In a tight and testy affair, Leipzig couldn’t break down Werder Bremen’s resilient defensive structure, resulting in a 0-0 draw after full-time. As the game went into extra time, the struggle continued but the match was only injected with more fuel and fire. The fatigue started to set in, but the pace of the game went from 100 to 150, as the players on the field looked as though they were willing to die to get their team the win. Three goals in extra time, one of which came in the very last minute of the game, gave the match a remarkable spin and ultimately resulted in Die Roten Bullen surging past Die Grün-Weißen on a 2-1 score-line. RB Leipzig now head into the DFB-Pokal final, as Werder Bremen head into the final weeks of their relegation battle with broken hearts. Here is an analysis of the match.
RB Leipzig – 3-1-4-2
In Julian Nagelsmann’s first match since announcing his departure for Bayern Munich, the German manager set his Leipzig team up in a 3-1-4-2 formation.
The centre-backs – Willi Orban, Ibrahima Konate, and Dayot Upamencao circulated the ball around in build-up phases, searching for vertical passes into central areas, or diagonals to the left where Angelino held his width. The build-up between the centre-backs was quick and incisive, and Leipzig wasted no time in getting the ball forward.
When circulating the ball between Haidara, Upamecano and Mukiele on the right side, the trio of Leipzig men remained in close proximity and combined through quick and short passes before looking for a switch to the other side. As a result, Angelino was far more likely to adopt a high and wide position, while Mukiele would drift deeper to engage in part of the build-up.
With Angelino already stretching the field, Leipzig’s use of Marcel Sabitzer in a wide left role was slightly perplexing. This allowed Nagelsmann’s team to have two players in close proximity after their switches of play, but it limited their ability to attack centrally. Until Sabitzer came off and the match wore into extra time, Leipzig were unable to create much in the way of anything through the middle of the pitch.
In the early stages of the game, Sabitzer’s wide position also meant that there was space for Dani Olmo to drift inside and receive the ball. In comparison to Haidara, Mukiele and Upamecano passing the ball in close proximity on the right, the left was far more open. Olmo often drifted deep from his position as a striker to exploit this space off vertical passes from Konaté and Orban. The potential to create an overload down the left with Sabitzer and Angelino would then be the team’s first inclination whenever possible.
The Spanish wing-back delivered several quality crosses into the box and was the key chance creator for his team. In fact it seemed as though the only way Leipzig were going to break down Bremen was going to be through an Angelino cross and an incisive finish. Unfortunately, Angelino’s many attempts to create for his teammates were constantly thwarted by Jiri Pavlenka. The Czech keeper got down well to save Sorloth’s powerful header at the beginning of the game, and finished off the ninety minutes in style with fantastic saves up against Christopher Nkunku and Yussuf Poulsen.
Eventually, Leipzig found their way through with a lapse in concentration from Ludwig Augustinsson, who neglected to step up with the rest of his defensive unit and left Hee-Chan Hwang all alone and on-side to finish off Leipzig’s best chance in the match. Pavlenka didn’t stand a chance, and unfortunately from there, Werder Bremen didn’t either. They clawed their way back into the match through intense pressing, but the fatigue of their front three resulted in Kampl being given too much room to roam, where he delivered a fantastic ball into the box for the game winner.
OUT OF POSSESSION
RB Leipzig’s possession and control over the match meant that they didn’t have to do much defending. However, their possession and shape also acted as a natural method of counter-pressing, by which it became very easy for the team to win the ball back. As per usual, Leipzig operated with all of their players (minus the goalkeeper) within the same half at all times. The centre-backs would engage high up the field, and Bremen’s front-three would track their movement, and sometimes go even further to stop Kevin Kampl. But this limited Bremen’s options when they won the ball, with no natural wide outlets. Bremen could have exposed the wide areas, where Angelino and Mukiele were often found very high up the pitch, but Sargent and Selke were too close together and too central to allow Werder Bremen any sort of easy method for getting the ball forward in attacking transitions. Kevin Kampl was also excellent throughout the match in recovering possession for his team in transition, while Konate, Upamecano and Orban were solid enough as to not allow Werder Bremen many chances to score.
