out a Robert Lewandowski header and Josip Stanisic blazed over the crossbar as Bayern were unable to salvage some pride.

Julian Nagelsmann claimed Kingsley Coman is "one of the top wingers in the world" when fit and said the Frenchman must remain patient for a chance at Bayern Munich.

Coman, 25, joined Bayern initially on a two-year loan from Juventus in 2015 and subsequently made the move permanent.

The France international underwent a minor heart operation in September and has managed just 84 minutes in the Bundesliga this term with the Bavarian giants.

Nagelsmann, however, insisted that Coman ranks among the best in his position on his day as he addressed questions over his rotational policy ahead of Bayern's DFB-Pokal clash with Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday.

"I've emphasised many times that King [Coman] is an amazing person who I really enjoy working with," Nagelsmann, who is self-isolating due to a positive COVID-19 test, told reporters on Tuesday.

"I think he's one of the top wingers in the world when he's fit. I would like to work with him for many years to come."

Among Bayern players, Coman leads the charts for dribbles completed across all competitions (500) since his debut on September 12, 2015 – Thiago Alcantara ranks second on that list, some 124 behind the Frenchman.

Indeed, the former Juventus attacker has attempted 276 more dribbles than any of his other team-mates in that same period while scoring 42 times and recording 40 assists.

 

Coman also ranks fifth at the club in this time-span when it comes to chances created, sitting behind Thiago (279), Robert Lewandowski (305), Joshua Kimmich (521) and Thomas Muller (605), with the 274 opportunities he has worked for Bayern.

However, starting chances under Hansi Flick and subsequently Nagelsmann have diminished as Coman seemingly falls behind Serge Gnabry, Muller, Leroy Sane and now Jamal Musiala.

Nagelsmann appreciates the quality of depth he has in that position with his new side, as he attempts to utilise the abundance of talent he has at his disposal.

"We're very well positioned on the wing positions," Nagelsmann said.

"All the players are in exceptional form. It takes a lot of courage, everyone plays or with a certain workload control. Not everyone agrees. I can understand that. But they are all healthy and we want to take advantage of that.

"In the last few years this has not always been the case, so we mustn't complain now. And maybe they will play at the same time."

Julian Nagelsmann revealed he contacted Joshua Kimmich after the Germany midfielder hit the headlines as he admitted he had not been vaccinated for COVID-19.

Bayern Munich, who are preparing to face Borussia Monchengladbach in the DFB-Pokal second round, have been without Nagelsmann after the former RB Leipzig head coach tested positive for coronavirus.

However, it was Kimmich who was the main point of interest after Bayern defeated Hoffenheim 4-0 as the 26-year-old explained he had not been vaccinated because he wanted further research to be conducted first.

Former Bayern president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was quick to assure Kimmich should do the responsible thing and get vaccinated, though Nagelsmann attempted to put an end to the saga at Tuesday's pre-match news conference.

"A lot of topics are often chewed through," Nagelsmann told reporters from his home during his virtual conference. "It is important that there is an exchange of views. Everyone then has to decide for themselves whether they have to give their mustard to everything.

"There are experts, they should express their opinion. Whether the federal government has to do that now, it has to know for itself. I am happy when everyone can concentrate on their job again."

Nagelsmann, who has been operating from his homemade "data centre", then revealed he had contacted Kimmich to discuss the interview while admitting it was up to the individual whether they should get vaccinated or not.

"I wrote to him after the interview," he continued. "I told him that there are certainly easier interview topics. That is the price you pay when you are in public.

"Enough has been said about it now. I also gave my opinion of what I thought about the vaccination – I now know how the symptoms progress.

"From this and in exchange with doctors I also noticed that the disease behaves differently after the vaccination. Nevertheless, it is up to you to decide whether he can be vaccinated."

Nagelsmann will not be fit enough to return for the visit to Gladbach, though he could return against Union Berlin on Saturday.

His side have won all three games in his absence, dispatching Leverkusen, Benfica and Hoffenheim by an aggregate score of 13-1.

However, the 34-year-old revealed he finds comments that Bayern do not need a coach in his absence disrespectful, pointing towards the crucial interventions that are sometimes required on the touchline.

"The team is very good, no question about it," he added.

"I also have a very well-functioning coaching team. They are a tight-knit bunch, and we know each other very well.

"But I don't lie around at home and don't work on anything. I think it is sometimes a bit disrespectful when you claim that the team doesn't need a coach. There are always moments when you should intervene."

