RB Leipzig faced Fortuna Dusseldorf in the Bundesliga after their narrow, hotly-contested defeat to Borussia Dortmund last week. The East German club needed to bounce back and three points would put them firmly back on track to continue building on their strong start to the campaign.
At the time of writing, the Bundesliga table is starting to take shape with five points separating fourth and 11th place. Borussia Mönchengladbach sit comfortably in third place with 39 points, eight ahead of fourth-placed Eintracht Frankfurt. Unless they go on a calamitous run they should secure third place making the fight for fourth place even more interesting.
However, the focus for RB Leipzig was Dusseldorf. The visitors looked in total control and dispatched their opponents in stunning fashion within the first 20 minutes. A brace from Yussuf Poulsen and one apiece for Konrad Laimer and Ibrahima Konaté ensured Leipzig kept pace in the race for fourth place. Leipzig’s victory looked effortless but they ultimately worked extremely hard for their victory. We’ll look at their play over the course of this tactical analysis but first, let’s see how both sides were set up.
Dusseldorf lined up in a 4-5-1 formation to try and counteract Leipzig’s strong midfield and stop the full-backs from flying forward. Sitting closer to the bottom of the table, a point would feel like a win for the home side. Their intent was to keep a clean sheet and try to frustrate Leipzig into making a mistake and sneaking in a goal.
RB Leipzig lined up in a familiar 4-3-3 hybrid formation that transforms into a 4-4-2 out of possession. The talismanic duo of Yussuf Poulsen and Timo Werner lead the line with Marcel Sabitzer, Diego Demme, Konrad Laimer and Tyler Adams making up the four across midfield. Emil Forsberg made his long awaited come back with a place on the bench.
“Tyler had a fantastic game and in the first half he won pretty much every tackle he went into,” he said. “It was really good for such a young player in a new team and a new league. He was good in the duels, good in the pressing […] he played from deep and was a good addition to our team.” – Yussuf Poulsen
Tyler Adams – a recent recruit from sister club New York Red Bulls – made his debut in central midfield with Ralf Rangnick looking to bed in the young American. Adams performed remarkably well and earned himself the man of the match award on debut, contributing to the side as a true deep-lying playmaker, being the catalyst for attacks from midfield and filling in the defensive gaps. Ralf Rangnick wanted his team to remain compact and narrow defensively whilst stretching play using Werner’s pace and the full-backs.
Early problems for Fortuna Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf made life difficult by conceding early on from a corner. That set the tone for the rest of the game by giving Leipzig the momentum they needed to ease into the game. The home side didn’t help themselves with some sloppy defending from the corner. Michael Rensing dropped a relatively simple delivery which caused the ball to ping-pong around until Poulsen eventually put the ball away.
First blood to Leipzig.
Throughout the first half, Düsseldorf tried to sit deep and allow Leipzig to run onto them for damage limitation. Die Bullen are devastating and clinical on the counter-attack and prefer being out of possession. In this case, however, they were content with building up from the back and wait for opportunities to exploit gaps in Düsseldorf’s shape.
Notice the distance between Düsseldorf’s midfield and defence. Leipzig were keen to occupy the half-spaces in between to try to disrupt their shape and organisation. Marcel Sabitzer and Timo Werner particularly excel in the channels with their creativity and pace. Their understanding has been evident in earlier games.
The major catalyst is Yussuf Poulsen whose physicality occupies multiple defenders creating space for his teammates to exploit. The second goal originated from a similar scenario with Ibrahima Konaté using the space and his considerable frame to drive forward to score a brilliantly worked goal.
With no Düsseldorf players pressing Leipzig from the front, they were able to find a way through patient build-up play. Konaté plays a give-and-go with Sabitzer and eventually finds Marcel Halstenberg. Keep an eye on Poulsen, who plays an important role in this move by constantly occupying both centre-backs and a defensive midfielder.
