RasenBallsport Leipzig – Eintracht Frankfurt: Leipzig Survive A Limp Second Half Thanks To A Brilliant Yussuf Poulsen Volley (2-1)
RB Leipzig’s clash with Eintracht Frankfurt was a perfect example of football’s unparalleled fluidity and constantly evolving nature. The game began in chaos, before briefly bending to the will of Julian Nagelsmann’s tactics. Frankfurt adapted towards the end of the first half and exerted a surprising amount of control in the second. An eightieth minute Poulsen volley returned the game to chaos, allowing Frankfurt to score a late consolation goal.
Tactical analysis and match report by Om Arvind.
RasenBallsport Leipzig’s rise to the Bundesliga has been as rapid as it has been controversial. Founded in 2009 by the company that sells the Red Bull sports drink, RB Leipzig rocketed from the fifth tier of German football to the top flight in a mere eight years. 365 days after making the Bundesliga, Leipzig established itself as a Champions League-caliber team, finishing second and third, respectively, in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons.
The challenge for Leipzig, now, is to make that final and most difficult leap to leaders of Germany. To prepare themselves to do so, they spent cleverly on left winger Ademola Lookman from Everton and central midfielder Christopher Nkunku from Paris Saint-Germain – both of whom are 21 years of age. They also brought in 32-year-old managing prodigy Julian Nagelsmann over the summer, who represents the ethos of Leipzig’s entire approach – signing young talents who are well-versed (or can be well-versed) in modern tactical systems.
Such a strategy roughly resembles what Borussia Dortmund did under Jürgen Klopp and have tried to do since his departure. And, yet, despite the Black and Yellow’s best efforts, Bayern Munich have been on top since 2012/13. Leipzig’s hope is that they have found their own Klopp in Nagelsmann while creating a unique combination of hidden gems and known quantities – i.e. Timo Werner – to challenge a weakening superpower.
Eintracht Frankfurt’s ambitions are somewhat lower. A mid-table club for much of its recent existence in the Bundesliga, Frankfurt finally made the coveted step into the European spots over the last two seasons. Originally coached by current Bayern manager Niko Kovač, Adi Hütter stepped in and maintained his side’s level of play in 2018/19. He was ably aided by the rapidly developing Luka Jović; who notched seventeen league goals and promptly left for Real Madrid in the summer.
Frankfurt have failed to fill the void left by him, only signing nineteen-year-old Dejan Joveljić for a cheap sum from Red Star Belgrade. There are rumors that poacher extraordinaire Bas Dost might make the move to central Germany, but nothing has materialized at the moment.
Hence, Hütter had to make do with what he had and start Gonçalo Paciência and the aforementioned Joveljić up top versus Leipzig. Midfielder Daichi Kamada sat behind them as the side’s primary playmaker, leading a double pivot 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. of Dominik Kohr and Sebastian Rode ahead of a five-man back line.
Nagelsmann also went with a back five/three formation, choosing a 5-3-2/3-5-2 structure that saw Timo Werner and Yussuf Poulsen leading the line. In 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. sat attacking midfielders Nkunku and Marcel Sabitzer on either side of lone defensive midfielder Diego Demme. Demme shielded wing-backs Marcel Halstenberg and Lukas Klostermann and center-backs Willi Orban, Ibrahima Konaté, and Nordi Mukiele. Péter Gulásci started in goal.
RB Leipzig impose their style of play after an opening period of chaos
In general, the Bundesliga tends to be the most high-octane and combative arena of football in the so-called “top five leagues.” This is because the Bundesliga is filled with teams that love to press and stay extremely compact in midfield, thereby creating furious battles over who gets to dominate the ball.
Such was the case at the start of the Leipzig-Frankfurt encounter. Neither team could seem to string more than three to four passes together, as congested midfields smashed into each other and created hectic transition situations. Frankfurt nearly benefitted from this in the fifth minute, when they surged forward after a failed Leipzig counterattack and released left wing-back Filip Kostić over the top. Kostić, free from any interference, carried the ball into the box and flashed a shot just wide of the far post from a tight angle.
As energy levels began to normalize, Leipzig came out on top. They started to outnumber Frankfurt’s two strikers with their three center-backs, enabling them to control possession and progress the ball.
RB Leipzig’s aggressive 3-5-2 offensive structure versus Eintracht Frankfurt’s medium-high 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. A high block refers to a team that regularly leaves their own half out of possession, to disrupt their opponents far into the attacking half. A medium-high block is well… in between these two variants.
Once that happened, Nagelsmann’s side had multiple ways of getting into the final third. The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. The first was to simply test Frankfurt’s narrow 5-2-1-2 defensive structure with vertical passes and direct balls from the center-backs. Any pass into the channel or over the shoulder was usually aimed at the roaming Werner, while vertical passes into the center were zipped into Poulsen. The former tactic led to a corner in the ninth minute, which Poulsen flicked to the far post. Werner was there, lurking, and scored the opener thanks to some suspect keeping from Trapp.
