After round 10 of the German Bundesliga, only four points separate second place from tenth place. RB Leipzig were chasing more wins with Bayern breathing down their neck and Borussia Monchengladbach threatening to stretch their lead to seven points. Hertha BSC find themselves in mid-table security with a big gap up to teams like Borussia Dortmund. The numerous tactical tinkerings made for an intriguing game. This tactical analysis will cover this and more in the tie between Hertha and Leipzig.
Julien Nagelsmann is known for tinkering both before and during game. An analysis of Leipzig’s year shows that they have lined up in various differing systems. For this game however, Nagelsmann elected to start with a 4-2-2-2 system in possession. Without the ball tactics saw Leipzig set up in a 4-2-3-1. With Marcel Halstenberg nowhere to be seen, Nagelsmann started Lukas Klostermann at left-back.
Hertha BSC changed formation from their derby loss to Union Berlin. Against Leipzig they lined up in a 3-4-2-1. Captain Vedad Ibisevic was missing from the starting line up. The middle was completely changed. Per Skjelbred and Marko Grujic made way. Vladimir Darida and Eduard Lowen their replacements.
Hertha’s bold plan
Hertha set up to funnel Leipzig into central traps from the very start of the match. They did not press exceptionally high. Instead, they situated themselves in a middle block and began pressing just in front of the halfway line. From here, their trigger was a switch of play from centre-back to centre-back. Once the ball was played, the opposite winger for Hertha would press the ball receiving centre-back or midfielder. The Hertha winger would force him inside into where they would attempt to win the ball as seen below.
This was a difficult job for the wingers to attempt. They in effect attempted to cut off both the ball wide and through the middle. Rather they attempted to entice the midfielder or centre-back to step in with the ball. From there the players would collapse around the ball carrier.
The tactic wasn’t particularly successful for a number of reasons. Firstly, the ball carriers of Leipzig were excellent in their on-ball play. On the left side, Dayot Upamecano was impressive with the ball. He would drive directly at the inside of the winger. With the right timing, he would then release the ball out to the full-back. The full-back had positioned himself just beyond the winger of Hertha. This meant that Leipzig could draw the winger out and bypass him regularly with this mechanism.
On the other side, the ball carrying responsibilities were mainly handled by Diego Demme. Demme would drop out into the backline. In a differing solution from the other side, the midfielder himself would step in. This time however he knew he had an option behind. Therefore if he ran into trouble, he could turn out and start again with Stefan Ilsanker. This would set off the chain of events mentioned before. The ball would be switched and then Upamecano would step in.
Leipzig’s wide overload
To further compound the above issues, Leipzig attempted to overload the wide areas. The connection between the Striker, Attacking midfielder and full-back was impressive to see. They worked in tandem. In particular, the striker and attacking midfielder often engaged in alternate movements. Most prominently, the winger would come short and more central. The striker would then take up a wide and high position. This caused confusion for Hertha. Both these movements happened on the wider areas of the pitch and allowed Leipzig to overload in these spots.
Their best early chance came through such play. Marcel Sabitzer started inside. This sucked out Hertha’s wing-back. As seen below, it meant that Yuusuf Poulsen was marked by the centre back. Sabitzer plays the ball to the full-back, who is then pressed by the wing back of Hertha. This now means Sabitzer is free. Poulsen makes an intelligent run wide, which sucks his centre-back out wide. In the end, this creates a huge space for Sabitzer to exploit and run into. He gets into a great crossing area and just misses Timo Werner for a tap in.
This type of wide interchange and movement by Leipzig caused real problems. It was a perfect addition to the situation mentioned before with the centre-backs stepping in. Often when they played the ball to the full-back, it would set off these patterns out wide for Leipzig.
Wide Play all round
Leipzig controlled the majority of play. As mentioned before, this was largely into wide areas as well. This meant that in general much of the game was played through the outside areas of the pitch. Leipzig’s majority of losses occurred wide. This also meant that as in the Red Bull way, they pressed in wide areas.
