Since Bayern Munich already secured their 8th Bundesliga in a row, it was time for RB Leipzig to compete for the 2nd position against Borussia Dortmund. Both teams had rather bad results coming into this game as Dortmund lost 2-0 to Mainz 05 and Leipzig lost a two-goal lead against Fortuna Düsseldorf, with the game ending in a 2-2 draw.
In this battle we saw many different phases of the game where one team created more chances than the other and in the first-half Dortmund could have scored even more goals.
After a tactical change by Leipzig for the 2nd half, Die Roten Bullen dominated much more and forced Dortmund to defend deeper and made it very tough for them to create any proper counter-attacks or even maintain possession as the home side displayed a good resting structure. The game was decided very late as Erling Håland secured 2nd place for Dortmund by making it 2-0 in the 93rd minute.
Leipzig changed their structure towards this game believing BVB would play in a more 5-2-3 system in order to create advantage centrally, while forcing play wide, but BVB adapted in this game and changed to a 5-3-2 in possession (or 3-5-2).
Leipzig played with Gulácsi in goal, Angeliño and Mukiele started as wing-backs with Halstenberg, Upamecano and Klostermann forming the centre-back chain. Kampl operated as the holding midfielder behind Forsberg and Sabitzer, while Schick played up front with Werner.
First-half: 5-3-2 versus 5-3-2
As both teams lined up in a 5-3-2 formation, to create positional superiority the #8s had to find space behind the opposition’s #8s. If we compare the teams approach in defense, Leipzig worked more with a midfield press while BVB dropped deeper in their defensive shape, shifting across in their formation with a more focus on covering spaces and being compact between the lines, thus why Leipzig had more issues in progressing and creating dangerous attacks.
Leipzig tried to create a pressing-trap with Schick and Werner first covering the spaces around Witsel in order to force BVB towards the flanks.
There Forsberg (the #8) pressed the side-centre back of BVB while Angeliño continued to press the potential ball recipient Morey (wing-back).
When in access or forced towards the flank, Schick and Werner tried to situationally trap the central centre-back of the back three while Werner shifted across and tried to block passes into Witsel.
The issue for Leipzig was to control the passes into the 8s of BVB behind Sabitzer and Forsberg. Reyna and Brandt were brilliant in dropping into the ‘open spaces’ and create numerical superiority situations as the strikers of BVB prevented the centre-backs from shifting across enough in order to defend these spaces.
When Brandt or Reyna moved into half-spaces, or even into flanks, in order to create positional superiority, it was Kampl that shifted across to press the #8 of Dortmund – a pressing mechanism which left the structure not very compact horizontally (in cases of shift of play).
As Dortmund had some very quality individual players, they were quite press resistant and could beat the counter-pressing of Leipzig, because due to the structure, Leipzig had issues creating efficient counter-pressing situations as in the first goal from BVB came from a counter-attack in which Brandt was able to occupy a free space behind Forsberg and forced Kampl and Sabitzer to shift across a lot locally (ball-oriented).
As these situations occurred, Leipzig had issues in controlling the space in front of the backline and Dortmund could find some potential dangerous cut-back situations.
RB Leipzig Changes For 2nd Half
For 2nd half Nagelsmann changed Leipzig’s structure both in defense and in attack. In defense Leipzig attacked the opponent earlier implementing a high-pressing approach in a 4-2-3-1 structure.
The idea was to control the central areas better, something which they had issues with in 1st half, by now having Adams and Kampl as double 6s and Schick as a 10, while Werner pressed the centre-back forcing play wide again. Leipzig tried to still prevent passes to Witsel by having the #10 behind the striker in pressing and the wingers pressed the side CBs of Dortmund. Passes wide to the wing-backs were pressed by the full-backs of RBL and the #6s tried to cover the half-space options to Dortmunds #8s.
In their positional play Leipzig changed to an assymetric 2-3-5 structure. Mukiele and Angeliño, positioned in the full-back positions, occupied the wing-backs of BVB and thus opened up more spaces diagonally for the central positioned Leipzig players to occupy.
Leipzig tried to create a 2v2 structure centrally with the two #10s while the two #6s created a 4v3 numerical superiority in the centre but also overloaded in the flanks. In the wide areas, the wing-back was supported by the local 6, striker and #10/winger of Leipzig and tried to create a diamond support structure in order to keep the progression and create numerical advantages in the flank area.
But as the spaces appeared diagonally, they were vacated by Kampl on the left side while Olmo dropped in front of the BVB midfield structure on the ball-far side, creating an assymetric 2-3-5 structure with Werner being able to shift across into wide positions in order to create overloads, as mentioned above.
The structure of Leipzig in possession, forced the wing-backs of Dortmund to drop deeper and thus creating longer distances for them to creating efficient counter-attacks. But in the start of the 2nd half, BVB had more successful counter-attacks as the home side had issues in maintaining possession long enough to create a structure able to cope with counter-attacks. As mentioned, the more the game went on the more dominant Leipzig became in possession and had longer attacks with better counter-pressing.
For the last 10-15 minutes of the 2nd half, Nagelsmann changed to an asymmetric 2-2-6 formation where he tried to create an option with an extra player in wide areas in order to drag Dortmund out. With more players able to create a presence inside BVB’s area, Leipzig was able to find Angeliño with a diagonal switch but were unable to equalise and instead the visitors were able to finish the game off when a counter-attack.
Nagelsmann made the necessary changes needed in order to try change the game but were inefficient when creating threatening chances as Dortmund were confident in their deep defensive approach.