Bundesliga 2019/20: Werder Bremen vs RB Leipzig – tactical analysis
As the new season of the Bundesliga marked its fifth matchday, it also witnessed Werder Bremen welcomed RB Leipzig to their home ground, Weserstadion. Florian Kohfeldt’s side have had a decent start to the season after picking up six points out of the possible twelve. Although their opponent was a team who have an attractive, fast-tempo style of play, they still hoped to secure a positive result. This would allow them to improve their place in the league table and head towards the top half.
Leipzig, however, had an overhaul summer that saw the squad being bolstered heavily. The most noticeable addition to Leipzig was Julian Nagelsmann arrived to replace the managerial spot that Ralf Rangnick left behind. Furthermore, they also secured many new additions to the positions that they needed, such as Christopher Nkunku, Ethan Ampadu and Ademola Lookman. With a young core and a talented manager on the sideline, Leipzig was expected to add to their tally of three wins and a draw from the first four matches of the season.
And they did just that through a positive start that saw captain Willi Orban and Marcel Sabitzer opened the score. Konrad Laimer’s red card didn’t make their task tougher as substitute Marcelo Saracchi added the icing on the cake. This tactical analysis will provide an analysis of Leipzig’s 3-0 win over Werder Bremen. Meanwhile, using statistics, we will point out what went wrong for Kohfeldt’s tactics against Nagelsmann’s tactics.
With a hefty injury list that saw many of their key players absented, Kohfeldt went for a 3-5-2 formation that fitted the personnel that he had. Centre-backs Miloš Veljković, Ömer Toprak and Sebastian Langkamp all missed out through different injuries as they were replaced by Theodore Gebre Selassie, Christian Groß and former Bayern youngster Marco Friedl.
Nuri Şahin was suspended in their match against Union Berlin and to make things worse, new signing Kevin Möhwald also missed out through an injury. This left Kohfeldt to play striker Johannes Eggestein out of his natural position as he completed the midfield three that already consisted of Maximillian Eggestein and Davy Klaassen.
Nagelsmann tended to rotate between a three at the back and a four-man back-line. But for their trip to Bremen, the former Hoffenheim manager also went for a 3-5-2 formation similar to his colleague. Dayot Upamecano was ready for his return from injury and he went straight in Leipzig’s back-three along with Ibrahima Konaté and Willi Orban.
Hannes Wolf still missed out through a long-term injury and the same could be said with the American midfielder Tyler Adams. Kevin Kampl and new signing Patrik Schick remained doubtful and they didn’t make the final squad. But Konrad Laimer was fitted to return as he played at the heart of Leipzig’s midfield three.
Bremen’s style of play
It doesn’t come as a surprise when Bremen employed a conservative style of play in this match. In a narrow 5-3-2 defensive structure, they aimed to defend deep and prevented the opposition from having much of the ball inside their half. Also, by swarming players into their defensive third, it forced Leipzig to circulate the ball far away from their box.
Their shape consisted of three lines who had different responsibilities in the team’s attack. Both strikers formed the first line of engagement and they would apply pressure on Leipzig’s build-up. Depending on where the defenders positioned themselves and formed the passing block, the strikers would decide to push higher up or stay deep inside their half. At times, Johannes also joined the line and matched against Leipzig’s build-up number. They formed a 5-2-3 formation that pressed the opposition flexibly and attempted to recover possession for a counter-attack.
Meanwhile, the defenders combined with the midfielders to create two separate lines on the edge and inside the defensive third. With at least eight players positioned themselves in the area, it gave them the numerical superiority to defend against the attacking threat. But they left a problem that the opposition constantly exploited throughout the match.
While the midfielders pushed up and supported the strikers in their press, they left a big gap behind their back. The likes of Sabitzer, Nkunku and even Werner could drop into that space and receive the ball for an attack. Also, Leipzig attackers had a decent positioning sense while their pace could also threaten Bremen’s defensive line through sprints that headed towards the space behind the line.
As stubborn as their defensive structure was, most of Leipzig’s chances in this match still occurred inside the box. They made the most out of the space behind Bremen’s defensive line using quick and short combinations. To link up the play, Sabitzer and Nkunku occasionally made lofted passes into the area for both wing-backs and strikers to pick up the ball.
This allowed Leipzig to approach the box more efficiently and as a result, created more dangerous chances towards Jiří Pavlenka’s goal. With seven shots on target and five of them were inside the 16-yard box, this showed how efficient the opposition was in terms of getting the ball into Bremen’s box. And this was also the main attacking method that Leipzig constantly used throughout the match.