After Halstenberg receives the ball, Konaté ends up in between four Düsseldorf players and uses a deft touch to turn the centre-back and manages to dribble through to score a superb goal to put Leipzig two goals up within 10 minutes.
Düsseldorf were worried about Leipzig’s counter-pressing abilities and chose to stand off staying in their own half. This is where Leipzig took advantage and exploited the lines and spaces before Düsseldorf could realise and reshape their game plan.
?⚪️ Ibrahima Konaté (19) vs Fortuna Düsseldorf:
2/2 aerial duels
A center back making other center backs look like training cones; you love to see it. pic.twitter.com/VWQ7jXPsft
— Scouted Football (@ScoutedFtbl) January 27, 2019
Goalscorer Konaté had one of his best performances of the season this weekend. His physicality caused Düsseldorf issues and his foray into midfield yielded a well-worked goal. At 19 years old Konaté has room to grow but is exponentially developing every week. He’s also forming a bond with another teenage superstar in the making in Dayot Upamecano.
Leipzig’s midfield impressed for 90 minutes. Diego Demme, Konrad Laimer and Tyler Adams were commanding in midfield and worked hard in winning back possession and keeping Leipzig ticking over throughout. Leipzig tried hard to focus on counter-pressing to put Düsseldorf under immediate pressure. Düsseldorf’s 4-5-1 was designed to keep the central areas overloaded. Leipzig successfully countered it though with intelligent counter-pressing and wing-play.
In this example, Lukas Klostermann wins the ball on the halfway line and allows Sabitzer to interchange quick passes with Tyler Adams and position himself on the wing. Meanwhile, Klostermann attempts to run into space ahead of the Austrian and latch onto Sabitzer’s pass to try and catch Düsseldorf out of position. Deep defending allowed the opposition to intercept the cross but once it came back out to Leipzig’s midfield, they found another way to get another shot on target using Diego Demme.
Tyler Adams impressed with his combination play, defending, athleticism and passing. The American midfielder made his presence known all over the pitch as shown by his passing map below. He attempted and won four tackles, two interceptions, and nine duels in his 90 minutes.
As you can see he attempted his passes from the half-spaces in the right channel where he spent his time trying to create opportunities for the forwards linking up with Marcel Sabitzer. His partnership with Demme in the double pivot has the potential to flourish with the duo interchanging positions and roles of playmaker and destroyer with ease.
The third goal epitomised Leipzig in one word: counter-attack. Here we can see Leipzig have lost possession and are preparing to counter-press Düsseldorf. Demme and Sabitzer are moving to press the defender who launches it long. Keep an eye on Adams’ position throughout this exchange.
As Konaté clears the ball, Demme passes it to Adams, who initiates a counter-attack. The debutant had run back to position himself defensively to aid his defenders. Laimer looks to use the space Halstenberg has to run into and release Timo Werner and Poulsen on goal.
Even with enough Düsseldorf players sitting back Werner and Poulsen are left unchecked with space to play between each other. The move is finished with a neat ball from Werner to Poulsen who scores the goal of the evening.
The one opportunity Düsseldorf took to run at Leipzig yielded a great opportunity. After pressing and quickly transitioning the ball through the visitors’ re-adjusting defensive line, Oliver Fink is a whisker away from poking the ball into the net.
It turned out to be smooth sailing for RB Leipzig as they returned back to winning ways against Düsseldorf after their narrow loss to Borussia Dortmund last week. Dusseldorf had 10 shots but none on target, which summed up their night. They were outclassed in the first half, and although they improved after the break, it was too late as Die Rotten Bullen had closed the game out within 45 minutes.
It was a matter of damage control in the second half and conceding only one can be a testament to that. They remained much more compact and made it harder for Leipzig to penetrate through, but were ultimately unable to disrupt the flow and tempo of Tyler Adams, Timo Werner and Yussuf Poulsen in particular.
Next up for RB Leipzig is a home tie with Hannover 96 on Friday.
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