As the 2022/23 German Bundesliga progressed through its second round, the round two installment of “Tactics Talk” kept up with the charge of covering all the action in a comprehensive fashion. Some week it was for a player we all hope will find his way back in time for the World Cup.
German football fans were left with a great deal to talk about following the second matchday. Some trends carried through subsequent rounds. Others immediately fizzled out.
A couple of other likely World Cup actors have much work to do if they hope to find their form in time for the big event. A “Tactical Focus” section covering Leipzig-Köln had much to reveal.
Bundesliga Tactical Banter: Round Two
The Sinsheimer Bore
In a nice little spot of irony, the round’s least interesting match happened to be the one that featured the most goals. VfL Bochum took advantage of some really dodgy tactics from Hoffenheim trainer André Breitenreiter (a turgid 3-5-2 spread with Dennis Geiger forced to cover way too much ground in the middle) to jump out to an early 2-0 lead via a Simon Zoller brace. A back-three rejiggered with Ozan Kabak moving right to make way for Stanley Nsoki got caught napping early on.
The Sinsheimers eventually fought their way back into the match, but did so at their own sleepy pace. Christoph Baumgartner pulled one back after a VfL keeper Manuel Riemann parried a rebound into his path. Kabak then equalized off a corner that featured horrible Bochum marking. Four goals scored in the first 23 minutes. We had to wait another hour (and watch an Andrej Kramaric penalty miss) before Munus Dabbur snatched the winner off another corner in the 88th. Everything besides these highlights was ho-hum.
No need to feel bad if you missed this one.
The perfect neutralization
Despite there being an agonizing lack of chances, there is something salient we can learn from the goalless draw between Mainz and Union Berlin on Sunday afternoon. Namely, the fact that Bo Svensson and Urs Fischer are running nearly identical systems. We covered this in the preview section containing these two teams. There are naturally differences. On this day, thanks to Svensson’s tweak to a mirror-like 3-5-2, there weren’t really any.
Svensson went with Danish compatriot Marcus Ingvartsen to serve alongside Karim Onisiwo this time. In as much brutal candor as possible, one can see why the former Union Berlin striker has fallen down the M05 pecking order. A lot about Ingvartsen’s play seems to suggest he’s become confused about how to operate in this system; a curious enough development considering the fact the Svensson hasn’t changed much. Hmm. One wonders what the problem is there.
Another Kovac Mulligan
No one really expected much from Germany’s green company team in Niko Kovac’s trip back to the Allianz Arena. Bayern are purring along so well that head-coach Julian Nagelsmann openly declared that he would use the exact same XI in his final pre-match presser this week. Wolfsburg, as we were discussing last week, are in total tactical disarray. Seemingly knowing that he faced an opponent against which he stood no chance, Kovac barely made an attempt to fix it.
Last week’s hero Joshua Guilavogui started in place of ineffective ten Josip Brekalo. This led to a 4-1-4-1 reformat under which neither Maximilian Arnold not Matthias Svanberg (the two central midfielders Guilavogui split) performing well. In point of fact the entire WOB performed pretty pitifully, save Patrick Wimmer, who was again the lone bright spot. Bayern could have easily racked up a 7-0 victory here were it not for the posts and some disallowed goals. Yikes. Kovac has some real work to do.
The “Burning Questions”: Round Two
Why was last week’s tip wrong?
The round one installment of the 2022/23 column, atypically enough, offered up a piece of betting advice as pertained to Freiburg-Dortmund. This Friday’s blockbuster match had “upset” written all over it. Christian Streich’s Breigauer charged out of the gate with a 4-0 win over Augsburg last week. Three of the four SCF goals were scored by key offseason arrivals. Terzic’s Dortmund, meanwhile, very much appeared a work-in-progress.
Alas, the upset did not come to pass. Dortmund bucked the trend of losing their second match of the season, something that’s occurred over both in 2020/21 and 2021/22. Unlike last year, Freiburg didn’t deliver the set-back punch; this despite the fact that such an outcome seemed an inevitability right up until the final 13 minutes of the match. Die Schwarzgelben prevailed.
xG Dortmund 0.6 , xG Freiburg 0.4
For starters, football’s most revealing metric demonstrates that the tip wasn’t far off base at all. Freiburg-Dortmund certainly qualified as an absorbing match, but chances were very much at a premium. Terzic’s BVB in fact had a horrible disjointed rhythm about them. Forward play was appalling. Passing proved terribly loose. Long dribble carries out of the back led nowhere as the NRW guests invariably turned the ball over.
