Analysis: RB Leipzig Secure Last-Minute Point Versus Borussia Mönchengladbach

In a tale of two halves, RB Leipzig fought back from two goals down to earn a draw against Marco Rose’s Borussia Mönchengladbach. However, it didn’t stop them from losing their place at the top of the Bundesliga table to Bayern Munich.

In last week’s match, Leipzig played dominantly but still ended up losing the game to Eintracht Frankfurt. This game however, was different as Julian Nagelsmann only had a few solutions to the brilliant tactical set-up of ex-Red Bull Salzburg coaching staff René Marić and Marco Rose.

It was a game in which Leipzig had luck on their side due to many factors, decreasing Gladbach’s chances of maintaining their lead and superb performance. These factors included the absence of Cristoph Kramer(injury), the red card received by Alassane Pléa and a lucky goal scored by Schick. The factors were decisive throughout the game allowing Leipzig to gain their ‘wings’ and allowed them to take charge of the game and equalise thanks to Christopher Nkunku’s superb long-range goal.

Formations

Nagelsmann changed the formation from last week’s defeat to Frankfurt and started the side in an asymmetric 4-4-2/4-2-3-1. Dayot Upamecano, Lukas Klostermann and the full-backs Nordi Mukiele and Marcel Halstenberg formed the backline. Tyler Adams and Konrad Laimer played as the double #6s, while Emil Forsberg returned as a starter, playing as a #10/winger together with Marcel Sabitzer. Werner played in a free #9 role, moving deep or wide to create dangerous runs in behind, together with Nkunku. Nkunku played as a #9 running behind Gladbach’s wing-backs but also provided passes between the lines as a #9 or #10

Gladbach lined up in a 3-4-2-1 with Nico Elvedi, Denis Zakaria and Matthias Ginter as the centre-backs. Stefan Lainer and Oscar Wendt played as the wing-backs. Florian Neuhaus and Cristoph Kramer (replaced by Tobias Strobl in the 29th minute) played as the double #6s, with Alassane Pléa and Jonas Hofmann ahead of them, both in the #10, while Marcus Thuram operated as the lone #9.

Leipzig played in a 4-2-2-2 in possession but changed their structure to a more rigid 4-2-3-1 as the game went on, Gladbach played in a 3-4-2-1 and were very successful with it too, but also adapted the formation situationally.

Gladbach lined up in a 3-4-2-1 with Nico Elvedi, Denis Zakaria and Matthias Ginter as the centre-backs. Stefan Lainer and Oscar Wendt played as the wing-backs. Florian Neuhaus and Cristoph Kramer (replaced by Tobias Strobl in the 29th minute) played as the double #6s, with Allasane Pléa and Jonas Hofmann ahead of them, both in the #10 Marcus Thuram operated as the lone #9.

RB Leipzig’s Issues Versus Borussia Mönchengladbach’s 3-4-2-1

Leipzig’s structure when pressing was more of a 4-4-2 at the start of the game.
Sabitzer pressed Gladbach’s left centre-back however their wide centre-backs could also be pressed by Leipzig’s two #9’s depending on how much access the ball-far player had. 

It was clear from the start that Leipzig tried to force Gladbach towards the touchline and trap them in those areas. Their high pressing approach forced Gladbach’s wing-backs to drop deeper in order to provide passing options for the wide centre-backs which would create an ideal position for them to progress the play.

The majority of situations saw Gladbach starting their build-up play with short-passes out wide or to Zakaria who was positioned at a slight angle forming a line together with Sommer. Sabitzer, Werner or Forsberg (depending on the situation) pressed the wide centre-backs which triggered the Leipzig full-backs to advance and press the opposite Gladbach wing-backs.

Sabitzer starting his pressing towards Elvedi forcing the play wide. The pass towards Elvedi was the trigger to start the press. Klostermann continued his pressing towards Wendt and attempting to trap Gladbach in these areas.

Gladbach had issues progressing cleanly from early build-up situations, but when successful, they created potentially dangerous attacks directly. Pléa and Hofmann roamed in the half-spaces but also towards the flank where Thuram tried to create a vertical passing option after dropping diagonally from central positions. He could also run into the vacant space behind advanced positioning of Leipzig’s full-backs who were responsible for pressing the wing-backs.

Thuram’s runs were very strong and he was also capable of holding up play, combining with his teammates and adding the physicality to his runs into deep areas. It was from a situation like this that Gladbach scored their first goal of the game.