During the last few minutes of the game, Bremen started to shift towards a back-four after Laimer’s red card. With Philipp Bargfrede entered the field, he joined Klaassen and Eggestein to screen the space in front of the defence. Meanwhile, Gebre Selassie returned to his natural centre-back position with Groß and pushed Friedl out wide.
This change allowed them to have more players in attack as Bittencourt now played in the role of a wide midfielder. The former Hoffenheim player constantly picked up the ball from his teammate and dribbled it up the pitch. He would attract the attention of Leipzig’s defender to create gaps between the lines for his colleagues to move in.
When on possession, Bremen put an emphasis on building their attacks from the back. The home side used three defenders to circulate the ball on the edge of the middle third. But since they weren’t as much comfortable with the ball as the likes of Niklas Moisander, Veljković and Toprak, Kohfeldt had another plan. From the heart of the midfield, Maximillian dropped deep from his position and acted as a link between the defenders and the midfielders.
He could also offer to bring the ball out of defence and turned it towards Klaassen or the strikers. Also, with at least three passing triangles created during the build-up process, they were able to bypass the pressure from Leipzig. It allowed them to circulate the ball more efficiently and even progressed it into the final third.
As shown on their average position map, the density of the links in between Bremen’s defenders were darker than the others. Also, it’s worth noticing that their formation looks similar to a 4-5-1 when Maximillian dropped in between Groß and Gebre Selassie. The Czech defender and Friedl shifted wider and pushed Michael Lang and Leonardo Bittencourt up into the role of wide midfielders.
Also, Sargent looked to be roaming from his position more often and even joined up with the midfielders to create a midfield five. He positioned himself in the space between Bittencourt and Klaassen as he aimed to provide a possible passing option for the ball carrier. This allowed him to link up with the teammates below him and had more chances to pick up the ball himself for a dribble up the pitch.
With numbers during their build-up, they could create more links between each other while allowing the ball circulation process to occur efficiently. This contributed to the fact that they registered a total of 479 passes throughout the game and completed 84% of them.
It also allowed them to find more attacking solutions to get the ball into the final third. One of them was through long passes that changed the team’s attacking direction. When Bittencourt received the ball from his teammate, Lang, on the opposite side, would make a progressive run into Leipzig’s final third.
The Swiss defender capitalised the fact that the opposition defended narrowly in a certain area of the pitch. He would use his runs to exploit the space behind their defensive line and received the long pass to get the ball into the box.
Still, on a day that they only created eight chances towards Peter Gulácsi’s goal, they didn’t have much luck in finding a consolation goal. In total, they only had two chances inside the first half and one of them was blocked. Klaassen had better luck in his second attempt, but his shot was cleared off the line by Upamecano.
That was Bremen’s highest xG-rated chance throughout the match, which stood at 0.11 before the Dutch midfielder had his shot blocked again during the stoppage time. With only one shot on target and faced lots of troubles in getting the ball into the 16-yard box, it’s quite understandable for Bremen’s result on that day.
Leipzig’s style of play
Being one of the unbeaten teams before this match, it’s easy to understand Nagelsmann’s intention of employing an attacking mentality for Leipzig. And the players transmitted the German manager’s instructions onto the field with some high-tempo attacking plays. At the same time, they also focused on playing out from the back-line.
In Upamecano and Konaté, Leipzig had two centre-backs who were comfortable with the ball at their feet and usually made penetrative passes towards the attackers. Their stats also show their strength on the ball as they registered an overwhelming number of 131 passes (Konaté made 68 passes while Upamecano had 63) among them. Captain Orban also involved in the build-up as he moved flexibly surround the passing block and aimed to become a link between the defence and the midfield. Surprisingly, he was the player who made most passes (69, one pass higher than Konaté) among Leipzig players.
This showed the efficiency of Leipzig’s build-up and contributed to the fact that they were able to create many attacks during the match. And to increase the efficient rate and deal with the pressure from Bremen’s strikers, Laimer also dropped deep and created a four-man build-up with the centre-backs. His responsibilities were to come deep to bring the ball out of defence and then lay it towards Nkunku and Sabitzer.
At the same time, both wing-backs also positioned themselves high up the pitch, specifically between Bremen’s defensive line. Combined with two central midfielders, they created a line to fill in that vital space whilst holding the width. This gave Leipzig a variety of attacking options in general and allowed the ball carrier to have more passing options to lay the ball toward.
