Bundesliga 2019/20: RB Leipzig vs Hoffenheim – Tactical Analysis
This past weekend gave us one matchup that many of us have been waiting for since the start of the season. Hoffenheim travelled to the face an extremely dangerous RB Leipzig side. On face value, this match would have been interesting given the contrast of styles and budgets of the two sides. When you add the fact that the RB Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann was facing his former side for the first time, however, the match became a must-watch.
Hoffenheim were the first side to give a chance to the young coach and his time there was an unqualified success. Year after year they would lose their best players to bigger Bundesliga sides but Nagelsmann still took Hoffenheim to the Champions League. His move to RB Leipzig was confirmed early last season but there was no ill will from Hoffenheim and he completed the 2018/19 season at the club.
In this tactical analysis, we will examine the key points in this 3-1 victory for RB Leipzig.
So far this season, under Julian Nagelsmann we have seen different tactical systems used by RB Leipzig. They seem capable of switching from a back three to a back four mid-match given the tactical versatility of their players. In this match, we saw what looked like on paper a 4-4-2 from the home side although as we know this becomes more of a 4-2-2-2 for RB Leipzig.
There was no change of system for the home side throughout the match although players were of course introduced at various parts of the match. Hungarian international Peter Gulácsi started in goal behind a back four of Dayot Upamecano and Stefan Ilsakner in the centre with Lukas Klosterman and Marcel Halstenberg in the fullback positions. Konrad Laimer and Diego Demme played in the centre of the midfield with Emil Forsberg and Marcel Sabitzer ahead of them. In the attack, Timo Werner provided the main goal threat and Patrick Schick was preferred to Yussuf Poulsen.
Under their coach Alfred Schreuder there are some more surprising selections in this match from Hoffenheim. In terms of the system, it was fairly straight forward with a 4-2-3-1 structure.
Oliver Baumann started in goal behind a back four with Emir Bikcacic and Kevin Akpoguma in the centre. There were, however, no recognised fullbacks with Stefan Posch, normally a centre half, on the right and Robert Skov, normally an attacker, on the left. Diadie Samassekou and Florian Grillitsch played as the double pivot in the midfield but ahead of them, there were yet more surprises. Denis Geiger made his breakthrough at the first-team level under Nagelsmann as an ‘8’ In this match he was used as a ’10’ as part of the three behind the lone striker. On the right side, we saw Pavel Kaderabek who normally features as a right-back while on the left side Sargis Adayaman started. Andrej Kramaric started as the lone striker.
The most important statistic of any match is, of course, the final score and in the end, RB Leipzig were fairly comfortable in defeating the visiting side 3-1. If we look more closely, however, at the underlying numbers then they can provide a fascinating insight into the match as a whole. Let’s start by seeing if the more widely used numbers give us an indication of team style.
Whenever we look at statistics from within a single match it is important to understand that the game state plays a huge role in the way that a match plays out. In this match, we saw RB Leipzig take an early lead through Timo Werner and this would, of course, encourage them to be slightly less aggressive in the attacking phase. It will surprise many that Hoffenheim won the possession match 58% to 42% although given the preference that Naglesmann has for high tempo vertical football this is actually more standard than you might think. In the attacking phase, as we will see later on, Naglesmann likes his side to play quickly and play forwards with passes designed to quickly penetrate the defensive lines of the oppositions. As such the away side were able to gain more possession. They were, however, far less effective with that possession.
Passes per defensive action (PPDA) is a metric that measures the pressing intensity of a side with a lower figure showing a more aggressive press. As with the other teams in the Red Bull stable is normal to see RB Leipzig register a PPDA score of less than 10. In this match, though we see that Hoffenheim were actually the more aggressive of the two sides out of possession as they registered 11.00 PPDA compared to 12.5 PPDA from RB Leipzig.
The final metric that we will consider is, in my opinion, the most important. That is, of course, the expected goals value from the match. In xG terms, RB Leipzig were dominant as they registered 3.97xG compared to 1.43 for Hoffenheim. This should come as no surprise given that the home side outshot their opponents by 26 to 10 although the quality of these shots is even more telling and important.
The shot map for the home side shows that the vast majority of their shots were taken from good areas, inside the penalty area, and Naglesmann is known to be a big advocate for his sides taking shots from the right areas.
A look at the xG per shot chart for Leipzig shows that wyscout have them down as creating six big chances with three of those resulting in goals. As in normal for this side, we can see clearly how important Timo Werner is as he takes shots from extremely good areas.
Hoffenheim, on the other hand, struggled to create anything of note with only two big chances in the match and shots taken from less than ideal locations.
