The deep dig: How Schalke upset leaders RB Leipzig

Schalke produced their best performance of the season to stun RB Leipzig at the Red Bull Arena and inflict a first defeat of the season on Julian Nagelsmann’s table toppers. After wins against Hertha Berlin, Paderborn and Mainz, the Königsblauen showed that they could also produce against a top team.

Not many sides come away from Saxony with three points, so just how did Schalke achieve what so many before them had struggled to do? Let’s take a look at the key points.

Wagner’s pressing masterplan

Trainer David Wagner surprised Leipzig with the adapted formation he sent out. Instead of the expected 4-2-3-1 line-up that has been employed thus far, the Schalke coach switched to a 4-4-2 diamond system. An even bigger surprise was the selection of 19-year-old Rabbi Matondo for his first start of the season playing alongside Guido Burgstaller as one of the two strikers. A bold move away from home from the Royal Blue coach.

If Leipzig were expecting the visitors to try and slow the game down, they were wrong as the selection of speedy Matondo and the energetic Weston McKennie showed. Amine Harit was at the head of the midfield four, Suat Serdar and McKennie were positioned behind, with Omar Mascarell sweeping up at the base of the diamond.

A feature of Schalke’s early season success has been their inclination to ‘act rather than react’. This wasn’t the case under Domenico Tedesco last season, and already the same set of players look transformed under Wagner. Right from the off their pressing game was evident to see with Burgstaller and the pacey Matondo the first point of defence as they pushed up against Willi Orban, Nordi Mukiele and Dayot Upamecano.

Right from the start Schalke pressed Leipzig with Matondo and Burgstaller leading the way.

Schalke had their fair share of luck in the opening 20 minutes with Leipzig not making the most of their early chances. Marcel Sabitzer hit the crossbar on 15 minutes, but it was captain Nübel, who was the saviour a minute later when he pulled off a world-class double save to deny Emil Forsberg and Sabitzer.  

Schalke’s 29th minute opener came via a well-rehearsed corner with Omar Mascarell running to the near post to flick on Bastian Oczipka’s corner. Once it had been flicked on, it became undefendable with Salif Sané on hand to power home.

Amine Harit’s penalty two minutes before the break could be seen as contentious as he was looking for the contact, but it was the reward Schalke deserved for their first-half display.

The third goal on the hour came after Mukiele lost the ball deep in the Schalke half and visitors countered at pace ending with Harit feeding Matondo for his first Bundesliga goal.


The tale of the tape

The midfield diamond was the key for David Wagner and Schalke’s impressive win. The Königsblauen only had 36% ball possession but made the very most of it when they did. They mustered thirteen shots to Leipzig’s eighteen, but had eight on target compared to the hosts six. Matondo and had four shots in total with three on target.

Schalke had four counter-attacks compared to none for RB, while they had eleven of their shots inside the area showing the penetration, they had with Harit. They intercepted the ball fourteen times indicating their ability to soak up the Leipzig pressure (Mascarell and Serdar three apiece)

Harit created three chances with Serdar and Mascarell contributing two. Serdar, who is increasing in importance for the side, completed three of his four take-ons and recovered the ball nine times.

Suat Serdar’s heat map v RB Leipzig (courtesy of SofaScore)

What they said

David Wagner: “I think it was a really good game today with lots of good things done by both sides. It was played at a high tempo and there were plenty of tackles put in. The lads put so much into today’s game – it was great to watch! Obviously, we had a little bit of luck, but we still deserved to win. RB showed that they are one of the best teams in the Bundesliga.

“They had the first two clear-cut chances of the game, but we then went ahead through a set-piece goal. We had worked on this in training. Our assistant coach Frank Fröhling is responsible for set-pieces, which is why I jumped into his arms after we scored.

Embed from Getty Images

“The way we fought and played on the counter after going 1-0 up was fantastic. Obviously, you need a bit of luck, which we had. We managed to continuously hurt Leipzig. We said before the game that we wanted to bring our own game onto the pitch and that’s exactly what we did. The lads ran themselves into the ground right until the final whistle. It was so impressive.”

Rabbi Matondo: “It was an unbelievable feeling. I’ve scored my first ever goal in the Bundesliga and my team put in a great performance to beat the league leaders. I’m just really happy and I’m convinced that this performance will give us another push for the next few games. Our coach had a clear game plan and it clearly worked. Yes, we have four wins on the trot now, but we can’t get carried away. We know that Köln will be a challenge next week.”

Amine Harit: “I’m so happy. It was an incredible performance from the lads, we had a lot of fun out there. As soon as the referee gave the penalty, I grabbed the ball and put it on the spot. I know it could’ve gone wrong, but I was absolutely sure I would score. We worked really hard as a team; everyone played their heart out for their teammates today.”

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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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