How RB Leipzig's bright young coach Julian Nagelsmann held Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena
Julian Nagelsmann produced a tactical masterclass as RB Leipzig became the first side to silence a prolific Bayern Munich attack this season, a result that bodes well for the Saxony outfit’s future as they look to dethrone the record Bundesliga winners.
With so much riding on the outcome of the meeting between the reigning champions and the pretenders to their crown, a tense affair was always in store. Bayern would have moved four points clear at the summit with victory, while Leipzig could have leapfrogged their hosts and opened up a two-point gap of their own had they secured all three points.
With spoils shared at the final whistle, however, the two sides are still just separated by a single point, with it all to play for as we enter the home stretch of the 2019/20 season.
And as Nagelsmann goes looking to make history by delivering Leipzig’s maiden Meisterschale, it is little wonder the 32-year-old described the performance as “a very good away game, against a very good team.”
Watch: A tactical look at Leipzig's 0-0 draw at Bayern
He’s underselling both points. After all, Nagelsmann’s men were able to do what no other side has done so far this season: stop Bayern from scoring.
Hansi Flick’s side were the only team to have found the back of the net on every matchday of the campaign, had a club-record 58 goals from their first 20 games and had won each of their last six league matches. But Nagelsmann had a clear strategy to counteract - and counterattack - the Bayern juggernaut.
Firstly, they switched to a 3-4-3 formation that moved from three at the back in possession, to a five when without the ball.
It meant USA international Tyler Adams and Manchester City loanee Angelino - making his first Bundesliga start - were tasked with plenty of running to do on each flank, while Timo Werner and Christoper Nkunku drew out wide in an attempt to get in behind the foraying exploits of Bayern full-backs Benjamin Pavard and Alphonso Davies.
Those four Leipzig men made the most intensive runs for their team, with Adams (99) making the most over the course of the entire game on either side of the divide. With Leipzig having just 35 per cent of possession over the course of the match, their defensive work without the ball was a pivotal part of the Nagelsmann blueprint.
“We knew Bayern’s most susceptible point was in behind the full-backs, so we had Timo and Christoph out wide,” the Leipzig tactician explained to Sky90. “I’ve seen a lot of teams play with a high defensive line here but still have no foothold in the game, it’s not easy.”
For a side that normally presses their opposition relentlessly, the first half was a departure from Leipzig’s accustomed adventure.
But, as Nagelsmann explains, the Allianz Arena is a very different environment to operate in compared to the rest of the league.
“Bayern expected us to be high,” he said. “We didn’t always look to counter but had good spells in the first half when we defended higher, as well as in the second. We simply switched. There are few teams who defend high for 90 minutes here – I’d like to be here to watch if they do.”
Leipzig didn’t go out to stifle Bayern in the first 45 without reason, after all the Saxony outfit have scored each of their last 14 competitive goals in the second half of matches. Also, they were up against a team that last drew a blank on home soil way back in October 2018, in a rare 3-0 loss to Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Their higher press after the break brought almost instant reward, captain Marcel Sabitzer unusually off target from 10 yards with the goal at his mercy. The otherwise prolific Werner missed what seemed an even simpler chance to put Leipzig in front later on, the result of an incisive break from the Germany international and Nkunku moulded by Nagelsmann.
The point achieved still meant for a successful night, key to which was keeping quiet Robert Lewandowski: a man with 22 goals to his name already this season but who spent much of the evening getting little change out of Dayot Upamecano.
The two have a great deal of respect for each other, Lewandowski hailing the French centre-back as “very good” and Upamecano saying: "I learn a lot playing against Lewandowski.” The league’s record foreign goalscorer should have even greater respect for Upamecano after their latest meeting, in which Lewandowski managed just two shots and the Leipzig man won 78 per cent of his duels.
Nkunku pulled left, Werner right and Konrad Laimer’s raking ball perfectly split a Bayern defence with gaping holes in the channels for Leipzig’s forwards to exploit.
Had they taken those chances, Nagelsmann would have masterminded the perfect game plan for a first Leipzig victory at Bayern in the Bundesliga.
It’s only the third time this season that Lewandowski - the Allianz’s record goalscorer - has failed to score at home, while Serge Gnabry - Bayern’s second top-scorer behind Lewandowski - had only two shots and deep-lying midfielder Thiago (3) registered the 28-time Bundesliga champions’ most efforts on goal.
That shows how well Leipzig did in keeping Bayern at arm’s length as they had just the 10 shots at Peter Gulacsi’s goal, compared to their lowest previous return at home this season of 17.
Gulacsi himself described the performance as Leipzig’s “best game so far” this season.
Watch: Gulacsi: "Our best game so far"
“We wanted to stay really compact against Bayern,” he told bundesliga.com. “They have fantastic quality and have scored many goals recently. We wanted to play stable but also be aggressive and use our speed up front. We were able to do that in the second half especially.”
It was a performance so near to perfection that Leipzig will be somewhat disappointed that they missed the opportunity to earn a first win at Bayern, whose protagonists were more than happy to walk away with a point.
Flick said: “I’m OK with the result, it’s fair. I think we were both happy to have kept a clean sheet and to have shared the points." Joshua Kimmich added: “Fortunately they didn’t score today,” while Thomas Müller believed Bayern were “clever and mature” to earn a draw.
Watch: Kimmich: "Fortunately Leipzig didn't score"
It’s rare for Bayern to reflect on dropped points at home with such open arms and is testament to how well Nagelsmann set his side up as the two teams played out a third league draw in succession.
“We can keep up with Bayern if we bring our power onto the pitch,” said Nagelsmann. “This was a good sign for the future.”
And should they keep evolving tactically under the former Hoffenheim coach, Leipzig will only get closer to bringing about the changing of the guard they so crave.
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