Rangers and the lasting RB Leipzig impression as club hero guarantees the one thing that won’t happen this time

RB Leipzig were halfway to Champions League heaven the last time they faced a Rangers side who were themselves halfway to a campaign that ended in hell.

But one thing was clear during that mid-season friendly on a sub-zero Sunday afternoon in Saxony five years ago – the gulf between the two was huge.

There are many similarities between the two clubs who were both in the fourth tier of their respective senior set-ups a decade ago.

However, at the halfway point of a 10-year long journey that will see them meet in the Europa League final on Thursday there was a real contrast.

The Bundesliga club were very much on the up in January 2017 while Rangers had plenty of turbulence on the horizon before getting their act together.

Mark Warburton was in the dug-out for that 4-0 drubbing but was out the door a month later and eventually replaced by the disastrous Pedro Caixinha.

Rangers still returned to Europe following a six-year absence the following season only for end in an embarrassing defeat to Progres Niederkorn.

RB Leipzig v Ranger FC – Friendly match at the Red Bull Arena Leipzig Germany. Philippe Senderos and Dominik Kaiser (captain)

RB Leipzig, though, made their debut in continental competition, finishing third in their Champions League group and going on to reach the quarter finals of the Europa League where they lost to Marseille.

But the Ibrox side have made huge strides since that day when a Timo Werner strike, goal from Scotland man Oliver Burke and double for Yussuf Poulsen – who scored in the weekend defeat to Union Berlin – made for a comfortable afternoon.

Midfielder Dominik Kaiser, now at Hannover in Bundesliga 2, was at Leipzig at the time and knows it won’t be so easy this time around.

The 33-year-old was part of Leipzig’s journey from public parks to football’s promised land and can’t wait for the last four clash.

He told Record Sport : “I know the story of Rangers because in Germany it was in the newspapers that they had gone to the bottom league.

“They are a huge club with a rich history and in Germany we recognized that it was a huge story and it’s great to see they are strong again.

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“I remember playing against them in the 2017 January friendly. It was freezing cold, the conditions were awful.

“We won 4-0 but I can promise you it won’t be the same scoreline this time! That is a measure of how far Rangers have come. It will be much closer.

“I still have images in my head of the Rangers supporters. They took almost 10,000 and they were all in the city before the match.

“Oliver Burke scored in the game and it was a special occasion for a friendly but this is a very different stage.

“When I consider where Rangers were back then and that they hadn’t been in Europe for six years then it’s amazing progress in such a short space of time.

“But listen, RB Leipzig were in the lower leagues 10 years ago and Europe was just a dream but they are in a semi final.

“I know all about RB’s journey because I was there in 2012 in the fourth division playing for them in public parks with no fans and I went all the way to the Champions League.

“You wouldn’t even know the names of the teams we played against – it was really small stadiums and it didn’t feel like professional football.

“And a few years later we were playing against Bayern and Dortmund so it was very special.

“We went from the fourth league and in 2016 made it to the Bundesliga where RB Leipzig have been ever since.

“Can I believe it? Yes – because I was part of it. Ralf Rangnick was one of my most important mentors and coaches.

“He showed me the plan before I signed my contract and mapped out the future. He told me it was possible but maybe it’s been faster than everyone believed.

“But there was a plan and they have done it in a good way and are one of the top teams in Germany.

“I remember lining up against Besiktas for the first time in the Champions League and thinking ‘wow’.

“It was the club’s first season in Europe in their history. It was so far away from where we had started.

“My initial plan was to get them to the Bundesliga but to finish second in the top league was very special.”

Despite being in a different division, Kaiser came up against his old club this season in the German Cup quarter finals where he lost to Leipzig.

RB defeated Union Berlin last week to reach the final with Christoper Nkunku the key man in both games – as he was against Atalanta to secure their place in the Europa League last four.

Kaiser said: “I played with a lot of guys who are still there and they are friends so I have a connection and I had six successful years.

“I follow them but I can’t say I’m a fan because I play for Hannover! It makes it tricky as we played them in the cup quarter final recently and I can’t show emotion.

“Christoper Nkunku scored twice against us and decided the game so he’s on a very high level as is Dani Olmo.

“They have a lot of good players, good stability in defense and a very good coach.

“I have always taken an interest in Scottish football and particularly when Marvin Compper went to Celtic as I played with him in Hoffenheim and at RB Leipzig.

“The semi final is really exciting especially as both clubs have phenomenal fans and the atmosphere in a European semi final will be incredible.

“For me, RB Leipzig are marginal favorites but it’s a semi final and it will be a tough match for both teams but Leipzig are playing on a constantly high level just now.

“I’m really looking forward to watching the game on – on the TV for me! I would love to be inside the stadium. “


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