Prior to the extremely late (and Mark-Flekken-howler inspired) comeback, there wasn’t too much positive to say about Dortmund at all. Captain Marco Reus and newly added attacking reinforcement Anthony Modeste put together a couple of offensive interchanges in which their timing wasn’t nearly as far off as one might have expected. The ability to feed Modeste the crosses he needs to thrive was nevertheless non-existent.
In this evenly matched affair, half of the taking points belong to Freiburg.
Gregoritsch’s aerial ability
Goodness gracious, where did this come from? In principle, Freiburg’s new lead-striker has always possessed significant prowess in the air. Bundesliga watchers still have to travel pretty far back in the veteran journeyman’s career to recall the last time he used it so dominantly. One must blot out the Augsburg and Schalke stints in order to faintly recall some of the better headed goals he scored whilst representing Hamburger SV.
Gregortisch won an uncanny 11 aerial duels in the opening round victory over his former club. He picked up right where he left off in this one, mercilessly pummeling opponents into submission with every leap. Freiburg’s lone goal of the match reminded one of Matthias Ginter’s tally last week. This time the German national team defender returned the favor to his Austrian teammate. A headed goal and headed assist on Freiburg’s 35th minute opening goal. Beautiful stuff.
Günter and Grifo
We should be discussing the above trend quite a bit this season. The same applies to the point raised here. Vincenzo Grifo and Christian Günter possess a marvelous intuitive understanding of one another’s play on that Freiburg left. So many silky smooth link-ups from that pair throughout this one. They worked their magic no fewer than four times against Dortmund and were unlucky not to produce a goal.
The Italian from Pforzheim and the (tangential) German national team left-back remain two German football fan favorites for good reason. The fact that they’ve found their form so early means that they’re sure to stay at the forefront of the discourse. Don’t forget that Grifo is among the best set-piece takers in the league. We only narrowly missed some masterpieces from him here.
Well. We have been talking about this for a little while. Man, have we ever been talking about this. The 18-year-old English phenom is simply a sublimely skilled footballer. Every last keen footballing eye in the Bundesrepublik can admit that much. No Jamie Bynoe-Gittens means no comeback on Friday night. Terzic hopefully has the good sense to insert the youngster into the XI immediately. Nuff said there.
The state of Terzic’s project
Results being the only thing that matter at the end of the day, one has to say that Friday’s result leaves Terzic’s Dortmund ahead of the curve. Having noted the problems getting the attack in gear, one should also note that the defense looked very strong for the second consecutive match.
With Mahmoud Dahoud hanging back and the back-four well-drilled in not committing passing errors, they look to have worked hard on the lessons from last season. It’s obviously far too early to talk about a title challenge, but the prevailing logic should be that this team will at the very least be more consistent this year.
What did Glasner’s post-Kostic tactics look like?
The top query for “tactics-heads” this weekend. It’s back to the drawing board for the SGE trainer. His settled set of tactics no longer applies. Time for the sort of random experimentation we observed at the beginning of last season. As far as the columnist could tell, Glasner buried Ansgar Knauff back on a horizontal axis chain with Christoper Lenz in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Hertha. That’s not all.
Daichi Kamada moved up from his recent makeshift role in defensive midfield. Lucas Alario and Randal Kolo Muani worked with moderate separation up top. Djibril Sow served as midfield flight director on a solo axis. Mario Götze proved hard to place, but it sort of looked as if he was meant to keep tight with Kamada.
Lineup—Eintracht Frankfurt—Match Two (3-3-2-2)
An error from Kamada led to Hertha’s opening goal. The rearward axis again had trouble closing down space. If there was meant to be anything compact about the midfield, this watcher must have missed it. Overall, Frankfurt looked pretty out of sorts in the opening 45. One suspects that Glasner will give this set-up a thumbs down and never use it again.
Faride Alidou came on for Knauff at the break. At times, it vaguely looked as if Glasner was aspiring to a 4-3-3. It became difficult to tell as everyone was rotating around and pouring forward at that point. Hertha took advantage of the disarray and played a much more attacking oriented second half themselves. Lots of bedlam in the end-to-end action.
