Having lost two and drawn two in the last four games, RB Leipzig dropped 10 points out of a possible 12 points in the month of December. They were one of the very few teams in Bundesliga who badly needed the Winter break as they sought recuperation to put results back together. The bad run started for Leipzig after their 4-0 hammering at the hands of Julian Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim which derailed their path into December.
Coming into the other side of the Winter break, the opening game in the Ruckrunde for Hassenhuttl’s men was against the team coached by one of the best young managers in the world right now. Domenico Tedesco’s Schalke had gone into the winter break on the back of a good run of results having went 11 games unbeaten in the Bundesliga, 5 wins and 6 draws.
The pre-match up seemed to be quite interesting between the two teams as the game was against two teams in which one team needed the break and another team which did not. And it did have a great effect in the game as it panned out that the team in poor form, though a completely better team overall, had won the game in front of their home fans upsetting the very impressive and young Tedesco.
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RB Leipzig (4-3-3) | Manager: Ralph Hassenhuttl
32.Gulacsi // 27.Laimer – 4.Orban – 5.Upamecano – 3.Bernado // 44.Kampl – 31.Demme – 8.Keita // 7.Sabitzer – 29.Augustin – 17.Bruma
Schalke 04 (3-5-2) | Manager: Domenico Tedesco
1.Fahmann // 17.Stambouli – 29.Naldo – 5.Nastasic // 18.Caligiuri – 28.Schopf – 7.Meyer – 25.Harit – 24.Oczipka // 9.Santo – 19.Burgstaller
The home manager deviated from his usual idea of playing the 4-2-2-2 and instead went for the 4-3-3. He used the trio of Kampl, Demme and Keita in the central midfield ahead of a back four which had Laimer, Orban, Upamecano and Bernardo. The goal was guarded by Gulacsi and in the front the attacking trio of Sabitzer, Augustin and Bruma started. Demme took control in the centre as Keita and Kampl were used as the 8s.
For the Blues, Tedesco fielded his side in a 3-5-2 structure which would actually be a 3-1-4-2 in attack with Meyer playing as the pivot in the centre. Caligiuri and Oczipa were the team’s wing backs as Schopf and Harit were deployed ahead of the lone defensive midfielder, Meyer. In defense, Stambouli, Naldo and Nastasic were all deployed at the heart as three central defenders were used in the 3-5-2/5-3-2 set up. Fahmann played in between the sticks while Santo and Burgstaller started as the strikers.
Defensive astuteness in the opening stages
The major part of the first half panned out in such a way that both the teams respected each other and never took many risks that caused problems. Both the teams looked to dominate the centre and thereby become tight defensively and it was the main motive of Schalke as they fielded the three central midfielders very close to each other in a triangle.
RB Leipzig also fielded similar positioned players however they did not look to create numerical superiority in the centre as much as Schalke wished for. Their midfield set up was quite wider as their wanted the 8s to be a tad wider to help the wingers/wide forwards create overloads in the flanks. This was basically done to cause problems in the wings as Schalke had used a single wing back rather than two wide players.
The above image portrays the instance where in both the teams have fielded the central midfielders in the middle. The image stands as an example to their starting positions in most instances.
Also the defensive discipline of both the teams was on top. In many cases, the pressing traps were often bypassed by both the teams and even if the balls were lost, it was in the second third and final third and not in the first third. However, the teams were able to fill in themselves inorder to the situations that occurred and see out the problems.
This image rightly portrays Schalke’s defensive set up. They have lined up in a 5-3-2 as the two wing backs have fallen deep to cover the space at the back in the wide areas. However as ball is played, the first approach is made by the ball near wing back who presses the ball receiver. Also the ball near 8 is to be noted. He also starts his run to press the wide player however this is done in the second wave should his wing back fail to press him well or make him play backwards.
This is the basic setup of Schalke’s defensive pattern. RB Leipzig on the other hand were defensively astute in the first half. Though they were arranged in a 4-3-3 which transitions to a defensively tight 4-1-4-1 with Demme in the centre, their defensive movements to restrict Schalke play out from the back impressed a lot.
Meyer is the key of the team and Hassenhuttl’s men have done well to surround him rather than to press very high. This meant that Schalke now either have to play the long ball through the crowd or go wide. In the wide areas, the Leipzig full backs were often seen marking the opposition wingbacks and Schalke were often forced to play high due to this fact.
Punished mistakes towards the end as substitutions click
Leipzig scored the opener courtesy of a brilliant goal through Naby Keita created by Kevin Kampl from the left. Schalke also pushed in the second half and to help their case, they found a goal through Naldo from a set piece. However it was after that point, it all became clumsy for Tedesco and his side as they committed many mistakes towards the end of the game as a result of desperation for more.
Leipzig were able to capitalize Schalke on the counters and hit them pretty hard as they scored two goals in quick successions. The above instance shows a counter attack move through which Leipzig scored their final goal. Here we can see the disjointed back line also the wing backs are no where to be seen since they have been caught sleeping in turnover.
This caused a great problem as we can see the ball is being played into the wide areas where the winger is free to move in the channel also the disjointed back line helps the movements of players who arrive forward with pace. In the end, mistakes on their own cost heavily for Schalke as the game ended 3-1 in favour of Leipzig.
One more thing to note is the introduction of substitutions by Hassenhuttl at the perfect time. Though he introduced Timo Werner for the winger, the striker stayed wide and maintained the 4-3-3 structure. Also he paid dividends to the decision taken by his manager as he scored Leipzig’s second goal.
The final goal was scored as a result of finding space in the wings and once again justified Hassenhuttl’s idea of negating the 4-2-2-2 to play the 4-3-3 system. This change has come after a poor run of results to the side and definitely the manager must be given credits for mixing things up against a team who are in good form.
The game showed how much effect a break of two weeks can take on a team as Leipzig who needed the break have recuperated themselves and ended Schalke’s unbeaten run. This position will be a challenge for Tedesco as he should make sure that this result should not derail his side from collecting more points similar to the recent past. The result puts Leipzig back in second place, a point above 3rd placed Schalke.