Higher up the pitch, the team pressed in a 3-1-4-2 shape and this allowed Werder Bremen to find gaps in between the lines of the 4 and Kevin Kampl – all alone. There were very few moments in the match where Bremen were able to play out from the back and break the lines of the opposition, but Leipzig were certainly able to be exposed in this manner on goal kicks and longer spells without the ball. Lower on the pitch, the team reverted to more of a 5-3-2 shape, attempting to react to Werder Bremen’s attempts to put through-balls onto Sargent and Selke in between the gaps of wing-back to centre-back, and centre-back to centre-back. Sargent had a few decent chances through these kind of moves, but Peter Gulacsi was always up to the task in stopping the American.
Werder Bremen – 4-3-3 / 5-2-3
Werder Bremen spent the vast majority of the match without the ball. In brief moments where they regained possession, they struggled to break Leipzig down and often had to revert back into a defensive structure immediately. On the few occasions where they were able to break into Leipzig’s half, it was often down to Leipzig giving the ball away in their build-up and Werder’s intense pressure. Kohfeldt‘s team looked to move the ball quickly in these rare moments of attack, working through-balls into vertical channels for Sargent and Selke to run onto. The two forwards often interchanged both in and out of possession, with Sargent popping up all over the pitch to receive in space.
While Sargent couldn’t convert his chances, Leonardo Bittencourt ultimately did in extra-time, after his intense pressure forced Dayout Upamecano into a grave mistake and Peter Gulacsi into a rush of blood. Bittencourt’s excellent finish to take the ball out of reach from the recovering Upamecano was phenomenal, and it was nothing more than they deserved for the amount of solid defensive work they put into the match. However, that was pretty much as good as it got for Bremen with the ball at their feet.
OUT OF POSSESSION
Werder Bremen set up to defend, as would be expected of a team on such a poor run of form. With all Leipzig players (apart from the goalkeeper) advancing into Bremen’s half, their front-three were forced to come back and help. Fullkrug often dropped the deepest of three, particularly to track the movement of Haidara/Nkunku and Kampl. Selke and Sargent meanwhile stayed high to press, giving Bremen a sort of a 4-3-1-2 shape out of possession at times. Higher up the pitch when pressing from the front, Florian Kohfeldt‘s team were more likely to adopt a normal 4-3-3 press, looking to shut down the wide areas. This left Kampl available for passes through the centre of the pitch, but Bremen’s astute shuffling of Leipzig toward the touchline meant that they couldn’t find the Slovenian midfielder often enough.
As the match wore on, Werder Bremen adopted more of a 5-2-3 structure. This was in an attempt to cope with the added presence of Yussuf Poulsen up front. Die Grün-Weißen continued to defend in numbers, resolutely shutting down central channels. But it ultimately proved ineffective, as Nagelsmann’s team continued to work the ball into Angelino to deliver crosses into the box. Jiri Pavlenka stuck his task well in stopping Leipzig from scoring, but the intensity of the match continued and die Roten Bullen ultimately ended up finding a way through right at the very end.
At times Leipzig found it very difficult to progress in central spaces, particularly higher up the pitch where they were almost forced to hit diagonals into Angelino. Often having eight men behind the ball, Leipzig couldn’t find a way through the middle of the pitch until the fatigue started to set in at the dying moments of extra time. Sargent’s pressure wasn’t enough to stop Kampl from easily evading the American on a turn, where he then went on to deliver an excellent ball into Hee-Chan Hwang to head onto Emil Forsberg. The rest was history.
In the end it was one of the very best matches of the season, and has massive ramifications for both of these teams as they head into the final month of the 2020-21 campaign.