Earlier this week Leipzig suffered their seventh league defeated of the season, losing 2-1 to Eintracht Frankfurt. Leipzig, despite going 1-0 up inside the first quarter of an hour thanks to a Jean-Kévin Augustin goal, surrendered their lead very quickly. With two goals in four minutes from Timothy Chandler and Kevin-Prince Boateng ultimately deciding the tie.
Ralph Hasenhüttl, although currently doing a great job with this Leipzig team, playing fast, direct attacking football, will feel that Leipzig could have won the game, but failed to spot the weaknesses his opposite number Niko Kovač was able to exploit.
Formation, Pressing and Orientation
Leipzig’s initial formation was a high, fluid 4-3-3, with two full-backs acting as wing- backs while the central defenders covering wide. However, when in possession, their formation became a 3-4-2-1, with wingers Lookman and Sabitzer drifting inside towards the half-spaces, allowing their respective full-backs to take up positions close to the halfway line. Ilsanker was constantly dropping in between the two centre-backs to provide cover and create a 3 v 2 scenario against Frankfurt’s two centre-forwards, and bypass Frankfurt’s first line of press.
Leipzig, themselves, would not engage in a high-press. Instead, they’d drop into a mid-block and attempt to close off all vertical lanes to block passing options.
The image above shows Leipzig’s pressing formation: a compact 3-5-2 shape. Augustin and one of Lookman or Sabitzer (varies on ball position), shadowing the inside vertical passing lanes towards Hasebe and Boateng. This forces their opponents to contemplate the long ball option. Makoto Hasebe would drop deep to create a 3 v 2. In reaction, Leipzig aggressively close down the player and close off passing lanes. With Keïta stepping out of the midfield line to apply pressure, the former had time turn and move forward.
As soon as Frankfurt pass the ball wide to either da Costa or Chandler, Leipzig launch into a “WM” shape to apply a zone-orientated press to, once again, force Frankfurt to go direct.
In this still, it is visible that Leipzig are about to go into the aforementioned press. Lookman applies aggressive pressure to the man on the ball; curving his run to the right in the process to block off a potential pass to Hasebe. Demme blocks a pass down the line, Klostermann closes off a pass to Wolf, Ilsanker comes across to cover Hasebe, while Augustin presses Abraham if the Argentinian were to receive the ball.
Leipzig’s pressure force Frankfurt to go direct down the flanks, however, the host’s are able to make use of the 1 v 1 situations, exploiting the full-backs’ high positioning with ease. Both Laimer and Klostermann were regularly caught out of position, granting Frankfurt access to the wide flanks. This was made easier by Leipzig’s compactness to plug any holes created by a man-to-man press. Frankfurt’s exploitation of this was where their game-winning goal came from.
Due to their setup, Leipzig find themselves outnumbered in midfield as Hasebe drops behind their first line of defence to evade zonal positioning. This was advantage Frankfurt for two reasons:
One, no forward would pressure him, meaning that one of the two central midfielders would have to step out to close him down, leaving the other vulnerable to an overload. Leipzig identified this so one of the forwards close him down instead. However, Leipzig’s press was very lenient and allow Hasebe to exhibit his passing ability and pick out one of the full-backs bombing forward.
Kevin-Prince Boateng was a standout player in the game. Scoring the game’s winning goal, he would frequently find himself in an advanced position, something that Hasenhüttl failed to address. Leipzig’s two in midfield would constantly try to cover any central zones and aggressive forward runs. Effectively, they shot themselves in the foot as this led to only more space being created for Frankfurt to exploit.
Attacking positioning, Circulation and Build-up
During the build-up, Leipzig look to create an overload on one side of the pitch, in order to switch the play and exploit the vacated space. The full-backs are key to this. Thanks to their high starting position, they’re able to begin their build-up high up the pitch, as their opponents were dragged over to the other side.
As shown above, Orban has just released the ball to Laimer, Demme and Keïta come towards the ball to act as “false options”. Anyone attracted to the ball is engaging in a blind-sided press, meaning that they are unaware of Ilsanker’s availability on the far side. This allows Leipzig to evade Frankfurt’s aggressive press. Unfortunately, Laimer doesn’t see his compatriot and tries to pass to the marked Demme. Had Ilsanker recieved the ball, Klostermann would’ve had time and space of the left-hand side.
Once either full-back hug the touchline in order to stretch the game, both Lookman and Sabitzer occupy the half-space. This gives Laimer and Klostermann room to bomb forward into vacated space. It also creates a 2 v 1 as neither Falette nor Salcedo want to create more space to exploit; leaving Leipzig’s wingers to roam freely. This was use to their advantage in the first-half, and it is where the opening goal came from.