Leading by a goal early on, Leipzig joyfully hit their groove. They consistently escaped Frankfurt’s attempts to clog the wings by utilizing ball carrying movements from wide center-backs Orban and Mukiele. The duo would confidently sprint past markers Joveljić and Paciência to play switches A pass from one side to the other. to the far side The far side is the side of the pitch where the ball is not. or to find Poulsen or Werner with vertical passes.
If that was not on, Nkunku would play a pass to Halstenberg before making a curved underlapping Underlap means that the full-back joins the offensive play by playing on the inside of the winger he supports. This is the reverse of an overlap, where the full-back plays on the outside and the winger moves inside. run that saw him end up on the wing. Halstenberg would then fire the return pass, putting Nkunku in one-versus-one or one-versus-two situations against a scrambling defense. The dynamic Nkunku used his dribbling ability to thrive in those situations and progress his team upfield.
Nevertheless, despite all of Leipzig’s dominance, they failed to create “great” opportunities and, instead, fashioned half chances.
Frankfurt start to control the game
As well as Leipzig were playing, their strategy – ball carrying center-backs and lots of vertical passes – was rather high risk, giving Frankfurt plenty of moments to take back control of the game. Hütter’s men were unable to take advantage of their opportunities for much of the first half, however, as they often chose to play fruitless long balls.
Even when they tried to distribute on the ground and build attacks more patiently, they fell prey to a Leipzig defensive structure that was similar to their own.
RB Leipzig’s defensive structure suffocating Eintracht Frankfurt on the wings.
Werner and Poulsen would block off the route to central midfielders Kohr and Rode, forcing play out wide. Under these circumstances, Frankfurt initially chose to direct most of their attacks down the right. Once they did so, Poulsen would close in on the center-back on the ball while Nkunku and Halstenberg tightened the net around the near side central midfielder and wing-back.
Leipzig’s tactics shrunk the space in which Frankfurt could conduct play, leading to plenty of turnovers. But, as the first half began to draw to a close, Hütter’s men began to figure a way around their opponent’s scheme.
Firstly, they abandoned trying to play through the trap and, instead, decided to circulate the ball back to Hasebe once Poulsen triggered the press on the wing. This was followed by quick rotations to the left flank, where Werner was far more reluctant to engage in the frenetic defensive effort that made Nagelsmann’s defensive ploy work.
Frankfurt soon realized this and began directing most of their attacks down the left – especially in the second half – forcing Poulsen to tirelessly traverse the width of the field to apply defensive pressure. This created a structural inconsistency that forced Nkunku and Sabitzer out of position to pressure the far side center-backs once play was switched. As a result, attacking midfielder Kamada was freed up to influence the game in the halfspaces.
Kamada was omnipresent in the second half and knitted together Frankfurt’s side-to-side possession play. Unfortunately, they created little to show for their improved play due to the lack of a final pass and the absence of a Luka Jović replacement.
Frankfurt only created three chances of significance, although they all happened to be of high quality.
Yussuf Poulsen seals the result with a stunning volley
Their best chance came from a long ball to Gonçalo Paciência in the 64th minute, when the striker won an aerial duel and nearly chipped Gulásci inside the box. He was made to rue the miss later in the game, when Leipzig leaped into a rare counterattack and provided Poulsen with the opportunity to volley a sublime effort through the legs of Trapp. This was Leipzig’s only relevant chance of the second half after Werner’s missed one-versus-one effort in the 47th minute.
Frankfurt responded as well as they could, throwing men forward and lumping the ball into the box in the dying embers of the contest. They got one back in the 89th minute through a cross to Paciência, but it was too little too late, and Leipzig sealed the victory after a nervy section of added time.
Julian Nagelsmann showed promise in the first half, displaying a multitude of plans to destabilize the opposition’s shape while devising a suffocating defensive structure of his own. However, his tactics demand a fierce work-rate from everyone involved and a high level of understanding between his players. If Nagelsmann is to succeed moving forward, the likes of Timo Werner need to be committed without the ball and Leipzig’s players must prove that they have the tactical and technical ability to consistently implement their coach’s advanced and varied schemes.
Hütter does not have to face the problem of transitioning his philosophies to a new squad – given his time with the team last year – but that does not mean that he will not face difficulties. Though Eintracht Frankfurt showed great mental character and tactical flexibility to adapt their approach to exploit Leipzig’s weaknesses, the lack of a quality striker hurt them. It is true that they will be able to rely on Ante Rebić once he returns from injury, but he will have to make a big leap if he is to upgrade on his nine league goals from last season and replace Jović. At the moment, it seems that signing someone like Bas Dost is a necessity.
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