Hertha Berlin – RasenBallsport Leipzig: Hertha Tried To Stem The Tide But Leipzig’s Offense Proved Too Much (2-4)
Hertha Berlin were able to suppress the RB Leipzig attack for much of the match, but down a goal with ten minutes remaining, the home side had no option but to loosen their defensive grip. At this point Leipzig’s potent offense kicked into gear and ran up the score.
Tactical analysis and match report by K.T. Stockwell.
A well publicized, first ever, Budesliga loss to their bitter, cross-town rivals, Union Berlin, had Hertha Berlin stewing for a week. That embarrassment, combined with six losses already this season, as well as owning one of the league’s leakiest defenses, has made for an underwhelming start to the campaign.
This sluggish start may have factored into manager Ante Čović’s decision to switch from his standard 4-2-3-1 formation to a 3-4-3 shape. The move to go to three at the back meant Karim Rekik got the start alongside Dedryk Boyata and Niklas Stark, while fullbacks Maximillian Mittelstädt and Lukas Klünter were asked to moonlight as wing-backs. At the heart of midfield, Čović selected Vladamír Darida and Eduard Löwen. Meanwhile, the front three saw Marius Wolf and Javairô Dilrosun flank center forward, Dodi Lukébakio.
Conversely, RasenBallsport Leipzig started the season in electric form – winning their first three matches and claiming first place in the Bundesliga. Unfortunately, a string of four matches without a victory was enough to drag them back into a competitive field at the top of the division.
Manager, Julian Nagelsmann settled on a 4-2-2-2 formation with only two changes from the side that had faced off against Zenit St. Petersburg in the Champions League mid-week. Stefan Ilsanker re-entered the starting eleven to play alongside Dayot Upamecano – pushing Lukas Klostermann to left back, where he paired with Nordi Mukiele on the right. The holding midfield duo of Diego Demme and Konrad Laimer kept their places behind Emil Forsberg and Marcel Sabitzer. Up front the attacking tandem of Timo Werner and Yussuf Poulsen were preferred.
Hertha attempt to slow the Leipzig attack
To start the match Hertha looked to establish a concrete 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. that gave way to a low-back, which featured a back-five in a 5-3-2 formation. The main objective of Čović’s side was to slow down the rapid Leipzig attack and to limit their quick chances in transition. To ensure his side were not bypassed easily, Hertha refused to engage in an aggressive high press – playing their front three deeper in midfield.
Leipzig attempted to out-manoeuvre Hertha’s defensive stance with their 2-4-2-2 buildup, in which the fullbacks held wide positions and stretched out the opposition’s front three. This proved ineffective, as Hertha were happy to drop their wing-backs deeper and invite Leipzig to play into their low block A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. – once again limiting their ability to quickly stretch the field.
The Leipzig buildup and the Hertha medium block.
This approach proved frustrating for Leipzig, who struggled mightily to find a way through the Hertha defense and frequently ceded possession in midfield. What is more, when they were able to establish control in the final third, The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. the compact nature of the Hertha defense made them very difficult to break down.
To combat this, Nagelsmann had his fullbacks hold extremely high positions and work in concert with the midfielders to try and create overloads When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. and in turn combinations that could get them to the edge of the area. However, when this failed to pay dividends, Leipzig seemed content to attempt near-post crosses in the hopes of catching out the Hertha defense.
At the same time, Leipzig seemed committed to hitting long balls from their defensive line to Timo Werner on the left flank. Several of the balls were unsuccessful, but in the process they alerted the Hertha defense to their willingness to employ the tactic and in so doing were able to slightly stretch the field – opening up more space in the center of the park.
Nevertheless, the by-product of Leipzig’s fullback positioning was exposure on the counter. On the occasion that Hertha were able to turn the ball over in the middle of the park they quickly hit long balls to an isolated Lukébakio, who occupied the space behind Klostermann on the right flank. Early in the match this tactic proved fruitful for the hosts. So much so, that it was a simple ball over the top to the Belgian that created the counterattack , which would ultimately lead to their first goal – a lovely strike from the top of the area delivered by Mittelstädt.
