When Julian Nagelsmann announced his decision to leave RB Leipzig after three seasons in charge for a new adventure at Bayern Munich, the club’s ownership and backroom staff considered several candidates for the position. From Oliver Glasner to Erik Ten Hag to Jesse Marsch, die Roten Bullen wanted to interview every single candidate imaginable before nailing down their man. They eventually decided on RB Salzburg’s Jesse Marsch, and it’s safe to say, things did not go to plan. He won just 38% of his 21 matches in charge, with the club relieving him of his duties before Christmas. Then, out of the blue, a new candidate emerged – one that had not been in consideration when the job first opened up. But that man – Domenico Tedesco, has now achieved wonders in his first set of matches at the helm, with a win rate of 62.5% so far. So with that, here is a tactical analysis of Domenico Tedesco’s Leizpig, and why the Italian has been so successful so far.
SYSTEM OF PLAY: 3-4-1-2
Domenico Tedesco has gone back to basics with a three at the back formation that resembles Julian Nagelsmann‘s style of play. This was one of Marsch’s greatest issues, as the American overhauled too much of Leipzig’s system and style in implementing a lackluster 4-2-3-1. Tedesco’s return to a three has seen the team leap back into top four contention, with players better able to perform to their best in roles that make sense for their skillsets. Tedesco has also shown fluidity and some fluctuation in formation, chopping between a 3-4-1-2 and a 3-4-2-1.Embed from Getty Images
In goal, captain Peter Gulacsi has continued to perform well, boasting a stunning save percentage of 75% this season. He’s backed up by a stellar defense led by hard men Willi Orban and 19-year-old Josko Gvardiol, who’s been one of Leipzig’s best performers since arriving in the summer. French defender Mohamed Simakan has not been quite as stellar since his arrival from Strasbourg, but has grown in confidence under Tedesco. When he’s not beating Simakan for a place, Lukas Klostermann has moved from right-centre-back to right-wing-back under the influence of the Italian, while Nordi Mukiele and Benjamin Henrichs remain other options. Angelino is the undeniable starter on the other side, and was one of the missing pieces to Jesse Marsch’s poor puzzle.Embed from Getty Images
Ahead of the back-line, Kevin Kampl’s been the man to make everything tick, dictating the control of the game with his stellar short passing. Konrad Laimer and Tyler Adams provide useful options alongside him, and both excel in defensive moments in particular. Amadou Haidara may also accumulate minutes in the upcoming months again, as Tedesco seemed to be unhappy with Kampl’s performance against Bayern Munich in their recent 3-2 defeat.Embed from Getty Images
When it comes to the front-line, Tedesco has two main ways of adapting his structure. He can go 3-4-1-2 and play someone like Dominik Szoboszlai or Emil Forsberg in the ten role. Dani Olmo has also played the last two matches magnificently well as the false nine in the team, dropping deep in build-up phases and then striking high in the team’s initial press. Another common shape for the front-line is the 3-4-2-1. This positions Christopher Nkunku in an inverted winger role that suits his strengths to a tee, while also allowing Yussuf Poulsen bounce off and intermix with a centre-forward like he did back in the Timo Werner days. The new Timo Werner for Leipzig is a man by the name of Andre Silva, who has been firing on all cylinders under Tedesco, with 6 goals in his last 8 league games.
So while evolving the team’s tactics, Domenico Tedesco has restored many of the markers of Leipzig’s success over the years back into the team, particularly the team’s three at the back ideology that worked so well under Julian Nagelsmann. He’s also restored the team’s confidence, and Die Roten Bullen have looked much like the Leipzig of old since he’s taken over. So with that, let’s examine in greater detail exactly how Tedesco wants his team to play, using evidence from his eight matches in charge so far.
BUILD-UPEmbed from Getty Images
RB Leipzig build out from the back with a quickness and intensity that is perfectly matched with poise in possession. When in the team, everything goes through Kevin Kampl, the team’s quintessential number six and elegant extraordinaire. With 62.3 passes per 90 and an 80% long passing success rate, the Austrian midfielder is the man that ticks all the boxes and allows Leipzig to maintain their dominance.
