UEFA Champions League 2019/20: RB Leipzig vs Tottenham- tactical analysis
RB Leipzig took on Tottenham in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 on Tuesday evening, with RB Leipzig looking to maintain their control of the tie following a 1-0 win in London previously. The game had not only been highlighted as a game between the two sides but between the two managers in Julian Nagelsmann and José Mourinho. In the end, it was Nagelsmann’s side who came out on top, despite both sides playing very similar structures in the game. However, although the structures were similar, there were significant parallels between the sides in terms of tactics and ability in certain phases of play, and it was these parallels which allowed Leipzig to dominate the game and effectively end the tie after 30 minutes. In this tactical analysis, I will discuss the key problems Tottenham had in the game, as well as these differences in quality between the two sides in the same phases of play.
As mentioned, both sides lined up using the same system, with both employing a 3-4-3. Tottenham’s lack of forward options was clear to show both from the team sheet and in the game itself, and Dele Alli was extremely poor in the game, arguably like most of the Tottenham side.
Tottenham’s (bad) man-orientated pressing
Following an extremely passive first leg, Tottenham opted to be much more aggressive in their pressing and matched Leipzig man for man. We can see their ideal pressing scheme below, which focuses on getting tight to the opposition and forcing longer passes. The matching of formations makes this a fairly basic scheme, and players simply have to press their opposite, with clear instructions early on to remain tight and force long passes.
We can see here that Tottenham get extremely tight and force goalkeeper Péter Gulácsi long. Tottenham also repetitively pressed the goalkeeper if he received the ball to feet, again for the same reason. The most central striker or nearest player would usually jump to press. By getting tight, you are not only forcing long passes, but you are also testing the technical ability of the opposition in a way, as you are forcing them to receive under constant pressure. Therefore, if players have the ability to overcome this pressure and win their individual 1 v 1, suddenly the man-orientated side can have balance problems.
We can see this scheme here applied well, with a high press from Tottenham being well-timed and the pressing distances between players healthy, allowing for the ball to be won back or the ball to be forced long. You may notice, the positioning of Dayot Upamecano, which is something we will pick up on later in the analysis. This example was one of a small number of examples of Tottenham using this press effectively, but on the whole, it was poor, as I’ll move onto now.
We can see Tottenham being extremely man-orientated here again, with the wing-back looking to press the opposite wing-back, but being too slow, while behind him, the two central midfielders occupy their opposite central midfielders. Konrad Laimer moves deep towards the ball carrier and is followed by Giovani Lo Celso, while Harry Winks isn’t particularly tight to Marcel Sabitzer. The problem here, however, is Lo Celso’s body positioning and lack of pressing awareness.
Lo Celso has moved to mark Laimer, and is close to the ball carrier, with Ryan Sessegnon struggling to make up the ground in time. With Lo Celso in such close proximity and the Leipzig wing-back about to play the ball, Lo Celso should recognise the opportunity to jump from his marker and press the ball directly, due to both his proximity to the ball and his position more or less directly in front. Instead, he stands passively marking Laimer, with horrific body positioning and allows the ball to be played through to Sabitzer.
We can see another key principle of man-to-man marking not being followed here. Tottenham’s centre-back is occupied by Timo Werner, who makes a run away from goal looking to either receive or create space in the middle area. Japhet Tanganga follows Werner to prevent him from receiving, which isn’t ideal but would usually be a semi-safe scenario. However, Dele Alli applies no pressure to the ball, and so Werner easily creates space for the ball to be played into, with the ball travelling through this area to reach Angeliño. If you’re going to commit to a press, everyone has to commit, and pressure has to be applied to the ball.
Tottenham also had a particular weakness down their left side, with Ryan Sessegnon poor in pressing situations. On several occasions Sessegnon didn’t commit to press despite the rest of the team higher up the pitch doing so, a very basic error which allowed Leipzig a free option to build-up with. We can see an example of this here, where Sessegnon stays with his centre-back while a higher press has occurred, leaving acres of space for the Leipzig wing-back Nordi Mukiele.
When the camera panned out on the attack, we then saw that Timo Werner was occupying Sessegnon. However, one of the main advantages of playing a back five and using a man-orientated system is that you have more coverage of the back line due to more players, and therefore you can commit players out of the back line to press at times. Here, the centre-back next to him simply has to tuck across while Sessegnon presses, which would leave Tottenham still in a back four, but with direct pressure on the ball.
This final example just consolidates this point on Sessegnon really, with Lo Celso here clearly ordering him to move up and press, with Leipzig again escaping immediately in the build-up thanks to this gap in the man-marking. The pressing distance between Sessegnon and the Leipzig player is far too large, especially considering that Serge Aurier on the far side is very close to his target.
Third goal illustrates all
We can see Leipzig exploiting Tottenham’s poor press here in the third goal. Leipzig begin to build down their left side, which triggers a press from Aurier placing him higher up the pitch.
