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Being a football hipster is serious business with knowledge about the young starlet making waves for a non-mainstream mid table side often a prerequisite rather than a feather in the cap. To further enhance your, perhaps, burgeoning reputation as a true hipster, Outside of the Boot is on hand to provide an in-depth guide to some of the less celebrated teams around Europe. In this edition of the series, Stuart Reid has a look at RB Leipzig.
The Red Bull powerhouse has seen a meteoric rise since SSV Markranstadt were purchased and rebranded as RB Leipzig in 2009, they won promotion in their first season and have subsequently won promotion an amazing 4 times in 6 seasons. Their 2nd season in the 2. Bundesliga was last season, where they showed intent from the start, spending a division record of €18m (more than the rest of the division combined) during the summer window.
A strong start followed where they lost just once in their first 10 games. This continued throughout the season, ending the season with 20 wins, 7 draws and 7 losses. The biggest advantage they had was their defensive record, conceding just 32 goals in 34 games, including 11 clean sheets. Goals proved a problem (especially considering the amount they spent), ending the season with the 5th most goals scored in the league (out of 18 teams).
Overall I’d class last season as a disappoint for Leipzig, despite the promotion. Having an experienced and innovative manager in Ralf Rangnick and the amount of money invested in the team, many (myself included) expected them to win the league quite comfortably, but like the English Championship, the 2. Bundesliga is a tough division to get out of.
Ralph Hasenhuttl is an interesting choice as the man to take Leipzig forward. Ralph Rangnick (who was manager last season, and has resumed his role as Sporting Director) had previously approached Thomas Tuchel (now of Dortmund) and Sascha Lewandowski for the role of manager, so this appointment seems slightly underwhelming to me, considering the resources and draw a club like Leipzig could have.
Despite that, Hasenhuttl did interesting work with Ingolstadt 04 – despite only scoring 33 goals in 34 games (with an incredible 20 of those coming from set-pieces, including penalties), they massively over-achieved last season. They went into the start of season being one of favourites for relegation, yet ended in a respectable 11th place. It’s also telling that now he’s left for Leipzing, Ingolstadt are the bookies 3rd favourite to get relegated for the forthcoming season.
He also seems to be a pretty versatile coach, using systems comprising of 4-4-2, 4-5-1 and most recently 4-3-3 (during 15/16) in his managerial career so far. It’ll be intriguing if he tries to retain the 4-2-3-1 that bought Ralph Rangnick success with Leipzig, or if he’ll use the 4-3-3 that helped Ingolstadt survive, or some other system.
For a majority of their games last season, Rangnick used an “on paper” 4-2-3-1 system, but in reality it was more similar to a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-2-4 depending on the players he chose. His usual lineup was something similar to this:
In this system, Sabitzer operates more as a second striker rather than as a more traditional playmaker (a role in which he flourished, scoring 8 goals), with either winger more than capable of staying out wide, or moving into a more central area which gives them an air of unpredictability.
The main advantage Leipzig possess is the strength in depth and player flexibility, which Rangnick used to his advantage whenever possible. Kaiser for instance mostly played on the wing, but also for parts of the season dropped into central midfield. Sabitzer was often moved wide, with Selke coming into a central role, in which him and Poulsen would bully defenders with their height and strength (Leipzig usually played a more counter-attacking, long ball style of football whenever this tactic was deployed) in a more traditional 4-4-2 system, with Forsberg and Kaiser/Sabitzer/Bruno staying wide and delivering crosses.
For RB’s Bundesliga debut against Hoffenheim, Hasenhuttl lined his team up in a 4-2-2-2 formation:
So compared to last season’s preferred 11, he’d swapped Forsberg for new addition (more on that below) Timo Werner, who played alongside Poulsen. Klostermann (presumably given a rest following his Olympic duties with Germany) was also replaced by Benno Schmitz. Sabitzer was deployed out wide-left (although personally I would’ve preferred the wing-play of Forsberg for this game with Sabitzer used as a second striker).
Both teams started the game quite nervously in defence, with numerous chances for both sides within the opening 5 minutes. Not long after Leipzig gathered their shape and were able to press effectively and cleverly. With the 2 wingers pushing high up on the full backs, with Werner and Poulsen closing down any potential playing through the lines as shown below (RB Leipzig in white).