His excellence means that die Roten Bullen can build out from the back in a 3+1 shape, and push their other defensive midfielder slightly higher or wider, allowing Tedesco’s team greater ease of access when they ultimately go wide (where they want to go naturally). In this 3+1 structure, aided by the further passing superiority of Willi Orban and Josko Gvardiol, Kampl can complete a diamond, or drop wide of the defense. His movement then allows for greater fluidity in movement of the man beside him, and increases the difficulty by which opposition teams can stop the Red Bulls from successfully playing out. Notably, when Kampl was out of the team against Koln, Orban completed the top of the diamond in initial builds. Dani Olmo then picked his moments to drop deep and receive, where Haidara and Laimer could then float higher.
As part of their quick, short passing, switching play from side to side is a regularity. Kampl will often be used as the main man in the passing patterns – one of which sees an outside centre-back pass diagonally into Kampl, where he will knock it onto the other outside centre-back to then reach the wide area. If Tedesco’s team advance into a wide area, the whole entire team comes across, except for the opposite side wing-back, who will usually maintain width. These tight overloads continue all over the pitch, with Leipzig always able to get four to five players in a wide area in the blink of an eye.
They can also use patterns like the one exhibited above to then progress into half-spaces further up the pitch instead, finding attacking midfielders in space. Wing-backs like Angelino can then be reached higher up the pitch, where they will go on to do their best damage. Speaking of Angelino, Tedesco’s team is designed much like Julian Nagelsmann’s – with the desire to get the Spaniard as high up the pitch as possible. On several occasions last season, Angelino was often the highest positioned player, even more so than the team’s strikers. Facilitating that process, Lukas Klostermann or whomever is playing right-wing-back on the day can also come deeper in the build-up to create something of a 4+1, as Gvardiol moves further to the left. They will then combine with short and quick one-touch passes until they can find a more assertive longer pass, such as Gvardiol finding a wide forward in space, or Olmo dropping in to receive.
With this variety and the genuine class they have within their school of soccer excellence, die Roten Bullen excel in playing through their opposition. It’s not even just their supreme short passing to feet, but their awareness of how and when to pick out passes into space for others to run onto.
ATTACKING PRINCIPLESEmbed from Getty Images
With so much excellence in their squad, Tedesco has been free to chop and change the team’s attacking strategy and even system on a match by match basis. However, several key characteristics remain consistent. The most common attacking shape is the team’s 3-4-1-2, with Dani Olmo dropping in between the lines and becoming a frequent target of passes. As he or the false nine drops in deep, they will often bounce passes back into the feet of nearby players, where Leipzig then play balls over the top or continue progressing with short passes through the thirds.
A 3-2-5 shape can also become commonplace as the team expand up the field, again with the false nine dropping in somewhat of a 3-2-1-4 shape. The high position of the wing-backs emerges as a crucial element to stretching the field and making more room for Leipzig’s power men to roam in central areas, where the likes of Nkunku and Silva look to get on the ball and combine. In this shape, or the creation stage in general, the outside-centre-backs will also take their moments to venture forward. All three have high starting positions as Tedesco’s team compact the field wherever they go and display their famous high line. Gvardiol in particular will frequently carry the ball forward and look to combine with those higher up the pitch, as the right-centre-back may also do the same. They can then use the high positioning to circulate the ball between the back-three in a triangle shape, with Gvardiol, Kampl and Laimer often creating another triangulation to push Angelino into advanced positions.
