Team analysis:RB Leipzig

imagesExtremely good performance from an underdog team in the world’s strongest football leagues isn’t uncommon, just remember Leicester City’s Premier League title from last season. Something similar seems to be going on this year in Germany, where RB Leipzig is waiting for the spring at the 2nd place of the Bundesliga.

Rb Leipzig has to face adverse opinions from the German public, as they question whether the club could have become successful without Red Bull’s financial backing.While the influence of the energy drink giant is obvious,  people might forget the unique football philosophy of Leipzig (and also Salzburg) which has brought them numerous victories.

This philosophy was introduced by Ralf Rangnick in 2012, when he became the sports director of RBL. He started his coaching career in the ’80s and he was disappointed in the conservative tactical approach in Germany. His new philosophy contains extraordinary elements during each phase of the game.

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Interpretation of  Long build-up

One of the most interesting aspects of RB Leipzig’s philosophy is their build-up with long balls. Looking for a target man during the attack is often associated with English lower-league-teams and it’s considered outdated and ineffective. Leipzig showed that it might be a working concept with a proper organization.

Hungarian goalkeeper, Péter Gulácsi hits long balls with a high amount of efficiency towards Yussuf Poulsen. The Dane has a great ability of holding the balls and preparing some god lay-off combinations. It definitely requires a longer team structure and a quick, well coordinated team-movement until the ball is knocked in the air. Leipzig benefits from these lay-offs, quickly exploiting the half-spaces. They show a high level of athleticism and coordination of team movements.

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A similar approach might be observed during offensive transitions. Poulsen (and sometimes also Werner) has a good ability fastening the transition pushing the ball quickly to their teammates after a backwards pass. They have showed some great combinations through the half-space.

During counter-attacks, keeping the ball in the half-space is reasonable in order to take advantage of dynamical superiority and being laterally not too far from the opponent’s goal. This is what RB Leipzig knows well and they can break through quickly manipulating the ball between half-spaces. Quick diagonal balls to the attacking midfielders are advantageous, but CFs drifting wide is a more interesting  pattern, Poulsen and Werner often aims their near-sided half-space with a quick(often curved) run thanks to their speed. During these situations their original positions are exploited generally by an attacking midfielder. In summary, they are able to execute this kind of movements with a great synergy even at a high speed which is the key reason of their effective transitions.

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Gegenpressing is the best playmaker

Perhaps the most characteristic phase of RB Leipzig’s style is their counterpress immediately when the ball is lost. This is why they take an extremely high risk during the attack. Their structure is always ready for counterpress, which requires a high level of concentration and physical condition. They use the same variant of counterpressing than Jurgen Klopp has used in his Dortmund side;it’s called space-oriented counterpressing which concentrates to occupy all of the space around the ball-carrier then press him. They are able to do this throughout the 90 minutes, and  so far the opponents had lacked ideas against this physical superiority.

The other interesting aspect concerning RBL’s spacing in defense is the approach during situations when the ball is in the air. They take advantage from every single second in order to tighten the opponent’s space and be ready to win aerial duels. Out of question, they are one of the best gegenpressing teams in the world, they maintain the ability to do this concept with a consistently high intensity.

Leipzig Gegenpressing from Kristóf Bakos on Vimeo.

An Unorthodox Defensive System

RB Leipzig  has an extraordinary system in defense as well. Their formation stays 4-2-2-2.,which  hasn’t become popular except in Germany, and opponents are struggling against this system as it has some special characteristics.

RB Leipzig uses a passive type of pressing in the opponent’s half, not applying a huge amount of pressure for the ball-carrying centre-backs. When the full-back gets the ball, the ball-sided attacking midfielder steps up in a space-oriented way, momentarily creating  a 4-3-3ish shape and forcing the opponent towards the touchline. In wider (and also, deeper) zones, they have a really aggressive defensive approach: FB,DM and AM also press the ball.

4-2-2-2 is a variant of 4-4-2 which provides greater local compactness. As it is not always required to have 6 players in the horizontal zone of the ball, it provides great flexibility, which might be capitalized in wider zones. During these situations, the far-sided attacking midfielder takes a wider position, not allowing to the opponent to switch to the far-side, forcing their play backwards.

Occasionally, especially against teams with  a weaker ball- playing ability, they  showed a more aggressive type of pressing. One of the CFs steps up to press the ball-carrier centre-back, temporarily creating a 4-2-3-1.

As their defensive system gives them a high amount of flexibility, several teams has struggled with it in possession.

What about short build-ups?

As mentioned above, RB Leipzig’s most commonly used way to build-up the attacks is long balls towards their target man. This is why they have been struggling for a long time when they should have built up the play from the back. However, against Hertha, RBL showed good performance even during this phase of the game.

RBL’s offensive model isn’t a classic way of positional play- it tends to open up vertical passing lanes as soon as possible and breaking through the strong-sided half-space.

Leipzig uses both fullbacks to step higher up and stretch the opponent’s midfield line. In this point,the role of double pivot also has to be explained. One of the DMs always give a support to the backs. He does a supportive dropping movement whilst the other one steps higher up or takes a wider position. These movements might have two essentials:

A) opening up central passing lane

B) providing passing option in the strong side

In this point,the role of double pivot also has to be explained. One of the DMs always give a support to the backs. He does a supportive dropping movement whilst the other one takes a wider position

.When building up the attack with short passes, attacking midfielders maintain their high position in order to stretch the defense vertically. One of the CFs may do dropping movements, providing a vertical option, but the most frequent aim of vertical passes is an attacking midfielder.

It’s an interesting philosophy of build-up as it doesn’t concentrate to superiority but to stretch the pitch both in depth and width as much as possible.

Breaking through the defense

Concerning the play in the final third, there are two possible solutions:

A) FB’s overlaping run after a vertical pass received by the attacking midfielder B)combinations with underlapping runs on the strong side

RBL shows strong occupation of the strong-sides half-space  and quick positional interchanges, which helps them to get the ball into the box with a flat cross. Among the defensive midfielders, Naby Keita has a more advanced role than Diego Demme. He has a flexible positioning, he is often looking for one-two combinations and also strong in 1v1s. Collectively, he is perhaps the most important member of the team.

Conclusion

Leipzig’s style requires a very high level of physical condition, which cannot be maintained during a whole season. Against Bayern, they have showed, some problems in the coordination and compactness of their pressing movements which might be related with their fatigue.

Although their 4-2-2-2 defensive formation became really effective, thanks to their special properties, it’s not impossible to break through as each defensive formation is harmable during ball-oriented shifts(as it lose its coordination for more or less time) with a proper ball circulation and well-timed vertical passes it might be broke through.

In my opinion,RB Leipzig is one of the most interesting projects in today’s football which would deserve even a good international performance as worldwide football always needs tactical innovations.

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