One assumes that Glasner will have to revert to a back-four at some point. He’ll need to get Aurelio Buto back from injury first. That will take at least a month. In all honesty, the manner in which this defense function probably calls for a more urgent shift. The writer’s (highly biased) opinion holds that the SGE gaffer should dust off Timmy Chandler and immediately solidify this line.
We shall see.
It gets even more interesting in any case.
Should we begin respecting Augsburg?
Enrico Maaßen’s Fuggerstädter grabbed their first league victory far sooner than many of us had anticipated. The massive 2-1 upset win over Leverkusen actually constitutes the first time Augsburg have ever beaten die Werkself in over 20 meetings. Maaßen’s Bavarian Swabians did indeed give a much more talented side a run for their money during an opening 45 in which they were the clearly superior side.
One must emphasize, however, that we wouldn’t be discussing a win at all without an almost superhuman performance from keeper Rafal Gikiewicz. The FCA net-minder made no fewer than six jaw-dropping saves in the second half. Perhaps spurred on by rumors that the club wishes to acquire Germany U21 standout Finn Dahmen from Mainz, the Augsburg #1 donned his savior shroud to prevent Sardar Azmoun, Moussa Diaby, and Patrik Schick from putting Leverkusen in the lead.
Maaßen initially lined the team up in a 4-3-1-2 with Arne Maier working as a mobile ten behind Fredrik Jensen and Ermedin Demirovic. Though Jensen scored a goal in the opening half, this constellation generally looked bang average. After a triple substitution in the 65th, the FCA trainer might have stumbled upon something that could carry him further.
Lineup—FC Augsburg—68th minute (4-3-3)
Maier, Mads Pedersen, and Daniel Caligiuri all produced fine play in this set-up. The “bolt-lock” back-four (employed from the start) didn’t really have a great day defensively, yet were capable of spawning effective counters all afternoon. The pace out of the back owed much to noticeably spry performances from Robert Gumny and Felix Udoukhai.
Maier and Pedersen were two players who excelled despite switching to radically different positions after the re-format. We’ve definitely something to think about here. Something begins to crystallize ahead of winnable matches against Mainz, Hoffenheim, and Hertha. Maaßen should definitely consider continuing to roll with this.
Of course, there’s no getting around the fact that Augsburg likely wouldn’t even have made the column were it not for Gikiewicz. Insane stuff from him. Twenty-seven Leverkusen efforts flew in his direction. Expecting the 34-year-old to replicate this performance asks too much. While many actors turned in a good day at the office, this wasn’t exactly an balanced win for the team.
Should we begin respecting Bremen?
Absolutely. The Hanseaten have shown some serious offensive bite in back-to-back 2-2 draws. Head-coach Ole Werner has this team humming; something we suspected he could do with the double striker set of Niclas Füllkrug and Marvin Ducksch. The pair came storming out of the gate early against Stuttgart this weekend. Füllkrug scored inside of five minutes and hit the post shortly thereafter.
The attack wasn’t nearly as consistent as it was against Wolfsburg last week. Much of this had to do with the fact that, missing sweeper Christian Groß, Werner had to shift his tactical formation from a 3-3-2-2 to a 3-3-4. The offensive builds settled into passivity and predictability this time. There’s still a lot of quality to discuss.
Lineup—Werder Bremen—Match Two (3-3-4)
Under normal circumstances, Leonardo Bittencourt and the thrown-into-the-fire (due to Romano Schmid’s recent COVID exclusion) Jens Stage do excellent work operating on slightly more inward-pulled slants. Stage, a summer signing who probably slipped in under a number of radars, is definitely one to watch. He’s’s an exceptionally hard worker off the ball in addition to having a finessing flair to his forward moves.
Bundesliga veteran Leonardo Bittencourt has gotten off to a fantastic start back in the top flight. One could say the same about Mitchell Weiser, who has his reasons to play like a possessed man with something to prove. Under the leadership of newly appointed skipper Marco Friedl, the back-three keeps a disciplined flat line and always advances in unison. Pretty much everyone played a great game here.
The fact that back-up attacker Oliver Burke got off the mark with the tying goal at 90+5 counts as a very valuable bonus. We’ve got a bunch of solid, Bundesliga-level actors clicking nice and early in a clearly defined concept here. While the newly promoted side remains strewn with question marks, there exist enough discernible positives to augur a largely positive season.
One really looks forward to the next games against Dortmund and Frankfurt. We’re in for some fun and possibly some surprising results. The columnist firmly advocates giving Bremen a closer look in the coming weeks. From the writer’s own perspective, there’s also some unseen tactical nuance waiting to be discovered.
