RB Leipzig overcame a late scare from SC Paderborn to win 3-2 away from home. A blistering start from Julian Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig saw Die Roten Bullen go 3-0 up within just 30 minutes thanks to goals from Patrik Schick, Marcel Sabitzer and Timo Werner. However, SC Paderborn showed great spirit to claw themselves back into the game. The home side scored through Streli Mamba and Klaus Gjasula but could not find a third goal which meant RB Leipzig left with all three points. This tactical analysis looks at the approaches of both sides.

Lineups

Bundesliga 2019/20: SC Paderborn vs RB Leipzig- tactical analysis tactics

SC Paderborn lined up in a 4-4-2 formation with Streli Mamba and Ben Zolinski leading the line. Gerrit Holtmann and Kai Pröger played out wide as the wingers. Sebastian Vasiliadis and Gjasula were the central midfielders. The centre-back pairing comprised of Sebastian Schonlau and Luca Kilian.

RB Leipzig, despite numerous injuries, put out a formidable lineup. The explosive Timo Werner started along with Patrik Schick as the two forwards. Christopher Nkunku and Marcel Sabitzer were the wide-midfielders on the left and right respectively. In midfield, Konrad Laimer continued with Diego Demme as a mobile combination. Lukas Klostermann and Nordi Mukiele were the full-backs.

RB Leipzig- Fluidity and flexibility 

Leipzig showed why they currently sit at the top of the Bundesliga table by putting their opponents to the sword right from kickoff. Nagelsmann’s side have scored a league-high 36 goals so far and took just five minutes to go two goals up. Both these goals came from a high-press which forced Paderborn into errors and opened up space.

Bundesliga 2019/20: SC Paderborn vs RB Leipzig- tactical analysis tactics
Laimer and Nkunku positioned in the spaces to receive the ball and move it quickly

Leipzig continued with their narrow formation where the two wide-midfielders rarely went to the touchline, but rather kept themselves in the half-spaces between the opposition’s centre-back and full-back. This narrowness relied upon manipulating the spaces between the lines in the buildup as well as creating numerical advantages when required by having fluidic tactical shifts. This started from the defence where RB Leipzig switched from a back four to a back three whenever the situation required it. If they were building up from the goalkeeper, Leipzig used a back four. This was helpful in creating triangles between the central midfielder, full-back and wide midfielder ahead of the full-back. Although the use of width was minimal, the full-back or wide-midfielder was very important in pulling the defenders of the opposition apart and opening up the channels through which Werner could make his trademark runs and find balls played over the top.

Bundesliga 2019/20: SC Paderborn vs RB Leipzig- tactical analysis tactics
RB Leipzig build up with four at the back. Nkunku and Sabitzer (circled) can be seen taking up more central positions

When Leipzig had possession and had moved the ball further up the field, Mukiele would tuck inside and not venture too far, forming a defensive trio with Dayot Upamecano and Stefan Ilsanker. As Paderborn’s most potent threat was from their left flank, this was an interesting tactical approach to ensure that Leipzig were not caught on the counter. Nagelsmann’s side were far more expansive on their left-flank. Klostermann was given the license to maintain a higher starting position and marshalled the flank expertly given his athleticism. His combination with Nkunku was also particularly impressive. Therefore, Leipzig were not symmetrical but played to their strengths as well as to the opposition’s strong areas.

Bundesliga 2019/20: SC Paderborn vs RB Leipzig- tactical analysis tactics
Leipzig with a back three. Laimer and Demme adjust their positions vertically in order to ensure that the ball can be progressed.
Bundesliga 2019/20: SC Paderborn vs RB Leipzig- tactical analysis tactics
Leipzig’s passmap indicates the narrowness of the formation and emphasis on centrality.

Another example of RB Leipzig adjusting to the opposition’s press was when Demme would drop into the defence and therefore create a 3v2 situation that would facilitate playing out from the back. Similarly, Schick would also play as a second striker when out of possession in order to cut the passes to Paderborn’s central midfielders. Such subtle tactical shifts ensured an efficient buildup as well as defensive structure.