Leipzig then move the ball to the goalkeeper and place two players on the same vertical line along the same player causing a decisional problem for this player. A striker occupies the centre-back again, which puts Alderweireld off pressing the free player (even though it shouldn’t again). The goalkeeper is able to play the ball to this free player, who has time to turn and then play into the right full-back space which has been left unoccupied thanks to Serge Aurier being lured forward.
Leipzig’s (good) pressing
We can see from the example below the similarities in the two sides pressing schemes, but there were also some subtle differences which affected the quality of each side. We can see the pressing distances between players compared to Tottenham’s is much better, and Leipzig were also more vertically compact, with their defenders more aggressive and willing to follow and engage, with Upamecano earning particular plaudits.
One of the main differences between the two sides was their attitude towards pressing. Leipzig almost challenged Tottenham to try and beat them, and effectively tried to convince them that they could, which in my opinion is how pressing is done. Tottenham meanwhile, stayed tight and looked to stop Leipzig playing at all. We can see an example of a very basic pressing trap which was effective in the game, with Leipzig’s winger and striker keeping the central lane to the central midfielder open, and this central midfielder being pressured intensely once they receive.
In fact, in this example, the central midfielder marking this player is not even in the shot yet, as Lo Celso has to believe he is safe to receive the ball. The other Leipzig central midfielder is also close by and has not moved to mark the other central midfielder, as this would leave a space for Lo Celso to play forward quickly.
We can see a similar example here, where this central lane is again left open to allow a pass through, where the midfielder can be pressed intensely from behind. On both occasions, Leipzig win the ball back and are then in good positions to counter-attack.
Tottenham’s defensive transition struggles
Tottenham’s pressing struggles continued in transition, with their counter-press almost embarrassing at times. We can see here, the Leipzig player takes a heavy touch out of his feet, but Harry Winks does not pick up on this cue and does not make a forward movement towards the ball, which would close off the angles the ball carrier has for a pass.
Here, thanks to a poor counter-pressing structure, Winks is put in a difficult position, with players either side of him making it difficult for him to move forward and apply immediate pressure. Toby Alderweireld steps higher as if he is going to press inwards, but doesn’t commit, and ends up halfway between pressing and dropping, meaning Leipzig can simply play around Winks in the middle in a 3 v 1. A forward movement by Winks, followed by inwards movements from the players either side of him would help to prevent the counter-attack.
Tottenham also had struggles regarding transitioning from their in possession structure into their man-marking approach, with this example being a good one of their struggles. Here, Tottenham lose the ball, with left central midfielder Winks slightly higher. As a result, he moves to press the immediate central midfielder.
Although this benefits Winks as he is pressing with the shortest pressing distance, Lo Celso is too far away to get close to the far central midfielder, and so the transition would have been optimal if Lo Celso could have quickly occupied the nearest central midfielder, with Winks dropping to cover the far midfielder. Nevertheless, Tottenham have to react to this error immediately, with Alderweireld again spotting the free man. Again though, the Belgian looks as though he doesn’t want to commit, and as a result stays deeper and doesn’t press, meaning Leipzig can turn and thread passes in behind.
Leipzig meanwhile were excellent in defensive transitions, and because much of their build-up relied on quick, short play, they were able to immediately transition into a better defensive shape as we can see below. In this example, we see Leipzig in possession and looking to build through Tottenham. The ball is misplaced and Tottenham regain possession.
Upon losing possession, Leipzig are in a compact shape that cuts off Tottenham’s passing options and offers the ability to counter-press and win the ball back immediately, or to stop counter-attacks. We can see immediate pressure being applied quickly to the ball. Leipzig’s central midfielders and their slightly deeper positioning behind the ball are key to their counter-pressing structure, as this allows for direct pressure in front of the ball, which is key in preventing vertical passes.
Adapting to the press in build-up
Tottenham struggled to find a way of adapting to the stalemate in the middle of the park, with build-up difficult with the two central midfielders constantly facing their own goal. We can see here Alli tries to move off into a wide area, but Winks fails to create space for him and invades Alli’s space here slightly, and Alli is also followed by a Leipzig centre-back, something Tottenham were reluctant to do.
Leipzig meanwhile were able to cause Tottenham issues and crack the press, with Laimer often dropping deeper in front of a central midfielder, and Sabitzer dropping in behind the same central midfielder. Against a man-orientated system, this caused some confusion as to what the other central midfielder should do as we can see, and often no press was initiated meaning Leipzig were free to build.
Here we can see Laimer dropping into the back line to stretch the first line of the press, with Halstenberg driving the ball out. Sabitzer occupies the central area and the other central midfielder, while Lo Celso is engaged with Halstenberg. The wing-back tucks in and Leipzig break the press.
It was a dominant display from Leipzig as this analysis shows, and Tottenham looked out of their depth both tactically and technically in the game. Leipzig will now seriously be fancying their chances in the competition, and look to be the dark horses in the Champions League this year.