After 14 matchdays in the Bundesliga, RB Leipzig were lackluster, suffering from both a leaky defense and an attack that couldn't keep up. Seven points behind the top four after defeat to Union Berlin, Jesse Marsch could no longer be the coach Leipzig needed.
Marsch struggled compared with his predecessor, Julian Nagelsmann. The American's vertical and direct style of play, matched with a desire to man-mark, left the team out of sorts.
After the departure of Marsch, the club decided to go back to a Nagelsmann-type of coach who could offer flexibility. Enter Domenico Tedesco, but how, and what, has he changed to make Leipzig a top-four contender again?
Leipzig's better build-up play
Tedesco uses a back three/five in his build-up play with two pivot players staying narrow. The wing-backs provide width, the two strikers occupy their opponent's last line of defense and the number 10 sits behind them. This structure organizes Leipzig in a natural way as all five vertical lanes (wings, half spaces and center lanes) on the pitch are occupied.
The build-up play of Tedesco's three center backs and two midfielders offers the team a wide range of passing options, solid receiving pass angles to circulate or progress the ball and the option to involve the wing-backs via diagonal passes onto the wings. This set up is a key component of the club's counter defense.
An interesting aspect of Leipzig's game is the fluidity of their front three; with Andre Silva, Christopher Nkunku and Dominik Szoboszlai, Tedesco selects flexible players who change their shape from a 1+2 (a number 10 with two strikers) into a 2+1 (two number 10's with one lone forward). This offers the team a lot of rotational movement, in turn allowing their striker to drift wide and overload the wing or even drop deeper to support the team's ball progression.
The main improvement is the level of stability Tedesco has brought into the team while still being able to unleash the quality of his players, by allowing creativity and freedom in their movements.
With his reputation for being a defensive mastermind, it was obvious that Tedesco could bring that quality to Leipzig.
He combines typical Red Bull elements when it comes to pressing with his structured football philosophy. For this Leipzig team, this means changing from a strict man-to-man marking style to a zonal one, an approach Nagelsmann also used when managing the team. An advantage of this zonal tactic is that the team is capable of defending not only high up the pitch but also in a mid or low-block (defending in the middle of the pitch or deep in your own half).
The principles are always the same; protect the central areas of the pitch, force the opponent wide and intercept passes that are played into the team's formation.
The formation varies from a 5-3-2 to 3-4-3 and in both of them, the team can use the same pressing routes and movements. For example, Leipzig's wing-backs can always defend forward with the remaining players of the back line shifting to the wing where the ball is. Not only are they then protected against their opponent's attacks but they are also capable of winning the ball and launching counter attacks, as seen in the 4-1 win against Borussia Mönchengladbach.
The coaching change has improved Leipzig's overall play and form.
One of the biggest winners from this is forward Andre Silva, who at times under Marsch didn't look like he was part of the game. Under Tedesco, Silva is not only used as a striker but as part of their link-up play in attack with the Portuguese securing second balls, being the pass-receiver in their rival's last line of defense and creating chances.
The numbers show his improvement too. In 14 games under Marsch he had only three goals to his name, creating just 0.78 chances per 90 minutes. Since Tedesco's appointment, he has scored five in six and created 1.2 chances per game.
Other players who have benefited include Josko Gvardiol and Mohamed Simakan. The pair have been revitalized by the new defensive approach.
This has helped Tedesco completely restructure a struggling side from mid-table form into top-four contenders again. With two cup competitions (German Cup and Europa League) still within their grasp as well as focusing on finishing in the Champions League places, there's a chance that this improvement can take them to their first-ever piece of major silverware.
Edited by: Jonathan Harding