Tactical analysis Borussia Mönchengladbach RB Leipzig 1-3 Bundesliga

Borussia Mönchengladbach – RasenBallsport Leipzig: Werner Bags Hat-trick In A Game Decided By Transitions (1-3)

Both teams were proactive both in and out of possession, making for an entertaining game. Gladbach showed plenty of promising moments throughout, but Leipzig’s compact pressing and creation of overloads around the ball in possession were difficult to deal with. The decisive moments came in transition for Leipzig though, aided by the lightening quick Timo Werner. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.

The third Bundesliga matchday of the season presented an interesting Friday night fixture as two of Europe’s most promising and forward thinking coaches faced each other. In one dugout, there was Marco Rose, the former Red Bull Salzburg coach, now in charge at Borussia Mönchengladbach. In the other, there was Julian Nagelsmann who is already becoming widely acknowledged as a top coaching talent after his impressive work at Hoffenheim led him to a move to RB Leipzig. 

Gladbach were looking for consecutive wins after last week’s victory away at Mainz, which followed an opening day draw against Schalke ‘04. For this game, coach Marco Rose switched away from his regularly used 4-3-1-2 formation in favour of a 4-2-3-1 shape. There was just one personnel change from the previous game as László Bénes dropped to the bench to be replaced by summer arrival Breel Embolo. Embolo started at the number ten position in Gladbach’s 4-2-3-1 shape, flanked by Fabian Johnson on the right and Marcus Thuram on the left, with Alassane Pléa leading the line as striker. 

Leipzig had the opportunity to make it three wins on the bounce under their new manager after victories against Union Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt already this season. Nagelsmann also strayed away from his usually favoured three-at-the-back formation and instead went with a 4-2-2-2 formation, a system which Leipzig are renowned for using in recent years. Emil Forsberg and Marcel Sabitzer started in the attacking midfield roles behind a front pairing of Youssuf Poulsen and Timo Werner. 

Gladbach’s base structure in possession

Gladbach’s base structure in possession. 

Gladbach with promising glimpses against tough Leipzig pressure

As one would expect from Leipzig, they looked to establish themselves in the match first and foremost through a strong pressing game. They set up in their 4-2-2-2 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. from there looking to jump into higher pressing with the appropriate triggers A pressing trigger is a specific pass or movement by the opponent that draws out a coordinated team press. wherever possible. 

The focus of Sabitzer and Forsberg was very narrow. They played often quite close to the two strikers, often nearly on the same line, and maintained tight horizontal distances with Werner and Poulsen to make it hard for Gladbach to progress through the halfspaces. 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.

Gladbach built up with the center-backs split wide and with relatively reserved starting positions for the fullbacks. With the narrow stance of Leipzig’s midfield, the fullbacks of Gladbach were usually the ones with space as they tried to progress the ball, often trying to thread the ball through Leipzig pressing traps A pressing trap is a predefined plan to leave a particular player or zone open, to invite a specific pass. Upon a pass to that player or into that zone, a rapid coordinated team press on that player or zone is exerted. in wide areas to try and find routes back inside. 

Gladbach attacked in a 4-2-3-1 shape with the wingers being able to drift inside on the occasions where the fullbacks pushed up. However they also found themselves more and more often forming 4-3-3 structures in possession. This usually happened earlier in buildup when the fullbacks were still in deeper areas. Florian Neuhaus would shift into a central number six position, while Denis Zakaria pushed up slightly to his left. Embolo would then drop from the number ten position to fill the other central midfield slot on the same line as Zakaria. 

Gladbach’s better moments in terms of breaking through the Leipzig press usually came from good individual moments of dribbling or holdup play from the likes of Embolo or Thuram after receiving the ball to feet. In general though, they found it difficult to consistently make breakthroughs, especially as the match went on and Leipzig seemed to improve over time. 

Leipzig's base structure in possession

Leipzig’s base structure in possession. 

Leipzig’s overloads in possession

Gladbach also attempted to press high. Like Leipzig, Gladbach also often left the opposition fullbacks free in their pressing, as the wingers in their 4-2-3-1 would often run through to their nearest center-back. This meant that the responsibility to pressure the Leipzig fullbacks fell to Glabach’s own fullbacks, which gave Stefan Lainer and Oscar Wendt a lot of ground to cover. 

It was when Gladbach fell into slightly deeper defending that Leipzig started to have more success. The presence of Sabitzer and Forsberg between the lines was a problem Gladbach struggled to deal with at times, as Poulsen and Werner created more room for their attacking midfielders by moving into the channels and pinning defenders.  

Leipzig consistently created overloads When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. on the side of the pitch that the ball was on, again aided by the movements of their attacking midfielders Sabitzer and Forsberg. As a result they always seemed to have an extra free player behind lines of Gladbach’s pressure and could also counterpress 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. strongly with many players in close proximity to the ball when it was lost. 

This was demonstrated very well in the buildup to Leipzig’s first goal shortly before half-time. As a line breaking pass towards Werner was intercepted in Gladbach’s half, Leipzig already had a strong presence near the ball to counterpress and win it back quickly. Once they did that, there was a quick combination between Werner and Forsberg, culminating in Forsberg playing a delightful pass to Werner running in behind the defense to make it 1-0. 

Leipzig pounce on Gladbach mistakes to secure result

Straight after half-time, Leipzig and Werner found their second goal. It was again a classic Leipzig goal, as they robbed the ball from Gladbach just inside the Leipzig half, before quickly springing into attack as Poulsen set up Werner with a lay-off. The German striker beat the Gladbach defense with sheer pace and slotted his second goal past the Gladbach goalkeeper. 

Leipzig could now defend slightly deeper in their own half and revert more into a flatter 4-4-2 rather than the aggressive 4-2-2-2 seen earlier, as they had a two-goal lead and Gladbach needed to chase the game. Leipzig nevertheless continued to look strong in all phases and created more chances to score. 

Gladbach decided to switch things up after the hour mark, changing to a 4-3-1-2 formation seen previously from Rose’s side. Thuram was replaced by Bénes who played as the number ten while Johson and Zakaria played either side of Neuhaus in the midfield line. Later, Raffael would come on in place of Johnson to occupy the number ten role and move Bénes to right central midfield.  

The switch to a diamond did not seem to have a massive effect though, as Leipzig’s pressing was still compact, meaning Gladbach could rarely break through and were still restricted to playing out through their fullbacks for most of the time. The few decent situations Gladbach created came when they were able to find an overlapping fullback after the Leipzig fullbacks were being pulled narrow by the positioning of the Gladbach forwards, which happened on occasion both before and after switching to the 4-3-1-2 system. 

When Gladbach finally got their goal it was from a set-piece, as Bénes’ free kick delivery found Embolo in the box who headed home from close range in injury time. However minutes later, Werner completed his hat-trick at the other end after a poor headed clearance from Matthias Ginter set him through on goal, making the final scoreline 3-1.


Gladbach were pretty much second best in this game, but that was more to do with the quality Leipzig showed on the day. Gladbach are clearly a well-coached team and showed some promising possession phases at various points in the game. They have talented players too, for example Embolo who was particularly lively as an attacking presence in this game. 

Leipzig performed quite strong overall and showed a ruthless side to pounce on Gladbach’s errors to get their decisive goals thanks to their difference-maker up front Timo Werner. Their intensity in all phases of the game should make them a threat to any opposition in the Bundesliga, including potentially Dortmund and Bayern, as they have already demonstrated in recent seasons. 

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Josh Manley (21) is a student and aspiring coach. Heavily interested in tactics and strategy in football. Watching teams from all top European leagues, but especially Manchester United and Barcelona. [ View all posts ]


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