On the back of four consecutive clean sheets, RB Leipzig looked to continue their rich vein of form in the Bundesliga against a struggling Stuttgart. In this tactical analysis, I’ll look at Leipzig’s excellent pressing patterns and how they pushed Stuttgart closer to the bottom of the Bundesliga table.
Stuttgart switched to a 5-3-2, while Leipzig went with a 4-4-2. As usual with five at the back formations, Stuttgart switched to a three at the back when in possession, while Leipzig switched to more of a 4-2-2-2 when in possession, with Forsberg and Sabitzer acting as attacking midfielders.
This average position chart shows how narrow both Forsberg and Sabitzer were in the game, and both players had an important role in the game. Throughout the game both players sought to play between the lines, often positioning themselves between the defence and midfield and playing balls through to Werner or Poulsen. Out of possession, the two played wider, picking up Stuttgart’s wing backs. Stuttgart’s midfield initially failed to pick them up, resulting in situations such as those in the picture below, where there is a large amount of space between the lines for Leipzig to turn into.
Another important role played by Sabitzer and Forsberg was their work off the ball. Leipzig pressed with a front four of their two strikers and attacking midfielders, who were backed up in the second wave of the press by Adams and Demme in central midfield.
Forsberg and Sabitzer pressed the centre back nearest to them while blocking the passing lane to the wing back, therefore forcing the centre backs to play to their midfield pivot in Castro or play sideways to another centre back. While the two wide midfielders cut off the wide option, the nearest striker pressed the centre backs to play into Castro, when the final striker could then tackle Castro. A perfect example of Leipzig’s pressing patterns can be seen below.
Stuttgart aim to play the ball into Leipzig’s half by getting the ball to their left wing back, who as we can see is in lots of space. As the ball is being played from one centre back to the next, Sabitzer furiously sprints to close this passing lane between the far centre back and full back, forcing the ball to continue to move laterally along Stuttgart’s back line.
In this picture below we can see Forsberg is cutting the passing lane to the wing back, while Poulsen presses Castro into losing possession.
Despite having a higher xG than Leipzig, Stuttgart struggled to create chances in the game, and the chances that did come were through luck mostly. Weinzierl’s formation change puzzled me somewhat, with him opting to play three at the back, suggesting he wanted to outnumber Leipzig in midfield and look to play through this way. Instead, Stuttgart played with a direct style, targeting Mario Gomez with long balls to bring down and play off. To me, this seemed like a mistake, be it from the team ignoring Weinzierl or from Weinzierl himself, but to play with five midfielders in possession and completely bypass them in every attack seemed counterproductive.
Another reason Stuttgart’s system failed was Leipzig’s impressive defensive display, particularly their high line and offside trap, which could be a defining factor in their pursuit of a shaky Bayern side this season. Because of the pace Leipzig possess in their back 4, they can afford to play a high line and this high line also helped to prevent Stuttgart from advancing up the pitch, as Mario Gomez isn’t a striker who will look to use his pace to get in behind the high line. The idea to try to dominate Leipzig in the air was also an interesting one, as RB Leipzig rank second in the Bundesliga for aerial duels won.
Ibrahima Konate stood out for Leipzig, with frightening pace that makes him an asset to any offensive side and the defensive skills to match. Konate made seven clearances in the game, won 2 aerial duels and played well beyond his 19 years of age, which might well be the most impressive statistic.
At 1-1, Leipzig heaped the pressure on an ever-dropping Stuttgart, with their centre backs able to move further forward and sustain the tempo of attacks. These quick recoveries of possession meant Leipzig could recycle attacks more effectively and higher up the pitch, which is what ultimately led to the second goal as well as poor defending.
A basic lapse in defensive shape cost Stuttgart the decisive goal of the game. As Leipzig pushed on, Stuttgart dropped far too deep, and simply couldn’t retain possession. So if Stuttgart were going to not concede a goal, their block had to be compact, with space between players within the block being limited. As you can see from the picture below, it wasn’t. A simple pass to Poulsen went straight through the midfield unit and Poulsen was able to earn a foul from the defender, which resulted in Sabitzer sweetly hitting the ball into the net.
Ralf Rangnick has kept one of the best pressing sides in Europe ticking over and developed them into a well organised defensive unit capable of competing with the best teams in the Bundesliga. Their success this season will surely depend on their ability to beat opponents closer to them in the table, but if they can press and thrive in moments of transition as we know they can, they should have a European campaign to look forward to next year under their new boss Julian Nagelsmann.
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