How did Makoto Hasebe roll back the years to frustrate RB Leipzig?
RB Leipzig and Eintracht Frankfurt clashed in one of the most highly anticipated matchups of the Bundesliga weekend. Five points separated them before kick-off and both teams were looking for three points to cement their top four positions. RB Leipzig came into this match on the back of three straight wins with eight goals scored and none conceded, including a 4-0 demolition of Fortuna Dusseldorf. Eintracht Frankfurt came into this match with two draws and one win, including last week’s 1-1 draw against Borussia Dortmund.
The result would have long-term ramifications in securing European qualification. With both teams having played some scintillating football this season, this game promised to be packed with energetic football. This feature will break down the tactical aspects of RB Leipzig’s goalless draw against Eintracht Frankfurt but first, let’s assess the team selection.
Ralf Rangnick set up his side in a 3-4-1-2 formation to match Eintracht Frankfurt’s three-man defensive system. There were three changes to the Leipzig line up with Nordi Mukiele replacing the injured Ibrahima Konaté at centre-back. Stefan Illsanker replaced Tyler Adams and Matheus Cunha made way for the return of talismanic Timo Werner. Yussuf Poulsen was reunited with his strike partner and was looking to build on his 10-goal haul in the Bundesliga this season.
The three-man defence put an emphasis on the two wing-backs to supply the strike duo. Lucas Klostermann and Marcel Halstenberg have been in fine form and would look to utilise the pace of Liverpool target Timo Werner and intelligent hold-up play of Yussuf Poulsen. Marcel Sabitzer would look to dictate play from the number 10 position and act as the enganche between the midfield and front two.
While RB Leipzig adapted to their opposition, Eintracht Frankfurt continued with a system that has worked for them all season and propelled them up the league table. Eintracht Frankfurt are a counter-attacking side that operate in a 3-4-1-2 formation and play direct football.
They use their wing-backs effectively and have them get the ball to the forwards as quickly as possible. Another method of attacking is using their central centre-back, usually Makoto Hasebe, to launch long balls into the front three to take advantage of the strength, pace, and movement of Sébastien Haller and Ante Rebić.
Eintracht Frankfurt’s defensive effort
Frankfurt’s back five stuck to the game plan and nullified the attacking threat of Leipzig’s attackers posed throughout the match. Not only did they have to contend with Yussuf Poulsen and Timo Werner, but the attacking emphasis of Lukas Klostermann, Marcel Sabitzer and Marcel Halstenberg also posed a significant threat.
Sabitzer’s role was to create from an advanced position by playing in Werner and Poulsen and target the inside channels for Halstenberg and Klostermann to exploit. However, he was thwarted by the excellent football intelligence of Makoto Hasebe, Evan N’Dicka, and Martin Hinteregger.
Makoto Hasebe played with skill and intelligence, exuberating his class and leading his defensive unit to a clean sheet against a prolific attacking force that had scored seven goals in their previous two games. His statistics from last night’s match prove his influence over a side that is gunning for a top-four finish. With similar performances, he should enable them to further propel themselves into the top four.
Throughout the evening we saw examples of Hasebe’s intelligent football mind. In one passage of play, we saw Frankfurt defend a period of intense pressure with both Hinteregger and Hasebe using their athleticism and intelligence to curtail Leipzig’s attack. This portion of the match saw Leipzig relentlessly attack Frankfurt’s goal, requiring the leadership of Eintracht’s legendary Japanese centre-back to get through it.
It starts with Martin Hinteregger putting in a latch-ditch tackle after Leipzig had successfully played in Yussuf Poulsen across goal with a shooting opportunity available. The Austrian’s defending prevented any shot reaching Kevin Trapp.
In the second phase of play, we can see Leipzig take a quick throw-in and try to take advantage of the unsettled Frankfurt defensive line. However, Makoto Hasebe has the foresight to foresee Konrad Laimer’s run and maintain his position. He attempts to cover the empty space to his right by holding his run, timing it to perfection as Laimer knocks it past the Frankfurt full-back. Hasebe manages to dispossess Laimer and clear the ball away.
Even in the second half, Hasebe exemplified intelligent positioning to prevent another Leipzig opportunity by holding off on a run and putting himself in front of Poulsen to intercept a cross.
Here we can see Leipzig counter-attack Frankfurt with Marcel Sabitzer leading the charge. As he receives the ball, Lukas Klostermann is in space to take the ball wide and send in an early cross for Yussuf Poulsen. Filip Kostić at left wing-back manages to close down the space between him and Klostermann before clearing the ball out of imminent danger.
Timo Werner’s off night
RB Leipzig were the dominant side on paper with 15 shots, seven corners, and 54% possession. But with just a solitary shot on target, the attacking trident had an off night, in particular Timo Werner.
The German international striker had a poor evening as he was frustrated by the top-class defensive effort by Makoto Hasebe and company. They did well to keep him under control, not allowing Werner a single shot on target and blocking his two other goal-bound attempts. Frankfurt’s defenders made sure to stay as close as possible to Werner to not allow him a yard of space to move into.
Martin Hinteregger executed his task perfectly by tracking Werner’s movement after being played in by Marcel Sabitzer. The German striker tries to get his strike off but Hinteregger does well to make sure he isn’t able to get a shot away.
For all of RB Leipzig’s possession and shots, they managed a meager solitary shot on target. The three forward players were stopped time and time again by the Frankfurt defence, but how did Leipzig prevent Eintracht Frankfurt’s prolific front three from scoring?
Luka Jović, Sébastien Haller, and Ante Rebić have scored 32 goals between them. The team with the fourth highest goal tally in the league with 40 failed to score for the first time in three games. With only six shots registered and two on target, they weren’t able to penetrate Leipzig’s defence. This was largely down to Willi Orban, Stefan Illsanker and Nordi Mukiele’s defending, but Diego Demme’s performance made it difficult for Frankfurt to penetrate the back line.
The defensive midfielder was superb and was seen all over the pitch putting in tackles, interceptions and keeping the team ticking over. He engaged in nine duels, winning six, three tackles and one interception, but it was overall positioning and movement that halted Frankfurt.
This map represents the duels he won against Eintracht Frankfurt, and even with 18 unsuccessful duels it displays his willingness to engage in tackles and defensive situations. A lot of his movement involved pressuring the opposition strikers into misplacing passes or passing back towards their own goal.
One player that was affected by Demme’s midfield performance was Sébastien Haller who endured a frustrating evening. The French striker was nullified by Willi Orban and Stefan Illsanker when he got closer to the penalty area but was also harassed by the energetic Demme. The examples below show how Demme curtailed the attacking threat.
As the ball is transitioned into Leipzig’s half, Demme closes down Sébastien Haller before he has the opportunity to turn and play in Luka Jović or Ante Rebić. The pressure from Diego Demme has forced Haller to play back towards his own goal.
Both teams will be happy with their defensive displays but may worry about their forwards’ inability to break down stubborn defences. They canceled each other out with similar formations. Ralf Rangnick may have found a way to nullify the Frankfurt threat that could act as a blueprint for other teams to follow.
On another day, he could have seen his side score three or four goals. However, this result proves Eintracht Frankfurt have the capability to mix it with and take on the best in the league. As the season enters the final stretch, the race for the top four takes shape and will prove extremely intriguing as the top six sides of the Bundesliga are all possible contenders.
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