VfB Stuttgart – RasenBallsport Leipzig: Nkunku Strike Caps Comfortable Victory For Wily Leipzig (0-2)

With Stuttgart having been drubbed 4-0 in the previous fixture, one might think that revenge was on the minds of the hosts coming in. But relegation fears have diminished the side’s ambitions, as RB Leipzig put a further dent in their fight to remain in the German top flight.

Tactical analysis and match report by Manasvin Andra

Following their meteoric rise to the upper echelons of German football, one might associate RB Leipzig with a constant pursuit for trophies. But following an underwhelming first half of the season, the reality for new man Domenico Tedesco is far more prosaic. His mission is to get Leipzig back into the Champions League places, but several interesting sides separate the club from its goal. But a mission can only be achieved one step at a time, so attentions were focused on the visit to Stuttgart – a side that had been dominated by Leipzig in the previous meeting.

Tedesco stuck with the line-up that brought him the win against Mainz, which had Yussuf Poulsen, Tyler Adams and Lukas Klostermann take place of usual starters Emil Forsberg, Konrad Laimer and Nordi Mukiele. The only change came in attack, with Christopher Nkunku returning in place of Dominik Szoboszlai.

Leipzig’s problems this season have been well-documented, but the same cannot be said for Pellegrino Matarazzo’s Stuttgart. Only a year on from their impressive return to the top flight, they find themselves back in the relegation fight. From now on, survival is the name of the game, though perhaps not at the expense of the coach’s possession and pressing ideals.

Accordingly, he unveiled an interesting side, with Hiroki Ito, Waldemar Anton and Konstantinos Mavropanos in defense. The double pivot comprised of Wataru Endo and Orel Mangala, who were flanked by wingbacks Nikolas Nartey and Chris Führich. The trio up front comprised of Tanguy Coulibaly, Sasa Kalajdzic and Alexis Tibidi.

The long ball is valuable!

The success enjoyed by Pep Guardiola has meant that intricate buildup sequences have come to be seen as the sole answer to a high press. However, another option is the long ball, particularly when you have strikers capable of holding up the ball and bringing others into play. The odds of the long ball approach increase significantly when you can bring associative play into the picture after the striker holds up the ball. From the first half, it seemed like this was the approach taken by Tedesco, who paired Poulsen and André Silva for the second consecutive game.

Penalty separates the sides in even first half

Stuttgart is happy to press almost any team they play, but they prefer to do so on the basis of certain triggers. One key trigger is the back pass, which Stuttgart picked up on throughout the first half. With the wingbacks high up, Stuttgart is capable of creating a man-to-man approach on a back pass with the near side wingback pressing his Leipzig counterpart while the far side striker covers the goalkeeper and lane into the center-back on his side.

Stuttgart’s pressure on Leipzig following a back pass.

This was precisely what happened in a couple of occasions in the game, though Stuttgart was unable to take advantage of these errors in possession.

Since pressure was applied only on the basis of certain triggers, Stuttgart otherwise stood off Leipzig in their 3-4-3 block. This meant that the Leipzig center-backs had time to play the ball, but their options were mostly closed off.

Here, there were two options that Leipzig could deploy. The first was the long ball into the strikers, where the striker not involved in the aerial duel would support the target of the pass by attempting to secure the second ball. He could then shift it to Nkunku or pass it forward to his striker partner, with Adams and Christopher Nkunku offering support behind. Another option was to patiently play it to the wings, which for Leipzig meant only the left flank.

Often, Nkunku would be positioned deeper than Angeliño on the flank, in a bid to carry the ball diagonally while having options in the form of the wingback and the two strikers.

Leipzig could either go long or resort to these structure with Nkunku as the catalyst.

Between these four players (as well as Kampl and Adams), any number of combinations could be created since all of them possess a proclivity for the “pass and move” brand of football. While these set-ups were promising, very little actually resulted from them. Instead, the most dangerous box entries were from transitions, but situations fizzled out due to overhit passes.

Stuttgart ups the ante

Towards the end of the first half, Stuttgart began consolidating possession a bit more. Leipzig were facing them in a 5-2-1-2/5-2-3 block, which closed off the center and allowed the visitors to create traps if the wide areas were exploited. For the majority of the half, the forward trio tried to drop into midfield behind Adams and Kampl, thought Coulibaly was often trying to make runs in the channel between Joško Gvardiol and Willi Orban. While Leipzig did not pressure from the front, their five-man defense kept things tight, and they often pressured the receiver to generate transition moments.

In the second half, the Stuttgart wide center-backs played a bit wider to support the wingbacks on the touchline. With Leipzig pressuring them using the 5-2-3 shape, quicker circulation among the backline meant that gains were possible down the opposite flank. Additionally, Stuttgart also got more accustomed to how Leipzig pressured them from behind, and were able to get rid of the ball quicker. This led to more possession for the home side, and a header from a free kick had to be palmed away by Peter Gulácsi.

However, Leipzig were not ineffective during this phase, as a spell of pressure saw Nkunku with a chance to break against the backtracking defense. His pass was laid off by Poulsen for Silva, who had to stop and turn but was blocked from shooting by the Stuttgart defense. This represented the most dangerous chance of the game, but Leipzig would soon find their second breakthrough.

Christopher Nkunku, finisher extraordinaire

Following his yellow card, Tedesco replaced Poulsen with Benjamin Henrichs in the 65th minute. He slotted into midfield as Leipzig changed to a 5-3-2 shape, perhaps to combat the overloads being created by the dropping strikers.

In the 70th minute, Leipzig pressured the home side from a throw-in, leading to a pass into Silva who held off Mavropanos and laid the ball into Henrichs’ path. By this point, Nkunku had gotten on wide center-back Ito’s wrong side, and Henrichs’ pass was perfect. Nkunku carried the ball into the box, stopped on a dime and smashed the shot past Florian Müller. From defense to attack in five seconds – it doesn’t get more Leipzig than that.


The second goal all but ensured the win; Leipzig continue in their quest to return to the top three while Matarazzo contemplates yet another loss. On expected goal difference, the team does not deserve to be in the relegation spots, but there are issues with the attack as seen by the fact that center-back Mavropanos is the team’s top scorer. Reinforcements may be needed in the winter transfer window, but may not prove to be enough.

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Manasvin covers the Bundesliga and Champions League for Between The Posts. He can be found on Twitter @RPftbl. [ View all posts ]


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