The match between Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig was the duel between two top Bundesliga sides. Since both sides started well into the season, the battle was about the question which side would continue their path of success.

In the following tactical analysis, we will explain the reasons for Leipzig’s defensive 4-2-3-1 setup and how Leverkusen still managed to outplay the opposition press using their box midfield tactics.

Lineups and formations

Bundesliga 2019/20: Bayer Leverkusen vs RB Leipzig - tactical analysis tactics
Lineups of Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig [Credit: Wyscout]
Bayer Leverkusen stuck to their usual 3-4-2-1 formation which saw Kai Havertz and Nadiem Amiri playing behind attacker Kevin Volland. The double-pivot consisted of Julian Baumgartlinger and Charles Aránguiz. Baumgartlinger was mainly focused on creating passing lanes to connect with the back three in build-up while Aránguiz connected midfield and attack in a slightly higher role. All in all, Leverkusen focused on attacking down their right side, where wing-back Mitchell Weiser (#23) moved up the line during possession phases. Karim Bellarabi (#38) on the left side did not receive the ball as often like the pass map below displays.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Bayer Leverkusen vs RB Leipzig - tactical analysis tactics
Bayer Leverkusen’s passing map throughout the whole match [Credit: Wyscout]
RB Leipzig, on the other hand, played with a 4-4-2 system according to Wyscout. Brazilian attacker Matheus Cunha replaced Yussuf Poulsen and played alongside Timo Werner in the attack. The latter one dropped behind Cunha during the defensive phase though, which resulted in a 4-2-3-1 shape when pressing.

Leipzig’s mid-press in the first half

As already mentioned, Julian Nagelsmann changed the setup of his side to a 4-2-3-1 formation. With this shape, Nagelsmann aimed at guiding Bayer Leverkusen’s build-up towards the flanks where Leipzig pressed near the sideline.

The 4-2-3-1 system was advantageous to Leipzig’s press as it enabled them to shut down the centre of the pitch but also to press in wide areas. The 4-3-1-2 formation would have lent Leipzig enough occupation of central areas as well, but the shape would have lacked width to press on the flanks. The 4-4-2, on the other hand, would have given Leipzig enough width but it would have lacked man-power in central areas to neutralize Leverkusen’s centrally focused 3-4-2-1 system.

Instead of pressing high up the pitch, Nagelsmann wanted his side to execute a mid-press. Often Leipzig’s press was initiated by an arc-like run from attacker Matheus Cunha who guided Leverkusen’s build-up towards one side. Defending in a 4-2-3-1, Leipzig could then mark every player of Leverkusen’s box midfield once the ball was played out wide. Therefore, the ball far winger marked Leverkusen’s ball far pivot.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Bayer Leverkusen vs RB Leipzig - tactical analysis tactics
RB Leipzig mark all four midfielders of Leverkusen and press the opposition wing-back with two players near the sideline.

On the wing, Leipzig’s wingers pressed together with their full-backs to create a 2v1 situation. Since Leverkusen only deployed one nominal striker and their advanced midfielders mostly (in the first half) stayed in central areas between the lines, it was no risk that Leipzig’s full-backs sometimes pushed high up the pitch to press the opposition wing-backs. As a consequence, Leipzig’s centre-backs still remained superior in numbers against the lone attacker of Leverkusen.

Leverkusen’s defensive mistakes

Leverkusen pressed extremely aggressively and with high full-backs. They even moved out to press Leipzig’s full-backs. But that also left only three defenders in the back. And as a result of their high press, Leverkusen offered space behind the backline which turned out to be dangerous against Leipzig’s pacy attackers.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Bayer Leverkusen vs RB Leipzig - tactical analysis tactics
On the ball side, Leverkusen only defend with their two central defenders. Due to a bad staggering both of them get outplayed with a simple chipped ball. Usually, the ball far defender should cover the ball near defender.

And since the positioning of the centre-back pairing subpar at times, Leipzig were given the opportunity to threaten the opposition goal after dangerous through passes. Central defenders Jonathan Tah and Sven Bender often missed defensive staggering. Either the horizontal distance between both was too big (image below) or the ball far defender was positioned too high (image above) so that both defenders could be overplayed with a simple ball behind the backline.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Bayer Leverkusen vs RB Leipzig - tactical analysis tactics
Ball far central defender Jonathan Tah is positioned too far away from his partner. As a consequence, he cannot stop Leipzig from creating a huge scoring opportunity.

Against the fast strikers of Leipzig, these mistakes obviously ended in good scoring opportunities. The only good thing about Leverkusen’s rest defence was how they tracked back Leipzig’s attackers.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Bayer Leverkusen vs RB Leipzig - tactical analysis tactics
Leipzig breakthrough on the right side. On the left side, winger Emil Forsberg is in a position to support attacker Timo Werner at a later stage.
Bundesliga 2019/20: Bayer Leverkusen vs RB Leipzig - tactical analysis tactics
Only seconds later, right-back Weiser arrives sooner at the penalty area than left-winger Forsberg.

Therewith, they forced the ball-carrier to shoot and prevented them from scoring a simple tap-in goal. In addition to that, Nagelsmann’s side was too ineffective and, in the first half, did not convert their chances into goals.

