The Deep Dig- Julian Nagelsmann’s defensive switch

Bundesliga matchday 4 is done and dusted with nine fascinating games producing goals, excitement, drama, controversy and everything you would expect from the best league in the world. But now the dust has settled, let’s take the opportunity to dig a little deeper and analyse one particular issue from the weekend.  Step forward Julian Nagelsmann and his half-time switch.

The big game of the weekend certainly didn’t disappoint with RB Leipzig hosting Bayern Munich at the Red Bull Arena looking to protect their 100% record and their position at the top of the Bundesliga table. It was billed as a clash of the champions against the potential usurpers and a clash of tactics between the two young coaches.

Julian Nagelsmann, Leipzig’s new trainer had enjoyed a fantastic start in the hot seat in Saxony with three successive wins to start the season, but all eyes were on him on Saturday evening as he sought to repeat the wins, he’s achieved with Hoffenheim back in 2017.

The back three

The pre-match speculation over tactics were soon put to bed when Leipzig lined-up at kick-off with a back three in a 3-5-2 (3-1-4-2) formation with Konrad Laimer the single number 6 with full-backs Marcel Halstenberg and Lukas Klostermann ahead of the trio of Ibrahima Konaté, Willi Orban and Nordi Mukiele.

Nagelsmann’s plan was obviously to be compact at the back, press high and not allow the visitors the time to develop their game. That all however went to pot as early as the third minute when Thomas Müller dispossessed Lukas Klostermann and fed Robert Lewandowski, who raced through and coolly slotted past Peter Gulacsi.

The early goal was certainly a blow but what was more of a worry was the way Bayern gained control of the midfield during the first half. Had they been more clinical with their finishing (Lewandowski should have scored twice before the 15-minute mark), Niko Kovac’s side could realistically been 3-0 or 4-0 up by the interval.

Bayern enjoyed the lion’s share of possession (76%), had a 91% pass accuracy and were over-running die Roten Bullen in their own half with a 7 vs 5 advantage. Abel Meszaros illustrates the tactical point brilliantly here:

Image courtesy of Abel Meszaros

Bayern controlled their own half with a two-man advantage allowing themselves both possession and time. Were Lukas Klostermann and/ or Marcel Halstenberg to advance into the Bayern half to balance things up, then speedy wingers Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry would be able to attack Mukiele and Orban in a one-on-one situation.

The half-time switch

The penalty dispatched by Emil Forsberg at the end of the first half put a better sheen on the first 45 minutes for the hosts, but it was clear that a change was needed. Nagelsmann duly responded by switching to a back four going to a 4-2-2-2 formation with Laimer joined by Diego Demme as a double 6.

While their first-half possession lay at just 24%, in the second it rose to 41% showing that Bayern were still dominant, but less so than in the opening 45 minutes. Leipzig instantly began to look more of a threat. Halstenberg had a good chance on 49 minutes before Mukiele forced a good save from Manuel Neuer.

Embed from Getty Images

While Bayern had dominated the first 45 minutes, the opening 20 minutes of the second period saw the two teams on more of a level, with Leipzig edging it if anything. It was a fascinating game and really was a ‘tale of two halves’. Bayern will see it as an opportunity missed, while Leipzig will see the game as an important lesson learnt.

What they said

Julian Nagelsmann: “We couldn’t have started much worse and struggled to get into the game after their goal. We got a foothold in the second half though and created a number of decent chances. It was end-to-end in the closing stages.

“In the first half it was like a forest run without lots of football. We had less of the ball and then Timo [Werner] also has less of it. Of course, I could have reacted earlier, but we’re still not variable enough to change in the middle of game. That is a missing stage of our development.”

Niko Kovac: “We played sensationally in the first half; it was our best performance so far. We didn’t allow them anything but should have made more of our dominance. We made life difficult for ourselves after that. We shouldn’t have conceded the penalty after losing the ball. Leipzig changed their formation at half-time, we should have been more compact in midfield. It was an open contest then.

“At the end of the day the result is annoying. We had more chances, we played well but unfortunately squandered two points. We’re looking at the bright side of the game: we turned in a really good display.”

Emil Forsberg: “We’ll happily take the point. We did a lot of running in the first half; we didn’t have much of the ball and couldn’t get any control. Bayern played really good football though. We improved after half time and played some really good stuff.

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.

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