Bundesliga 2019/20: RB Leipzig vs Schalke- tactical analysis
A top of the table clash headlined the Bundesliga this weekend, with the then-leaders RB Leipzig taking on Schalke. In a game in which many expected Leipzig to continue their good form, they instead struggled against a well-drilled, excellent Schalke side who deservedly took home three points on the day. In this tactical analysis, I’ll take a look at Leipzig’s problems in the game, and also analyse the effect Schalke’s shape and play had on those problems.
Leipzig lined up in a 4-4-2 while Schalke opted for an unconventional shape of a 4-1-3-2, which was most often seen when they were pressing Leipzig. The formation was flexible throughout the game, except for the pair of Guido Burgstaller and Rabbi Matondo who stayed up front throughout, as Schalke were insistent on keeping them forward throughout the game.
Schalke’s effective press
A key part of Schalke’s ability to control Leipzig without much possession was their pressing structure, which was very successful particularly in the first half. Below we can see the 4-1-3-2 structure mentioned earlier that Schalke pressed in for most of the game. The two strikers were responsible for pressing the two central defenders of Leipzig, which often resulted in passes being played wide to a deep full-back, as we can see here.
This left Schalke pressing in this kind of structure highlighted below. Similar to a diamond pressing scheme, the widest central midfielder would press the full-back, while the other two central midfield players would tuck across to cover the remaining central options. With the centre-backs covered by the two strikers, this left Leipzig with the option to either play out where they were often caught in central areas, or to play the ball long down the line.
We can see a similar example of this happening in the game below. Here, the only variation is Burgstaller pressing one of the central midfielders, but the same principles apply. Péter Gulácsi plays the ball out to the full-back who is pressed aggressively by, in this case, Suat Serdar who had an excellent game. The central and wide options are cut off and so Leipzig in this case go long up to Yussuf Poulsen.
Leipzig struggle to penetrate centre
In deeper areas of the pitch, Schalke’s shape again had a big impact on Leipzig’s style of play, albeit if Leipzig were not on their best form offensively. Leipzig struggled to consistently get into the centre of the pitch to create meaningful chances, and instead were often forced wide and kept there with Leipzig rarely looking to or being able to switch the ball. This resulted in lots of spells of meaningless possession for Leipzig on the wing, such as what we can see below.
Schalke’s midfield four form a diamond with one midfielder stepping out. Having these four bodies in such close proximity to one another in the centre of the pitch limited Leipzig’s ability to work from outside to in, and when Leipzig did look to cut inside, they were pressed as we can see below.
We can see here, Emil Forsberg is available in space to receive the ball inside, but again Schalke protect the centre and Serdar gets back to block the immediate inside passing lane.
We can see a fairly similar example again here where Leipzig look to go inside. Again however, Schalke’s midfield is able to control the centre of the pitch and cuts off the central passing lane. The poor pass by the Leipzig player also doesn’t allow Leipzig to progress the ball up the pitch.
On the occasions where Leipzig were able to work a way inside, such as in the example below, they were able to get shots on goal. Here Diego Demme occupies the half-space well, where he receives the ball before being forced to pass to the edge of the box by Schalke. Leipzig had too many possessions in the game in which they were unable to escape Schalke’s pressure in wide areas, and were simply contained.
Schalke counter-attacks and Leipzig’s rest defence
Schalke’s gameplan was very clear throughout the game, and while they certainly were helped early on by their goalkeeper Alexander Nübel, they executed this gameplan effectively. Schalke looked to control the midfield and stay compact, and when they won the ball, they looked to counter with long passes quickly. There was certainly an emphasis on long passing from Schalke, with almost 20% of the passes they played being classified as long by Wyscout.
These long passes looked to exploit the 2 v 2 opportunities they had in counter-attacking moments such as the one below. The success of Schalke’s counter-attacks was benefitted by Leipzig’s poor rest defence, or the shape they were in when in possession in relation to limiting transitions. We can see an example of this poor rest defence below, where Leipzig deliver a cross to a flat line of their players. Having no kind of depth or cover to this attack means that when the ball drops into this space highlighted, no counter-press can be applied from the front in an attempt to stop the counter-attack. Therefore, Schalke get the second ball and are free to play a long pass where they are now 2 vs 1, thanks to Upamecano being caught higher than his centre-back partner as highlighted.
We can see again in this example that Leipzig have no depth to their attacks, are impatient, and rush players forward. With no sitting player or players available to counterpress, Serdar is able to release the ball into acres of space for Schalke to transition into a 3 v 2. This again also shows Schalke doing an excellent job of protecting the centre of the pitch and the half-spaces, which was key in their victory.
David Wagner got his tactics spot on and engineered an excellent win for Schalke to continue their excellent form this season, but the game could have been much different. Alexander Nübel’s early double save was a massive factor in the game, and had one of those chances gone in, it would not have been the same game. Schalke did, however, outscore Leipzig on xG, and so the notion that Leipzig were unlucky is unfair on Schalke’s superb team performance. As I’ve shown in this analysis, their midfield was the deciding factor in the game, and Suat Serdar particularly impressed both offensively and defensively. For Leipzig, it was a stark reminder of why so many teams struggle with counter-attacking in the Bundesliga, and will certainly be something they will need to work on if they wish to continue in this Bundesliga title race.
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