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Werner had access to Zakaria from a central position. Here he tries to pressure Zakaria and force the play towards the flank. Zakaria’s touch towards the right forces Werner to change body position and force it towards Leipzig’s left side. Forsberg continues the pressing towards Ginter, who continues the passing past Leipzig’s second line of pressure to the wing-back Lainer (who was usually found in situations where his body positioning wasn’t open enough, which meant play was unable to continue past Halstenberg’s aggressive pressing). In situations where open passes to Gladbach’s near #6, Laimer would press that player (Neuhaus), while Adams dropped deeper to cover him. But in situations like the one above, Nkunku had access and could shift and cover Neuhaus. This allowed Laimer to provide cover in a deeper, defensive position, preventing Gladbach from progressing via the half-space to Hofmann.
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Laimer and Adams were both situationally responsible for pressing Gladbach’s wing-backs when the ball-near full-back lacked enough access to do so. This meant that they had to shift horizontally, opening a channel from Gladbach’s wing-backs into the forwards. This is how Leipzig’s double-pivot were outplayed at times by diagonal passes from the wing-backs. In this situation, Lainer, who was quite successful in protecting the ball with his first touches, moves the ball to his left away from Halstenberg which gives him time to play a diagonal pass into a dropping Thuram who played it to Hofmann in behind Halstenberg. This was an example of their use of 3rd man combinations.
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Thuram continues his runs into space dragging Upamecano out of the backline and into a 1v1 situation with a large space to defend. It was from this play that Gladbach scored the first goal of the game. Thuram won the 1v1 duel against Upamecano, then played a cutback into the box before Gladbach combined and Pléa finished off the play.

In midfield zones, Leipzig formed a structure closer to a 4-4-1-1 where their wingers continued to press Gladbach’s wide centre-backs. However, this structure had several flaws. Sabitzer did well to create access to Elvedi but Forsberg on the opposite side was mostly positioned in deeper areas to create access to the advancing Lainer. Therefore Leipzig was more successful in their pressing on the right.

Werner attempted to front Zakaria before continuing his pressing towards the wide centre-back, while Nkunku did not execute his shifting well enough, leaving the central zones behind Leipzig’s first pressing line vacant. Even when he was close to the ball-far Elvedi in a situation where there was a potential switch of play to the ball-far player, Sabitzer had to drop deeper and cover half-space which gave Elvedi an option to progress via the flanks to Wendt. This lead to the #6’s either stepping out of covering positions to press the centrally positioned Gladbach player with the other remaining provide cover.

Gladbach’s two #6s did well to reduce the oppositional cover from Leipzig’s #6s, which opened up more space for Lainer on the flank and for Ginter to progress. This was because Laimer had to cover the central passing lanes which meant that Forsberg had to cover the half-space passing option (Hoffmann), making Leipzig’s midfield line too compact, allowing Ginter to easily find a pass through the midfield line to Lainer.

From Lainer, Gladbach tried to play in behind Leipzig’s backline (full-backs) or in a 2v1 situation together with the ball near #10, continue keeping possession and switching play using ground passes or switching directly.

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As mentioned above, Werner tries to front the Zakaria and press Ginter. Adams tries to leave the midfield line and have access to Neuhaus and at the same time, Hofmann creates a passing option. Both Gladbach players are reducing Leipzig’s covering of space.
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Example of how Nkunku’s position opens up the central zones in front of Leipzig’s midfield line and how Adams is forced to drop deeper again to remain close to Hofmann while Thuram drops to create a passing option. As mentioned above, this allowed Gladbach to create a potential 3rd man combination to Hofmann who is currently covered by Adams. This gives Neuhaus space and time to turn to either exploit space or switch play to the other side.
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Elvedi dribbles into the space in front of him forcing Leipzig to shift, allowing Gladbach to easily progress past the first line of pressure against their opponents’ passive defensive structure.
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Here, Ginter has lots of space to dribble exploit the space ahead of him. This creates a 2v1 situation against Forsberg, who again has to close passing options to Gladbach’s central players creating a large space for a pass outside Leipzig’s midfield line.
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Ginter plays wide to Lainer, who can now progress and threaten Leipzig’s backline, by combining with the ball-near #10 (Thuram dropping deep) or by switching to the ball-far wing-back Wendt.

RB Leipzig’s Issues Against Borussia Mönchengladbach‘s Pressing (3-4-2-1)

Like Gladbach, Leipzig tried to build-up from the goalkeeper in a 2-4-2-2 structure, where the two wingers acted as a #10’s, oriented to the ball’s position which meant that Forsberg could roam near the local ball area and create central passing options.

Werner and Nkunku tried to attack spaces ahead. Werner in some sequences roamed towards the flanks as he usually does, but in this game, he did so too on the right side also flexibly moving from roaming out wide to dropping into a #10 position.

The idea was for those positioned out wide to create further distance to the Gladbach’s structure, when ‘The Foals’ shifted, pressed and forced Leipzig towards the touchline. However, Zakaria played an impressive part in dealing with the runs diagonally behind the wide centre-backs. Gladbach’s use of a 5-man backline enabled them to create better horizontal compactness, which supported their collective shifting.

Leipzig at times, did well to execute situations which gave them numerical superiority, with the use of Sabitzer and the ball-near #9 roaming towards the flank. This occurred when Gladbach’s ball-near #6 was unable to cover passes into the half-space.