Marco Rose is under no illusions as to the importance of Erling Haaland to his team, but insisted Borussia Dortmund will not "whine" about the star striker's absence.

Dortmund coach Rose confirmed last Friday that Haaland would be out for several weeks due to a hip flexor injury.

Haaland has scored 13 goals in 10 appearances across all competitions so far this season, having missed three matches due to a muscular problem. He returned to feature in a 3-1 win over Mainz on October 16, netting twice.

The 21-year-old's absence was not felt as Dortmund claimed a 3-1 win at Armenia Bielefeld on Saturday, with Rose's team sitting second in the Bundesliga.

A home match against Ingolstadt in the DFB-Pokal comes up next on Tuesday, though Haaland was the main subject of Rose's pre-match news conference.

"Erling is incredibly important for us and we miss him, no question," said Rose.

"I once said that we would have to reinvent ourselves [in his absence]. But we don't have to do so by that much. We will not start all over again.

"We might not have Erling's physique up front now, but we have other types of players. In Bielefeld, we played with three strikers and had different ideas.

"We'll be happy when Erling does come back. But again, we have to get used to [his absence] for a few games now. So we shouldn't whine about it but find solutions and we are currently working on that right now."

 

Replacing Haaland?

Haaland has scored nine league goals already this season, averaging a strike every 60 minutes in the Bundesliga.

The Norway international has had 30 shots, registering a 30 per cent conversion rate, outperforming his xG of 6.13 by some distance. Haaland has also stepped up creatively, already providing three assists, the joint-highest in Rose's squad alongside Marco Reus.

Donyell Malen replaced Haaland up top against Bielefeld, though failed to get on the scoresheet from two attempts, one of which was a missed opportunity in the eighth minute from what was Dortmund's second-best chance of the game from open play, according to Opta (xG value of 0.232).

Malen arrived from PSV in the close-season, but in nine Bundesliga games, he is yet to find the net, from 11 attempts in total. 

Reus is another option in a central role, though the Dortmund captain is usually at his best deployed as one of the wide attackers in Rose's 3-4-3 or 4-3-3 systems.

The experienced forward leads Dortmund for chances created (16) but has scored just two goals, slightly underperforming his xG (2.26) in his eight Bundesliga appearances so far.

Youssoufa Moukoko could be utilised, however, he has only played 78 minutes across five league matches under Rose. The teenager became the youngest ever Bundesliga player when he made his debut in November last season, before becoming the competition's most junior scorer the next month.

"If you have the ambition and quality, we count on you and give you the chance to develop. With development, there is also performance. That's why it's a great story for Florian but also for us as a club," Simon Rolfes told Stats Perform.

Bayer Leverkusen had money to splash after Chelsea paid a club-record fee to prise German star Kai Havertz from BayArena at the start of 2020-21. His absence was supposed to leave a glaring hole in North Rhine-Westphalia and prompt a frantic search in the transfer market.

But sporting director Rolfes and Leverkusen had other ideas. Rather than use the money recouped in the blockbuster Havertz transfer, Die Werkself opted to look in their own backyard for a replacement – 18-year-old teenage sensation Florian Wirtz.

Leverkusen's faith in youth and their clearly defined philosophy has served them well previously, and they're being rewarded once again by the club's latest wonderkid, who has put Havertz well and truly in the rear-view mirror as Europe's elite queue for his signature.

At home in the number 10 role behind a striker or even as a deep-lying playmaker, Wirtz can do it all on the pitch – as next opponents Bayern Munich may find out on Sunday.

Leverkusen prised Wirtz from Cologne in 2020. Dubbed "the best midfielder to come through the club in 30 years" by local newspaper Kolner Express, Bayern, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Liverpool were all circling after Wirtz captained boyhood team Cologne to Under-17 German Championship glory in 2019, but Leverkusen eventually won the race.

Rolfes had first watched Wirtz at the age of 13. He was immediately mesmerised by the Brauweiler-born sensation, who has firmly established himself in the Leverkusen XI, quickly becoming the new face of Die Werkself.

 

From his junior days, Wirtz has been great at exploiting gaps and creating space in midfield while churning out goalscoring chances with his devastating awareness. Not to mention his defence-splitting passing ability. Five years on and nothing has changed on the international stage.

