UEFA Europa League 2018/19: Celtic vs RB Leipzig
This match analysis was first featured on our dedicated Red Bull football site, redbullanalysis.com.
RasenBallsport Leipzig (RB Leipzig) dominated Celtic F.C side in the last round of Europa League matches. The Scottish champions came into the game knowing that only a win would keep their hopes of qualification alive. Prior to kick off, the group was evenly poised with FC Red Bull Salzburg the runaway leaders with nine points, RB Leipzig on six points and Celtic F.C on three points. Celtic needed a win to stay alive and deservedly so. Brendan Rodgers’ men produced a valiant performance in front of the Celtic Park faithful to keep their qualification dream alive. With FC Red Bull Salzburg thrashing Rosenborg 5-2, Celtic are now on level points with RB Leipzig heading into the final two match days.
Celtic Park is renowned for its electric atmosphere and is considered one of the best stadiums to play in by many. The 12th man galvanized the moment and attempted to suffocate the energy from the Leipzig camp. Let us take a closer look at why RB Leipzig failed to beat a team they had the better of just over three weeks ago.
Brendan Rodgers set up his team in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Tom Rogic playing a box-to-box role from the number 10 position with the license to influence play going forward. Another addition to the lineup was the inclusion of Scott Sinclair. The winger offered pace, agility and likes to sit on the shoulders of defenders and play in behind. Rodgers decision to play Scott Sinclair outlined his intent to press and expose Leipzig’s high line.
📋 The team news is in, Celts!
— Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) November 8, 2018
RB Leipzig left the influential trio of Yussuf Poulsen, Emil Forsberg and Timo Werner in Germany due to injury. Ralf Rangnick made three changes from the side that beat Celtic at the Red Bull Arena three weeks ago with Kevin Kampl and Lukas Klostermann making way for Stefan Ilsanker and Nordi Mukiele. Ilsanker was brought in to add steel to Leipzig’s midfield and allow Marcel Sabitzer to pull the strings. Konrad Laimer was pushed into Kevin Kampl’s box-to-box role. They lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with the front three retained from their last outing.
🚨 TEAM NEWS! 🚨
— RB Leipzig English (@RBLeipzig_EN) November 8, 2018
Press To Win
Brendan Rodgers’ side looked a different proposition from three weeks ago. Rodgers looked to have taken the momentum from their last three games and continued their terrific form for the crunch encounter. Having scored 13 goals without conceding showed ominous signs for a side that is struggling to keep pace in the Europa League. The champions learnt their lesson from their performance in Germany three weeks ago. The Northern Irishman is a tactician who is known to study his opponents and it showed in this performance.
Rodgers game plan was in plain sight from outset. In the first match, he planned to push RB Leipzig on to the back foot but it only lasted 35 minutes. The team brought a different mentality and was much more comfortable at home with a controlled aggression. The Scottish champions needed encouragement and an element of luck to keep their momentum going and Keiran Tierney’s first goal gave them a much-needed injection of hope.
As RB Leipzig clear their lines, notice Ryan Christie and Kieran Tierney’s reaction to want to close down Matheus Cunha. Their aggression proved successful as they managed to counter-attack Leipzig high up the pitch utilising the pace and intensity brought in by the inclusion of Scott Sinclair and Tom Rogic. Konrad Laimer did not track the run of Tom Rogic which allowed him a free shot. This could have been avoided and the counter-attack nullified earlier Leipzig’s midfield could keep pace with Celtic’s.
Not only did Celtic press in small pockets and groups but resembled a set of synchronized swimmers in their defensive stance. They did not allow RB Leipzig to rest and gain any momentum throughout the game. Pressing as a team allowed for energy conservation and cornered the RB Leipzig players. Celtic’s midfield pounced on Leipzig every time the ball was in sight with multiple players converging on the player. This halted Leipzig’s rhythm and flow. They were unable to play with the freedom they are used to against teams that sit back and counter.
As Dayot Upamecano plays the ball out wide to Konrad Laimer, we can see Celtic hold the perfect shape and start drifting towards the defensive midfielder. As Laimer tries to dribble down the flank, we can see James Forrest attempt to close him down and forces him to pass it to Bruma but once again is intercepted by Dedryck Boyata. Marcel Halstenberg is next to receive the ball but is immediately surrounded by a number of Celtic players.
High Line vs Low Line
Having seen Celtic F.C use a low block against RB Leipzig three weeks ago, Leipzig piled on the pressure and caused the Celtic defenders all sorts of trouble. Leipzig persisted with their high defensive line which correlates to their high-energy style of play of pushing high up the pitch.
