On Sunday evening, Julian Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig played their first league match of the campaign under their new head coach. Nagelsmann is one of the top young coaches in the world, aged just 32. He’s been managing in the Bundesliga since he was 28, the youngest manager in Bundesliga history.
He’s known for his attention to detail and tactical knowledge. At Hoffenheim he set up massive screens at the training ground so they could analyse training live and give instant feedback.
RB Leipzig came out eventual winners against Union Berlin, on their return to the Bundesliga, as 4–0 winners in the pouring rain. Leipzig produced an impressive performance and in this article I want to go over a few observations about Nagelsmann’s team.
Leipzig lined up in a 3-4-3 with a young and physical team. Klosermann and Halstenberg provided the width while the front three were very narrow most of the time.
Leipzig dominated possession and created a lot of chances in the game. Union started both halves well, creating a few chances but were overall very limited by Leipzig who pressed high and with intensity in midfield. When Union had the ball they struggled to build up from the back due to the press and in the Leipzig half they were very limited with their passing options.
Below you can see an example I saw a few times when Union were in possession. Leipzig’s wing backs are dropped into the defensive line. Union’s front three are also positioned in the back line while their midfield three are all man-marked by a Leipzig player. As the Union right back, Trimmel, progresses he has no passing options you can see leading to a chance. He’s being pressed by Werner and forced into a decision of going long, passing into midfield or down the line, or just going backwards.
Due to the Leipzig front three still being quite high and only having two midfielders, there is quite a bit of space in midfield but they’re unable to utilise it other than Trimmel driving down his line into the wide space. They struggled to hold onto the ball for any length of time and struggled to gain any momentum.
In the build-up, Leipzig were patient. Their back three recycled the ball amongst themselves until an option became available. The central midfielders, Demme and Kampl, didn’t do much to position themselves to receive from the centre-halves. Only when they played out from very deep positions would Kampl drop in front of the back three as a pivot. However, this was rarely used as they weren’t pressed high and therefore the centre backs got to halfway easily. The ball progression in buildup often came down the flanks with wing-backs trying to link with their inside forwards.
Below you can see a common situation of a Leipzig trying to build from the back patiently with Orban at left centre back in possession. On the right, I’ve removed the Union players to show Leipzig’s shape in a 3–2–4–1.
The inside forwards, Werner and Sabitzer, had good positioning between the lines and looked to receive. Union often defended in a 4–1–4–1, although the defensive midfielder is meant to stop play between the midfield and defensive line, it can also have the affect of increasing the space between those two lines. And with the inside forwards positioned on either side of the defensive midfielder they were accessible to the defence easily as well as keeping the opposition defensive line narrow, creating space for the wing backs.
A common and effective move was for an inside forward to receive between the lines from a centre back and to lay it off first time to a wing back. Movement was key for Leipzig. The inside forwards and wing backs worked well to link up down the flanks, able to draw and give in 2v1 situations and find space for themselves.
They did well to create overloads on the flanks due to the inside forwards’ freedom to roam. Werner would often drift into very central positions or onto the right flank.
The movement of the front three were key, they worked well together as a unit drawing defenders into different areas and creating space. Together with the effective high press, Leipzig already look like a well drilled team that could go on to do big things this season. Poulsen was able to drop between lines, drawing centre backs and creating gaps for Werner to run into.
Here is the first goal. Werner and Poulsen made front post runs, creating space at the back post where Halstenberg was able to score at the far post with a great finish with time on the ball. Sabitzer got the assist after receiving from Klostermann. Meanwhile, you can see Demme and Kampl sitting further back, supporting the attack but not getting into very attacking positions.
Finally, you can see the shot map. Leipzig dominated with a 2.83 xG differential and a very impressive shot map with an extremely high majority coming from within the danger zone, showing their ability to create high quality chances.
Overall, Leipzig made a great start to their season and played some good football to watch. They have a physical team who can all play at speed. They are direct on the ball and want to go forward. When the ball is in the centre, they play quickly with few touches and want to run at the defence.
By Luke Griffin.