"Extraordinary player," Rolfes told Stats Perform prior to the international break, after which Leverkusen now prepare to face champions Bayern in a top-of-the-table Bundesliga clash. "I saw him the first time when he was 13 and followed him all the time. Spoke with him before he moved to us, with the parents a lot of times and tried to convince them that it was the right step to come to us and accelerate his development. I and the whole club are very happy that he is with us. That's the interesting thing, I watched him the first time at 13 and he is still playing the same. 14,15, 16, always in that kind of style."

When a player breaks a record held by Havertz at Leverkusen, it is a sign to sit up and take notice.

Wirtz was swiftly thrust into the first team, becoming Leverkusen's youngest-ever debutant at the age of 17 years and 16 days, eclipsing Havertz's record, in last season's 4-1 rout of Werder Bremen in 2019-20. After a handful of appearances in the coronavirus-hit campaign, Wirtz played 29 Bundesliga games, which yielded five goals and as many assists in the post-Havertz era in 2020-21. In February 2021, Wirtz became the first player in the league's history to score five goals before celebrating his 18th birthday.

So, when it comes to comparing Wirtz to Havertz through their first 42 Bundesliga appearances with Leverkusen, how do they stack up against each other?

Wirtz has an equal split between goals and assists (10 each), averaging his 20 goal involvements once every 148 minutes across his top-flight career so far. That's quicker than Havertz managed at the same stage of his Bundesliga career, with his 16 goal involvements in his first 42 apps coming at an average of 165 minutes.

Wirtz also proved a shade more productive in front of goal, with an expected goals per 90 average of 0.16 compared to Havertz's 0.14, but the now-Chelsea forward was able to get more involved in the average game with 65 touches per 90 compared to Wirtz's 58 per 90.

"I wouldn't say they're similar. They're for sure similar in terms of extraordinary qualities and potential for really big careers," Rolfes said. "I would say at the end, Kai plays a little bit more forward and is very good in going deep with a lot of speed. Sometimes it doesn’t look like it because he is so tall but he is incredibly fast. Very direct, fantastic shot with his left foot and a good header. With his height, a very good header of the ball.

"With Florian, I think from a positional sense he is a little bit deeper. More technique in small spaces I would say. Kai likes to use his speed. They are quite different. They unfortunately only played/trained half a year together. It would be nice to have them both together in the squad at the moment because one right foot, one left. They would fit very good together."

With so much attention from a very young age, it is easy for some players to get swept up amid the hype and interest. Not Wirtz.

Wirtz has continued to shatter records and dazzle in the Bundesliga. Against Mainz on matchday six of this season, the Germany international became the youngest player to score 10 goals in Germany’s top-flight, doing so 208 days younger than Lukas Podolski (18 years, 353 days for Cologne in 2004).

No player in the Bundesliga this season has more assists than Wirtz (five) through seven rounds.

With four league goals in just six appearances, he is already only one goal shy of matching last season's haul, despite an expected goals (xG) goal value of 1.0 – no other player has such a large difference between his goals and expected goals.

His nine goal involvements in this season's Bundesliga are only surpassed by Dortmund star Erling Haaland (10), while Wirtz has the best shot conversion rate (36.4 per cent) among all players with at least three goals in 2021-22.

As Wirtz goes from prospect to genuine star, it all comes down to his mindset.

"The attitude is very good. With players and we could see it with Kai Havertz, they know their quality. They are 18 and self-confident because they know about their quality. Special players have that – they can feel that, feel it directly on the pitch. Playing with other good players, they're able to handle it and adapt to the different speed of the game," said Rolfes.

"In that case, they are quite far [developed] and they know there's interest in them because also with 14, 15, 16 it's normal big clubs watched him play. With Florian and Kai, it's quite the same. They always know they’re interesting and extraordinary players."

In all competitions in 2021-22, Wirtz (11) is the only player in Europe's big-five leagues 18 or younger to be involved in seven or more goals, having already found the back of the net twice in the Europa League.

 

Wirtz has been involved in a goal across all competitions every 47 minutes so far this term – at least up until the international break, it was the best rate of all players in Europe's top five leagues with at least 500 minutes, ahead of Haaland (51 mins), Real Madrid's Karim Benzema (52 mins), Bayern talisman Robert Lewandowski (60 mins) and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah (65 mins).

"In the youth teams, the difference in the quality between him and others was much higher. The game in the youth is around them. Now, he also has a big influence on the game, but he has to position himself better to get the ball and use his quality. Players with extraordinary quality have the ability to find the right spaces but in professional teams they have to wait a little bit in their position and then use their quality," former Leverkusen midfielder Rolfes said. "Compared to the youth where they are doing everything."