Yet, Thursday night’s game gave us a different outcome. Celtic F.C persisted with their low block but were much more compact and rigid this time around. As we saw in the previous example, Celtic’s shape was intact when Leipzig starting playing out from the back. Their compactness and low line negated RB Leipzig’s primary source of attack of playing over the top through the centre-backs to the strikers who then lay it off for the other two attacking players to latch onto. This forced Leipzig to play out from the back and use their wing-backs but the discipline from the two Celtic wing-backs and impeccable tracking back from Scott Sinclair and James Forrest neutralised the threat from the wide areas.
During the last minute of stoppage time, RB Leipzig resorted to a long ball in the hopes of getting a knockdown and creating an equalising opportunity. Celtic’s back five are still holding their shape even after a gruelling 90 minutes of high octane football. Mikael Lustig battles Halstenberg in an aerial dual and is successful in removing the danger. Even after they lose the ball, the Leipzig forwards were not switched on which gave the Celtic defenders time to initiate another lightning-quick counter-attack.
Scott Sinclair & James Forrest
The two Celtic wingers were crucial in negating the attacking threat of RB Leipzig’s attackers most notably the wing-backs. Keeping Nordi Mukiele and Lukas Klostermann quiet was critical in shutting down Leipzig’s threat going forward especially since Celtic had closed off the aerial route. Rodgers instructed his wingers to stay narrow and wing-backs to press in tandem with the wingers; Keiran Tierney paired with Scott Sinclair and Mikael Lustig with James Forrest.
Scott Sinclair and James Forrest were outstanding all evening. Their immense work rate and desire to track back and contribute offensively contributed to their overall success. Their statistics for the game may not have been glamorous but their movement, pace and flair caused the Leipzig players a distinctive change. The wingers would track back and provide support to Tierney and Lustig especially when Cunha and Bruma would look to overload the flanks assisting Klostermann, Mukiele and later Halstenberg.
As Keiran Tierney takes the ball forward, we can see Scott Sinclair make his move towards the byline with Tierney moving into the channels. The pair interchanged a set of passes that eliminated both Marcel Sabitzer and Nordi Mukiele with Tierney moving into plenty of space and completed the move with a fantastic crossing opportunity for Édouard.
Scott Sinclair and James Forrest are blessed with incredible pace. This was imperative in initiating a number of counter-attacks from successful tackles won in defence or midfield. When Celtic were on the offensive, Sinclair would sit on the shoulder of Leipzig’s high line and run in behind Nordi Mukiele on numerous occasions creating a number of goal scoring opportunities whilst his right-sided teammate would be slightly deeper in case they were counter pressed. They caused so many problems to Mukiele that Marcel Halstenberg was brought on to try and solidify the flank.
We can see James Forrest isolated with Marcelo Saracchi engaging in the early push made by Celtic. He glides past the Brazilian full-back and manages to get himself in a great position to cross. Scott Sinclair did not make his run into the box until he knew Forrest was able to get into a crossing position. As the ball comes in, it is played behind Édouard and Sinclair but the onrushing Keiran Tierney is able to latch on to the cross and convert it into a goal. After 10 minutes of intense pressure, this goal was well deserved and gave Celtic the momentum they needed to keep up the high intensity.
RB Leipzig’s only goal of the game was a direct result of the wing-backs having space and time. Scott Sinclair afforded Lukas Klostermann a considerable amount of space to pick out Jean-Kévin Augustin who heads into to equalise and give RB Leipzig 13 minutes to find a winner.
This was an entertaining match for the neutrals and much needed to keep qualification alive till the final match day. Celtic Park emits a vociferous aura for the opposition, intimidating players that step foot into the Coliseum. Constant pressure from the East German club and precise, aggressive counter-attacking football from the Scottish champions kept the game competitive. Celtic applied pressure all over the pitch and multiple misplaced passes from the Leipzig players was a result of the pressure telling on them.
💬 Marcel #Halstenberg: "We were a step behind too often today and made too many misplaced passes. Perhaps the atmosphere got to one or two of us as well. Now we've got to move on – on Sunday we're back in Bundesliga action against Leverkusen." #CELRBL pic.twitter.com/rNWlG7DOXg
— RB Leipzig English (@RBLeipzig_EN) November 8, 2018
The young squad was mentally beaten by the atmosphere of playing at one of the most electrifying atmospheres in Europe. This is not the same Leipzig team we have seen over the past few weeks and months but I fully expect the East German club to progress through to the next round but Celtic have given themselves a fighting chance to qualify for the knockout stages with fate in their own hands. RB Leipzig will need a positive result against FC Red Bull Salzburg when they meet next to put themselves in the front seat for qualifying. No one gave Brendan Rodgers and his men a chance of winning this game but can he now defy the odds and take Celtic one step further?