Tactical analysis Bayer Leverkusen Rasenballsport Leipzig 1-1 Bundesliga

Bayer Leverkusen – RasenBallsport Leipzig: Interesting Clash Of Styles Turns Into Surprisingly Balanced Affair (1-1)

A game that was always going to be decided during moments of transition, Leverkusen and Leipzig battled out a game of two halves.  

Tactical analysis and match report by Erik Elias.

You may have read it earlier in our pieces on Leipzig; our model values them to finish second in the Bundesliga this season. It’s early, and it does not look like a proper title challenge will be on the cards just yet, but Dortmund should be seriously worried about defending their second place. This goes to show you just how far good tactics, good recruitment and good player development can get you. That, and a worldwide network of feeder clubs and a lot of energy drink money. 

Whereas Bayern, Leipzig and Dortmund will most likely finishing first, second and third, the fight for fourth place is more open. As has been common in the Bundesliga in the past few seasons, there will probably be a big pack of clubs – Hoffenheim, Wolfsburg, Leverkusen, Schalke, Frankfurt, Gladbach – that compete in a season-long jostle for European tickets, the most coveted being that direct Champions League ticket that comes with finishing fourth. As Leverkusen finished fourth last season and have started the season well, they seem to be front-runners for now. 

Leverkusen manager Peter Bosz has relied on his peculiar asymmetric 3-2-4-1 formation recently, with Charles Aránguiz and Julian Baumgartlinger screening the defense. In this match, Kai Havertz and Nadiem Amiri played as the two number tens, Karim Bellarabi was fielded on the left and Mitchell Weiser on the right, meaning striker Kevin Volland had four offensive players in support. 

After toying with three at the back in the first weeks of the season, Julian Nagelsmann has settled for a 4-4-2 shape in recent weeks. In the past, that would have probably meant the vintage Leipzig 4-2-2-2 outfit, yet Nagelsmann has used different variations of the 4-4-2 formation since coming to Leipzig, including a diamond and a more flat, traditional 4-4-2. The only truly anomaly in the starting lineup was Brazilian striker Matheus Cunha, as Yussuf Poulsen was rested.

Leipzig appear in 4-2-3-1 formation

The game started as expected: Leverkusen had the ball and Leipzig tried to contain them in a medium block. A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. Instead of the expected 4-2-2-2 formation, Timo Werner actually dropped back a bit more, as Leipzig attempted to hold Leverkusen back in 4-2-3-1 formation. 

Leipzig’s 4-2-3-1 formation against Leverkusen’s asymmetric 3-2-4-1 shape.

Leipzig’s 4-2-3-1 formation against Leverkusen’s asymmetric 3-2-4-1 shape.

Sabitzer, Werner and Forsberg would make use of their cover shadow When a player is positioning himself between the opponent that has possession of the ball and another opponent, he is blocking the passing lane. When applied the right way, his ‘shadow’ is effectively taking the opponent in his back out of the game, because the pass can not be played. to prevent forward passing. Whenever Aránguiz or Julian Baumgartlinger were played in, Demme and Lainer would step out and press. In general, Leipzig’s five central players simply outnumbered Leverkusen’s box midfield in the middle of the park.

Leverkusen’s 3-2-4-1 naturally tilts towards the right side of the field anyway, as Mitchell Weiser – the right back – acts less high on the field than winger Bellarabi on the other side. Therefore, the pass from Tah to Weiser was both a natural and logical consequence of both team’s formations and what Leipzig wanted to achieve. 

Whenever Weiser would be played in, either Forsberg or Halstenberg would be on his tail and prevent him from playing forward. Altogether, there was very little meaningful buildup play from Leverkusen, which is also reflected in their passmap. 

Between the fifteenth and the thirtieth minute, Leverkusen enjoyed their best spell of the first half, and managed to create some half-decent shots, most of the times by quickly switching the ball from one side to the other, make use of the extra yards of space that created and play quick, vertical football, often led by Havertz. 

However, this being a game between a club managed by Peter ‘counterpressing’ After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. Bosz and the biggest component of the Red Bull football family, we could have predicted beforehand that this match would be all about controlling moments of transition. 

