How Domenico Tedesco has turned RB Leipzig into top-four challengers again
RB Leipzig are firmly in the hunt for a top-four finish after their stunning victory at Dortmund. What exactly has happened since Domenico Tedesco replaced Jesse Marsch?
The simple answer is results. Starting with a 4-1 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach, and culminating in a 4-1 triumph over Borussia Dortmund at Signal Iduna Park, Die Roten Bullen have picked up 30 points in 14 games. As the team built confidence in punishing 6-1 victories over Hertha Berlin and Greuther Fürth, football in the UEFA Champions League next season has swiftly become a distinct possibility for Leipzig.
Furthermore, they have booked their place in the semi-finals of the DFB Cup where they will face promotion-chasing Hamburg of Bundesliga 2. A win here will see a third domestic final in four years, where they will face fellow European hopefuls Freiburg or Union Berlin. Additionally, Atalanta stand in the way of a place in the last four of the UEFA Europa League.
Watch: Leipzig's tactical transformation under Domenico Tedesco
Top scorer Christopher Nkunku continues to go from strength to strength this season. The Frenchman – who made his debut for Les Blues during the international break – is joint third in the Bundesliga scoring chart alongside Erling Haaland. He also finds himself second on the assist charts, behind only Bayern Munich’s Thomas Müller. His excellent form preceded Tedesco’s arrival, but the 24-year-old is finding an extra amount of space to roam between midfield and attack – and the outcome has been lethal.
Andre Silva, has equally undergone arguably the most impressive transformation since Tedesco took the reins. He has scored seven goals under the new coach, after finding the back of the net just three times in 14 games on Marsch's watch.
Last term, the Portuguese forward scored 28 Bundesliga goals for Eintracht Frankfurt and thanks to a similar service – Angelino providing crosses from the left like Filip Kostic did for the Eagles – he looks sharper than ever.
Tedesco has revived memories of the not-so-distant Julian Nagelsmann years, with the pair famously gaining their coaching badge together, with Tedesco topping the class ahead of the current Bayern coach. While studying – and occasionally sharing a ride – together, Tedesco and Nagelsmann forged similar philosophies, and this may well have helped guide Leipzig's players back into their comfort zone; back to a style of play they recognise and respond to.
Invariably, any managerial change breathes fresh life into a team, but Tedesco has done much more than just that. He has got his team's foot back on the ball, in an almost literal sense. In Leipzig's first four games under Tedesco, they enjoyed 53, 68, 76 and 68 per cent of possession. The highest share of possession under Marsch was 70 on Matchday 1 – a game they lost 1-0 to Mainz – followed by 62 per cent in Marsch's last Bundesliga game in charge, another defeat: 2-1 to Union.
Having the ball is not the be all and end all, but there has been a clear inversion in the trend under Tedesco, with his team proving more productive. This can be seen by the number of passes they are now playing, hitting a season high of 800 against Arminia Bielefeld as well as 771 against Freiburg. The most passes Leipzig put together prior to Tedesco's arrival was 548 on Matchday 1.
Just compare that with the 88.9 per cent completion rate on Matchday 18 against Mainz and the progress is evident, while their Expected Goals (xG) has exceeded two in six of the fourteen games since Tedesco has been at the helm. That may not be the most reliable indicator of goal scoring threat, but there can be no margin for misinterpreting their actual goal average, which has hit 2.57 per game under their new coach, up from 1.79 over the first 14 games of the season.
Likewise, Tedesco – who has a reputation built on solid defending – has turned Leipzig into sterner stuff at the back. They have conceded 13 times in 14 games, compared to the 18 under Marsch’s 14 games in charge. The Expected Goals Against (xGA) model has them down for conceding fewer than a goal per game in eight of the 14 fixtures.
The flexibility of his wing-backs has helped, with Angelino in particular racing up and down the left wing, fulfilling both defensive and attacking duties according to the textbook, while Josko Gvardiol, who ranks fourth across the league for duels won, tucks in just behind him. On the right, Benjamin Henrichs is enjoying his best season since starring in the U19 Bundesliga for Bayer Leverkusen back in 2015/16, ergo this is his best year as a professional; his three goals and three assists have all come since Tedesco took charge.
In the centre of the park, Konrad Laimer is another player who has seen some of his best performances under Tedesco. He was named MD28’s Man of the Matchday after a remarkable display against Dortmund – with the Austrian notching two goals and an assist. Having missed almost all of the 2020/21 campaign after fracturing his ankle, it marks an incredible turnaround for Laimer, with this being his strongest season to date in the Bundesliga.
The result is a Leipzig team in the driving seat to qualify for the Champions League for a fifth time. Chasing further success in the DFB Cup and Europa League will spurn the team on to capture a first piece of major silverware.
Waving his metaphorical red cloth, Tedesco has the Leipzig bull raging again.
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