Analysis: RB Leipzig’s Positional Attack Stifled by Solid Eintracht Frankfurt Defence

After a dominant performance last week against Union Berlin, RB Leipzig faced a tougher opponent in the form of visitors Eintracht Frankfurt.

Even though so far this season of Frankfurt haven’t been as stable as last years in terms of results, the team has enough quality to stop any team in the Bundesliga, something which was also shown against Leipzig. Despite several good chances created by Leipzig, the Red Bull team lost the game 2-0. 

Leipzig played in an assymetric 4-2-3-1 which changed in possession, while Frankfurt played in a 4-4-1-1.

The starting formation of Leipzig: Displayed here as 4-4-2 but was actually an asymmetrical 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1. Haidara played as a winger, occupying the half-space position while Sabitzer lined up as part of the double #6 along with Laimer. 
Leipzig’s base formation during their high-press: A 4-4-2/4-2-3-1 which changed situationally.
Frankfurt’s line up in a 4-2-3-1: They actually displayed an asymmetric 4-4-1-1, with different roles for specific positions to create access when defending Leipzig’s positional attacks

Eintracht Frankfurt’s 4-4-1-1 Defence versus RB Leipzig’s 3-4-2-1 Positional Attack

As mentioned in the Union Berlin analysis, Nagelsmann is well known to be able to change and adapt his structure not only for specific opponent or different games but during the actual game.

Against Frankfurt, Leipzig were positioned in a 3-2-4-1 while in possession where Halstenberg (the full-back in a 4-4-2 formation while in defensive phase) formed a 3-man backline together with Upamecano at centre-back and Mukiele at right centre-back.

Adams who played in the other full-back position (in the defensive phase) advanced into a fully wide position and in a more advanced position together with the left-winger Nkunku who played the same wing-back role but on the left.

Sabitzer and Laimer played as the double #6s and ahead of them, Haidara and Werner played in each half-space zone with Schick playing as the target #9.

RB Leipzig in a 3-4-2-1 formation.

In this structure Leipzig had  numerical superiority against Frankfurt’s first defensive line and were able to progress past this line on many occasions.

Some unclean touches and poor body body positioning while being ready to take advantage of the potential superior situation created, slowed down the progressions of Leipzig’s attack. 

When Leipzig progressed past the first line, the half-space positioned centre-backs dribbled forward within this channel to force Eintracht to either close the half-space and central options, which allowed the hosts to continue their progression via the wing-oriented player or vice-versa if Frankfurt didn’t cover the half-space/central zones.

Leipzig had some unsuccessful sequences of potential passes played into their centrally positioned players, leading to Frankfurt constantly trying to take advantage of the transitional moments and counter-attack. Although the counter-attacks could lead to very dangerous transitions for Leipzig to defend, they weren’t executed well enough by Frankfurt. 

Leipzig forced the defensive formation of Frankfurt to shift towards the ball, leaving space on the ball-far side. This lead to Nkunku switching play via the ball near #6 to Upamecano, allowing Leipzig to now progress via the ball-far side.

Most of Leipzig’s successful attacks came from direct switches from the overloaded ball-near area to the under loaded zones on the far side. From these situations Leipzig could create a 2vs1 situation together with Nkunku and Werner whose positional rotations were very good.  

When Nkunku cut inside from wide, Werner roamed towards the flank. Because of Frankfurt’s man orientations, one of the two were able to escape pressure and gain a positionally superior position.  It was mostly from these sequences that Leipzig created their most dangerous chances.

Here Leipzig forced Frankfurt to shifting and defending the advanced wing-back but could not progress further.  
In the sequence showed above, the ball-near #6 tried switching using a 3rd man combination to Upamecano, but in this zone Frankfurt trapped to trap the hosts. 
Instead Sabitzer switched directly to the underloaded zone, where Nkunku and Werner created a 2vs1 situation against the full-back as seen above.

To stop Leipzig from having a clean and relatively easy way of creating numerical advantages and players in superior positions (due to the spacing of the positions against Frankfurt’s defensive formation), Frankfurt showcased some interesting roles and adjustments in their defensive structure to create better access in pressing. Frankfurt would apply high pressure when Leipzig had early-build up phases, but mostly remained in a semi-low midfield pressing structure. 

Whenever Halstenberg progressed with the ball past the first line, it was Frankfurt’s right-winger Chandler who pressed Halstenberg from his position in the half-space. He tried to prevent passes into Werner using his cover-shadow and to force Halstenberg to either switch the ball to one of the other two CB’s or play down the flank to Nkunku.

When the ball was played to Nkunku, this triggered Touré to leave the defensive line and press him. 

Chandler pressing Halstenberg, and Touré leaving the defendsive line early to press Nkunku. The rest of the backline remained centrally-oriented.

While shifting, the ball-far winger Kostic remained more zonally focused being prepared to drop diagonally or press directly (depending on the situation) and thus have control of Adams’ positioning. Ndicka man-marked the half-space oriented player when in ball-near situations.

Depending on how high Adams positioned himself during attack, Kostić adjusted his defensive positioning to have access to Adams soon the wing. Here, we can also see the original 4-man backline with Ndicka situationally man-marking the half-space oriented Haidara and how Kostić forms a situational 5-man backline in order to create horizontal compactness.

When the ball was played to one of the two centre-backs, the two strikers Gaćinović and Dost would trigger Frankfurt’s pressing, with intention of forcing Leipzig into mistakes. 

Gacinovic pressed Upamecano who passes it to Mukiele who was pressed by Dost trying to force Mukiele into a mistake or worse situation. It was from these sitautions that Frankfurt tried to recover the ball and use 1v1 situations created to beat Leipzig’s backline in transition. 
In this situation we can see the pressing trap of Frankfurt, where Dost, pressing Mukiele, has prevented a switch to the opposite flank using his cover-shadow. Kostic presses Adams, Ndicka man-marks Haidara(situational move from zonal to man-marking) and Gacinovic controls the passing lane into the ball-far CB’s.

Conclusion

As we already know by now, Nagelsmann’s team are well known for their dominance with the ball and striving to play positionally, with the ball used as a tool to create superiority in positions and create chances by pre-planned patterns or triggers. Unfortunately, despite Leipzig dominating possession, Adi Hütter’s men displayed a solid defensive performance resulting in Leipzig’s first loss since the game against Freiburg back in October 2019. 

BY ALBIN SHEQIRI

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