Here we see Leipzig counter-attacking down the right-hand side. Falette (left) is backtracking into empty space. Sabitzer exploits this well and proceeds to occupy the newly vacated space. It’s visible that Laimer has intentions to attack the space on the right, and Sabitzer’s movement allows the full-back to do so and put Frankfurt on the back foot.
From a deep block, Leipzig’s prompt transition catches Frankfurt out. The latter are forced to cover all of the former’s vertical movements and aggressive forwards runs. However, they possess insufficient numbers to achieve this, so they lose their shape and organisation. This creates space for the left-back as Lookman’s location forced da Costa to cover the area.
Here we see Leipzig’s progression into the wide areas. Frankfurt are quick enough to cover all passing options, this causes Demme to come across to offer himself as an alternative option. The German’s movement creates space to run into, which Laimer proceeds to do so and finds himself in a dangerous area as his marker isn’t able to react quick enough. Also, you can see the relationship between Laimer and Sabitzer’s movement, as the latter drifts wide to entice his marker, granting the former space to run into.
Konrad Laimer’s reception of the ball leads to Abraham’s attempt to come across and cover the area in which is about to be attacked. This leaves Augustin free to receive the ball on the penalty spot and pick out bottom corner to open the scoring.
Building out from the defensive third, Ilsanker drops in between the centre-backs to operate as a “false centre-back”. This movement attracts Wolf towards him, thus freeing up space in the midfield. It also allows Leipzig to bypass Frankfurt’s first wave of pressure. With the home side pressing in a 3-4-3 shape, Leipzig aim to find Keïta and Demme in between the lines. However, Boateng and Hasebe track the movement of the two to restrict space and force them to go long, and due to a lack of a physical presence up front, it results in Leipzig giving away possession a lot.
Recently acquired on loan from Everton, Lookman was a frequent threat to Frankfurt’s back line throughout the game. However, there were times where the Englishman could have penetrated space with his power and aggression, but didn’t. Taking up some really good positions in the half-space, he was able to receive the ball on the turn and drive at the defence. Although, his confidence in beating players and making penetrative forward passes was lacking.
Here we see Lookman dropping deep to attain possession. His positioning is clever as it forces Frankfurt towards him, meaning that their eyes are solely on the ball. This opens up a lane for Jean-Kévin Augustin to run into. Salcedo has his eyes set on the man in possession, because if Lookman receives the ball and turns, there was be space to drive into, so the Mexican is ready to pounce on the winger as soon as he receives the ball. Leaving space behind him – as shown below.
Lookman attacks open space in a potential 3 v 2 situation. It may not be visible in the still, but he was able to create this scenario with a smart piece of movement. In hope that da Costa follows him, he drops deep to offer himself as as a false option. With a large area of space now open on the left, Lookman uses his acceleration to make a darting run into the space that he created.
Like Sabitzer, Lookman was used as an inside forward in order to create space for the overlapping Klostermann. This gave him freedom to roam in the final third; causing Frankfurt problems as marking him would open up space in their deep block. Hasenhüttl noted this and told Lookman to occupy the half-space every time that the ball was shifted towards the left-hand side.
Example 1: Leipzig look to draw attention away from Lookman by moving towards the right to create a favourable 1 v 1.
Lookman’s reception of the ball draws attention towards him as Frankfurt’s man orientated press in a wide area goes. This, alongside Poulsen’s diagonal movement creates the half-space available for either Lookman to turn and run into, or for Sabitzer to occupy.
Example 2: In the process of drawing three players towards him, Lookman leads a Leipzig counter-attack. However, all of his teammates remained marked, so by running at Abraham, he hopes that the Argentinian centre-back is drawn to him and attempts to win the ball. Leaving a hole in the defence.
Here we see that Lookman has successfully drawn in Abraham, leaving Poulsen free in the centre with a clear run at goal. Unfortunately, Lookman knocks the ball too far ahead of him which allows the centre-back to recover and clear with relative ease. Had Salcedo covered his partner, it would have left Augustin with a lot of time and space in a dangerous position.
Leipzig must be more aggressive when playing in a 4-3-3 in the future, as too often, Frankfurt’s midfielders were allowed time and space on the ball due to being caught out with diagonal passes towards the flanks, and were too lethargic in regaining their shape. Die Roten Bullen also need to make more of their opportunities in the final third, as bad decision making and disorientation saw multiple moves break down.