Bundesliga 2019/20: RB Leipzig vs Werder Bremen – tactical analysis
RB Leipzig welcomed Werder Bremen to the Red Bull Arena on matchday 22 of the Bundesliga campaign. Julian Nagelsmann’s men saw off Bremen with a convincing victory, with two goals coming off of set pieces. While Florian Kohfeldt’s men spent a short training camp in Leipzig in the build-up to the match, they were unable to win any points off of Leipzig.
This tactical analysis will look to understand the tactics used by both RB Leipzig and Werder Bremen in their Bundesliga match. The analysis will look to understand the ideas that both Julian Nagelsmann and Florian Kohfeldt brought to the match that ultimately saw RB Leipzig defeat Werder Bremen by the score of 3-0.
Julian Nagelsmann started the match in a 3-4-1-2 with Péter Gulácsi in goal. In front of Gulácsi were Marcel Halstenberg, Dayot Upamecano, and Lukas Klostermann, which means Leipizig had one true centre back on the pitch at the start of the match. In front of the three defenders in the midfield were Angeliño, Konrad Laimer, Marcel Sabitzer, and Nordi Mukiele, with Angeliño on the left flank on Mukiele on the right. Going forward, Dani Olmo served as the attacking midfielder playing behind both Timo Werner and Patrik Schick.
Florian Kohfedlt’s Werder began the match in a 3-4-3 before switching to a 3-5-2 later in the match with Jiri Pavlenka in goal. Niklas Moisander, Kevin Vogt, Milos Veljkovic, played as the three defenders in front of Pavlenka, with Vogt between Moisander on the left and Veljkovic on the right. Marco Friedl and Theodor Gebre Selassie served on the wings for Kohfedlt’s men as Davy Klaassen and Maximilian Eggestein worked in the centre of the pitch. Their attackers were Milot Rashica, Yuya Osako, and Leonardo Bittencourt with Rashica on the left-wing and Bittencourt on the right as Osako served as the forward.
Werder’s successful build-up
Part of Werder Bremen’s reputation is that they play well against big teams but don’t usually win. This reputation played out in parts during this match, as Werder were able to find success with some tactics, particularly when they were building out of the back from goal kicks or after winning possession.
The first thing to note in the image is the numbers that Werder are building on the right side. The triangle on the right that they construct as Vogt is on the ball attracts three Leipzig defenders. Another important part of this successful build up is how spread out Werder is; their distance allows them to open up passing lanes because Leipzig has overcommitted players to defend the triangle of players. As a result, the left side of the pitch has more space for Werder; accordingly, Vogt plays a long pass to his midfielder, and then he abandons his position in the centre of the back line to provide support. Werder now has a free man in the space, allowing them to outnumber Leipzig in this scenario.
Werder have built themselves this wonderful diamond with Vogt in the centre of it. This means that every man in this shape has at least two passing options, with most of them having three options (depending on where the defenders are). Not only are they in the proper shape, but Werder also outnumber Leipzig in this instance. The numerical advantage in combination with the proper positioning allows Werder to play through pressure here rather easily.
Werder also incorporated rotations in order for their buildup to work successfully. RB Leipzig is an incredibly organized team, and they can press quite well. One of the best ways to break that press is through player rotations, which creates space and time for teammates to receive a ball.
In the image above, Leipzig does a fantastic job providing pressure on Marcel Halstenberg and any close teammates who are immediate passing options. Davy Klaassen recognises that Leipzig has Werder pinned back, and he checks out of the space, dragging his defender with him. At the same time Klaassen drags his defender, Milot Rashica checks towards Halstenberg, where he receives the ball in space. Rashica does two things well here: he coordinates his run with Klaassen, which doesn’t allow Leipzig any time to organise, and he creates enough space between him and his defender, which allows him to play his next pass.
Werder’s positioning issues in midfield
Werder’s success in their buildup from the back suggests that they have the ability to play with a team like Leipzig, who are one point off of first place. However, what caused Werder to struggle was their positioning issues in midfield, which often saw them send long balls or lose possession.
Here, Maximilian Eggestein receives the ball from Milos Veljkovic, who is on the right side of the back three. As Eggestein checks into the space, Bittencourt checks away from the ball. When Eggestein receives the ball, Theodor Gebre Selassie makes a run down the line. Davy Klaasseen, highlighted by the red, simply doesn’t move from his position to provide any support. Bittencourt does check back, but he does so too late to be an option for Eggestein, while also being in a passing lane that is completely blocked, rendering himself useless.
This lack of support in the midfield continued through most of the match.
Minutes later, Milos Veljkovic receives the ball in plenty of space. As he is receiving the pass, there are three Werder players who are options for him going forward. However, all three players begin to run down the field. With three men running away, Veljkovic has no real options except to lump the ball down the pitch. Eggestein does change his run from a strictly vertical run to a horizontal run, which makes the pass that Veljkovic has to play much more difficult. He tries to find Eggestein, but he plays the ball too far in front of him, ultimately resulting in a loss of possession.
Towards the end of the half, the positioning issues in the midfield were exposed again.