Leverkusen’s attacking play

To create their typical 3-2-4-1 shape in possession, right-back Mitchell Weiser moved up the line and Kai Havertz tucked inside. Left-winger Karim Bellarabi, on the other side of the pitch, stayed wide and acted as the left wing-back during the attacking phase.

During the early build-up phase, defensive midfielder Julian Baumgartlinger positioned himself in deep areas to collect the ball. Moving outside of the strikers’ cover-shadow, Leverkusen’s central defenders could pass the ball to the Austrian.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Bayer Leverkusen vs RB Leipzig - tactical analysis tactics
Baumgartlinger moves out of the cover-shadow of the opposition striker.

From the area between the opposition midfield and attacker, the central midfielder pulled the strings during Leverkusen’s deep build-up phase. And in some situations, Leverkusen could then take advantage of their numerical superiority in the centre created with their box midfield.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Bayer Leverkusen vs RB Leipzig - tactical analysis tactics
Baumgartlinger changes the angle of attack and Leverkusen’s box midfield enables them to outplay the opposition midfield with the second pass.

Leipzig’s midfielders acted very man-oriented. Such a man-oriented way of defending enables the opposition to create space easily. And in situations when Leipzig missed to apply pressure on the ball-carrier, Leverkusen exploited this. While the ball near advanced midfielder would move outside to create a diagonal passing lane, striker Kevin Volland would drop into the created space.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Bayer Leverkusen vs RB Leipzig - tactical analysis tactics
Central advanced midfielder Havertz provides a diagonal passing option and drags away his direct opponent at the same time. This opens up a vertical passing lane.

This space was only created since Leipzig’s central midfielders followed the movement of their direct opponents. And as Leverkusen’s advanced midfielders moved away from each other, Volland was offered enough space in-between to drop into.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Bayer Leverkusen vs RB Leipzig - tactical analysis tactics
Striker Volland receives the ball after dropping and immediately turns. Then, Leverkusen players start runs into depth to threaten the space behind Leipzig’s defensive line.

Whenever a Leverkusen midfielder could turn in front of Leipzig’s backline, another player would immediately start a deep run to threaten the space in behind. That way, Leverkusen created their first opportunity of the game displayed in the picture above.

Especially within the final third, their deep runs were threatening. With chipped balls behind the last line of defence, Bosz’s side played into the penalty area. With overloads in central areas, Leverkusen occupied Leipzig in the centre. Their wing-backs then started diagonal runs from wide areas into the back of Leipzig’s full-backs.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Bayer Leverkusen vs RB Leipzig - tactical analysis tactics
Leverkusen can penetrate Leipzig’s defensive unit with a chipped ball into the penalty area.

However, Leverkusen rarely utilised the space since Leipzig’s midfielders and defenders made use of their advantage in pace and quickly pressed any player which could receive in areas between the lines.

Leverkusen’s leading goal in the second half also displayed how to break a man-oriented defence. In this case, it was a rotational movement that helped Bosz’s team to outplay Leipzig’s press. Advanced midfielder Havertz positioned himself on the right-wing.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Bayer Leverkusen vs RB Leipzig - tactical analysis tactics
Leverkusen use an outside-inside combination to get between the lines. Leipzig are unorganised and allow central midfielder Aránguiz a lot of space in midfield.

As the German midfielder received the ball, right wing-back Weiser moved into the half-space. And After a half-space combination with Weiser, followed by a deep run by central midfielder Aránguiz, Leverkusen scored the leading goal.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Bayer Leverkusen vs RB Leipzig - tactical analysis tactics
Aránguiz uses an underlapping run to progress up the pitch. After receiving the ball seconds later, he assists Volland.

Leipzig’s more aggressive press

After conceding the first goal of the game, RB Leipzig began to press Leverkusen more aggressively.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Bayer Leverkusen vs RB Leipzig - tactical analysis tactics
Leipzig press higher up the pitch. Despite a 4-4-2 formation on paper, they often pressed with a further central midfielder in a higher position. forming a situational 4-1-3-2, to avoid the opposition double pivot to pull the strings.

By decreasing the time that Leverkusen’s build-up players had with the ball, Leipzig could force them to make mistakes.

Moreover, Leipzig successfully dominated central areas in possession again. By overloading the space between the lines and therewith attracting the opposition defenders and midfielders, Leipzig created space behind the backline and allowed the ball-carrier enough time on the ball to look for the right pass into the final third.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Bayer Leverkusen vs RB Leipzig - tactical analysis tactics
Leipzig outnumber Leverkusen’s central midfielders and therewith occupy the whole opposition defensive department in the centre. Similar to Leverkusen’s approach. Leipzig’s wide players utilised the free space on the wings to receive the ball in advanced areas.

That way, Leipzig were capable of at least getting one point out of a strange match that was dominated by Leverkusen most of the time while Leipzig had the better chances.

Conclusion

Despite their respectable possession phase which even posed problems for a well-structured Leipzig press, Leverkusen committed too many mistakes within their defensive department as our analysis showed. Leipzig created huge scoring opportunities but failed to take advantage of that. One could, therefore, conclude that a draw is a fair result as Bosz’s side were superior in terms of the possession phases but Nagelsmann’s team possessed a better defensive structure.



Artwork by @chapulana

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