Should we begin respecting Schalke?
Absolutely not. The Königsblauen, just like newly promoted colleagues SV Werder Bremen, were able to salvage a 2-2 draw at home thanks to a late goal. In Schalke’s case, a handball penalty awarded them the equalizer. As we’ve been discussing in this space since the start of this season’s column, Schalke and Bremen could not have taken more different approaches to handling life in the top flight. Which one is better? Two rounds in, Bremen gets the nod.
Even before they were reduced to ten men last weekend, Frank Kramer’s Knappen didn’t really look much like a Bundesliga team. For the vast majority of this round’s encounter with Gladbach, they didn’t cut the finest figures either. The S04 attack remained painfully one-dimensional throughout a languid first half. Virtually all of the charges ran down the left side. Rodrigo Zalazar hurled some desperate distance efforts forward. That was about all they could manage.
Zalazar did end up giving Schalke the lead following a well executed counterattack. The former Eintracht Frankfurt attacker also showed off some skill delivering a few nicely conceived set-piece designs. Apart from these bright spots however, the hosts rarely saw much of the ball. Gladbach were able to leisurely pass their way around them. Far too little from this team. Despite some fine saves, keeper Alexander Schwolow again conceded two soft goals.
There’s some way to go for this team. A very tough set of five fixtures before the international break leads one to the tentative conclusion that the point gained this weekend might be the last point they earn before October. We behold the most likely candidates to sit at the bottom of the table at the end of the initial league run. A basic rhythm seems to be lacking in their ranks. At this juncture, it’s just not possible to derive any sort of confidence from their play.
Weekly Tactical Focus: “The Perfect Ten”
It seemed like a good weekend to take a deep dive into the state of Leipzig. As noted in this year’s “Top Five Preview” section, the then rumored reacquisition of Timo Werner would elevate RB’s league status to that of title contenders. This has come to pass. As a result, like it or not, we have to talk about a potential run at the Meisterschale now. That, combined with some morbid curiosity over how Köln would fare following Anthony Modeste’s departure, led to the Leipzig-Köln fixture getting the circle.
Against the backdrop of “Wilkommen Zurück” signs at the Red Bull Arena, Werner made his much-discussed return. The German national team striker whom receives a lot of criticism for his underperformances in the country’s colors even scored in his first match back. Neither Werner nor the void left in Köln’s central target attack ended up being the real story on this day. Instead, a certain Spaniard ended up demonstrating why (again, like art or not) we’ll have to take Leipzig seriously this year.
Man, is there ever an “Overabundance of Olmo” to talk about this week.
Lineup—RB Leipzig—Match Two (3-4-3)
The release of the Leipzig team sheet yielded a pair of big surprises. RB trainer Domenico Tedesco casually floated the idea of pairing Benjamin Henrichs and Dominik Szoboszlai as sixes during his final pre-match presser, but no one (most especially this columnist) took him seriously. It turned out that he was deathly serious. Two actors began the game out of position in central midfield.
Differences from last week
They were fairly subtle, yet effective. Tedesco addressed the issue of space behind the attacking axes by moving the entire midfield up. Perhaps this was the reason he went with the German fullback and the Hungarian attacker on the centralized plane. The RB gaffer needed a higher press in order to open up as many channels for Christopher Nkunku as possible.
Apart from Werner’s inclusion over Silva, the other big personnel change was Mohamed Simakan’s first start of the new campaign. One could tell in this one how the Frenchman’s current form dip potentially fueled some of the recent transfer rumors. Surprising enough, the thought-to-be solid state of the back-three may become a topic in the coming weeks. Some problems exist there.
Lineup—FC Köln—Match Two (4-2-3-1)
Not much of a surprise from Steffen Baumagrt. The Kölner trainer’s XI kept a rigid 4-2-3-1 shape throughout. One could easily anticipate that the best post-Modeste coping-mechanism would be something like this; a consistent formation drilled hard into the muscles memory of the players throughout the course of the training week.
The formation certainly punched above its weight in this 2-2 draw, though wildly inconsistent play from Kingsley Ehizibue (a familiar storyline) and over reliance on the left hindered this from truly getting rolling and taking full advantage of the fact that Leipzig were reduced to ten-men in the second half. One never had the impression that it was built to win.
That notwithstanding, a draw felt earned.