Leipzig commit serious numbers when pressing in order to win the ball back immediately. Whilst this is one of their strengths, it can also be a weakness. Hertha managed to switch play out of the pressure on multiple occasions. Leipzig were hugely compact horizontally, all tucking over to one side. This then caused some problems for Leipzig as they were underloaded on the opposite side.
The warning signs were there for Leipzig prior to the goal. Hertha had managed to switched play and launch attacks on a few occasions. Therefore it was not a huge surprise to see the goal come in a similar way.
Hertha played a ball into a congested wide area. Leipzig lost the second ball and after an intelligent flick from Joel Dilorusun, Hertha switched the play. This culminated in a cutback and tremendous finish by Maximilian Mittelstadt to give Hertha the lead.
Leipzig’s goals down to structure
Both of Leipzig’s goals came down to some fairly obvious tactical structures implemented by Leipzig. Nagelsmann would have been pleased to see the way in which the team worked as a unit to produce the first goal. It was a result of their play into the wider areas as mentioned before.
Leipzig had four players wide in the moment prior to the goal. Timo Werner had rotated out as a winger. He accompanied Stefan Lainer, Nordi Mukiele and Sabitzer to give Leipzig four players out wide. This sucked out the wide centre-back of Hertha BSC. By sucking him out, Leipzig created a space to run into. In similar fashion to before, a good forward run by Mukiele exploited this space. A Hertha handball giving Leipzig their route back into the match. 1-1 with Timo Werner slotting the penalty.
The second goal for Leipzig came courtesy of their pressing structure. Leipzig pressed in a 4-2-3-1 set up, with Poulsen dropping in behind Werner. This gave them a numerical equivalency with the back three and whichever defensive midfielder dropped in to help. If the ball was played back to the keeper, Werner would use his cover shadow to take the man behind him out. This allowed Leipzig to not get overloaded in the front third when the keeper became involved as seen below.
This very pressing structure for Leipzig lead to their second goal. The ball was forced long, with Leipzig picking up the second ball. Because of their press structure, Leipzig had four men in front of the ball and accessible to play. Additionally, Lainer made an excellent run from deep. These factors meant Leipzig had an excellent structure to transition into, with multiple routes to goal.
In the end, the ball was played into Poulsen’s feet. In typical Leipzig fashion, he had a supporting player in Marcel Sabitzer. Sabitzer received the drop back from Poulsen and his deflected shot ended in the net. As a result, Leipzig went into the break 1-0 up.
Second Half full of action
The second half saw a flurry of both tactical and goal-mouth action. The first tactical change of the day saw Ilsanker’s number go up on the fourth officials board. As a result, Stefan Laimer filled in the left-back role. Kevin Kampl replaced Laimer in midfield.
The next change came in the 70th minute. This time Christopher Nkunku stepped into the fray, replacing Emil Forsberg. This additionally signalled a change of shape for Leipzig. Nagelsmann shifted the reds to a 4-1-3-2. Diego Demme became the sole 6 as seen below. Sabitzer, Nkunku and Sabitzer worked in tandem with the strikers to find space.
Nagelsmann’s tinkerings didn’t stop their however. Leipzig shortly scored their third goal hereafter. Another penetrative run into a wide area, led to a mazy run and finish by Kampl.
After the third goal, Nagelsmann brought in loanee Ethan Ampadu. This signalled a further tactical change. Ampadu dropped into the middle of a back three. Demme sat again as the lone six, however, Laimer and Sabitzer had more wing back oriented roles. This situation shows how formations often fail to perfectly describe situations. In certain moments, Lainer would drop to make it a back four. Additionally, Sabitzer could alternate between playing more as a winger and sometimes as a full back.
The game finished in dramatic fashion. Leipzig added another goal, with once again another run into a wide area. This time Laimer made the penetrative run to exploit Hertha’s struggles in the wide locations.
Hertha managed to claw back one more goal deep into stoppage time. The game ended in whirlwind fashion with three goals inside the last ten minutes. Unfortunately for the neutral observer, the goal for Hertha was more a consolation than anything. Leipzig proved deserved winners, leaving them second on the table and keeping up the pressure on Gladbach.
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