Yet another British player has taken the brave step of venturing out of English football and into the German Bundesliga. This time, it’s Ethan Ampadu, a young progressive centre back who was no doubt drawn to RB Leipzig from Chelsea by the opportunity to work with new coach Julian Nagelsmann. The transfer initially seemed odd, with Leipzig having several quality centre backs and defensive midfield players, but when you look at the requirements of Nagelsmann’s system it is not surprising Leipzig have made the move for the Welshman. In this tactical analysis, I’ll look at Ampadu’s playing style, his statistics, and look at how he might fit into Nagelsmann’s style of play.
As I mentioned, initially the quality of Leipzig’s centre backs made Ampadu’s transfer look like a signing simply for depth in the squad. But with Naglesmann’s 3-5-2 being implemented at Leipzig it looks increasingly likely Ampadu will get plenty of minutes at the club, especially if injuries in defensive midfield or central defence occur.
So, just how high can we expect Naglesmann to rate him in comparison to his previous central defenders and his current ones?
Ampadu is a good passer of the ball, particularly in long-range passes and so how do his passes compare to Nagelsmann’s centre backs at Hoffenheim? Surprisingly, despite playing fewer minutes than both players, Ampadu’s passing struggles statistically. Kevin Akpoguma and Kevin Vogt both attempted nearly two more passes into the final third and were more accurate. Ampadu averaged 6.98 passes into the final third per game with an accuracy of 68.4%, while Kevin Vogt averaged 8.62 passes into the final third per game with an accuracy of 72% accuracy.
If we compare him to Leipzig’s current crop, Ampadu makes on average more passes into the final third per game than Ibrahima Konaté with marginally higher accuracy, but Konaté is much more successful in dribbling. He makes more dribbles per game at a much higher accuracy (80.2%) compared to Ampadu’s 52.4% and so, as I will get onto, their partnership within a back three may be something which interests Nagelsmann.
Ampadu can certainly pass a ball, therefore, in his games at Leipzig I would expect these stats to go up, particularly as I’d expect Ampadu to attempt more passes as part of Leipzig’s sides. This is something I feel he has to do from centre back. Much of his role as a defensive midfielder at Chelsea was to facilitate the build-up by dropping deep and playing mostly safe short passes. Something I’d like to see him add, which shows in his statistics, is more passes into the final third. As mentioned, Ampadu’s long-range passing is excellent and so if he can work on this further he can use it to play much more effective passes into the final third. We can see this below in Chelsea’s game against Sheffield Wednesday, where Willian makes an excellent run but Ampadu’s head is down, and he instead just plays a wall pass and recycles possession again. Higuain’s movement also draws the centre back out of position, leaving room for a weighted pass to the opposite winger.
How does his skillset suit Nagelsmann and RB Leipzig?
Tactically, Ampadu could be an interesting tool in unlocking sides for Leipzig next year. This is again thanks to his long-range passing skills. This kind of pass may help Leipzig in particular due to their strikers Timo Werner and Yussuf Poulsen. Poulsen being a strong target man, may look to receive long balls from Ampadu in order to bypass high presses from the opposition, whereas if the opposition pushes too high, the pacey Timo Werner may be able to latch onto a high through ball from Ampadu. In situations like the one below where Hoffenheim occupy the defenders while the wing-back creates an overload, a player who can sit deep and has the ability to play long passes would be ideal for Nagelsmann. When you combine this with the excellent dribbling skills of Ibrahima Konaté, you have the makings of a good partnership.
In the build-up phase, Leipzig’s versatile build up from last season looks as though it will be built upon with Nagelsmann now in charge. Nagelsmann used a similar system to Leipzig in order to bypass presses, with Joelinton being used to escape presses and look to counter against sides that had committed too many players forward. Likewise, under Rangnick Leipzig used Poulsen for the same reason. Ampadu could help Leipzig in this regard by being comfortable enough to receive the ball and attract a press when he can then use his long passing to play an accurate long ball to Poulsen or Werner. They can then combine high up the pitch against fewer opposition players.
We can see an example below of Ampadu being forced to use this at Chelsea last season. Here, Christensen plays a poor pass across to Ampadu, which acts as a trigger to attract a press and causes the opposition’s midfield line to step up.
Ampadu quickly spots a run and has the ability to pick it out with an excellent long pass which reaches the intended space, as we can see below. The fact that the press was attracted wasn’t Ampadu’s doing, but if he can use his dribbling skills at Leipzig and then release the ball into these kinds of areas he should see some success. Again, we may also see Konaté attract the press with his superior dribbling skills and then look to Ampadu to release the ball.
Ampadu also has many defensive qualities which will be utilised by Nagelsmann over the coming season. Ampadu’s speed and aggression are the main aspects I expect to be utilised, as these fit into Nagelsmann’s system well and are almost required.
Ampadu’s speed means that should Leipzig play a high line to make their press more compact, long balls over the top should not be a massive concern due to Ampadu’s speed and ability to make a defensive recovery. Below, we can see a Norwich attacker making a run behind David Luiz, who cannot match the run. Ampadu, therefore, uses his speed and strength to keep on the correct side of the attacker and win the ball.
Back three formations can be vulnerable to counter-attacks at times, and so it is also vital that defenders within the system are capable of stepping out and winning 1v1’s in order to stop transitions. Ampadu’s time as a defensive midfielder helps him in this regard, as a major part of this role is, of course, to win the ball back and prevent counter-attacks. We can see an example of this below at Chelsea, where Ampadu waits for the correct time to rush in and make the tackle, with Chelsea having just lost the ball and looking to track back quickly.
Defenders can also be drawn out wide and forced to defend one on one more often in three at the back formations, and so this is also an important skill. Ampadu seems to have a good understanding of when to delay and when to press the opponent, and when he does choose to press he is aggressive and often wins the ball back.
We can see this below where Ampadu steps out and has to make sure he wins the ball, as he leaves a larger space behind him the further out he pushes. Ampadu does win the ball, and so he is in a good position to start an attack for Chelsea.
This loan move is an excellent chance for Ampadu to kickstart his career and impress his parent club Chelsea. Nagelsmann will definitely improve him, but it will be the extent to which he does which will affect how he fares this season. As this scout report using analysis shows, he is not on the level of Leipzig’s current centre backs at the moment, but I don’t believe he is far off. With Leipzig set for a busy season across three competitions, I’m sure he will be used often and become a much better player within Nagelsmann’s tactics.
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