Match Flow: 1st to 12th minute
Henrichs, Nkunku, and David Raum helped aid some early incursions into the Köln area during the opening two minutes. Standing on point to ensure that nothing dangerous came of it was none other than former Leipzig prospect Eric Martel. The summer signing showed some great awareness against his former club from the start and, overall, played a very strong match. Florian Kainz charged up the left in the 3rd and lashed an effort on goal. Peter Gulacsi kept his eye on the ball even as Florian Dietz cheekily redirected it to make a solid save.
Gulacsi, as he did so often on the day, sparked a quick counter. This time Luca Kilian had to employ a foul to stop Nkunku. Szoboszlai wasted the ensuing 4th minute free kick from a good position by slamming the ball into the Kölner wall. The Saxon hosts circulated the ball well in their ranks throughout the 5th and 6th. One could already tell that Dani Olmo was in the mood both to carry forward himself and release Werner.
Good defensive work from Ellyes Skhiri and Timo Hübers repelled the Leipzig advances. Tedesco’s men attempted slower builds and bow-arc cycles next. Simakane, looking a bit unsteady on the ball, had trouble getting things moving out of the back. Olmo, Werner, and Raum finally got through on a leftward cycle in the 9th. Szoboszlai caught up on the trail and rifled a distance effort that Köln net-minder had to meet with a strong parry.
Die Geißböcke weren’t able to fully clear the ball and, in the very same minute, we thought we had the opening goal. Olmo took a brilliant touch after Raum torched Ehizibue and supplied an even more immaculate finish. The Spaniard surely deserved a recorded tally for his sensational curled effort from just inside the area. Unfortunately, the VAR team had something to say about it.
Match official Benjamin Brand was called over to the technical area to rule whether Raum touched down the ball with his hand before skipping past Ehizibue. It took a couple of minutes before Brand left the penalty area, symbolically touched his own hand, and waved the penalty off. A shame. A true masterpiece of a goal disallowed for a handball in the lead-up. We resumed in the 12th.
Match Flow: 12th to 31st minute
A very in treating phase here. One could say that the visiting Domstädter were even the slightly stronger team during these 19 minutes. Kainz pressed forward in the 12th, ultimately not missing Dietz by much. Raum, Olmo, and Henrichs attempted to do their own thing back the other way in the 13th, but Hector was alert to the danger and dispossessed Hugo Novoa after a dummy shot. The wholly vivacious Olmo ran through a pocket of space in the 14th. Szoboszlai couldn’t manage to send in the right connector.
After a goal for Nkunku was disallowed for a clear offside in the 15th, Köln began making their presence felt. Ehizibue fouled up a 16th minute rush with a poor first touch, but then pressed forward impressively on the next one in the 17th. Köln won two successive corners. Dejan Ljubicic looked to be the target man on both set-pieces, which did exhibit some nice designs. Open play resumed in the 19th.
Skhiri did well to intercept a long ball from Raum meant for Nkunku and Köln were able to cross over the halfway line with a pair of nicely controlled bow-arc builds. More impressively, they were able to pin the Leipzig back-line back with a high press even after turning the ball over. Simakan again appeared less than stellar under the pressure. Raum had to come back and help.
Raum would get stripped by the lurking Dietz in the 21st and Köln’s de-facto lead-striker nearly managed to locate an onrushing Jan Thielmann. Buoyed a bit, the Effzeh were able to unleash three consecutive charges. Ehizibue’s genuinely awful distance effort in the 22nd was at least followed up by a quality Ljubicic attempt that whizzed just over one minute later. Thielman and Skhiri were clever in the lead-up.
Leipzig then struggled to establish their attack builds again. The back-three tried their best in advance in unison over the next two minutes. All Simakan, Marcel Halstenberg, and Willi Orban could do, however, was play horizontals when facing the Kölner press directly. Hector and Ehizibue managed a couple of counter charges, drawing fouls in the 26th and 28th. Nothing came of the awarded free-kicks.
The two minutes leading up to the half-hour mark yielded more of the same. Leipzig could not cycle out of their own half. The back-three honestly looked overmatched and totally stuck. Raum finally got a long ball though to Werner in the 30th. Kilian took the ball off the big-name returnee with an astute tackle. Werner hit Nkunku with a nice switch in the 31st. Unfortunately, Nkunku couldn’t hit the wide open Olmo.
