This tactical analysis will cover the matchup between RB Leipzig and Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga. With the Julian Nagelsmann coached Leipzig desperate to keep pace with Bayern and Dortmund it was an important game for the team to come through against a resilient and hard to beat Hertha side, comfortably placed in mid-table.
This tactical analysis will focus on the tactics that both clubs used to forge out the draw. Leipzig’s pressing patterns against Hertha’s structured build-up and the deep defensive line of Hertha keeping Leipzig at bay for large parts of the game. After big wins for both sides since the resumption this game promised goals. The game got them, but not quite in the entertaining fashion that was expected.
With focal point, Yussuf Poulsen and midfield creator Kevin Kampl missing through injuries, Leipzig, setting up in their 4-4-2 shape, struggled to settle into an attacking rhythm in the face of some resolute Hertha defending. Hertha went with their 4-2-3-1 shape, they have shifted between this and 4-4-2 in the last few games but Bruno Labbadia ultimately decided to have Vedad Ibisevic lead the line on his own this time around.
Krzysztof Piatek’s late penalty secured Hertha Berlin a hard-fought 2-2 draw as 10-man RB Leipzig missed the chance to move up to second in the Bundesliga.
The draw – Leipzig’s 10th draw in the Bundesliga this season, puts any lingering title aspirations to bed for Julian Nagelsmann’s side, who remain third in the table behind Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Meanwhile, Hertha stay 11th after extending their unbeaten run to five games.
Locked up at 1-1, the game appeared to turn in the visitors’ favour when Leipzig defender Marcel Halstenberg was sent off for two bookable offences midway through the second half. However, when Patrik Schick’s strike squirmed into the back of the net five minutes after Halstenberg’s dismissal it appeared Leipzig would be able to secure all three points. But Hertha were able to make the extra man count as Matheus Cunha was brought down in the box by Ademola Lookman, creating an opportunity for Piatek to continue Hertha’s resurgence under Bruno Labbadia with the equaliser eight minutes from time.
- Hertha created an xG rating of 1.74 during the game from 11 shots, while Leipzig overperformed, their xG of 0.96, also from 11 shots. This goes some way to underpin the lack of quality chances they created throughout the game.
- The numbers are close when we look at the numbers behind the last statistical point. Both teams entered the opponent final third on 34 occasions however, Hertha shade the penalty area entries 13 to 9.
- Leipzig shaded possession 51%/49% with 107 total possessions to Hertha’s 102. Of these possessions, Leipzig shaded the ball progressions into the opponent half 67 to 59. This, together with the last point will be linked to Leipzig’s high press compared to Hertha’s medium to low block which we will cover later.
Here we will focus this tactical analysis on each teams defensive structures and how they use these structure’s to create moments to attack from.
Leipzig pressing to create
In the last three games Hertha have built up under pressure on 43 occasions. Just under 15 per game. Leipzig’s structured pressing from their 4-4-1-1 shape limited Hertha’s desire to continue with this option to just 7 occasions across the 90 minutes.
Here is why.
Protecting central areas first to trap the fullback and press negative passes.
In this image, you will see a standard Leipzig shape from the game. Hertha centreback in possession wanting to play into central areas where they should have more numbers. However, the pivoting front two of Leipzig do two things well in these scenarios. First, the highest striker cuts the pitch in half by threatening the pass between the centrebacks. This forces the ball to the fullback. The withdrawn striker protects passes into the deepest Hertha midfield players that would force the Leipzig midfield pair into pressing the overload and exposing the middle of the pitch.
Once the ball is played to the fullback, this is the trigger for Leipzig to press together.
Here in the next frame, the full-back receiving is pressed down the shadow of the Hertha wide player stopping forward play from him. This action forces a negative pass that is the next trigger for Leipzig to aggressively hunt the ball. Notice the withdrawn striker picking up the deepest midfield player for Hertha and the highest striker cutting the pitch in half.
Once the negative pass is played, the best case is they win the ball in that area to counter or the ball is forced long for their dominant back four to recover the ball.
While Jordan Torunarigha and Dedryck Boyata made 56 passes each across the 90 minutes, over half of these combined passes were made to the goalkeeper and fullback creating pressing moments for Leipzig and recoveries of the long ball by their back four. Hertha’s frontman, Krzysztof Piatek won only 40% of challenges during the game and only one featuring a longer pass which created a certain level of dominance for Leipzig in these moments.
Hertha’s compact defensive shape and low block
Hertha managed to create 11 counter-attacking moments throughout the 90 minutes. These moments were created from Leipzig progressing the ball 67 times into the Hertha half of the pitch. Just on half of these moments led to a final third entry but despite those entries, as mentioned Leipzig only managed to produce an xG rating of 0.96. This is down to the defensive organisation of Hertha and their compact defensive block making it difficult for Leipzig to break through.
In the middle of the pitch there were moments to press to stop Leipzig playing through Hertha.
In this image you can see the Hertha wide forward narrows off into the centre of the pitch to help protect this area and support the #10 who has been pressing. In doing this he stops forward play by Leipzig and forces them around the block. Notice the two central #6’s of Hertha compact and central to support the pressure higher up the pitch and also limit time and space in that central area.
Hertha do their job well and force the ball outside. The key part for them here is to maintain their defensive block as they move into the lower block and defend the goal. For that to happen the key man is the ball side #6 who, with his arm out tells the fullback to stay in the line and he moves across to engage the Leipzig wide player. The backline can then absorb the forward run of the Leipzig forward and stay compact.
If the full-back went out to defend the wide player then it would open up the space beyond him for incisive play for forward runs beyond the ball and potentially expose the Hertha centreback in the wider areas.
It is for these types of examples that Hertha was difficult to break down.
Once Hertha moved into their lower block to defend the goal, it became tougher still for Leipzig to break them down.
In this image, in a similar situation to before, without any threat beyond the ball, the Hertha full-back steps out to engage the Leipzig wide player and force him backward. Notice how compact Hertha are here, this stops players receiving between the lines, or any incisive passes.
As the ball is played back into midfield the full picture of Hertha’s defensive organisation becomes clearer. Two compact blocks of four with the #10 now stopping the switch and remaining connected to the defending lines. It is moments like this that led to the 11 counter attacks for Hertha. Any pass put at risk here by Leipzig is a moment to turn over possession and spring a counter into the vacated fullback space on the ball side.
A game with only 7 clear chances across both teams and four goals, two set-pieces, a penalty, and a goalkeeping error tells a story of two tactically astute coaches providing a solid defensive framework for their teams with two different methods. Hertha’s compact medium block and resolute low block were difficult to penetrate and coupled with Leipzig’s lack of rhythm they will feel hard done by that they had two come from behind to steal a point. The sending off allowed them a little respite from the Leipzig press and allowed them to gain a little more control as the game wound down and they more than deserved a point from a game that the statistics suggest they should have won.
Leipzig will be disappointed with their output and chance creation in a game that gave them over 30 entries into the Hertha third of the pitch. But, with little space to penetrate in between lines or beyond the backline they needed a little more from their key players to force the result.
Both teams will move on quickly to the next matches and shift their focus to the future, Hertha Berlin host Augsburg in the Bundesliga as they look to chase down Hoffenheim and Wolfsburg in the European places, while Leipzig travel to Koln for round 29 as they try to close the gap on the big two, Bayern and Dortmund.