Eggestein lays the ball off for Gebre Selassie and then makes his run down the line. As Eggestein vacates the space, no one checks into it. Gebre Selassie does not have any options as Leipzig has taken away the option for him to lay the ball back to his defending teammate. Bittencourt, whose run is marked yellow, does check back to the ball, but again it is too late to actually be effective. Gebre Selassie tries to play Bittencourt, but because Bittencourt was late, there was no angle for a successful pass, resulting in Werder losing possession. It seems as if Werder were stuck between trying to build up slowly and launching the ball down the field, which is why the struggled to produce any real quality chances, only registering 0.56 expected goals in this match.
Nagelsmann has a reputation for being a very detail-oriented coach, so it’s no surprise that Leipzig were prepared to take advantage of their set-pieces. Nagelsmann would have done some analysis on Bremen’s tendencies on set pieces, as Werder has given up the second most set-piece goals in the league with 12, second only to Mainz 05, who have given up 13. Leipzig’s first goal came off a free-kick, which was earned when Maximilian Eggestein earned a yellow card for a dangerous tackle outside the penalty area.
Both Dayot Upamecano and Patrik Schick make essentially the same run successfully, allowing for either of them to earn the assist. Before they can make that run, they find some space between themselves and the Werder defence. This is important because it gives them a metre or two to build up speed, which the Werder defenders will not be able to catch up with, as they don’t have much distance to regain their positioning. This separation that they create allows them to blow by the defence, with both of them serving as options to deliver the cross. As they make those runs, Lukas Klostermann, the eventual goal scorer, makes a curved run, initially running towards the ball. This initial movement towards the ball is important and ultimately frees him up to score.
Because Klostermann checks towards the ball, defenders believe that he has either made a dummy run or wasn’t an option. As the ball gets lofted to the back post and onto Schick’s foot, all three defenders who are closest to Klostermann are all caught watching the ball, not checking their shoulders. This allows Klostermann to glide in and finish calmly after Schick plays the ball back into the direction it came from.
For their second goal, Leipzig created multiple movements to create space, which ultimately found them a shot on target that should have probably been saved.
Dayot Upamecano and Patrik Schick feature in this goal as well, with Schick, the eventual goal scorer. Upamecano starts the movement by running behind a majority of the defenders, attracting attention with his height and aerial prowess. As Upamecano makes his run, Marcel Halstenberg attacks the space at the far post, where he also could have had the chance to win the ball, had it arrived there. As Halstenberg attacks the fair post, the last defender in the back three, Lukas Klostermann, checks away from the centre where Schick and Upamecano are, in an attempt to drag his opponent with him. While the defender ultimately challenged for the ball, Schick was able to win the header (albeit with a slight shove of his defender) and put the ball in the back of the net.
Leipzig’s angles of support
Leipzig did a wonderful job of manipulating their opponent’s movements on set pieces. Still, they also did so for the majority of the match, using a lot of their positioning in order to open up spaces for teammates to attack or progress.
Leipzig’s back three and Konrad Laimer form the diamond seen above. As they form this shape, the back three does not spread out too wide, which means that the forwards from Werder, who appear to be man-marking, stay fairly compact. Leipzig’s positioning opens up space on the outside for them to play into, which is exactly where Upamecano’s pass ends up.
In our next image, we see Bremen still appearing to man-mark, with Upamecano, an excellent passing centre back, with the ball at his feet.
As Upamecano dribbles, the midfielders find positioning between the lines of Werder defenders. Timo Werner is the man at the tip of the triangle. With his back towards goal, this is a tough place to turn up the pitch with the ball. On either side of him, Werner has a passing option to lay the ball off. Those players are able to face forward once the ball gets played into Werner, allowing them to be more dangerous options, as they can take on opposing defenders rather quickly. This positioning by RB Leipzig provides them with an advantage going forward, as it puts the attacker in control of what will happen next, as opposed to the defender, who would much rather have an attacker with his back to goal with no passing options.
Nagelsmann’s men were also able to manipulate Werder with their positioning when it came to establishing width.
RB Leipzig had Angeliño on the left side and Nordi Mukiele on the right side providing width. Werder’s outside backs decided to give them a bit more attention than they should have, which means that wide passing lanes opened up for Leipzig to play through. As seen above, Mukiele draws the attention of Friedl, who slides over to close him down. As Freidl does, this creates space for Marcel Sabitzer to run into. Sabitzer is now in a 1v1 situation with the defender, and if he can beat him, has teammates making runs in preparation for the cross. By spreading out wide with Mukiele and Angeliño, Leipzig were able create more room for passing opportunities, and in turn, more goal-scoring opportunities.
RB Leipzig’s victory saw them temporarily move to the top of the table, as Bayern Munich didn’t play until Sunday morning, when they defeated FC Köln. Ultimately, Leipzig are a point behind last year’s champions, and they sit just one point above Borussia Dortmund, who put four goals past Eintracht Frankfurt on Friday evening. Julian Nagelsmann’s squad have a lot of strengths they can play to as the progress through this Bundesliga campaign.
With their fourth Bundesliga loss in five games, Werder Bremen find themselves in 17th position in the table, firmly in a relegation battle. While the search for points continues, the pressure will certainly increase as they take on Borussia Dortmund next weekend, which could see Werder lose five matches in a row. As the season progresses, alarm bells are loudly ringing for the team from Bremen. If changes aren’t made quickly, Werder Bremen risk getting relegated for just the second time in their club’s proud history.