As you can see from the picture (red lines indicate player movement), the left winger can then push out to the full back, with Werner pressing the centre-back about to receive the ball, whilst Poulsen drops in temporarily. When the whole team plays like this, it’s incredibly hard to play the ball forwards, without gambling upon long-balls. The downside is it requires plenty of concentration, and early on both Leipzig full-backs had lapses where players managed to get in behind them, but due to the heroics of the goalkeeper Gulacsi (who had a fantastic first half) the errors went unpunished.
Overall it was hard to take a lot away from the game, both sides were sloppy in possession (Leipzig especially, with just 64% of their passes finding their target), and had plenty of chances and I’m unsure whether Hasenhuttl will persist with the formation as I was pretty unconvinced.
Leipzig did not have a quiet window, with plenty of new additions to the team. The main business done was Naby Keita arriving from sister club Red Bull Salzburg for a fee of €15m. Keita was one of the highlights of the Salzburg team last season as they won their 3rd title in a row. The dynamic midfielder impressed, racking up an impressive 12 goals from central midfield.
Very highly rated youngster Oliver Burke joined from Nottingham Forest, in a deal reported to be around the €13m mark. The winger has impressed so far this season for Forest, with 4 goals in 5 Championship games this season, with reported interest from Bayern Munich, Leipzig swooped and landed their man.
Timo Werner was the next biggest buy, coming in from relegated Stuttgart for a fee reported to be around €10m. Aged just 20 still, the striker seems to have been a hot prospect for number of years, but has yet to harness the full extent of his potential.
Personally I think the shrewdest signing was Kyriakos Papadopoulos on loan from Leverkusen. The Greek centre-back was rated incredibly highly a few years ago, however injuries have taken their toll and hindered his progress somewhat. If he can keep fit and recover some form, he’ll be a key addition to Leipzig this season.
Marcel Sabitzer: The young Austrian is rated as one of Red Bulls’ best prospects (amongst all of their teams). He can play anywhere in the opposition half, mostly being deployed as either a winger or an attacking midfielder. He had an impressive campaign last year, scoring 8 goals and notching up 5 assists. He also played a majority of the games for Austria in their disappointing Euro 2016 campaign, having been a part of their qualification campaign (and scoring the winner against Montenegro). He’s technically superb, with an eye for both goal and a pass, and I’m surprised a bigger team hasn’t made a move for him yet.
Emil Forsberg: The Swedish winger was bought for just under €4m in January 2015 from Malmo. He came in and was an immediate starter (making 14 appearances) as Leipzig fell just short of promotion. 15/16 was the season in which he flourished though, only missing 2 games, scoring 8 goals and getting 6 assists in the process. He impressed so much he was voted the 2. Bundesliga Player of the Season for 15/16. He’s fast and very creative, and more than capable of stepping up to the Bundesliga.
Will Orban: The young centre-back has been ridiculously solid since moving from Kaiserslautern at the start of last season. He started all but 2 games, scoring once in the process. He has a habit of getting booked quite frequently, so will be put through his paces due to the step-up in quality that he’ll be up against.
Lukas Klostermann: The energetic 20-year-old right-back was one of the star players for Leipzig last season, missing just 2 league games. He was a great presence going forward, grabbing himself 4 assists and 1 goal during 15/16. He was part of the German Olympic team, having played every game at the time of writing, grabbing another assist. He’d been linked to clubs such as Arsenal over the summer, but Rangnick has been insistent that no key Red Bull players will be sold. He’ll be sure to start a majority of their Bundesliga games and it’ll be interesting to see how he’ll cope with the higher quality of play.
Despite the controversial nature of the club, I think the set-up at Leipzig is fantastic and the club is going about things the right way. The focus on youth is admirable, and the season isn’t likely to be an easy one for them. However I do feel they’ll easily stay up (10th is my prediction) and a season in the big time will be a great learning experience for the numerous youngsters in the team, which will most likely see them push on and solidify their position within the league, with a push for a European place almost guaranteed within the next 3-5 years.
Read all our 2016-17 Hipster Guide articles here