Another splendid opportunity for the well-positioned Spaniard went begging. The two sequences still had some relevance in that the hosts laid down a statement against the Kölner press. Momentum shifted and one could sense a goal coming. The one we eventually got was pretty bizarre.
Match Flow: 31st to 40th minute
Not much to report on between the 31st and 34th. Largely a midfield stalemate for those three minutes. Werner wasted some time complaining about a non-handball on one of two Leipzig breakthroughs. Novoa couldn’t find a quality cross on the other. With a great degree of frustration, one watched the RB back-three completely fall back into their old habit of failing to advance through the 36th. Then, suddenly, it came.
Werner opted to make his own statement of intent with something of a frustration lob from 25 meters out. The ball wasn’t stuck with any real menace. Somehow, keeper Schwäbe misjudged it despite the fact that it was neither dipping nor swerving. Werner’s strike went underneath a late diving Schwäbe and into the back of the net. The hosts had their 1-0 lead courtesy of the second worst keeper howler of the weekend.
The match opened up significantly over the next four minutes. Köln mustered up a serviceable response with a pair of counters involving Dietz and Ljubicic. The NRW guests then displayed some real grit in winning two consecutive corners between the 38th and 39th. Gulacsi generated a quick counter after the latter. The RB keeper unleashed Olmo, who blazed upfield before dishing off to Nkunku.
Nkunku had the 2-0 on his boot from close range. Schwäbe partially atoned for his just-made mistake with an impressive save and Hector sent the Domstädter back the other way. The equalizer would come off that very counter. Ljubicic did the hard work. Kainz then entered from the overlap and cut across for Dietz. In a brilliant finish, Dietz toe-tapped the ball over the line. We were level.
Match Flow: 40th minute to half-time
An exciting finish to the half saw Ljubicic come close to giving Köln the lead shortly after the 1-1 in the 42nd. Olmo then rallied his side with another superb counter. Hübers got in-between the Spaniard and his final ball for Werner as we entered the 43rd. More strong combination play from Novoa and Nkunku gave Olmo another chance to try and reach Werner with an incisive ball. Ehizibue stood tall this time.
A fairly big talking point in the lone minute of extra time. Brand decided to send Szoboszlai off for a supposed elbow on Kainz at 45+1. Replays actually showed that Kainz had Szoboszlai unsteady on his feet via a fistful of the RB man’s shirt. It appeared as if Szoboszlai was merely trying to regain his balance with a flailing arm. A very harsh decision reduced Leipzig to ten men for the second half.
Match Flow: 46th to 56th minute
Tedesco reacted to the sending off with a double switch at the half. Josko Gvardiol and Kevin Kampl came on for Halstenberg and Novoa. Two important changes to the shape. First, the ineffective back-three were clearly ordered to keep chained at all costs. They could be as boring as they liked with the back passing so long as the visiting opponents didn’t get through.
The second change involved Olmo.
Lineup—RB Leipzig—46th minute (3-4-2)
Tedesco himself may have been surprised to learn how effective the Spaniard could be that deep. A man-advantage didn’t really count that much for Köln with Raum and Olmo prepared to slingshot counters. As it turned out, the Saxons were still able to lord over much of the possession in this set-up. They did pretty well defensively as well.
A slow start to proceedings after we resumed. Martel needed a treatment break shortly after the whistle blew. Nothing of note happened until Nkunku won a free-kick in the 48th. The Ballon d’or nominee wasted the chance with a shot straight into the wall. Leipzig were able to carefully control the game with cycle possession over the next four minutes.
Kampl put the brakes on Ehizibue and clipped a ball away from Dietz on the only occasions Köln managed to muster forward. Baumgart’s men tried to focus on cutting through on the left via Hector in the 53rd and 54th. Tedesco’s defenders intercepted the Kölner captain’s crosses and cut backs, then quickly launching the ball out. Köln would then collect and rebuild.
This pattern persisted through the 55th. At long last, Olmo decided it was time to take a risk on a counter. Moving into a pocket of centralized space with great intuition, the Spaniard drew coverage patiently before hitting his streaking target, Nkunku, in stride. Ice-veined finish this time from the fabulous Frenchman. Leipzig’s new long-term signee buried it to give his side a 2-1 lead in the 56th.
Match Flow: 56th to 70th minute
Lots of flow interruptions over the next phase. There was an interesting spurt between the 56th and 61st. Olmo and Kampl got another promising counter rolling a couple of minutes after the goal. Once again working with Hector down the left, Köln got some penetration as the hour mark approached. A neat little right-slant give-and-go almost reached Werner in the 61st. The final ball ended up being just a bit too long.
