Hamburg host the Werner\Keita party – analysis and match report

A crowd of more than 50,000 saw their beloved HSV, somehow sitting level with Bayern and Dortmund take on RB Leipzig at the Volksparkstadion. Emil Forsberg didn’t even make the matchday squad due to an illness for the visitors, while Yussuf Poulsen started on bench, meaning both summer signings Bruma and Jean Kevin Augustin got the nod. The home team were of course missing Nicolai Müller and also Aaron Hunt, so Lewis Holtby played instead.  The game started with a lot of intensity and quite a few opportunities for both sides. Timo Werner made a run in 3rd minute that was started by a great Upamecano long ball – not sure where or why HSV’s defense was pushing up. Following a clearance, Naby Keita beat Holtby and nearly scored after stealing the ball from the former Spurs player and Walace. The Guinean would often control the match, chesting the ball down after a series of headers in midfield, which was HSV’s preferred style. In terms of formations, Hamburg started in a 4-5-1 defensively with full intentions to muck up the game and just counter. On offense it looked a 4-2-3-1 with Bobby Wood as the lone striker supported by Filip Kostic and Andre Hahn on the wings, both quite strong on the counter. There would be one such opportunity in the 5th minute when after a failed Sabitzer one-two with Bernardo, Walace recovered the ball and launched Holtby on a counter that ultimately broke down due to a poor pass.



The game was really flowing and at the other end Werner was able to beat Diekmeier (who for some reason every commentator must mention has played 183 games without scoring) and Augustin tried an audacious back heel that clipped the outside of the post!

In Leipzig’s defense Willi Orbán was cleaning up a lot of the second balls, while 18-year-old Dayot Upamecano began to assert control of the match from the back, recovering numerous balls and winning all the duels against Bobby Wood – who looked not quite fully fit after returning from international duty on Thursday. HSV sat very deep as we can see from this 9th minute snapshot:

Die Rothosen were doing a good job of executing their defensive game plan of pushing RBL, a team that loves to attack in the half spaces and through the middle, wide where Bernardo and Halstenberg were totally ineffective. The Brazilian struggled vs Kostic’ speed and  dribbling, resorting to fouling him and\or losing him on the breakaway and also in the 12th minute after a foul. Bernardo just fell asleep for a second after a dead ball, and Holtby was able to release Kostic. 

This kind of mental mistake must have driven Ralph Hasenhüttl mad, especially because he gave Bernardo the start over Lukas Klostermann in the now customary 4-2-2-2 Leipzig formation. 

Further up the pitch for Leipzig, their two attacking midfielders, Bruma and Sabitzer (10 lost balls) were 0 for 7 on crosses for the game, playing into Markus Gisdol’s hands. Sabitzer was quiet in the first half (perhaps another 18 year-old, Rick van Drongelen deserves some of the credit for keeping him in check) but the Portuguese winger attempted 12 dribbles, 10 in the first half and was a constant threat to break the lines of HSV resolute defense. JK Augustin  who attempted 11 passes and had just 24 touches in 78 mins was swallowed up by the Papadopoulos – Jung combo and really struggled as the sort of target man. One interesting strategic change that I observed in this game and the previous 2 for RBL was that the conventional “long balls to Poulsen” strategy was changed by Hasenhüttl as goalkeeper Péter Gulácsi barely attempted any long passes. 

While some of that is part of a game plan on behalf of opponents, which includes ceding possession and sitting deep vs Leipzig, there seems to be a smaller emphasis on long balls this season for RBL.

Offensively it was the same long ball approach for Hamburg: Gisdol found a sort of minimalistic counterpressing approach towards the end of last season that went something like this: “We’re not good enough to have sustained possession and buildup, so we’re going to try to play long and win lots of second balls and if we lose them, we can always counterpress with guys who work their asses off like Hahn, Kostic or Holtby. In this match, Hahn despite lining up at RM (22 aerial duels) and Wood at CF were the target men, with the latter having no chance vs Upamecano’s power and speed. Willi Orban was there to clean up the mess on the rare chance Wood got away.

The next dangerous moment came shortly after.

Thanks to some poor defensive organization – see the 4 HSV players who are in Keita’s vicinity, but failing to challenge him, while there is a potential 3 v 2 in the box behind them – RBL would get their biggest chance of the match so far.

In the 10th minute, Keita threatened with a chipped ball that Werner laid off to Willi Orban, who had a good opportunity to shoot from 12 yards with a contest  from Papadopoulos who was able to dive into the shot and deflect it for a corner. Of course in typical Papa fashion he then started yelling, presumably at his teammates for leaving him on an island.

HSV were able to relieve the pressure in minutes 12 – 14 thanks to some fouls and good hold-up play from Kostic. The left side of Leipzig became more active and Bruma started to assert himself – attempting 4 dribbles from the 14th minute to the 22nd. One of those dribbles saw Timo Werner get on the end of a pass and he just dusted Papa and forced Mathenia into a big save from a wide angle.

Still, HSV were growing into the game, although it was mostly through scrapping and clawing for loose balls. Bobby Wood must have been ecstatic to see Upamecano finally push up for a header and when he got on the end of a rebound, he had an easy time running past Halstenberg and holding off Diego Demme in the 20th minute. The Hawaiian ever rounded Willi Orban, but Demme made a desperate slide to block his shot, while some Hamburg fans appealed for a penalty. HSV were looking stronger and while a sloppy pass by Keita was corrected by Orban sliding from 10 yards to break up a 2 v 1, the host’ biggest chance came in the 23rd minute. Filip Kostic after a  great counter play between Wood and Hahn wasted a golden 1 on 1 opportunity. (shoutout to Bernardo chilling!)