There was one thing that stood out in this match as Werner’s role involved the fact that he constantly roamed from his position and joined up with the midfield. Besides from drifting into the left-hand side, he usually linked up the team’s play by dropping deep to receive the ball. Furthermore, Werner also had the tendency of moving near the ball carrier and offered to pick the ball up.
His role was very similar to how Nagelsmann used the Croatian striker Andrej Kramarić in his last season with Hoffenheim. He played in the role of a roaming midfielder instead of his preferred position which was as a striker alongside Ádam Szalai. Similar to Werner and as showed on his heatmap, the former Stuttgart striker appeared almost everywhere on the pitch.
It’s quite different to what Werner had experienced last season as the German striker combined with Yussuf Poulsen to lead the line in Rangnick’s 4-2-2-2 formation. He usually sat on the shoulder of defenders and used his pace to beat his marker. But he coped well with the new instructions and provided a decent performance for Leipzig.
With seventeen chances created and half of them were on target, it’s fair to say that Leipzig had a very efficient day in front of goal. Also, the away side had most of their shots occurred inside the 16-yard box and it contributed to the fact that they could threaten Pavlenka’s goal more often.
Off the ball, they defended in a clear 5-3-2 formation and even positioned themselves high up the pitch. Werner and Matheus Cunha formed the first pressing line and their responsibility was to disrupt Bremen’s build-up using their pace. They would apply pressure on the ball carrier and his nearest passing option, at the same time, switched their target flexibly using their pace.
The midfielders also pushed high up the pitch and provided support for the strikers during the press. Sabitzer and Nkunku followed the central midfielders who dropped deep to prevent them from turning themselves into possible passing options. Usually, the players who took up this role on the opposite side were Klaassen and Maximillian, and since they acknowledged about their ability, their marking strategy became even more crucial.
It’s worth noticing that Leipzig’s three midfielders remained compact centrally and attempted to win numerical superiority inside the central area. It hindered Bremen from creating attacks through the central half of the pitch and they were left with no choice but to distribute the ball wide.
Along with the high press, Leipzig’s defensive line also positioned themselves on the edge of the middle third. In case Bremen centre-backs opted to make long passes towards their strikers, the defenders would be ready to clear it for their teammates to pick it up.
But this strategy left a major problem that Bremen exploited throughout the match. If the opposition’s midfielders managed to bypass the press, they would have at least four players to pin Leipzig’s defensive line down. Their movements attracted the attention of Leipzig defenders and it allowed the ball carrier’s teammates to move in behind their back.
With a gentle lofted pass, the ball carrier, in this case was Klaassen, could allow his teammates to continue his run and pick up the ball at the same time. In the shot below, Sargent and Bittencourt made a run into the space behind the defensive line and received the pass without any significant pressure.
Another problem that they also showed in this match was gaps being created in between the defenders. When one of them left their position to mark one of the opposition’s players, this required his teammate to cover that space up. In the time that player moved into that position, he could have left the gap behind him unoccupied.
This usually encouraged the likes of Klaassen or Sargent to move in and received the through pass. In the shot below, Bremen exploited that gap behind Leipzig’s defensive line perfectly through a pass from Lang that headed toward Klaassen.
High up the pitch, they employed an aggressive high press intending to recover possession. Using their man-oriented marking strategy, they were able to limit the number of passing options that the ball carrier had. This forced the opposition to make misplaced passes or heavy touches and allowed them to capitalise it for a quick attack.
At times, Bremen faced certain difficulties when building attacks from their defenders. They had to either clear the ball or made a backpass towards the goalkeeper and restarted their build-up process.
With their stubborn defensive strategy, they created many troubles for the opposite side in both the build-up process and in attacks. Although the away side showed problems and allowed Bremen to exploit it in the match, they were quick enough to recover from their positions and blocked those chances. It is one of the reasons that contributed to the fact that the home side had a struggle day in front of goal which kept Gulácsi a clean sheet after the match ended.
The clash between two of the most interesting managers on the sideline ended with a dominant win for Nagelsmann and Leipzig. Indeed, they have shown the necessary attributes and the tactical points to dominate not just the stats but also the match. They have continued their unbeaten streak and even raised up to the top of the league table. This will create a momentum for them to keep their form as they will welcome Schalke to their Red Bull Arena next weekend.
On the other hand, Bremen have ended their four-match scoring streak but it came in a match that they had a hefty injury list. It won’t be an easy task for Kohfeldt and his side as they will face Dortmund, Leverkusen, Hertha and Frankfurt in their next four matches. But with the positive signs that they had in this game, they need to make the most out of it on more occasions to offset the injuries that they face in recent times.
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