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UEFA Champions League 2019/20: RB Leipzig vs Atlético de Madrid - tactical preview tactics

UEFA Champions League 2019/20: RB Leipzig vs Atletico de Madrid – tactical preview

The UEFA Champions League clash between RB Leipzig and Atlético de Madrid will be the second quarter-finals of the tournament and is going to be interesting as both teams have beaten the finalists of last year’s Champions League. This is the first time that Leipzig has been drawn against a Spanish team and it’s also their first experience in the knock-out phase of this competition. Both teams are filled with confidence as both the teams have played some excellent football since the restart of football in June. In this tactical preview, we shall perform a tactical analysis of what tactics both the teams would adapt to and how they would look to take advantage of each other’s weakness and loopholes.

Line-up prediction

Diego Simeone will be forced to make some last-minute changes as both Ángel Correa and Šime Vrsaljko were tested positive for coronavirus, while the rest of the team is ready to go.

Atlético de Madrid (4-4-2)Jan Oblak(GK), Kieran Trippier, Stefan Savic, Jose Gimenez, Renan Lodi, Marcos Llorente, Thomas Partey, Saul Niguez, Koke, Joao Felix, Diego Costa.

UEFA Champions League 2019/20: RB Leipzig vs Atletico de Madrid - tactical preview tactics

On the other hand, the 33-year-old manager, Julian Nagelsmann also will have to make a few changes since their last appearance in the Champions League as Timo Werner will no longer be available due to his move to Chelsea. Yussuf Poulsen is expected to make his comeback into the team, after returning from his injury back in the Bundesliga campaign.

RB Leipzig (3-4-3) – Peter Gulacsi(GK), Lukas Klostermann, Dayot Upamecano, Marcel Halstenberg, Nordi Mukiele, Konrad Laimer, Marcel Sabitzer, Angelino, Christopher Nkunku, Patrick Schick, Yussuf Poulsen.

Tactical analysis of RB Leipzig’s formation

As predicted in the earlier section, Leipzig would line up in a 3-4-3 formation and let us discuss why they should be doing this. Atlético as a strong defensive team will adapt to a mid-block defence strategy and wouldn’t necessarily press high which means building up of play from the back should be easy for Leipzig. In their attacking phase, Nkunku would drop back to the mid-third to support their midfielders. With just two men pressing them high, Leipzig’s three-man defence would comfortably switch to a 2-1 formation with the central defender playing the pivot role in connecting the midfielders and the defenders.

Now with five players in the midfield against just four men of Atlético, they would now try to stretch the opponents’ defensive lines to find spaces. The strikers would either drop to receive the ball or would be in shoulder line with the defenders anticipating the long balls.

UEFA Champions League 2019/20: RB Leipzig vs Atletico de Madrid - tactical preview tactics

As a result of their smooth build-up of play, we can see that almost the entire team is now in the attacking third. With nine men up front, it would make it difficult for Atlético to mark all the free players and due to which, they would have to draw back all their players into defending. Which would mean they will have just one man in the front which theoretically reduces the chances of them scoring in their most relied option which is counter attacks. With their vertical passes and attacking, Leipzig would look to keep creating chances and causing threat and wouldn’t let Atlético’s defence settle throughout the match.

If Leipzig loses possession in the attacking third, it’ll be a matter of seconds for them to recover the ball from Atlético as their pitch control in the final third is very impressive and they press very strong. While this happens, the remaining players would mark the closest option making it difficult for Atlético to progress the ball.

UEFA Champions League 2019/20: RB Leipzig vs Atletico de Madrid - tactical preview tactics

The above picture shows the recoveries made by Leipzig in the final third where we could see a lot of recoveries are made just in front of the penalty area. This could also mean that Leipzig makes sure that the ball doesn’t cross their midfielders and goes to the defenders. Nagelsmann is quite fearless as he asks both his centre-midfielders to commit in the attacking and letting their centre-backs move up to close in the gap.

The same tactics are used by them in the mid-third as well to recover the ball. They commit too many players around the ball, which is dangerous but also gives very little time for the opponents to react or take any decision.

UEFA Champions League 2019/20: RB Leipzig vs Atletico de Madrid - tactical preview tactics

From the above picture, we could see three Leipzig men charging to the ball while the remaining ones are blocking the possible pass lanes, making it really difficult for the ball possessor and put him in immense pressure to win the ball back. These tactics explain how versatile their formation is and the tactical reasoning behind it. Now, this could mean Atlético will be forced to defend in most part of the game and will be put under immense pressure.

How can Atletico de Madrid exploit RB Leipzig’s defensive flaws?

In this section, we will perform an analysis of how Atlético will have to attack and to exploit Leipzig’s defence. It will be really difficult for Atlético to penetrate into their defence in their attacking phase unless they commit the entire team into the attack which again is a risky thing to do, as Leipzig could go long and score in a counter-attack.

Leipzig’s 3-4-3 formation transits into a 5-3-2 formation while defending and makes it hard for the opponents to find gaps.

UEFA Champions League 2019/20: RB Leipzig vs Atletico de Madrid - tactical preview tactics

From the above picture, we could see that now both wingers have combined with the defence while centre-midfielders hold the opponents and strikers pressures to win the ball. But Leipzig would be comfortable in defending with four men in the back and four in the mid-third to stop Atlético’s 4-4-2. Which is exactly why they shouldn’t take time to build up their game, but rather their transition to attack has to quick and spontaneous.

