RB Leipzig are currently in fourth place with one win and one draw in their two games played, beating Mainz 3-1 with goals from Emil Forsberg, Yussuf Poulsen and Amadou Haidara and drew 1-1 with Bayer Leverkusen with a goal from Forsberg.
Schalke come into the game in with an abysmal form, currently at the bottom of the table with zero points and losing both their games. Firstly, they were thrashed by Bayern Munich 8-0 and then lost 3-1 to Werder Bremen, with one goal from Mark Uth.
Schalke recently sacked their manager David Wagner after these performances and appointed Manuel Baum as the manager for the upcoming season.
This tactical preview will look at how both Julian Nagelsmann and Baum might set up and the tactics that they might employ in this game. This analysis will also look at both sides’ previous games and where they should learn from there.
RB Leipzig (Red): 4-3-3
I expect Péter Gulácsi to start in goal with Dayot Upamecano and Lukas Klostermann in central defence. Angeliño, who is on loan from Manchester City, will start at left-back while Nordi Mukiele should start at right-back.
In midfield, the American Tyler Adams could start as a defensive midfielder with Kevin Kampl and Christopher Nkunku on either side of him. This should provide balance to their midfield when defending, attacking or in transitions.
Finally, in the attack, Dani Olmo and Emil Forsberg should play as wingers, while Yussuf Poulsen starts at striker. New signing Alexander Sørloth could start in attack as well, either as a cameo from the bench or as a full-fledged debut.
Schalke 04 (Blue): 4-2-3-1
Considering that this will be Baum’s first game in charge of Schalke 04, it is difficult to predict his starting formation. However, I believe that they will start out with a 4-2-3-1.
In goal, Ralf Fahrmann should get the nod, with Ozan Kabak and Stambouli to start as the centre-back pairing. The right-back should be Sebastian Rudy, with Bastian Oczipka at left-back.
The double-pivot should contain ex-Spurs man Nabil Bentaleb and Suat Serdar, with Nassim Boujellab having a chance to start or get a cameo from the bench.
The two wide wingers should be Amine Harit and Rabbi Montondo, who play as the wide midfielders in the 4-4-2. The striker should be Mark Uth, who scored the week before against Werder Bremen.
How will RB Leipzig play?
Leipzig are an aggressive pressing side that shift to a back three when defending, with Angeliño pushing up to play as a wide midfielder to form a 3-4-3. They use an interesting pressing system with each line of players zonally marking their counterparts in the opposition but pressing with triggers to force their opponents wider. We can see this in practice below:
There are lots of events happening in the event above to be broken down. In their recent game against Leverkusen, Leipzig set up with a 3-4-1-2 in pressing, with Nkunku not in the frame. This is achieved by Poulsen, Olmo or Forsberg going up as a striker and forming a two-man strike partnership. The other winger drops back more centrally and forms the hole in attacking midfield. The two midfielders in the middle near the centre circle employ an important zonal marking system as they are the first line of defence in the central areas of the field.
Notice the body geometry of Forsberg, who is charging towards the ball. He closes the passing lane of the Leverkusen full-back and forces Lars Bender on the ball to pass to the centre-back near him or the left-back. Olmo’s orientation indicates that he is waiting for a pass to Daley Sinkgraven, but Bender passes to Edmond Tapsoba instead.
Here, we can see the next part of the press in action. The midfielders can stay deeper to press as Haidara releases himself from the midfield three to attack Sinkgraven. This closes one passing option for Tapsoba on the ball. It is difficult for him to attempt and dribble past Olmo as this can create an easy counter-attack by forming a 1v1 situation. The only remaining option, as a Hail Mary, is to hit a long ball. Tapsoba does exactly this but the ball does not cross Kevin Kampl who is behind the two midfielders.
The effectiveness of this press meant that Leipzig was able to limit Leverkusen to scoring only one goal.
The weakness of this press is that the left side could be left exposed if a diagonal pass is played behind Angeliño. As he pushes up very high in the build-up, it could give the opponent a lot of space to exploit in the left-wing.
How can Schalke beat RB Leipzig
Considering that the manager is new in-charge, we do not have an indication of how they might play. However, this part will consider how to counter the threat of RB Leipzig.
On paper, Leipzig has a superior team, and with the Nagelsmann’s setup more superior and have played more together as well. But, some parts of the game might work in Schalke’s favour.
We looked at the first weakness above: The space left behind by Angeliño. If he plays against Schalke, they should play a winger (Amine Harit, Matondo etc.) to cover those spaces. Switching the ball, in this case, will be important if Leipzig’s centre-backs are drawn towards the right side.
An extension of the above weakness would be to occupy the centre-backs by making runs into zones 13 and 15 to bypass the defensive line. By doing this, the lone striker can navigate in the box and zone 14 easily and get into goalscoring opportunities.
Another disadvantage for Leipzig is the knock to Poulsen. While he should play, Sørloth will definitely feature in this game. Sørloth does not have the skillset to drop back and defend or press the pivot in midfield. This means that one of the players in the double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 will be free to roam around and get the ball when required.
To counter this, Leipzig might play Hwang Hee-Chan as an attacking midfielder instead of one of Kampl and Nkunku, thereby shifting to a 4-2-3-1. This means that he will mark the opponent’s pivot while each player is being covered man-to-man.
By shifting to a 4-5-1, Schalke can create numerical superiority in the midfield by always having one man free near the wings. This will be the role of the wide midfielders that usually play in a 4-4-2 to occupy the defence as we saw above.
RB Leipzig are a very good side, finishing in the Champions League spots for the 2020/21 season and progressing all the way to the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2019/20. Despite losing Werner to Chelsea, they have able replacements in Alexander Sørloth, Yussuf Poulsen and Hwang Hee-Chan. Meanwhile, Schalke are in a mess with their mismanagement of transfers and resources in the squad. Both on and off-the-pitch, Schalke are a mess, finishing 12th in the Bundesliga, which is poor for a club of its stature.
My prediction for this game is RB Leipzig winning 4-0. There are too many factors that go against Schalke, whether it be their abysmal form or the fact they hired a new coach only three games before another game.