RB Leipzig’s rise to recognition has been nothing short of phenomenal. They haven’t put a foot wrong since they were founded in 2009. The Red Bull side has had four promotions leading up to their dream of playing in the Bundesliga. They also finished runners up in their first season in the top flight in 2016-17. If there’s one man that can be credited for their meteoric rise, it has to be Ralf Rangnick.
The man was appointed sporting director (and handling the team as head coach) ahead of the 2012-13 season. During the 2015-16 season Ralph Hasanhuttl was hired as head coach with Rangnick continuing his Directors role. We’ve seen some great talents such Joshua Kimmich, Naby Keita and most recently Timo Werner depart for bigger clubs but Leipzig’s progress has continued. Their recent hiring Julian Nagelsmann is one of the youngest coaches in the world and youngest in this seasons Champions league.
33-year-old Julian Nagelsmann is regarded as the brightest young manager in the game and rightly so. With notable success at youth levels, Nagelsmann was hired by Hoffenheim as their head coach on October 2015. His early hiring led to Hoffenheim avoiding relegation by playing some wonderful attacking football. His coaching philosophy has seen him take influence from the likes of Arsene Wenger and Johan Cruyff no less. His famous quote: “I like to attack the opponents in their own goal because your own way to the goal is not as long if you get the ball higher up”.
Nagelsmann likes his team play Vertical football. His team’s tactical versitality has seen them deploy 3 at the back at times but his core has remained the same. Key to his system involves the importance of a double pivot (two central midfielders in holding positions to begin with but with one moving forward in a box to box fashion).
Upfront Timo Werner (off to Chelsea) will be a big miss having scored 34 goals with 13 assists in a single season. His partnership and understanding with Patrick Schick has been a joy to watch. They have reinforcements, of course, and in Emil Forsberg, they have a player that can play behind the 10 goal target man and work as a channel between midfield and attack. Christopher Nkunku and Yussuf Poulsen both have 5 goals to their name and could have role to play in this tie.
Leipzig press from the front. It’s a modified counter press that pushes the opposition into making a key error while playing out from defense. Leipzig are very smart on the ball (as witnessed in their dominant display over Tottenham) with very quick passing patterns in and around the penalty area. Wing backs (Angelino and Nordi Mukiele) play a huge part in keeping the ball moving but the key to their success has been late runs from the midfield.
Indeed, Marcel Sabitzer has broken from midfield on several occasions to score 16 goals on all competitions this season and he’s got a solid partnership with Konrad Laimer. In defense, Dayot Upamecano has been excellent this season. Leipzig were top of the Bundesliga at the start of the year but they couldn’t hold off Bayern Munchen, fatigue and inconsistency was their undoing. Now they’ve had time to rest and recharge.
Before 2011, Atletico Madrid were never really a club that could challenge the big guns. Living under the shadow of bitter neighbors Real Madrid and Barcelona, matches with big clubs were a mere formality, confidence was low and the outcome was almost never positive. And then came a man named Diego Simeone.
The rest as they say is history. And what great history Atletico have made so far. Ever since his arrival, Atletico have won two Europa leagues, a La Liga crown (after 18 yrs.) ahead of a Barcelona side that boasted Xavi, Iniesta and Messi, and they’ve played in two Champions League finals in 3 years (not to mention two Uefa Super cup wins one of which they destroyed Chelsea).
You could be forgiven for not favoring historical backgrounds. You could also be forgiven for believing rumors that Atletico and their coach have slowed down. But if you’ve witnessed their recent win against Klopp’s defending champions Liverpool, there’s only conclusion you can come up with: “Simeone has built a beast”. It’s a legacy that will remain and by the looks of it, has a lot more to offer.
Simeone plays his team in an old school 4-4-2. All the players (especially the midfield) have specific roles to the system. They press but only in the flanks around the half way line. He has kept a defensive core to the team the lines up through the middle of the park down to the backline. The two central midfielders Saul and Thomas are key performers and much is expected of them in the big games.
Gimenez and Felipe are their star performers at the back with star Goalkeeper Jan Oblak while upfront Simeone can rely on the experiences of Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata alongside the guile and technical ability of young prodigy Joao Felix. This is a very strict defensive unit.
This could go all the way. On one side we have Nagelsmann who’s side will press and move from the front and try breaking the opponents with skill and technique. Without Werner it’ll be harder as Leipzig won’t have a speedy outlet that can rely on to break the defensive line by making runs in behind but even then they’re more than capable of finding an opening. He might start with 3 at the back.
On the other side we have Diego Simeone, who wants his soldiers to defend with their lives. Atletico won’t have a problem staying behind the half way line inviting pressure. They’re used to that. They know what they need. And it won’t be surprising if they plan on holding off Leipzig till the very end. They’ll consider themselves at an advantage if penalties come into the picture especially with Jan Oblak in goal.
RB Leipzig: P. Gulasci, D. Upamecano, L. Klostermann, M. Halstenberg, J. Tasende, N. Mukiele, K. Laimer, M. Sabitzer, P. Schick, C. Nkunku, D Olmoic
Atletico Madrid: J. Oblak, Felipe, J. Gimenez, R. Lodi, Saul, Thomas, K. Trippier, Koke, J. Felix, D. Costa, M. Llorente
The first goal will be crucial. If Atletico score first, then it’s going to be a long way back for Leipzig. But if Leipzig score then Simeone’s side will have to ditch their traditional set up and look for the equalizer. Not many goals are expected in this match in fact penalties could decide this game altogether. Experience will have a say in this fixture, Simeone’s Atletico might edge this one by the odd goal or penalties.