The Bundesliga managerial carousel is back for the 2022/23 season. After losing to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League, RB Leipzig parted ways with Domenico Tedesco and quickly signed Marco Rose.
The 46-year-old German head coach was not entering foreign territory. Sure, he had amassed some good Bundesliga experience in two separate jobs but, more relevantly, he had also previously worked in the Red Bull ecosystem with RB Salzburg in Austria.
Curiously, his first assignment saw his side take on former employers Borussia Dortmund, who he surprisingly parted ways with in the summer after a disappointing but not disastrous season.
They then re-appointed Edin Terzić as head coach, and after a strong start to the season in terms of results, were level on points with leaders Freiburg going into this game.
By contrast, Leipzig were in the bottom half of the table with just one win and two draws in five matches. They had kept just one clean sheet in those matches and conceded nine goals, well over half their tally of 15 in the entire Rückrunde (second half of the season) in 2021/22. The change of coach was justified.
Dortmund didn’t create any major surprises in their line-up, so all eyes were naturally on Leipzig. Tedesco had mostly used a 3-4-1-2 system, but Rose seemed to switch to a back-four in his very first pick-up, despite only having a few days to prepare.
One of the big changes Tedesco brought to Leipzig was that he made them a true possession-dominated team rather than relying on transitions to attack the exit, which is generally seen as the ‘Red Bull model’. . Rose seemed to pull them slightly closer in his first game against the latter, although it was far from a classic RB setup.
Essentially, Leipzig weren’t too worried about keeping possession of the ball at all times, but rather about containing Dortmund and preventing them from advancing easily. They allowed their opponents a substantial majority of possession but severely limited their attacking threat.
Rose’s side did it by defending in what can best be described as a 4-3-1-2 form. However you describe it, the fact is that their defensive form seemed specifically suited to Dortmund.
Emil Forsberg marked Salih Özcan whenever he was in midfield, but the main difference was in the roles of the two on-paper ‘wingers’ – Christopher Nkunku and Dominik Szoboszlai.
The former pushed forward as he was tasked with pressuring Nico Schlotterbeck every time he received the ball, while the latter stayed behind as he worried about Dortmund’s right-back Thomas Miller.
According to Julian Brandt’s positioning, one of Konrad Laimer and Mohamed Simakan watched Raphaël Guerreiro when he received the ball to prevent him from having too much space.
In this way, Leipzig were able to restrict Dortmund considerably by blocking their three main paths of ball progression – the defensive midfielders and the two full-backs.
One of Dortmund’s biggest criticisms this season is that they are sorely lacking in flexibility in their possession game, so they didn’t pose additional problems for Leipzig and were contained that way throughout the game.
In fact, it was the first time in three years that Dortmund did not register a single shot on target in a Bundesliga game. They didn’t create much either, as their xG count read 0.60 after five attempts.
Going back to Leipzig’s defensive form, there was also good reason to push Nkunku forward outside of Schlotterbeck’s close, and it had something to do with transitions.
It’s no secret that the Frenchman’s pace and trickery make him a deadly weapon in transition, so by keeping him higher up the pitch he could be used as an outlet in transition alongside Timo Werner.
This created Leipzig’s first goal as they won the corner after Nkunku advanced down the right and played Werner behind, after which the defender was forced to tackle and concede the free kick.
That’s not to say Leipzig didn’t show anything in possession, as there were also some interesting things to note when they had the ball. This is where we could see a much more defined structure that looked like a team playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
There was a 2-2 structure at the base with centre-backs and defensive midfielders, while the front four remained tight and compact enough to allow the full-backs to step forward.
Plus, there were varying models to see. For example, David Raum, who is more of a wing-back, has generally advanced much further than Simakan.
This was complemented by Szoboszlai, who is a midfielder by trade, often dropping deep to help the ball progress and always staying quite narrow, while Nkunku sometimes drifted wide. All of these things are visible in the Leipzig overtaking network.
All in all, it was a superb performance from Leipzig, capped off with three deserved goals. Orban’s opener after the opening corner was perhaps little more than they deserved at the time, but Szoboszlai’s superb strike and deft team movement that led to Haidara’s third certainly deserved their awards.
Rose already seems to be imprinting his style of play on the side, and they seem to have taken a bit of a step back after just a few practice sessions.
Sure, we’re likely to see some changes in defensive form from different teams, but the basic idea of pushing Nkunku forward to use him as an outlet in transition while keeping him in an off-center position in possession is interesting.
Against “smaller” teams, Leipzig will naturally be forced to play a more possession-based game since Rose is not a fan of chaotic end-to-end affairs, so we should have a better and clearer idea of how they intend to play with the ball then.
More than anything, it was a crushing loss for Dortmund as their former head coach took over a squad just days before the game and prepared a better game plan for them. That’s not to say Terzić is a bad manager, but he lacks the tactical acumen and flexibility that Rose showed in this game.
Despite their disappointing run of results, Bayern Munich are still looking for comfortable favorites for the title, but with Rose at the helm, Leipzig should aim for at least the best of the resting place.
Statistics and data courtesy of Wyscout, Opta via FotMob and Vizz App.