Bundesliga 2019/20: SC Paderborn vs RB Leipzig- tactical analysis tactics
The shape of the forwards at times where Schick would drop deeper
Bundesliga 2019/20: SC Paderborn vs RB Leipzig- tactical analysis tactics
Demme slots in between the CB’s while Schick (red) can be seen in his defensive role

Sabitzer and Nkunku were particularly instrumental in creating space and chances for Leipzig. Nkunku assisted one goal while Sabitzer scored one himself.  The duo are both odd players in that they cannot be categorized as either wingers or attacking midfielders. However, this versatility proves to be an asset in Nagelsmann’s system given the emphasis he lays on attacking centrally. Sabitzer already has 10 goals and three assists this season and is developing into a vital link for RB Leipzig between the central midfielders and attacking duo. His hardworking nature cannot be understated as well as he comfortably fills in at right-back or right wing-back when required to contribute defensively. Nkunku has had an impressive start to life in Germany as well. The Frenchman, who has usually been utilized as a rotational and versatile player, has scored three goals and provided six assists in the Bundesliga. In this game, he operated in his preferred attacking midfielder/ inside-winger role. Nkunku attempted nine dribbles, five tackles and made two blocks apart from completing 32 passes. He seems to be the perfect player for Nagelsmann as he may not possess the most individual talent but has developed into an integral cog in a fluid system.

Bundesliga 2019/20: SC Paderborn vs RB Leipzig- tactical analysis tactics
Nkunku’s heatmap shows the pockets of space he enjoys operating in

SC Paderborn- Brave but too expansive 

SC Paderborn are currently languishing last in the table but can be praised for their insistence on playing positive football against vastly superior opponents. Against Leipzig, they actually had more possession with 52% and made more passes. In the first half, they simply failed to deal with Leipzig’s movement and quick passing which was made even easier for the opposition due to their expansiveness. SC Paderborn can perhaps be questioned as to whether it is wise to take up such a risky approach against the league leaders rather than sit back and defend narrow.

Bundesliga 2019/20: SC Paderborn vs RB Leipzig- tactical analysis tactics
Paderborn’s passmap indicates an emphasis on the left-hand side

Paderborn were not afraid to press their opposition and nearly succeeded on various occasions in the first half in forcing Leipzig into errors in dangerous areas. The likes of Ilsanker and Upamecano were caught in possession by the pressure of Mamba and Zolinski on a few occasions and were extremely lucky not to be punished for the same. However, due to a disoriented press which was not matched by the midfield, Paderborn were overrun in the centre of the pitch and allowed too many runners space in midfield. The home side’s primary attacking outlet was the left-wing, especially in the second half. Holtmann was replaced by Christopher Antwi-Adjei who caused various problems to Leipzig’s right flank and assisted Gjasula’s goal with a quick cross from the left. Paderborn could have caused Leipzig more trouble had they taken advantage of the narrowness of the opposition and sought to create 2v1 situations against Mukiele. In the second-half, Paderborn were handed an advantage as Leipzig dropped in intensity, perhaps due to their European exploits. Sabitzer was also substituted and replaced by Haidara who is a central midfielder by trade but asked to assist defensively on their right-wing. Paderborn were courageous but let down by their poor spacing in midfield.

Bundesliga 2019/20: SC Paderborn vs RB Leipzig- tactical analysis tactics
Paderborn’s central midfielders grew into the game and found more space in the second half
Bundesliga 2019/20: SC Paderborn vs RB Leipzig- tactical analysis tactics
Paderborn force the error from Leipzig for their goal as they invite pressure and have a runner going beyond the engaging defender
Bundesliga 2019/20: SC Paderborn vs RB Leipzig- tactical analysis tactics
Paderborn’s second goal comes from the left wing

Conclusion

In conclusion, it was a game of two halves. The tactics of RB Leipzig, as this analysis has shown, were impossible for SC Paderborn to handle in the first half. However, the home side grew into the game and very nearly snatched a draw as the visitors dropped in their intensity and were satisfied to sit back. In the end, the superior team won and RB Leipzig made a statement of their title credentials. Julian Nagelsmann has this team firing on all cylinders as the winter break approaches.


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Hrishi Anand

Football writer and analyst based in India. Arsenal fan, Borussia Dortmund. Law student.