"This was a crucial win at a crucial time," said Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann, whose team claimed its first win since beating Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga on Sept. 21. Leipzig was back then at top of the league after five matches. But since then, the team lost at home to Schalke and Lyon, drew at Bayer Leverkusen, and then allowed Wolfsburg to come back for a 1-1 draw last Saturday.
"It feels like a defeat," Leipzig chairman Oliver Mintzlaff had said of the last disappointment, when he criticized the team for not living up to expectations. "Not only could we have won points, but we could have boosted our self confidence. It annoys me, it was totally unnecessary," Mintzlaff said. "We have a coach, a brilliant coach. He will draw the right conclusions and speak with the team."
Nagelsmann made four changes to his team for the match against Zenit, dropping Marcelo Saracchi, Yussuf Poulsen, Christopher Nkunku and Diego Demme for Nordi Mukiele, Kevin Kampl, Ademola Lookman and Emil Forsberg, who was celebrating his 28th birthday. It was Lookman's first start of the season.
Despite an early setback when Yaroslav Rakitskiy put the Russian visitors ahead, Leipzig managed to turn the game around with Marcel Sabitzer setting up the equalizer and then scoring a sublime goal for the win.
"We stayed calm despite falling behind and were rewarded in the end," Nagelsmann said. "We did well against the high balls from Zenit, which are not so easy to defend against. If we win in St. Petersburg in two weeks, we'll be in a very good position for the rest of the group phase."
Leipzig also has ambitions of challenging for the Bundesliga title in Nagelsmann's first season in charge following his switch from Hoffenheim. The team was boosted by the arrivals of Nkunku from Paris Saint-Germain, Czech forward Patrik Schick from Roma, Brazilian defender Luan Candido from Palmeiras, and goalkeeper Philipp Tschauner from Hannover.
Lookman's loan move from Everton was made permanent, while British prospects Ethan Ampadu and Emile Smith-Rowe joined on loan from Chelsea and Arsenal, respectively. Perhaps the biggest transfer coups were in convincing Forsberg and Germany forward Timo Werner to stay despite attention from other clubs.
The team had started the season well but injuries and also some bad luck have taken their toll. Fortunately for Leipzig, rivals have also been struggling - Bayern Munich hasn't won either of its last two Bundesliga games - and Nagelsmann's team is just one point behind leading clubs Borussia Mönchengladbach and Wolfsburg.
Leipzig next plays at Freiburg on Saturday.
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