In this tactical analysis, we have a look at the Bundesliga match between RB Leipzig and FC Köln in what was the 13th matchday and the last one in this year. As RB Leipzig won every game at home in the Bundesliga and Champions League this season, the “Roten Bullen” were the obvious favourites for this game. The team managed by coach Julian Nagelsmann were in third place before the game and were just one point behind Bayer Leverkusen as well as being equal to Bayern Munich. These two teams played against each other in parallel so the “Roten Bullen” could have won a lot against FC Köln.
However, Markus Gisdol’s team on the other side showed a positive trend. Köln built up a cushion of points from the relegation spot, getting seven points out of their last three games. In their last four games, the “Geißböcke” lost just the derby against the top of the class Leverkusen by a scoreline of 4-0. In the end, Köln won a point in Leipzig, as the hosts lost two points and the astonishing home series. We will provide you in this analysis the reasons why the match ended up 0-0. Moreover, we go into detail about Köln’s defensive tactics and Leipzig’s reaction to them.
Coach Nagelsmann had to rotate his starting squad again due to injuries. Ibrahima Konaté, Christopher Nkunku, and Justin Kluivert were all inactive for this game. Therefore, coach Nagelsmann gave Marcel Halstenberg, Tyler Adams, and Amadou Haidara a start, but Nagelsmann did not change his formation nor his tactics. Leipzig played in their most likely 4-2-3-1.
As usual, Leipzig should have been the team with more possession (64% against Köln) and more offensive actions. They calculated that they would be facing a deep-standing, well-organised FC Köln. So, Leipzig aimed quick and vertical, “come and go” passing combinations through the half-spaces. This was less successful due to Köln’s tactics.
Coach Gisdol changed his formation to a 4-3-3 formation. This was a bit unexpected, as this formation is a sign for an offensive orientation. But the opposite was the case as FC Köln played without a real striker. So Ondrej Duda took the place in the first line from the injured Sebastian Andersson instead of Anthony Modeste. Gisdol had a match plan.
He wanted his team to prevent Leipzig’s build-up from the defensive line through the centre to the strikers. Köln would close those vertical passing alleys, followed by pressing Leipzig at the wings. If Köln won the ball, the technical strong Duda was the target man. His task was to hold the ball and then to play through passes to Köln’s pacey wingers. This should have resulted in Dayot Upamecano leaving his central position. This tactic ultimately ended in a mediocre performance, as Köln shot just four times.
Next to Duda, Noah Katterbach, Dominick Drexler, and Jorge Meré all started in place for Jannes Horn, Ismail Jacobs, and Sava-Arangel Cestic respectively. Köln’s captain Jonas Hector took place on the bench again as he is still not at 100% after his head injury.
Köln compressed the centre
FC Köln were the first team that did not lose at Leipzig this season. This was because Köln adjusted their play to destroy Leipzig’s build-up. After a few high pressing situations, Köln backtracked behind the halfway-line. They acted from the disciplined defence. Below is a tactical analysis on how they interrupted Leipzig’s build-up.
You can see Köln’s initial formation: the 4-3-3. The three strikers played in a defensive triangle. Furthermore, they built a diamond with the central midfielder. Thanks to the diamond, the “Geißböcke” constantly closed the vertical and diagonal passing alleys for Leipzig’s back-three. Another effect was that Leipzig’s pivot, Kevin Kampl and Amadou Haidara, were in a numerical disadvantage. So even if Leipzig’s first pass of the “up and go” to Yussuf Poulsen was successful, Köln could react whilst they could cover the “go”-players Kampl and Haidara.
The residual two midfielders inserted and as did the winger. Thereby, Köln forced Leipzig, even more, to play the first ball to their wings. This pass to the wings was Köln’s pressing signal as they doubled the receiving player with the full-back and a midfielder. Another option for Leipzig would have been to move the outer defenders higher, but it would also result in a higher risk. As such, Köln could then set some dangerous counter-attacks so this defensive tactic by Markus Gisdol worked well in the beginning as you can see in the next analysis.
Leipzig built up over the strong passer Upamecano. Köln were organised – they caught Adams in the diamond formation, as you can see. A pass through the diamond was too risky for Upamecano, so he shifted the game to Halstenberg, but Halstenberg had the same problem.
Coach Nagelsmann claims that every pass from his team should be played forwards. Also, a pass should not go in the same direction as the pass before. This invites the opponent to shift more to that side and to compress the space there – which is exactly what Köln’s plan was. Therefore, Halstenberg should not pass it to Angeliño as FC Köln took all constructive opportunities for Halstenberg away.
