Saturday, 14 September 2019

Why Ademola Lookman must prove himself afresh at RasenBallsport Leipzig

This isn't how it was supposed to go for Ademola Lookman.

The talented winger, for so long underused and underappreciated at Goodison Park, was supposed to be enjoying a new lease of life back in the Bundesliga with RasenBallsport Leipzig, the club with whom he enjoyed a very fruitful tryst a season and a half ago.

A six-month loan spell in the latter half of the 2017/18 season saw him produce five goals and four assists in 11 appearances, fuelling excitement that he was set to take on a more expansive role upon his return to Merseyside.

That hope, however, failed to materialize, as Marco Silva found scant use for him last term. With the inconsistent Bernard and the declining Theo Walcott ahead of him in the reckoning, a move away was paramount, especially with Leipzig retaining an interest.

And if previous success with German football's most reviled club wasn't enough to make his mind up, there is a growing contingent of young British talent at the club these days, with Tyler Adams rated very highly, and Chelsea prospect Ethan Ampadu having joined the ranks in the summer.

So far this season, however, there has been little to suggest his lot will change, or even that the goodwill from his previous spell at the club has given him any kind of advantage in the pecking order.

He has been restricted to just 11 minutes, in as a substitute in the victory over Eintracht Frankfurt, and was a spectator even in the cup as Leipzig fielded a surprisingly strong side against second division side VfL Osnabruck.

Perhaps the biggest factor working against him is the personality in the dugout.

Julian Nagelsmann represented a veritable coup for Leipzig when he accepted to join up with the club from Hoffenheim. Though young, he is considered one of the finest coaches working in Europe, takes inspiration from Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger, and has drawn praise and approval from the likes of former Bayern Munich manager Juup Heynckes and current Paris Saint Germain boss Thomas Tuchel.

However, eighteen months ago, it was current Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl in place at the Red Bull Arena.

Both managers have been lauded for their work with young players, but crucially Hasenhuttl had a more set, recognizable system – a very attacking 4-4-2 shape with narrow wingers – whereas Nagelsmann is a bit of a chameleon, capable of switching between systems from game to game, and even within particular matches.

It is easy to see how the former approach, allied to the fact that, by that time, Hasenhuttl had been in charge for a number of years, would be more conducive to immediate impact from a promising but still somewhat raw young player.

By the same token, his current state of inaction need not be terminal. It is worth noting that Ampadu has also not been involved, and that Marcel Sabitzer, the player whom he would theoretically need to supplant, has begun the season is tremendous fashion, scoring twice in the DFB Pokal, and then scoring once and setting up the other three goals in the 4-0 trouncing of Union Berlin on the opening day.

With Leipzig set for a proper tilt at the title this year, but also needing to cope with a potential distraction in the form of European football, there will be chances to impress.

However, with a potentially instructive clash against reigning champions Bayern Munich this weekend, he will likely find himself once again on the fringes, looking in from outside the action.

As he showed on his Everton debut in 2017, he is well capable of making an impression off the bench against a wounded giant reeling from a few blows.

With Bayern's dominance more vulnerable than it's been in a while, and Leipzig ebullient and irresistible under Nagelsmann, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Lookman could be required to apply, not so much a telling blow, but a coup de grace late on when the game stretches.

It is on those terms that he first won over the Leipzig coaching staff the first time around, and the solution to his current lack of involvement may just be that simple: that he needs to prove himself all over again.

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