With the outside centre-backs and wing-backs integral to progression phases, a hallmark of Tedesco’s approach has been overloading the wide areas. They get four or more players into a wide area in the blink of an eye, and then look for the right moments to pass into space down the line for someone like Angelino to create. The Spaniard himself is crucial to all attacking phases, and the team’s most frequent crosser. He can loop high balls from outside the area, or perfectly caress long passes down into the path of a late-arriving runner. Comparatively, down the right Leipzig have a greater difficulty getting the ball into the box and targeting Leipzig’s target men. It’s no surprise why they favour their left side (41%), with the second highest left-side-dominant attack in the league.Embed from Getty Images
Conveniently, the left also happens to be where Christopher Nkunku operates. In the 3-4-2-1, he becomes the team’s main focal point and source of goal contributing magic, with that role slightly favouring the false nine / number ten in the 3-4-1-2. The Frenchman’s footwork on the ball is incredible, and he’s not just a threat when working tight spaces, but even from direct free kicks. As the left-wing-back or left centre-back has the ball, you can be sure to see Nkunku fronting the opposition defender in the half-spaces. Similarly, Andre Silva will drift wide whenever the right-wing-back has the ball, exhibiting another clear pattern of play that Tedesco has implemented in his system. Overall, with their mix of wide attacks where they overload and isolate, and the genuine quality they have in the team to progress through the thirds, Leipzig can be deadly in any direction.
DEFENSIVE PRINCIPLESEmbed from Getty Images
With only 8 goals conceded in 8 matches, 3 of which came against Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig have been incredibly resilient since Tedesco’s arrival. Their 3-4-1-2 attacking shape quickly becomes 5-3-2 or 5-2-1-2 in defense, particularly in low to mid-block phases. The two strikers will often remain ready to expose their opposition in quick attacking transitions, as Olmo drops deeper to help. A 5-4-1 could also be a common shape in either formation but particularly the 3-4-2-1, with Leipzig continuing to limit space all over the field. Throughout their low-block in particular, Willi Orban is essential to organizing the team shape. The Hungarian defender has excellent anticipation of potential problems, and expertly steps out from his line when required to intercept passes. As Orban leads the charge, breaking down Leipzig’s low-block becomes a difficult task. Opposition teams are better off hitting Tedesco’s team in transition when the wing-backs are high up the pitch. The space in between wing-backs and outside centre-backs will always be targeted areas for the opposition, particularly down Leipzig’s right up against Simakan as the weakest member of the back-line.
Similarly to how they attack by always keeping short distances between players, Leipzig maintain their compactness in defense, exhibited by their high defensive line. In their high press / high block, the shape fluctuates between 3-4-3 and 5-2-3, as the false nine becomes a real nine and leads the press. They have no problem letting the opposition circulate the ball between their centre-backs, but also pick and choose specific moments to press higher, such as when an opposition player has their back to goal or takes a bad touch. Konrad Laimer is the likelier of the two central midfielders to step up and join the press, as Kampl remains more reserved in the quest to track an opposition ‘ten’. Given the high positioning of their wing-backs in creation phases, Leipzig also counter-press aggressively. Particularly when losing the ball in wide areas, die Roten Bullen will use the wide overloads they created in attack to immediately limit forward penetration. But with so many men becoming magnets to the ball upon losses of possession, Leipzig can be exposed if the opposition are able to play quick enough, or hit longer passes into space.
Luckily enough, only the best of the best have been able to truly expose Leipzig’s defense since Tedesco’s arrival, and die Roten Bullen have been much more bullish at the back end of the pitch ever since.
CONCLUSIONEmbed from Getty Images
Domenico Tedesco has achieved wonders in his first few months in charge of Leipzig, with the team accumulating an impressive 62.5% win rate after eight matches. Tedesco’s inauguration has been marked by a return to a back-three, where Die Roten Bullen have fluctuated between a 3-4-1-2 and 3-4-2-1 formation. Christopher Nkunku has been key to the team’s success, as has been Tedesco’s decision to restore the likes of Kevin Kampl and Angelino back into the team following Marsch‘s massive failures. He’s also gotten Andre Silva firing again in front of goal, even at times fitting the Portuguese striker and Yussuf Poulsen into the same team, in a Werner-Poulsen-esque fashion. All the signs for Leipzig under Tedesco so far are immensely bright, and a top four place looks more than likely now under the influence of the Italian.
So there it is! A tactical analysis of Domenico Tedesco’s RB Leipzig. Be sure to check out more of our Bundesliga analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite. If you like this article, you may also want to consider becoming a subscriber to our site, and gaining free access to all Ebooks and more subscriber exclusives for just $4.99 per month. Thanks for reading and see you soon!