In his third year in the Bundesliga, Konrad Laimer has finally established himself as a regular starter for RB Leipzig. Even more, the Austrian international was a guarantee of success for the German “Herbstmeister”. The former RB Salzburg player only missed two games in the Bundesliga, both of which were lost against Freiburg and Schalke. In the 15 games, in which Laimer played, Leipzig won eleven times and never lost.
In this tactical analysis, we will look at Laimer’s role in Julian Nagelsmann’s tactics and examine why he is so important for the balance of Leipzig’s squad.
Position and tasks
At the beginning of the season, Nagelsmann used different systems and formations, while the tactics mostly stayed the same. However, since their defeat in Freiburg back in October, Leipzig plays in their typical and well-known 4-2-2-2, in which Laimer plays a key role.
One of the 22-years-old’s greatest weapons is his versatility. Last season, Laimer has played as a wide-midfield interior, deep-lying central midfielder, winger and full-back. Although Nagelsmann is known to like versatile players, he had a different plan with the Austrian. This season, he always plays in his preferred and arguably best position as a central midfielder next to Diego Demme, who recently joined SSC Napoli.
With the attack flourishing, Laimer and Demme play the unspectacular part as the defensive counter-balance. Through analysis, we have seen that Laimer’s job is to ensure the entire team is at equilibrium. Here, he particularly impresses with his intensity and consistency with which he presses the opposition. His heatmap shows that he is almost all over the pitch.
In possession, Laimer positions himself a bit further up the pitch. Usually, Demme is the one, who drops a bit deeper to support the centre-backs in the build-up by forming a triangle. Laimer then tries to offer a progressive passing lane behind the opponent’s first pressing line.
When Leipzig progresses further up the pitch, the Austrian stays a bit deeper. Because of his positioning, Laimer is always an option for a safe backpass. However, when he receives the ball, he also likes to join the attackers in the final third. His deeper position also allows him to be prepared for counter-attacks and to cover the spaces in defence. We will take a closer look at all of that later on.
For years, RB Leipzig have established a clear pressing-intense style with Ralf Rangnick as the main driver of their philosophy. His successor on the bench Nagelsmann has not come to reinvent but built upon this. While he has added some elements, especially in possession, the free-flowing, intense, press-reliant approach is still ubiquitous.
This approach fits Laimer perfectly, not least due to his past. Laimer went through all youth teams of RB Salzburg before he spent two years at senior level under coach Oscar Garcia. Since the Austrian serial champion uses very similar tactics to those of Leipzig, Laimer already knew the pressing-intense style when he joined Leipzig in 2017.
Describing him as a “pressing-addict” is not really an exaggeration. Laimer always seeks for possibilities to press the opponent and win back possession for his team. In the example below, Laimer is slightly out of position. Because of that, he’s not able to stop his opponent to play a pass to his teammate on the right.
Where most players would turn off and get back into their position, the Austrian continues hunting for the ball. Consequently, he doesn’t stop to put pressure on the next opponent. He makes another run and forces a poor pass to the right side. Eventually, he can intercept it and win back the ball.
The image below is a perfect example of his determination and also his ability to read the game. Paderborn just made throw-in to the ball-near centre-back. This served as a pressing trigger for Leipzig. Laimer realizes that the pass into the midfield is coming up as it’s the only passing lane for the central defender. Having seen it, the 22-year-old storms towards his opponent, who doesn’t see him in his back. Consequently, Laimer wins the ball and starts the counter-attack.
One thing about him that cannot be stressed enough is his ability to slide across the pitch to cover ground for his teammates when out of position. He convinces through his agility, stamina and his interception skills. This is particularly important during the transition phase. He’s as essential to the chances their strikers end up creating as he is snuffing out the moments where Leipzig are vulnerable.
In the example below, Leipzig’s front four have been outplayed and their left side is wide open. The Austrian then makes up some ground to ensure that left-back Halstenberg can drop deeper. This will not force Halstenberg into a 1 vs 1 situation and also enables other players to get back into position.
Here’s another sequence, that shows this even better as Depay dribbles down the right wing. However, Laimer is able to keep up with his pace, use his body to win the ball and calm down the game.
According to the numbers, his offensive contribution, in general, is fairly low with only 0.59 xG 1.18 xA and 0.08 through balls. That being said, he has never been and will probably never become a prolific contributor concerning the statistics referred to above. Laimer has different abilities.
Despite his output, it is worth noticing that Laimer has statistically improved with the ball this season. According to data from fbref, the Austrian completes 4.45 passes into the final third per 90 this season. This means an increase of 1.82 passes compared to last season. An even more significant increase can be seen in his passing over a medium and long range. While his pass completion percentage for passes between 5 and 25 yards has increased from 78.4% to 89,6%, his improvements in long passes (>25 yards) are even more impressive. This season his success rate is 75% in comparison to 54.2% last year.
Yes, it might be right, that this comes in part due to his change in position that we already explained. However, such a significant increase is also a sign of a player who has evolved and has worked on his weaknesses.
Besides his often-underestimated passing, the Austrian possesses a great sense of timing for runs into spaces. As we already mentioned in the section about his positioning, Laimer usually stays a bit deeper to provide a passing lane backwards when his team is in possession. However, occasionally he also likes to join the attack. Below we can see him recognizing the space between Hoffenheim’s centre-back and full-back and making a progressive run. This opens a new passing lane behind the opponent’s defence. In addition, it creates space for the right winger to dribble inside.
Another part of his game, where he has improved is his dribbling. He now takes almost one dribble less per 90 but wins 69.1% (last year: 54.1). Again, this might be partially due to his slightly different position but also suggests a wiser choice of attempts. We can see an example of his dribbling below as Laimer draws defenders towards him. Instead of using the easy passing lane to the central defender, Laimer switches direction and dribbles between the two attacking players.
As the sequence goes on, we can see that this turn has taken five defenders out of the game and opened up passing lanes and spaces further up the pitch.
Sometimes he is too impatient when trying to win back possession. Consequently, This could expose his team considering he is playing in front of the defensive line. This is underlined by the fact that he is dribbled past by an opposing player 3.01 times per 90 while tackling 58.1% of all attempts. This also results in a relatively high number of 2.66 fouls per 90.
The example below illustrates his tendency to press too intense and being too impatient. As Köln’s centre-back receives the ball from the right side, Laimer starts to make a run towards him. This opens up space in behind and a short pass takes him out of the play.
Beyond that, one should also mention that Laimer can flourish most with another central midfielder next to him. Albeit his passing improvements, he is not a playmaker who is known for his creative and progressive passing. Currently, he also benefits from the tactical dynamic of his team, that doesn’t expect him to monopolize possession.
This scout report has hopefully shown that Laimer has several abilities which have made him a pivotal member of Nagelsmann’s side. While the offensive players like Timo Werner or Emil Forsberg get most of the credit for RB Leipzig’s great first half of the season, Konrad Laimer’s role focuses on ensuring the balance between defence and offence.
Although he already plays on a senior level for five years now, the Austrian is still just 22 years old. This makes him even more valuable, considering the potential for future development. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Leipzig have already expressed their interest in an early contract renewal. That’s just a logical consequence of his good performances this season.