It's a frightening thought when you remember Wirtz only celebrated his 18th birthday in May and consider how much growth there is to come from Leverkusen’s prized asset.

Despite being so young, Wirtz is already important in Leverkusen's attacking production – he's been involved in 26 open-play attacking sequences in the Bundesliga this season, with only two players at the club involved in more. Of those 26, 12 have come as the creator of the chance, which is more than any Leverkusen team-mate.

"He will improve year by year. Although he already has a high level. His biggest strength and you could see that in all the years in the youth team, is that he gives his best in each game," added Rolfes. "Doesn't matter where he was playing or which team-mates he was playing with. The first team, U19, U13 etc, he was always giving his best. That is a key element in his development that he is able to adapt at higher levels but he has ambition to always improve and you have to improve.

"Sometimes improvement is also a little bit about changing your game. For sure the opponents want to defend him and watch him, so improvement is sometimes changing a little bit. I'm totally convinced he will have a great career because he has the right mindset to develop. If he keeps that, he is 18 and young, it's a really young guy and he has strengthen his personality etc – that’s normal. We all know how we've been at 18 but if he keeps his mindset and development, he will have a fantastic career."

"If you have the ambition and quality, we count on you and give you the chance to develop. With development, there is also performance. That's why it's a great story for Florian but also for us as a club," Simon Rolfes told Stats Perform.

Bayer Leverkusen had money to splash after Chelsea paid a club-record fee to prise German star Kai Havertz from BayArena at the start of 2020-21. His absence was supposed to leave a glaring hole in North Rhine-Westphalia and prompt a frantic search in the transfer market.

But sporting director Rolfes and Leverkusen had other ideas. Rather than use the money recouped in the blockbuster Havertz transfer, Die Werkself opted to look in their own backyard for a replacement – 18-year-old teenage sensation Florian Wirtz.

Leverkusen's faith in youth and their clearly defined philosophy has served them well previously, and they're being rewarded once again by the club's latest wonderkid, who has put Havertz well and truly in the rear-view mirror as Europe's elite queue for his signature.

At home in the number 10 role behind a striker or even as a deep-lying playmaker, Wirtz can do it all on the pitch.

Leverkusen prised Wirtz from Cologne in 2020. Dubbed "the best midfielder to come through the club in 30 years" by local newspaper Kolner Express, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Liverpool were all circling after Wirtz captained boyhood team Cologne to Under-17 German Championship glory in 2019, but Leverkusen eventually won the race.

Rolfes had first watched Wirtz at the age of 13. He was immediately mesmerised by the Brauweiler-born sensation, who has firmly established himself in the Leverkusen XI, quickly becoming the new face of Die Werkself.

 

From his junior days, Wirtz has been great at exploiting gaps and creating space in midfield while churning out goalscoring chances with his devastating awareness. Not to mention his defence-splitting passing ability. Five years on and nothing has changed on the international stage.

"Extraordinary player," Rolfes told Stats Perform. "I saw him the first time when he was 13 and followed him all the time. Spoke with him before he moved to us, with the parents a lot of times and tried to convince them that it was the right step to come to us and accelerate his development. I and the whole club are very happy that he is with us. That's the interesting thing, I watched him the first time at 13 and he is still playing the same. 14,15, 16, always in that kind of style."

When a player breaks a record held by Kai at Leverkusen, it is a sign to stand up and take notice.

Wirtz was swiftly thrust into the first team, becoming Leverkusen's youngest-ever debutant at the age of 17 years and 16 days, eclipsing Havertz's record, in last season's 4-1 rout of Werder Bremen in 2019-20. After a handful of appearances in the coronavirus-hit campaign, Wirtz played 29 Bundesliga games, which yielded five goals and as many assists in the post-Havertz era in 2020-21. In February 2021, Wirtz became the first player in the league's history to score five goals before celebrating his 18th birthday.

So, when it comes to comparing Wirtz to Havertz through their first 42 Bundesliga appearances with Leverkusen, how do they stack up against each other?

Wirtz has an equal split between goals and assists (10 each), averaging his 20 goal involvements once every 148 minutes across his top-flight career so far. That's quicker than Havertz managed at the same stage of his Bundesliga career, with his 16 goal involvements in his first 42 apps coming at an average of 165 minutes.

