If reports are to be believed, Christopher Nkunku is already well on the way to becoming a Chelsea player. But his incredible display in RB Leipzig’s 3-1 win at home to Celtic in the Champions League on Wednesday could well bring other suitors to the table. Pacey, versatile and in possession of a deft finish; Nkunku feels like the sort of player Europe’s elite are looking for.
Many were predicting a wide open and attacking game between these two sides and that’s what the first half provided. Chelsea’s past and potential future linked brilliantly early on when Timo Werner linked with Christopher Nkunku before forcing a save. Joe Hart was called into action again when Nkunku fired a Mohamed Simakan cross towards him. Two chances in two-and-a-half minutes for Leipzig.
Celtic posed their own dangers too. Reo Hatate found Matt O’Riley in the box and the midfielder had his powerful strike blocked. But the home side were the most threatening. They looked to have gone ahead when Simakan found the run of Nkunku, who deftly chipped the ball over a rushing Hart. The prospective goalscorer was ruled marginally offside, but the reasons Chelsea are pursuing his signature were all too clear.
A whipped Daizen Maida cross was headed on by Kyogo Furuhashi before an excellent save from Peter Gulasci. Callum McGregor found Greg Taylor in the penalty area but Gulasci came to the rescue again. Kyogo saw a shot deflected wide as Celtic enjoyed their best period of the game.
Just when it looked like the Scottish champions were taking a measure of control, Nkunku struck. A brilliant back-to-front counterattack saw Simakan once again find his forward, and this time Nkunku evaded the offside trap to slam home.
The first half bizarrely saw both captains go off injured. Gulasci was replaced first, making way for Janis Blaswich. Then McGregor could no longer continue, ceding his place to Oliver Abilgaard. A strange postscript to a breathless 45 minutes.
The first half started fast, the second started faster. Hatate picked out Kyogo with a smooth through ball. The striker looked up and saw Jota running in from wide. The Japan international slotted the ball to his teammate who finished brilliantly. Under two minutes into the second period and Celtic were back in the game.
Leipzig were far from finished though. Nkunku slid a pass through to Dominik Szoboszlai, who rattled the post with a powerful shot. There were also home appeals for a penalty when a Werner cross ricocheted off Taylor’s boot and onto his hand. The handball was not given and rightfully so considering the speed of the trajectory and the fact Taylor’s arm was not in an irregular position.
Having got his eye in with the previous chance, Szoboszlai chopped inside Abildgaard and fired a right-footed drive past Hart from outside the box. It was a superb finish that the former Manchester City goalkeeper never looked like getting near. However, the VAR official declared the reason for that being Andre Silva being in Hart’s eyeline while in an offside position. It felt harsh but the goal was chalked off.
It must have felt like pure catharsis for Silva when Hart botched a goal kick and he was in position to slide the ball past the Celtic goalkeeper. There was just 37 seconds between the Szoboszlai goal being disallowed and the Silva strike being scored. A sickener for Celtic.
Silva poured on the misery with a quarter of an hour remaining. Nkunku switched to Simakan who cushioned it for the striker. Silva took a touch and fired it past Hart to put the result almost beyond doubt.
Leipzig were good value for their win, but the limelight will shine brightest on Nkunku. If he does move to Stamford Bridge next season, he looks to have all the tools needed to thrive. It has been a while since Chelsea had an attacking talent of his ilk. But for now he resides with Leipzig, and it looks like he has more work to do in their white strip yet.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change