Example of how Gladbach solved the numerical superiority of Leipzig. Ginter/Elvedi shift and situationally marked Leipzig’s wingers […]
[…] but they faced situations where Nkunku roamed wide to drag Elvedi out of position and open up space for Sabitzer. This an example of when Gladbach’s ball-near #6 couldn’t control the half-space option because they did not shift fast enough.

Gladbach’s high-pressing game plan was very efficient, and their second goal came from this phase after a misplaced pass by Leipzig which they exploited directly. They were also very strong and compact when defending deeper where mostly Pléa and Thuram (on one occasion, taking Pléa’s position situationally) recovered a potential diagonal pass from Leipzig to one of their #10s between the line. In deeper areas, Gladbach used a 5-4-1 formation.

Hoffmann had a very interesting role (which will be mentioned below) during Gladbach’s high-press. He was responsible for pressing the ball-near centre-back or covering the passing options into the centre/half-space, by maintaining access to Halstenberg. In situations when Hofmann pressed Upamecano, Lainer maintained pressure, by pressing Halstenberg.

Gladbach in a semi-high midfield press. In ball-far spaces Pléa, as Hofmann shifted across (oriented to the ball), would attempt to create access to press the potential pass back to the ball-far centre-back. In this sequence, Thuram is closer to Upamecano trying to force play out wide while Hofmann covers the half-space passing option while maintaining access to Adams and Halstenberg.
This example shows Gladbach’s compact structure when pressing diagonally. Here, Mukiele continues play towards Klostermann giving Gladbach’s wing-backs, who pressed aggressively and opportunity to trap Leipzig.

Hofmann’s role in those sequences was to shift across and cover the ball-far #6 (in most cases Adams) to create access to the ball-far #6 receiving from a diagonal switch of play. Gladbach’s structure now looked like an asymmetric 3-5-2 because of Hofmann’s flexibility. In cases of when Hofmann was not able to shift, Thuram adjusted his position by moving deeper to cover one of the Leipzig’s #6s. Again, these movements when pressing were executed very flexibly by Rose’s players.

In situations where Leipzig would switch play from Upamecano to Mukiele, Pléa’s pressure on Mukiele was the trigger for Gladbach to push up and he did this very efficiently. 

Here, Gulásci passes to Mukiele, is pressed aggressively by Pléa, with the striker forcing Leipzig to play back to Gulasci or out wide while Hofmann has shifted across, covering the ball-far #6.

In situations when Leipzig tried to play past Gladbach’s first pressing line into the centrally positioned #6, Laimer was pressed directly by one of Gladbach’s own #6s. However, they could also play past pressure using 3rd man combinations towards the flank. Unfortunately for Leipzig, these plays were defended with well-executed, well-timed pressing by Gladbach’s wing-backs.

Nagelsmann’s Tactical Changes

Nagelsmann slightly tweaked the 4-4-2/4-2-3-1 for the early build-up but also in possession generally as they moved to a more vertical approach. Leipzig began using added physical presence by playing Schick and Poulsen as the double #9 and Werner playing strictly out wide. Nkunku played as the right-winger/#10 and Sabitzer played with Laimer as part of the double #6.

In possession, the full-backs kept a more inverted position creating an asymmetric 2-3 structure with Werner and Nkunku providing width from their positions, often running behind Gladbach’s wing-backs, spaces which Leipzig tried to exploit.

Werner, fully wide on the touchline, drops deeper to occupy the space ahead of Lainer and invite pressure from him, opening up space behind, for the situational ball-near #9 to roam into.
Werner plays a pass back to Upamecano because Lainer stops him from turning and facing play with open body position. Nkunku roams into the wide space behind Wendt, while Schick tries to exploit the space behind the other wing-back, Lainer.

Due to the deeper positioning in early build-up and possession phases, Gladbach had longer distances which led to later timing and consequently less access when pressing Leipzig. Here, Leipzig used a collective method of inviting pressure by Gladbach’s wing-backs in order to exploit the spaces in behind them out wide, with vertical plays. Another way of progressing was through the use of short passes past the first line to Adams (inverted) who could find a pass in the half-space to Poulsen or Sabitzer or to play wide to Nkunku. In more advanced zones both full-backs provided overlaps and underlaps to create 2v1 situations against Gladbach’s wing-backs.

Conclusion

Although Nagelsmann adjusted the tactical approach, Leipzig had issues trying to progress cleanly past Gladbach’s lines of pressure and had to adapt by trying to play more vertically (also competing for 2nd balls). Gladbach’s pressing sequences were less successful compared to the first half but still maintained control. Leipzig’s first goal was simply an unlucky mistake by Sommer.

The game changed completely after Pléa a got sent off so Gladbach had to play to maintain their lead and used a 5-3-1 for the remainder of the game. Nkunku scored the equaliser close to the end of the game when Gladbach failed to successfully clear their lines after a pass from into the box from Klostermann. 2-2 was the final result.

As expected the game provided a highly fascinating tactical battle between two of the most intelligent coaches in the Bundesliga in terms of strategy and tactics.

 

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