Wirtz also proved a shade more productive in front of goal, with an expected goals per 90 average of 0.16 compared to Havertz's 0.14, but the now-Chelsea forward was able to get more involved in the average game with 65 touches per 90 compared to Wirtz's 58 per 90.

"I wouldn't say they're similar. They're for sure similar in terms of extraordinary qualities and potential for really big careers," Rolfes said. "I would say at the end, Kai plays a little bit more forward and is very good in going deep with a lot of speed. Sometimes it doesn’t look like it because he is so tall but he is incredibly fast. Very direct, fantastic shot with his left foot and a good header. With his height, a very good header of the ball.

"With Florian, I think from a positional sense he is a little bit deeper. More technique in small spaces I would say. Kai likes to use his speed. They are quite different. They unfortunately only played/trained half a year together. It would be nice to have them both together in the squad at the moment because one right foot, one left. They would fit very good together."

With so much attention from a very young age, it is easy for some players to get swept up amid the hype and interest. Not Wirtz.

Wirtz has continue to shatter records and dazzle in the Bundesliga. Against Mainz on matchday six of this season, the Germany international became the youngest player to score 10 goals in Germany’s top-flight, doing so 208 days younger than Lukas Podolski (18 years, 353 days for Cologne in 2004).

No player in the Bundesliga this season has more assists than Wirtz (five) through seven rounds.

With four league goals in just six appearances, he is already only one goal shy of matching last season's haul, despite an expected goals (xG) goal value of 1.0 – no other player has such a large difference between his goals and expected goals.

His nine goal involvements in this season's Bundesliga are only surpassed by Dortmund star Erling Haaland (10), while Wirtz has the best shot conversion rate (36.4 per cent) among all players with at least three goals in 2021-22.

As Wirtz goes from prospect to genuine star, it all comes down to his mindset.

"The attitude is very good. With players and we could see it with Kai Havertz, they know their quality. They are 18 and self-confident because they know about their quality. Special players have that – they can feel that, feel it directly on the pitch. Playing with other good players, they're able to handle it and adapt to the different speed of the game," said Rolfes.

"In that case, they are quite far [developed] and they know there's interest in them because also with 14, 15, 16 it's normal big clubs watched him play. With Florian and Kai, it's quite the same. They always know they’re interesting and extraordinary players."

In all competitions in 2021-22, Wirtz (11) is the only player in Europe's big-five leagues 18 or younger to be involved in seven or more goals, having already found the back of the net twice in the Europa League.

 

Wirtz has been involved in a goal across all competitions every 47 minutes so far this term – it is the best ratio of minutes per goal involvement of all players in Europe's top-five leagues with at least 500 minutes, ahead of Haaland (51 mins), Real Madrid's Karim Benzema (52 mins), Bayern talisman Robert Lewandowski (60 mins) and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah (65 mins).

"In the youth teams, the difference in the quality between him and others was much higher. The game in the youth is around them. Now, he also has a big influence on the game, but he has to position himself better to get the ball and use his quality. Players with extraordinary quality have the ability to find the right spaces but in professional teams they have to wait a little bit in their position and then use their quality," former Leverkusen midfielder Rolfes said. "Compared to the youth where they are doing everything."

It's a frightening thought when you remember Wirtz only celebrated his 18th birthday in May and how much growth there is to come from Leverkusen’s prized asset.

Despite being so young, Wirtz is already important in Leverkusen's attacking production – he's been involved in 26 open-play attacking sequences in the Bundesliga this season, with only two players at the club involved in more. Of those 26, 12 have come as the creator of the chance, which is more than any Leverkusen team-mate.

"He will improve year by year. Although he already has a high level. His biggest strength and you could see that in all the years in the youth team, is that he gives his best in each game," added Rolfes. "Doesn't matter where he was playing or which team-mates he was playing with. The first team, U19, U13 etc, he was always giving his best. That is a key element in his development that he is able to adapt at higher levels but he has ambition to always improve and you have to improve.

"Sometimes improvement is also a little bit about changing your game. For sure the opponents want to defend him and watch him, so improvement is sometimes changing a little bit. I'm totally convinced he will have a great career because he has the right mindset to develop. If he keeps that, he is 18 and young, it's a really young guy and he has strengthen his personality etc – that’s normal. We all know how we've been at 18 but if he keeps his mindset and development, he will have a fantastic career."

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