Atlético should take advantage of the overcommitting of players by Leipzig while attacking and should look to seek opportunity when this happens. Which means Atlético will have to counter-attack every time they win possession in their defensive third. With Atlético’s entire team defending and just one man in the front, they shouldn’t try to counter through the centre but rather through the flanks. Counters through the flanks have been one of the major concerns of Leipzig’s tactical system. With just three men in the back, attacking through the flank will result in one of the centre-backs trying to close down the player which automatically will result in the creation of gaps between the centre-backs.

UEFA Champions League 2019/20: RB Leipzig vs Atletico de Madrid - tactical preview tactics

As we see from the above picture, Leipzig is being attacked from the right flank which elongates their three-man defence. Attacking through the flanks not only spreads up their defence but also gives enough time to other men in the attacking team to combine. We could see that as the whole team is focussed towards one flank while the other flank is completely open with so much space to exploit. Atlético should create such situations in the match to take advantage of their play style.

UEFA Champions League 2019/20: RB Leipzig vs Atletico de Madrid - tactical preview tactics

The above picture is a representation of locations on the pitch where Leipzig had lost their defensive duels in their own third and as we can easily witness, it’s in the flanks that they have suffered and have lost most of their duels. Atlético will have to take advantage of this loophole which they could exploit further to see results.

Another source of causing danger to Leipzig by Atlético could be in the form of free-kicks and corner kicks. Leipzig have certainly struggled to defend during the corners and has conceded quite a number of goals from set-pieces which will surely be taken advantage by the experienced Atlético.

Will Atletico de Madrid have to depend on counter-attacks and set-pieces to score?

No, definitely not. Atlético possess some brilliant squad depth with experienced players that are capable of beating the odds and making everything in favour of them, but if Atlético make a few tactical changes to their play, it could definitely give them an edge over Leipzig. By understanding that one of the major threats caused by Leipzig is when they attack and in order to prevent them from attacking so easily is to stop them from building up their game in the initial stage. In order to make it hard for them to build up their game, Atlético should go against their usual tactics and should decide to press high. Leipzig have struggled against teams who press high and have found it difficult to progress the ball to the mid-third.

UEFA Champions League 2019/20: RB Leipzig vs Atletico de Madrid - tactical preview tactics

From the above picture, we could see Augsburg winning back possession from Leipzig by pressing high and attacking immediately by giving no time for defenders to settle. As Gulacsi isn’t very sound in the distribution of ball or at handling the ball in pressure, the three-man defence needs help from their midfielders and as a result, most of the team now fall back leaving the mid-third empty. But man-to man marking and effective pressing could cause some real damage to Leipzig.

Upon regaining possession in the final third, Atlético will have to hold the ball and would need to find the gaps in between the centre-backs. Since Leipzig are very quick, Atlético’s strikers will have to play along with the last man to make decisive runs.

UEFA Champions League 2019/20: RB Leipzig vs Atletico de Madrid - tactical preview tactics

As we can see from the above picture, holding off the ball in the final third for Atlético would mean that a majority of Leipzig’s midfielders would swarm around Atlético’s ball possessor to apply pressure. Which is exactly when the attacker needs to stay composed and look for the possible gaps which will definitely be created as all of Leipzig’s players would swarm around. Atlético have a lot of experienced players to their squad and are capable of creating such moves like in the picture, where the ball possessor would roll the ball into the gaps, while a decisive run by the striker could change the game in their favour.

At the same time, Atlético should also be aware of the fact that Leipzig is comfortable to choose the aerial route to escape the crowd. As their strikers play in line with the centre-backs, a good run could possibly be enough to create a goal move.

UEFA Champions League 2019/20: RB Leipzig vs Atletico de Madrid - tactical preview tactics

From the above picture, we can see two strikers playing in line with the defence and while the entire team is on one side, the ball is switched in the air to the opposite flank which has more space to exploit.

Atlético’s left flank has always been a bit of concern as they often experience threat through that side of the pitch, Leipzig would be keen to cultivate of this area of concern. Which means, they’ll need some extra protection in that area to stop the Leipzig from attacking.

UEFA Champions League 2019/20: RB Leipzig vs Atletico de Madrid - tactical preview tacticsThe above picture explains the location where Atlético have lost most of their duels in their own third and it becomes a pretty obvious thing to notice that their left flank is the zone which has been exploited the most and has been taken advantage of. Atlético will have to show some strong defending abilities which they usually do to prevent Leipzig from scoring and also will have to use the little chances they get to score.

Leipzig are a team with tactical versatility and could change their tactics even while playing and adapt to counter Atlético’s tactics which is exactly why Atlético needs to be stronger than ever to be the better of the two sides.


There’s no doubt that the clash between these two sides is going to be of high standards and the team which makes fewer mistakes will get to smile at the end of 90 minutes. Oblak will be the obvious key player for Atlético while Llorente and Partey too will have some work to be done in the mid-third. From Leipzig’s point of view Nkunku, Schick, and Halstenberg will be their game-changers. 

As the two teams have never met before in any fixture it’ll be interesting to see how these teams play against each other. With Atlético being the experienced pack and having been on a similar stage in the previous years, they’ll definitely have an edge over Leipzig in Estádio José Alvalade.