Leipzig offensive set and Hertha’s low block.
Unfortunately for the hosts, the celebration did not last long, as a quick Leipzig move up the right flank ended with Mukiele putting a cross off the arm of Rekik. The result was a penalty and just six minutes later, Werner brought the match back level.
It was after Werner’s goal that Leipzig were able to establish themselves in transition. To start the fixture, Hertha rarely attempted to progress the ball through midfield, but near the end of the second half they grew more confident and tried to work the ball through the visitor’s 4-4-2 defensive shape. This proved to be a grave misstep, as when Leipzig were able to strip the ball in midfield they quickly pushed numbers forward and could play at their preferred breakneck pace.
In the forty-sixth minute, Leipzig recovered the ball in the center of the park and began to rush forward – Poulsen playing a progressive pass into the feet of Forsberg, who acted as a bumper along Hertha’s backline. The Swedish international returned the ball to the onrushing Poulsen, who laid it off to Sabitzer and after his strike took a wicked deflection, the guests were up 1-2 heading into the break.
Hertha’s dam eventually breaks
Hertha did not panic to start the second half, instead they maintained their defensive positioning and once again Leipzig found it difficult to play through them at pace. As a consequence, the visitors remained committed to looking for Werner on the left flank – the German international often finding himself isolated near the corner flag.
Similarly, Hertha continued to have joy playing balls over the top of the Leipzig fullbacks. Nagelsmann’s two-man backline had to make several recovery runs in order to keep Berlin at bay. Eventually, Leipzig opted to remove the more lethargic Islanker in place of Kevin Kampl, which pushed Laimer to left back and the more pacy Klostermann into the center-back role.
Hertha continued to grind out the match and for the most part were forcing Leipzig to play their game. The hosts kept their distribution long, negating any high-press and readjusted so they were no longer trying to control the ball through midfield. Moreover, Hertha’s back-press was intense and it limited Leipzig’s ability to transition quickly through the middle of the park.
However, Berlin were still down a goal and as the match moved into the eightieth minute they had no choice but to begin to open up and bring a more intense high-press. For a moment this seemed to unsteady Leipzig, who had become accustomed to progressing out of their half with ease.
However, it did not last long and in the eighty-sixth minute Werner dropped into midfield to collect a pass – conveniently bringing his marker with him. The move was a signal for Kampl to fill the space left behind and the diminutive midfielder burst forward and was met with a decisive through ball. From there, Kampl was able to cut inside and bend a beautiful shot inside the far post – 1-3 Leipzig.
To make matters worse, only five minutes later Leipzig once again bypassed the Hertha press – this time with Laimer shooting through midfield and into the attacking third. The Austrian was unmarked and allowed to play an easy ball across a sparse Hertha box and onto the foot of Werner, who notched his second of the afternoon.
Hertha were able to snatch a goal back only a minute later, but it was too little too late. The hosts had done so well to obstruct the dynamic Leipzig offense, but at the end of the match and needing a goal, were forced to loosen up their defense and paid for it.
For Hertha it was their third straight loss and another disappointing home performance. Nonetheless, in many ways they were unlucky – a first half penalty and a second goal, which took a major deflection, put them behind the eight ball heading into the break. Čović’s side defended well and were successful in slowing down Leipzig’s rapid attack. With that in mind there is something for Hertha to build on as they try and reverse their fortunes and escape the bottom half of the table.
After last week’s 8-0 win over Mainz 05 this match proved to be more of a challenge for Leipzig. Nagelsmann’s side collected the three points and had moments of stellar football, but were largely held in check. The concern going forward is that more talented clubs will see this as a way to stymie the Leipzig offense, which may need a little more variance if they are going to claim the title.
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