While Bayern Munich has been undisputed champion of Bundesliga winning six titles in last ten years, German championship has seen raise of many clubs this season. With Hertha, Eintracht, Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig chasing the Munich giants we turned to RB Leipzig match against Eintracht Frankfurt.
Both teams had a great autumn behind them. It is difficult to say if seeing Eintracht in fourth spot was more surprising or RB Leipzig just three points behind Bayern in second. Leipzig Had a difficult end of December when they lost two out of three games (including 3:0 defeat away at Bayern) and they had to continue the chase with a good start on opening match after the winter break.
On the other hand, the visitors needed to keep up the surprising form they had from October till December when they went two months without defeat.
While Emil Forsberg was out of the match due to suspension, Ralph Hasenhüttl had to reshape his team. As Keita was deemed fit he took the left wing spot while Stefan Ilsanker got into the central midfield with Demme in 4-4-2 formation.
Even more problems had Eintracht coach Niko Kovač who was missing Szabolcs Huszti in the center of midfield and Marco Fabián in attack. In the end Kovač opted for Hrgota as the central forward while Hasebe was moved into central midfield to cover for Szabolcs Huszti. This opened space for Hector who got the spot in the defence in a variation of 3-4-3.
However, all hard work preparing the match against RB Leipzig was gone out of the window after only three minutes when Hradecky left his goal and inexplicably handled the ball outside of the box. Kovač took out his striker Branimir Hrgota to make room for 26 years old goalkeeper Heinz Lindner who got his Bundesliga début. Unfortunately for Austrian goalkeeper, his first touch of the ball fell on the foot of Marvin Compper and Eintracht was trailing after just four minutes and with only 10 men on the field. An uphill battle from the beginning.
Above we see the changes Eintracht made as Ante Rebić remained the lone striker while Mijat Gaćinović dropped into the central midfield. What is also noticeable is how well organized are Eintracht defensive banks. RB Leipzig had space in all the areas that don’t matter while Eintracht covered all the dangerous spaces.
Throughout the first half Eintracht remained disciplined in defence and largely contained the hosts despite they were a man down. Due to mobility and work rate from Rebić, they even managed to threaten RB Leipzig and create the best chance of the half. One that Rebić squandered, though.
Hosts had a lead and a man advantage so they didn’t do much to adapt to the new circumstances carrying on the plan they had from the beginning. As you can see on the image above, when Eintracht tried to build up from deep, RBL tried to channel them to play wide. Possibly due to difference in formations. Even from the start when both teams had 11 players on the field RB had an advantage down the flanks since visitors play only with wing backs. Thus, they man marked central trio while Poulsen, Werner and Sabitzer chased down the three man defence.
While off the ball phase worked well for hosts, they had a lot of trouble creating chances despite the advantage in numbers. Ilsanker was the man who connected the defence and midfield while Demme and Keita were supposed to be the creative spark to outplay the visitors. However, Keita was cutting inside from his left flank and found himself too often in the lap of the opposition defence and couldn’t contribute as much. RB Leipzig had more luck with combinations down the flanks but lacked the precision to finish them off.
In the image above you see another trademark move from RB. They were overloading the right side where they had two options. A pass to Keita to work his one on one ability and find a team mate with a thorough ball or a long diagonal into the space. In this instance Eintracht did very well to close off the central passing lanes and Keita found himself in the lap of defence unable to receive. Yet, four players in tight space got the attention of whole defence. Combined with lack of attention from Rebić who fails to press the ball carrier, Ilsanker has a lot of time and space to pick the run from Halstenberg who is sneaking behind the back of wing back. Since the defence has shifted to cover four opposition players, RB full back remains one on one with Chandler. However, Demme doesn’t possess the ability to pick those passes consistently and the ball is cleared.
Whole first half went by in futile attempts from RB to break down Eintracht. It seemed the visitors did exceptionally well to get to break with only one goal down while threatening themselves, a bit of luck from set piece meant RB Leipzig got the second goal just before the break.
Kovač didn’t change anything in the second half and by the 60th minute his team was getting tired failing to close all the gaps. However, the biggest change to the game was made by Ralph Hasenhüttl. Keita obviously got different instructions in the second half and his presence in the central midfield changed the game.
Above you see RB in the second half and there are few things that changed compared to the first half. Most obvious is that Keita is now dropping much more into deeper position in order to help the transition into the attacking third. Both full backs are higher keeping the width of the pitch and stretching the five man defensive line. While in first half RB consistently attacked with Sabitzer, Poulsen, Werner and Keita high up the pitch, the ball distribution was left to Ilsanker and Demme. However, when Ralph Hasenhüttl dropped Keita into the center he might have lost a body up the pitch but he gained much more.
Above is RB about to reach the attacking third and we can observe how the shape changes as well as what the hosts gained. Two forwards still remain quite narrow and on shoulder with defenders. As Keita isn’t so aggressive in his positioning both full backs can go forward and keep the defensive line pinned back in 5v4 situation.
While Sabitzer is searching space between the lines he provides another one v one option from the deep and Ilsanker is just a decoy to further occupy one of the Eintracht midfielders thus liberating the space for Keita. His deeper position allowed RB to control the second half as his clever off the ball movement allowed him to find space and time on the ball. Unlike Ilsanker in the previous example, he has ability to consistently see and execute a long pass and was a constant threat for the visitors. Well timed runs behind the defence and good passing from Keita opened up Eintracht few times during the second half.
In this position and with a man more on the pitch he could efficiently use his close control and acceleration to run on defence from deep. While RB’s main idea remained the same (find a runner behind the defence) execution in the second half was much better. That is completely due to changes Hasenhüttl did in half time when he placed Keita in more space and time on the ball.
While Eintracht did extremely well in first half and were unlucky to concede the second goal, they failed to adapt to Keita in the second period. Kovač made double substitution in the 72nd minute changing worn out Rebić and Gaćinović. While he lost mobility in the attack Rebić provided, he gained ability to hold on the ball with Seferović. However, with a man and three nil down, midfield found it difficult to get into more advanced position and help out the lone striker who didn’t really have any effect on the game in the end.
To conclude, the game was always an uphill battle for Eintracht as they went man short and a goal down. However, they responded well in the first half and another unlucky goal finished them off. Once Hasenhüttl dropped Keita deeper midfielder ran the show for the hosts and completely ruined the day for Eintracht.
This analysis was first published at soccerspecific, a coaching education platform with the mission of creating and sharing the highest quality of coaching information in order to positively impact player development around the world.