Matchday 4 of the Bundesliga provides the first real clash between two potential title contenders with RB Leipzig hosting Bayern Munich at the Red Bull Arena on Saturday. Die Roten Bullen have started the new season with a perfect 100% record, but that will be seriously tested with the visit of the reigning league champions.
It is sure to be a fascinating match as the two heavyweights go head-to-head. Here we take a look at some of the key match-ups ahead of the weekend’s big game.
Julian Nagelsmann vs Niko Kovac
Although they can only stand in the technical area, the outcome of Saturday’s match could very well be decided in the main by the respective trainers. It is a fascinating clash between the coaching prodigy Nagelsmann and the double-winning Kovac with the tactical aspect of the game causing much debate before the match.
Nagelsmann has made his name through his clever tactical knowledge and ability to outsmart teams with clever tweaks and game-specific tactics. He has had a very successful start at Leipzig with three ins out of three and he’s slowly beginning to adapt the club’s playing style from its pressing system into one that is more possession based.
He has a pretty good record against Bayern winning twice in a row in January and September 2017 whilst at Hoffenheim, so he knows how to beat the Bavarians. On both those occasions he employed a 3-5-2 formation and it is likely that he will again go for a back three this weekend.
Talking at Thursday’s press conference the RB coach said he was targeting a win against the champions. “We can talk about a draw in retrospect. I would like to win and go into the game with that approach.
“Good results against Bayern can take you a long way, but you have to keep performing every week. If we win against Bayern and then lose every other game, it counts for nothing” he added.
Niko Kovac will certainly be tested against Nagelsmann and it will be interesting to see if the Bayern coach has a Plan B should it be required. The Croatian has a neutral balance in his six previous matches facing Nagelsmann with two, wins, three draws and two losses.
The dilemma facing Kovac this weekend tactically is whether to keep faith with the new 4-3-3 formation he has been using recently (with teething problems) or to revert back to the 4-2-3-1 that was employed throughout the majority of last season. For an excellent analysis of this read this piece from bavarianfootballworks.com.
“Leipzig have made enormous progress over the last few years, but we’ve grown too. It’ll be tight” Kovac said this week.
“In their early matches there were period when they pressed high up the field, but also periods when they dropped deep. We must prepare for this combination”.
Ibrahima Konaté/Willi Orban vs Robert Lewandowski
There is no doubt that Robert Lewandowski is often the difference-maker for Bayern with his near-guarantee of goals. He has started the new season in fantastic form with six goals in his first three matches (including his stunning hat trick against Schalke).
However, in Ibrahima Konaté Leipzig have possibly the league’s most promising centreback, and in Willi Orban the perfect experienced partner to try and stop the prolific Pole.
Part of the solution for Leipzig will be to cut off the supply to Lewandowski from Coman/ Gnabry, but the major factor will be in denying him the space to work his magic. That of course is easier said than done, as the Bayern striker only needs a tiny area to exploit and the ball is more often than not dispatched into the back of the net.
It is no coincidence that the rise of Konaté alongside Orban last season led to Leipzig having the best defensive record in the Bundesliga. That said, Lewandowski did score twice in the DFB Pokal final against them help Bayern seal the double.
Timo Werner vs Niklas Süle
If Lewandowski is the dangerman for Bayern, then his counterpart is Timo Werner for Leipzig. He too has started the season in blistering form with five goals and he too has already bagged a hat trick (vs Mönchengladbach).
His pace is going to be the weapon that Bayern need to be wary of and Niklas Süle is going to be key for Bayern in this regard. The German international is a big unit, but he is deceptively quick and will need all his pace if it comes down to a foot race with Werner. Gladbach’s Matthias Ginter and Nico Elvedi didn’t emerge from Leipzig’s last game with much to smile about after Werner burned them for pace- Süle will want to avoid a similar fate.
It could be that Werner deploys himself wider on the left to try and exploit Benjamin Pavard at right-back if Niko Kovac lines-up like that. Leipzig’s lightning-quick striker didn’t have the best of international breaks with Germany, so will be keen to rediscover his form in the league against Bayern.
Marcel Halstenberg/Lukas Klostermann vs Kingsley Coman/Serge Gnabry
Joachim Löw used the Leipzig fullback pair for Germany against Northern Ireland in midweek and they will once again be playing a prominent part against Bayern.
The danger of Coman and Gnabry on the flanks is no secret, so the RB pair will have their hands full. How much they stick to defending the wingers and how much venture forward as an attacking threat will be interesting to see. Perhaps forcing the Bayern pair into tracking back to defend, might be the best way of negating their threat.
Julian Nagelsmann of course knows more than most how Gnabry operates as it was under hm at Hoffenheim that the youngster really flourished into a top-class attacker. However, it could well be that Kovac opts for Ivan Perisic as an alternative. Whatever line-up he chooses, the effectiveness of Halstenberg and Klostermann will be key for Leipzig.
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