Leipzig living off balls over the top

In the entire first half, Cunha, Werner and Werner again went one-on-one versus Leverkusen goalkeeper Hrádecký, who saved all three attempts. There was also a curious attempt from twenty yards out from Cunha, who instead of squaring the ball to Werner, tried to lob Hrádecký and hit the bar.

All of these chances were manufactured by Leverkusen playing a high line with a relatively slow defender like Sven Bender, yet being unable to apply pressure on the ball at all times, especially in moments of transition. Leipzig are experts at exploiting situations like this. Nagelsmann’s team created multiple chances by positioning Cunha and Werner against Tah and Bender in counterattacking moments, taking left defender Sinkgraven out of the equation and creating a two-versus-two situation. Some good chipped balls over the top did the rest. 

The fact that this match was still goalless at half-time was only down to Leipzig’s finishing, and a couple of bad decisions by Cunha when deciding on the final pass. The possession numbers once again perfectly reflect that in the modern era of pressing football, possession says very little, as Leverkusen had almost 65 percent in the first half, yet were the second best team on the pitch. 

Second half is less fun, but contains more goals 

The second half as a whole contained significantly less goalmouth action, as sixteen of the game’s 21 shots took place in the first half. The pattern of the game repeated itself, but now, Leipzig were a lot less precise with their balls over the top, while Leverkusen were a bit more successful with their long possession spells, has Havertz and Amiri started to drop deeper, perhaps in an attempt to draw out Leipzig’s holding midfielders. 

In the 65th minute, with their best attack of the game, Leverkusen took the lead. Even though it started out as what seemed like the umpteenth repeated passage of play – Leverkusen playing out from the back in a 3-2-4-1 formation against Leipzig’s 4-2-3-1 / 4-4-2 shape – this time, Aránguiz made the difference. After playing the ball deep, he took a gigantic sprint into the right halfspace, If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. in the gap between Leipzig’s left back and left central defender. Bellarabi fed him perfectly, square pass, tap-in Volland, 1-0 to Leverkusen. Finally, a goal!

Now, Leipzig had to come forward, and they did. Now playing with a striker duo of Poulsen and Schick – both Werner and Cunha were substituted – they started to press higher up the pitch, win more balls and attempted to keep the ball on Leipzig’s half of play. 

In the 77th minute, they would score the equalizer. A vintage ‘does not matter if I complete this pass because we are Leipzig and we counterpress’ pass by Upamecano into the general direction of the strikers was picked up by Laimer, and after two quick passes, the ball was on the wings with Halstenberg.

The young German fullback immediately put the ball in the box, where substitute Christopher Nkunku picked it up with a positive first touch, flicked it over the onrushing defender and calmly finished for the equalizing goal. Great piece of skill and a great example of the finishing pixie at work, as sixteen shots in the first half resulted in zero goals, and five shots in the second half resulted in two goals. 

Oddly enough, Nkunku’s goal would turn out to be Leipzig’s last shot of the match, as they were not able to push through. Instead, Leverkusen looked for the winner, and pushed Leipzig back in their 4-4-1-1 formation, which was very odd considering both team’s ambitions for this season. 

In the 93rd minute, Leverkusen got their only breakthrough of the second half, as Havertz produced one of his Özil-esque moments of magic to put Volland one-on-one with Gulácsi. The veteran Hungarian goalie prevented a moment of true drama, as he kept out Volland’s not particularly well-struck finish. 1-1 after 95 minutes of uptempo Bundesliga football.


This was one of those stylistic matchups that favor one team, because of a certain style of play. The fact that Leverkusen’s forte – pressing and counterpressing – was heavily negated by Leipzig’s direct style of play makes this draw look even worse. On paper, this Leverkusen side were the ideal opponent for Leipzig, as a stubborn Dutch ideologue insisting on a high line without top quality defenders offered them chance after chance to take the lead, which they failed to do. 

However, if all managers with lesser squads than the opponent would automatically retreat and form a deep defensive block, A defensive block is the compact group of defenders that defends a particular zone, either their own half in a medium defensive block, or the zone around their own box in a deep defensive block. the game of football would be a lot more boring. Therefore, we should salute managers like Bosz, even though the premise that his style of play always yields fun matches does not hold true against a well-drilled medium block team like Leipzig. 

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Erik Elias (29) is co-founder of Between The Posts. Dutch, so admires Johan Cruijff and his football principles, but enjoys other styles as well. [ View all posts ]


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