Matchday 14 of the Bundesliga pitted Julian Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig against tough opposition in the form Hoffenheim coached by Alfred Schreuder . Hoffenheim showed great potential during the game but lost to a strong Leipzig side 3-1, after goals from Timo Werner and Marcel Sabitzer. The game was characterised by both teams striving to control the game in what was a very chaotic matchup.
RB Leipzig (4-4-2/4-4-1-1) vs. Hoffenheim (4-2-3-1)
Although Leipzig’s starting formation was a 4-4-2, they are a very asymmetrical team with fluid positional roles acting in relation to the specific situation implemented by Nagelsmann.
In some situations where Leipzig would press in a 4-3-1-2 to be able to block half-space options but also too cope with the “diamond” overload in local area that Hoffenheim created in possession.
The asymmetrical 4-3-3 & 4-3-1-2 was used in relation to this specific situation but was formed from starting positions of a 4-4-1-1 formation.
RB Leipzig’s Pressing System
As mentioned above, Leipzig is a very “tactically fluid” team. What seems to be their match-plan can easily change to something else to create better access to Hoffenheim’s positional play.
In dead-ball situations such as building up from Hoffenheim’s goalkeeper, Leipzig weren’t interested in the early “angriffs pressing” (immediate pressure) but tended to drop deeper in a 4-4-1-1 structure, with Werner upfront and Schick shifting across in a situational man-marking role in local areas on the ball-near #6 of Hoffenheim.
In possession, Hoffenheim were able to change from a 4-2-3-1 to situations where the #6’s, especially Grillitsch, roamed diagonally in half-spaces while Skov pushed up in more advanced areas. This allowed them to use a more flexible 3-4-3 formation, with players in the centre and half-space roaming outside and in-between Leipzig’s midfield.
In this situation, the winger Adamyan pushed inside towards the half-space, more vertically, to create depth for Kramaric and Geigner. The purpose was to create numerical advantages around Sabitzer, the ball near-winger but to also create superiority centrally, with players behind and in between Leipzig’s midfield line.
When Werner and Schick didn’t have access to press Hoffenheim’s CB or #6 in Hoffenheim’s 3-man back-line (often caused by a switch of play), Leipzig would try and solve these situations by having Sabitzer dropping deeper in a covering position for Laimer. Laimer was responsible for leaving the midfield chain to press, using his cover-shadow in half-spaces on the #6s who would drop diagonally during movements when Hoffenheim were in possession.
A more common issue was the relatively easy switching of play/ball circulation that TSG were able to execute. Hoffenheim were often able to find or create a ’’free’’ centre-back. Leipzig’s rigid 4-4-2/4-2-2-2, allowed Grillitsch to drop between the centre-backs, who could now easily advance past the first & second line of pressing from Leipzig and progress into more advanced zones on the dribble.
As the game progressed Leipzig found less access to the ball and found it more difficult to create good pressing situations. Consequently, Hoffenheim had longer sequences in possession, creating several dangerous chances.
Towards the end of the first half, Leipzig tried forcing Hoffenheim inside while in early pressing situations with Sabitzer pressing the left central defender/#6 locking Werner in a central position with Schick moving wider forming a 4-3-3 shape, with Laimer pressing centrally, creating what looked like a pressing trap.
Leipzig’s main issue during the game was finding an efficient way to create access to Hoffenheim’s build-up/circulation. Their pressing often lead to situations where the distances between the midfield and backline were too big. This turned into a game characterised by the hunt for 2nd balls. Especially in situations where Hoffenheim played long, vertical passes, the home side won the 2nd ball more often (as seen in the picture below).
Leipzig tried to adjust the issue by changing their approach, with earlier and more aggressive pressing. They made a small adjustment where Schick and then later on Poulsen, still acted as the #10 behind Werner in pressing, but when play was switched by Hoffenheim, they continued pressing towards the centre-back or Grillitsch, with a cover shadow on the #6.
At this stage though, Leipzig still lacked enough control in their set-up without the ball, meaning they still had problems winning 2nd balls in plays were Hoffenheim used longer and more vertical plays to progress. This created a chaotic game with many counter-attacking situations and ‘un-clean’ attacks for both teams. Hoffenheim did find themselves in several good positions but lacked the efficiency to create chances in the final 3rd.
By the end, Leipzig lacked the efficiency to adjust to their pressing issues but were at least allowed to drop their lines back and defend deeper thanks to their 2-0, allowing them a bit more control in duels for the 2nd balls because of their numerical advantage around the ball, switching their attacking focus to exploiting Hoffenheim in transition.