RB Leipzig’s central midfielder Kampl reacted to the diamond after some minutes when he went out of his position to support the build-up. Maybe he also tried to tie one of Köln’s diamond players to break that shape, but coach Gisdol’s team stood in their formation. As a result, Kampl received the ball in a harmless situation. Besides, he lacked options in Köln’s half. Kampl also did not play the vertical ball through the centre. As a consequence, Leipzig had to come up with something new to get the ball in the final third.
How RB Leipzig decoded Köln’s defensive block
Coach Nagelsmann is, not for nothing, classified as one of the most promising talents in coaching and tactics. RB Leipzig changed their positional play effectively. Below, you can see how Leipzig switched the initial formation.
The “Roten Bullen” built up again. The first thing they changed was the midfield row where, compared to the previous pictures, they were more tired. Haidara or Angeliño went into the first line to overload it while Kampl went out of the diamond but he still tied up his opponent. Adams inserted from the right wing to create some space on the wing and he also tied up his opponent. The reason for this was that Adams and Kampl could still react to a counter-attack after a sloppy pass.
Upamecano dribbled towards Duda now and as such, he tied up Duda. These moves created spaces for Halstenberg and Willi Orban. They went higher into the created spaces. Furthermore, the risk was not raised by their moves, as Kampl and Adams were ready in the centre to defend. After Orban received the ball, he passed it diagonally in the direction of the centre.
The situation above shows the type of the second pass in Leipzig’s build-up. Adams received the ball at the right sideline. Köln shifted their block to this side. They offered Adams the vertical pass, where they would have pressed actively. The red arrows displayed this pressing scenario.
But Adams did not play this pass. The run route of Haidara was important here as he made a deep run from the pivot straight to the first line and this run is difficult to cover by the opponent. The defenders have to demonstrate a good overview and communication in a stressful situation. Furthermore, Poulsen ran parallel to Köln’s last line to offer another passing opportunity. The Danish striker tied up Köln’s attention. Adams played this diagonal through ball to the central Haidara, who finished it but Köln’s keeper Timo Horn had a great day.
Leipzig repeated this “in and out” play for the rest of the game. Above is another analysis of Leipzig’s combinations. This time, Haidara was on the right wing, while the right-back Nordi Mukiele was in the first line positioned. After Haidara received the ball from Upamecano, he did not shift it in the same direction.
Kampl broke away from Köln’s midfield diamond and offered a forward passing option. Kampl also did not shift the ball in the same direction as he got it to Poulsen. Instead, he played a through ball back to the right wing to Mukiele, who could then cross it in afterwards. You can see RB Leipzig’s zigzag passes in the situation above.
FC Köln‘s inhomogeneity in their build-up
Coach Gisdol’s knew about Leipzig’s strong pressing in the final third, especially since Poulsen is great in pressing. So Gisdol predetermined to bring the ball quickly in Leipzig’s half. Below is Köln’s build-up formation depicted.
Köln had at their build-up only four to five players in their half. Nevertheless, they built up with a short pass from keeper Horn, and then the ball would be played long. Leipzig recognised this as they did not allow themselves to be tempted to high pressing. As a consequence, Köln had to play some combinations in their half and this was problematic for the team specialised in defending.
Here is a situation from the first minutes. Horn received the ball. FC Köln’s keeper had at least two options to pass the ball shortly, but he wanted to overplay Leipzig’s first line with a long ball. However, Angeliño anticipated this poor pass and intercepted it. Afterwards, he switched the play very quickly. The target man in the centre, Poulsen, passed it into the box to the pushed-up Marcel Sabitzer and Haidara as they later scored a goal that was ruled offside.
Köln had another situation here where they lost the ball in a dangerous zone. They had a numerical advantage of five (+ Horn) versus four opponents in their half. But again, they tried to overplay Leipzig’s first line with a long ball. Angeliño was at it again, when he intercepted the ball and Leipzig attacked in the same pattern again. It was almost entirely Horn who saved Köln’s 0-0. Afterwards, Köln dropped some players in the build-up to be more stable. In the end, Leipzig seemed to be tired after the exhausting December month of fixtures, which was an advantage for Köln.
RB Leipzig and FC Köln shared the points in the last game of this year as both teams were unable to score a goal. While Köln concentrated on defending against Leipzig’s build-up, Leipzig needed some time to react. The “Roten Bullen” had a few opportunities to score, but Horn in Köln’s goal had a great day. Köln is definitely more satisfied with this point.
Leipzig have to travel to Stuttgart at the beginning of 2021 and Stuttgart are one of the surprising teams this season, who play a similar style to Leipzig. On the other side, FC Köln are welcoming Augsburg for a very important game against relegation.