RB Leipzig build-up
One of the attributes that makes Julian Naglemann one of the most interesting coaches in World football to watch is his versatility. Whilst at Hoffenheim it was not unusual to see his sides change system two or three times in a match. In this match, it was fascinating to watch the different structures that the home side took up in the build-up phase. We have already stated above that Naglesmann is a coach that favours a vertical passing style. This is the case when they are enjoying more sustained possession of the ball but in the first instance, they look to secure the safe passage of the ball from the defensive third into the middle third.
In order to manage this transition of the ball successfully, we saw the two central defenders perform key roles are they are expected to accept possession regardless of pressure from the opposition. One of the two central defenders, normally Diego Demme, would then drop centrally to form a triangle with the two central defenders whilst the fullbacks move relatively high.
This is an example taken from the match with Dayot Upamecano showing his comfort in possession to allow RB Leipzig to play through the pressure from Hoffenheim. Originally the ball was played to Stefan Ilsanker, the right-sided central defender, but with the positioning of the opposition forwards, there was no comfortable option to progress the ball forward. Instead, the ball goes back to Gulácsi and he looks to play the other way finding Upamecano instead. As the French central defender takes possession there are again no easy options. The left-back and left-sided ‘8’ are closely marked and the pressing player for Hoffenheim is covering the pass to Demme with his shadow. Instead of playing long, however, we see Upamecano take the initiative as he engages the forward and dribbles past him into the open space beyond.
At this point, the situation shifts dramatically and Upamecano is then able to play diagonally into Lainer who in turn plays out to the right side as the right-back makes an uncovered vertical run to create a passing option.
There were two key tactical principles in play from Naglesmann in this match, in terms of the build-up. The first was the spacing and occupation of spaces of the RB Leipzig players and the second was the willingness to go back to the goalkeeper to reset the play and escape out the other side. We can see this here as Upamecano originally goes back to Gulácsi because there are no comfortable passing options open to him. The ball then comes out the other side to Ilsanker and the Austrian plays a longer diagonal ball to access his compatriot Sabitzer who is occupying the half-space just inside the Hoffenheim half of the field.
When he was in charge of Hoffenheim one of the most common tactical concepts that he used to progress the ball was the ‘up, back and through’ a simple passing concept that allows teams to play quickly through the lines of the opposition in order to create opportunities as quickly as possible when in possession. This was again in evidence in this match as RB Leipzig were rapid with their passing combinations when moving through the middle third and into the final third. Hoffenheim found it difficult to cope as the ball played quickly into attacking areas where the likes of Timo Werner was able to create maximum problems for the opposition.
We see above an example of this concept taking from the match. In five passes of the ball, RB Leipzig have bypassed the defensive structure of the opposition and created a chance to overload the Hoffenheim defensive structure. The ball moves from Upamecano out to the left-back Halstenberg before being set back to Diego Demme. The midfielder then plays forward to Timo Werner who in turn sets it back to Emil Forsberg before the final pass is played into the feet of Patrick Schick. The movement of the front two was constant from Rb Leipzig with Schick taking more central positions while Werner moved from left to right side in order to create the most danger to the opposition.
Above is another in-game example as RB Leipzig use vertical passing to pin and then bypass the defensive structure of Hoffenheim. As the ball is initially received by Forsberg we see the positioning of the front two and the two most advanced midfielders. They are all centrally orientated and this forces the defensive block of Hoffenheim to stay centrally.
The ball then moves back to Upamecano who then immediately switches the focus of the attack by playing into Sabitzer. As these passes are played the fullbacks move into high positions and Sabitzer was able to easily play forward into Klostermann as he moves bast the defensive line to threaten from the wide area.
The final tactical concept from the match that we are going to discuss is the defensive compactness that we saw from the home side.
We discussed above that Hoffenheim struggled to create shots all game and when they did they did not create good shots with a relatively low xG yield per shot from the away side. This is primarily down to the compact defensive structure from RB Leipzig. With the home side not pressing hard after they scored the early opener, they were able to sit in a more compact block with four tiers that allowed Hoffenheim no space to play through centrally. Whilst there was not a proactive press from the home side they did work hard to deny Hoffenheim the access to passing lanes that they could use to attack centrally.
Instead the away side were forced to play down the wide areas and they struggled to create from these areas.
Julian Nagelsmann will be very happy with this display as RB Leipzig controlled the tempo of the match from start to finish. They were incisive in their passing and if anything they will be unhappy to have not scored more from the good chances they created. Timo Werner continues to impress and the likes of Lainer and Sabitzer have shown considerable improvement under their new coach.
With the likes of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund struggling to impose themselves on the Bundesliga this season, there is no reason that RB Leipzig will not be challenging at the top of the table at the end of the season.
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