Yet, the game plan to sit back and not press high did not change, and you could see great evidence for this by Bobby Wood immediately waving his hand, imploring Kostic to track back instead of pressing Gulácsi right after his huge chance in the 25th minute. The Serbian was having his way with Bernardo, eluding him with a nutmeg just a minute later that really should have been a yellow card before earning another foul just seconds later. The ensuing Holtby free kick resulted in a decent half volley by Walace that sizzled wide. Leipzig were forced wide again at this phase of the game and there were lots of switches of play, but Hamburg stood firm. In the 28th minute, a Werner dump off found Augustin and van Drongelen battling in the box and the Frenchman on the ground, but ref Deniz Aytekin correctly ruled it fair contact and no penalty. Augustin would get an even bigger chance after another great setup by Timo Werner, but he failed to make contact with the ball under pressure from HSV goalie Mathenia in the 30th minute.

Unfortunately the Serbian got hurt and Waldschmidt’s entry into the game resulted in pushing Holtby into LW and playing the substitute in a more central role. You can see the youngsters passes, challenges and possession here:

Although Waldschmidt would offer some good playmaking (see the Schipplock chance) and dynamism (he was 2nd on the matchday with 50 runs despite playing less than an hour!!!), he wasn’t able to occupy Leipzig’s defense the same way Kostic was.

Naby Keita began to take over towards the end of the first half, first turning Walace in the 34th minute, then rampaging through the middle in the 37th. He would attempt 8 of his 10 dribbles between the 30th and 75th minutes when Leipzig retook control after Hamburg’s strong spell. Bruma was move involved in the left side and Timo Werner who started more on the left now started to drift into the half spaces and even wide on the right!Marcel Sabitzer also raised his level of activity, but his end product was still very poor. Halstenberg was able to be more involved in the buildup and even JK Augustin, who had been erased by Dennis Diekmeier up to that point was showing signs of life. Diekmeier would get into a controversial spot after appearing to have fouled Werner, but VAR actually did its job well once and Aytekin correctly reversed his decision to award a penalty. At the half, although Leipzing enjoyed a 70-30 possession edge and 8 to 5 shots, there was certainly an argument that HSV deserved at least a draw and possibly even more with Kostic’s chance.

The second half began with Hamburg content to field a disconnected side that relied on long-balls and counterpressing as you can see from this image in the 46th minute:

The only couple players who attempted shorter passes and\or forward passes were Albin Ekdal and Walace who aside from amassing 20 tackles also had some success in doing so in the early part of the 2nd half:

Hamburg would finally press a little higher around the 49 minute mark, right after Waldschmidt skyed a free kick from 20 yards out:

Still, counters represented their biggest threats, but Upamecano was just not having it against poor Bobby Wood, who was muscled off the ball constantly by the young Frenchman, like in the 53rd minute on a potential 1 v 1 after a Holtby outlet ball. Although it was further away from his goal, it was fairly similar to the duel that Upamecano lost on MD 1 vs Franco di Santo that resulted in the first Schalke goal from the ensuing penalty. In that Schalke match he won 67% of his challenges, then followed it up by winning an otherworldly 91% against Freiburg, so his 76% against Hamburg was now kinda just OK :). And it’s not like he was sitting back deep just waiting for guys, look how high up the pitch he is in the 57th minute! (bottom right corner)

To do that at a young age – he turns 19 next month! – while also being excellent in the buildup is ridiculous. Is it really that crazy to suggest that in like 1-2 years he could go for 75-100 million?

His only weakness so far seems to lacking some experience in the shenanigans (small pushes, etc) that veterans like di Santo or Wood are sometimes able to exploit. If he learns that, game over.

After the hour mark, Bernardo was finally replaced – it made no sense to keep playing him since he was poor and Kostic was now subbed off – Klostermann came on. Leipzig began to dominate through Keita, Upamecano and were getting into decent shooting positions from 20-25 yards centrally. A silly foul by Waldschmidt and the lack of attention to detail – look at the 3 guys ahead of the ball, Ekdal is complaining instead of paying attention to Keita – ended up in Keita rocking the net from far!

With the introduction of Kevin Kampl in the 69th minute – btw it’s totally unfair to have him as a Forsberg sub, as he is super overqualified – Leipzig grew stronger on the left side as well. His direct passing was an element that usually Forsberg possesses and it pushed the game out of reach for Hamburg:

Speaking of out of reach, Timo Werner!

That sequence was incredibly harsh on HSV, as Sven Schipplock who entered just seconds earlier could’ve put the hosts level, but then again he’s Sven Schipplock….

In the last 10-15 minutes, Kampl’s rampaging runs and Keita’s exhibition continued, but the injury to the Guinean could prove costly for Leipzig, who play mid week in the Champions League. For Hamburg, this was a bitter loss and the injuries to van Drongelen and Kostic did not help either, so they will have their work cut out for them against Hannover. In the end, Leipzig won the game deservedly, though perhaps more through the individual qualities of Werner, Keita and Upamecano.


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Abel started out watching and playing soccer in Hungary, before falling in love with the Bundesliga in the mid -90s (thanks to Kicker and Sat1's Ran). Now, he's in the USA -- and still loving it all many years later. Abel is faithful to BVB, but also endlessly fascinated by the emergence of new teams and talents from Germany, to the point that he even started a website about it, at Otherwise, you can find him working in publishing, teaching ESL, and/or drinking craft beer - not necessarily at the same time, or in that order. Abel tweets at @VanbastenESL and @BundesPL

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