Baumgart went with a triple change in the 62nd. Benno Schmitz, Linton Maina, and Ondrej Duda all entered on like-for-likes in place of Ehizibue, Thielmann, and Martel. Maina finally got something going on the Kölner right in the 63rd. Gvardiol made the initial stop, but then put his team under pressure with a poor pass out of the back. Orban came to the rescue with a clearance.
Before too long, Köln were back trying to get through on the left again. By this time, the Saxons knew exactly what the likes of Skhiri, Kainz, and Hector were up to. Each successive charge produced less. Tedesco went for the rhythm interruption in the 66th, bringing on André Silva for Werner. The returnee took his time soaking in the ovation from the crowd. Köln’s creativity dipped further.
Still another play up the left in the 69th led to Kainz crashing in off the cycle and crossing for Dietz. The cross was okay. The headed finish was totally lame. Gulacsi collected easily. Kainz did better to locate Maina one minute later. The new arrival furnished an adequate finish that Gvardiol had to deflect over the bar. This led to series of corners, off which Köln would equalize again.
Match Flow: 70th minute to full-time
Set-pieces leave every team with a chance. Although it would ultimately be Gvardiol who put the ball into his own net, one has to credit Baumgart and his coaching staff for giving the playbook sufficient drilling this week in trained. Die Geißböcke got their hard earned equalizer after three consecutive corners. The first two were played short so as to muddle and confuse the RB defensive ranks. Kainz drove the third one hard to the far post.
Mainz’s service got helped along by a slight redirection from Simakan. Gvardiol wasn’t able to adjust his body positioning in time and the ball ricocheted in off the Croatian’s stomach. Both teams seemed to be thoroughly gassed after the 2-2 in the 72nd and the air slowly came out of the game. Baumgart went straight for the slow-down in the 73rd, introducing Sargis Adamyan and Tim Lemperle for Dietz and Ljubicic. This produced nothing apart from a quick booking for Adamyan.
In all honesty, it didn’t really look as if either team wanted to snatch the victory in the final quarter-of-an-hour. Kainz tried a few more things up the left, but the RB ranks had him totally figured out by that point. Olmo–the absolute super-stud of the weekend–remained the only Leipzig actor attempting to make things happen. The Spaniard ran some charges almost single-handedly in the 74th, 79th, 82nd, and 84th.
Tedesco pulled Olmo for Amadou Haidara in the 87th and proved somewhat disappointing not to see the undisputed man-of-the-match not get a standing ovation. The man who set-up the all-important 2-1 and could have had two tallies himself deserved better recognition. Oh well. It was a Leipzig crowd, after all. This club’s supporters are still getting the hang of the whole German football fandom thing.
xG Leipzig 0.9 , xG Köln 1.4
Köln’s chance creation against a very talented team shows that Steffen Baumgart’s men can still compete in the cross-heavy system he’s devised for them. Obviously, some tall head will ultimately have to be procured to serve in Anthony Modeste’s stead. The 4-2-3-1 works just fine. It simply needs a regular lead striker, along with far more action on right.
One can usually tell that Baumgart wants this whenever he starts Kingsley Ehizibue over Benno Schmitz at right-back. One can also tell that it almost never works. Some sort of solution needs to be found there. Ehizibue has the speed, but he just doesn’t have the nerve. Not sure where Kingsley Schindler was in this one. There were no reports of the potential third option at right-back being hurt.
As for Leipzig, the news that many German football fans don’t want to hear concerns the fact that they most definitely look like title contenders. With all the problems the team displayed in this match (awkward midfield presence from the two surprise sixes and repeated issues advancing with the back-three), none of that matters if one has “the perfect ten”.
Dani Olmo is one such player. The 24-year-old from Terrassa has looked very strong in the first two competitive matches of this campaign and was frankly sensational over the weekend. Finally looking fully fit, this could be the Spaniard’s breakout year. Tedesco has an absurdly talented cadre of strikers he can place in front of him. The goals will basically create themselves with Olmo acting as feeder.
That’s the reality.
Thanks so much for reading! You can occasionally catch Peter goofing off while watching non-Bundesliga football on twitter, @ViceytheSS.
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All columns debut on Bulinews before appearing on Peter’s website later in the week.