In this Bundesliga round, Eintracht Frankfurt had to face the leader of the competition: RB Leipzig. Both teams had successfully started the second half of the season, with Frankfurt being able to win their game against Hoffenheim away, while Leipzig defeated Union Berlin at home. Therefore, it was interesting to see which team was able to keep the winning streak going after the winter break.
This tactical analysis will examine the tactics used by both sides. First of all, this article includes an analysis of the attacking structure and struggles of Eintracht Frankfurt. Secondly, it includes the different tactics used by RB Leipzig during their attack and defence. Finally, it includes an analysis of how the early second-half goal especially helped Frankfurt and made Leipzig struggle.
Adi Hütter decided to apply the saying “never change a winning team” for Frankfurt’s game against Leipzig. The Austrian coach used the same players as in their win against Hoffenheim. Julian Nagelsmann meanwhile changed his side on one position, as Amadou Haidara started instead of Lukas Klostermann, who started in the game against Union Berlin.
Frankfurt’s attacking structure.
On paper, Eintracht Frankfurt used a 4-4-2 formation during this game. However, while attacking, this structure changed a bit. First of all, the centre-backs played very wide in possession. This enabled Frankfurt to use the keeper as an extra player in the build-up phase, and in the picture beneath, we can see an example of this. Martin Hinteregger was in possession at the edge of his penalty area. The other centre-back, David Abraham, positioned himself on the right side of the penalty area. Goalkeeper Kevin Trapp was in the middle of his two centre-backs.
Sometimes one of Frankfurt’s holding midfielders, Sebastian Rode, dropped back to support his centre-backs in the build-up phase. Rode did this to create three versus two situations and when defending, Leipzig had two players up front. The picture beneath is an example of this – Rode dropped back to create numerical superiority in the build-up phase and because of that, Rode attracted the attention of both Leipzig’s strikers. As a result, it opened up space to play the ball towards Hinteregger, who could dribble towards the midway line.
The full-backs positioned themselves high and wide on the pitch. Therefore, Frankfurt’s wide midfielders positioned themselves in the half-space of the pitch while central striker Mijat Gaćinović often dropped back on those occasions. Thus, in attack, Frankfurt played somewhat in a 2-4-3-1 or 3-1-4-2 formation.
The picture below shows the positioning of the wide midfielders on the opposition’s half. Frankfurt’s left-back Evan Ndicka was in possession and left midfielder Filip Kostić positioned himself in the half-space of the pitch, while Bast Dost and Djibril Sow also offered support.
Despite this interesting attacking structure, Frankfurt struggled to attack the opposition’s half. As the pass map in the following picture shows, most of Frankfurt’s attacking play in the first half stopped around the midway line.
Leipzig’s two formations
Nagelsmann’s side was also different than the formation on paper as Leipzig used different formations in attack and defence. In attack, Leipzig used a 3-4-2-1 formation and the picture below shows this attacking structure. The two holding midfielders offered support to their back three. The wide midfielders positioned themselves high up the pitch, while the wingers positioned themselves in the centre of the pitch.
Leipzig used this attacking structure to create vertical passing lanes. In this following example, we can see right centre-back Nordi Mukiele was in possession. Due to the positioning of right midfielder Tyler Adams and winger Haidara, Leipzig forced Frankfurt’s left-midfielder to make a decision. The first option for the left-midfielder was to cut the passing lane towards Haidara, which would open up space for Adams. The second option for the left-midfielder was to cut the passing lane towards Adams, which would open up the passing lane towards Haidara between the lines.
In defence, Leipzig used a 4-4-2 formation to keep Frankfurt from scoring. Right midfielder Adams dropped back and played as a full-back in those moments while Leipzig’s left centre-back Marcel Halstenberg moved towards the left full-back position. Lastly, Haidara dropped back to function as a right midfielder in defence.
The next picture is an example of this defensive structure: Leipzig enabled Frankfurt to build up from the back. In their 4-4-2 formation, they forced Frankfurt to one side of the pitch, after which Leipzig pressed.
Leipzig’s tactics during defence were successful. As shown in the paragraph about Frankfurt’s attacking structure, Frankfurt struggled to get out of their half. This was mainly due to the lack of passing options. Leipzig successfully cut the passing lanes towards the centre of the pitch, and as a result, Frankfurt used a lot of unsuccessful long balls.
How the opening goal helped Frankfurt
Just after the break, Frankfurt opened the scoring. Hinteregger received the ball after a throw-in and turned towards Leipzig’s goal. Despite having a numerical superiority, Leipzig did not press Hinteregger enough. As a result, the centre-back played the ball towards the edge of the box, after which Almamy Touré scored. Thus, due to Leipzig’s bad defending from a throw-in, Frankfurt took the lead early on in the second half.
Because of their lead, Frankfurt could defend compactly at their half, while trying to hit Leipzig on the counter-attack. And so, due to the lead, Frankfurt had fewer worries surrounding their attacking problems of the first half.
Frankfurt defended in a 4-4-2 formation. In the second half, the wide midfielders played much more in the centre of the pitch. The reason for this was that these wide midfielders had to close the passing lanes towards Leipzig’s wingers, who positioned themselves in the centre of the pitch. The picture beneath shows Frankfurt’s defensive structure. In this picture, Leipzig’s centre-back Halstenberg was in possession while Frankfurt’s right midfielder Timothy Chandler blocked the passing lane towards Timo Werner. In doing so, Frankfurt forced Leipzig to play through the flanks.
When Leipzig played the ball to the flanks, Frankfurt’s whole team moved towards the flank to block the passing lanes towards the centre of the pitch. In the picture below, we see an example of this. Leipzig was in possession at Frankfurt’s half and after the ball was played to the flank, Frankfurt moved the squad towards the ball. As a result, Leipzig had no options to play the ball to the centre of the pitch.
Leipzig struggles to play through Frankfurt’s defence
Leipzig struggled to play through Frankfurt’s defensive structure. The difference with the first half was that Frankfurt, supported by the lead, was not willing to build up from the back. As a result, Leipzig had fewer opportunities to hit Frankfurt on the counter-attack so they had to try and play through Frankfurt’s compact defence.
This often resulted in situations like the following situation. Leipzig’s left midfielder Christopher Nkunku received the ball on the left-hand side and dribbled towards the centre of the pitch. When the possibility arose to shoot, a swarm of Frankfurt players pressed the midfielder. The result was a disappointing shot from Nkunku.
Due to the compact defensive structure, Leipzig mainly struggled to get in Frankfurt’s penalty area in the second half. As the picture beneath shows, there were a lot of unsuccessful passes towards Frankfurt’s penalty area and few successful ones.
Furthermore, Leipzig struggled to get shots on target in the second half: Nagelsmann’s side attempted ten shots in the second half. As the picture beneath shows, four of those attempts were blocked (grey arrows), five shots were off target (red arrows), and only one shot was on target (blue arrow).
Eintracht Frankfurt defended well and was able to keep Leipzig’s danger to a minimum. Due to the early goal in the second half, their attacking problems were masked and they were able to defend even more. Due to this important win, Frankfurt moved to the top half of the Bundesliga table.
Leipzig struggled to create big chances during this game while two moments of inattention cost Nagelsmann’s side the match. It will be interesting to see if Leipzig can keep the top spot in the Bundesliga. The leaders face two difficult games, first against Borussia Mönchengladbach and after that Bayern Munich.