RB Leipzig have moved quickly to replace Chelsea-bound 28-goal top scorer Timo Werner, with Hwang Hee-chan's arrival from Red Bull Salzburg potentially the first of a few at the Red Bull Arena this summer. How will Julian Nagelsmann assemble his side?
It almost beggars belief that Nagelsmann is still only 32, just two years his first-choice goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi's senior. Indeed, some 29 players who featured in the Bundesliga last year were older than the league's youngest-ever coach, who first took charge of Hoffenheim at the tender age of 28.
In his first season in the Red Bull Arena dugout, Nagelsmann steered his new employers to the top of the Bundesliga table by Christmas, and although they ultimately had to settle for a third-place finish, they still conceded the second-fewest goals and scored the third-most. In Europe, Tottenham Hotspur's scalp was among those claimed on the way to the UEFA Champions League quarter-final meeting with Atletico Madrid in Lisbon in August.
Before turning back to Hwang - and indeed his fellow new arrival Benjamin Henrichs, the Germany international full-back signed from Monaco - it's informative to look at how Nagelsmann structured his side in his first campaign. The average side with Nagelsmann's Leipzig is trickier than with Hansi Flick's Bayern Munich, for example. Where Flick used a 4-2-3-1 formation all but once, Nagelsmann employed a back four in 19 league games, a back three in 14, and even lost defensive midfielder Diego Demme - hitherto a mainstay - to Napoli midway through the season.
Transfers in and out had a significant impact at Leipzig in 2019/20. Patrik Schick arrived on loan from Roma, and once he overcame a niggling ankle injury, Werner was shifted into a deeper and wider position playing off the Czech target man. Marcel Sabitzer, owner of six goals and four assists in the Hinrunde, picked up the captain's armband in the Rückrunde - just reward for the defensive discipline that saw those numbers drop to three and three in plugging the Demme gap. Nordi Mukiele went from right-back to right wing-back, playing opposite January arrival Angelino.
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Although Werner grabbed the lion's share of the total goals, it is worth noting that he and Schick scored 10 times each after Christmas; the Germany international's coming in at a rate of one every 138 minutes, his Czech colleague's at a rate of one every 130. Indeed, the net rippled from all angles with opposition coaches unsure of the tactics and personnel they were up against on a near-weekly basis. Christopher Nkunku ended the season with five goals and 13 assists. Even Yussuf Poulsen, owner of just 12 starts, had a direct hand in 11.
The coach who installed the first video wall at a training ground in Germany when still at Hoffenheim, Nagelsmann remained unafraid to adapt and try new things. When Barcelona youth product Dani Olmo complained about training with the reserves having also joined from Dinamo Zagreb in January, Nagelsmann threw him into the first-team. The Spaniard repaid him with three goals in June alone.
So, what might that mean for next season? Whilst it's clear that Nagelsmann is a reactive coach - both in the face of an opponent's line-up, as well as his own players banging his door down - the suspicion remains that he might stick, more often than not, to the 3-4-2-1 system which held Bayern in February, and proved too much for 2019 Champions League runners up Tottenham to the tune of a 4-0 aggregate victory in the last 16 of that competition this year. After a season of experimentation, slightly less tinkering next term can be expected.
Despite losing Werner, Leipzig are positively spoiled for choice for attacking players who do their best work playing withdrawn behind an attacking focal point. After Werner, Nkunku had the hand in the most goals last season with 18. Olmo hit his stride at the conclusion of the campaign. Hwang - playing Robin to Erling Haaland's Batman for Red Bull Salzburg in the first half of last season - scored nine and assisted nine in all competitions before the Norwegian departed for Borussia Dortmund - and then added a further seven and eight when becoming the central striker himself.
Elsewhere, Henrichs is an ideal Nagelsmann signing. Able to play on either side of defence or midfield, he could slot in on the right in place of a Mukiele who prefers defending, or, if Angelino does not sign a second consecutive loan agreement from Manchester City, on that flank instead. At centre-back, Ibrahima Konate was restricted to just six starts last season due to injury. Fully fit, the man who boasted a 95 percent pass completion in 2018/19 could give French compatriot Dayot Upamecano a run for his money for the right to start play from the heart of Leipzig's defence.
Die Roten Bullen might still have some shopping to do this summer, but even relative fringe players like Poulsen and Emil Forsberg - scorer of four Champions league goals - are more than capable of doing a job. Hs Hwang and Henrichs get an A for ability; Nagelsmann seems to have found his groove, and there looks to be plenty of wind beneath Leipzig's wings next term, even at this early stage.
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