Will Jesse Marsch's arrival at RB Leipzig mean a return to a 4-4-2 at the Red Bull Arena? - © DFL
Will Jesse Marsch's arrival at RB Leipzig mean a return to a 4-4-2 at the Red Bull Arena? - © DFL
bundesliga

How will RB Leipzig line up under Jesse Marsch?

RB Leipzig have moved quickly to replace the Bayern Munich-bound Julian Nagelsmann, with American coach Jesse Marsch set to join from Red Bull Salzburg at the end of the season. How will Leipzig line up under the new man?

Marsch is already familiar with many of the players at the other Red Bull Arena, having acted as assistant to Ralf Rangnick in the 2018/19 season before his successful spell as first-team coach in Salzburg, whom he led to the double of Austrian Bundesliga and Cup in 2020 - something he is on course to replicate in the current campaign.

Of Leipzig's average first XI this season, seven of them - Peter Gulacsi, Willi Orban, Dayot Upamecano, Marcel Halstenberg, Tyler Adams, Marcel Sabitzer and Kevin Kampl - were at the club when Marsch last was. However, Leipzig were largely a 4-4-2 team back then, and Nagelsmann has used the same personnel in radically different ways in his 22 months at the helm.

Angelino is one of the players who has thrived most in Julian Nagelsmann's system at Leipzig this season. - DFL

Leipzig also played with a 4-4-2 under current Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhüttl, and it's a basic system Marsch stuck with in Austria. Nagelsmann has used it just once this season, though - in a rare 2-1 loss to Cologne on Matchday 30. A 3-4-2-1 is his most utilised system, seen in 25 of his 43 games in all competitions this term, 17 of them wins.

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Nagelmann's use of wing-backs has been Angelino, the Spanish left-sider signed on a permanent deal in February following a successful loan spell which began in January 2020. His pace, timing and wicked left-foot have helped him have a hand in a team-high 19 goals in all competitions in 2020/21. Incredibly, for the shortest player in the squad at 5'6", two of his nine goals this season have been headers, which is testament to the space he finds around the opposition's back post in the system.

Watch: Angelino under the tactical microscope

Nagelsmann's propensity to recalibrate players can also be seen with his captain, Sabitzer, who has moved in the opposite direction to Angelino. Used primarily as a right-winger or attacking midfielder last term, Sabitzer has been the player used to plug the gap in central midfield with Diego Demme leaving for Napoli before Konrad Laimer suffered a fractured ankle at the start of the campaign. Sabitzer is perhaps inevitably less directly involved in goals than before, but his hand in 14 at a rate of 181 minutes from deep is not to be sniffed at.

Some 22 players have been given Bundesliga minutes by Nagelsmann, meanwhile, and Marsch's compatriot Adams is perhaps the player who has developed most from that 2018/19 campaign under Rangnick. The USMNT star has played more minutes than Sabitzer, as well as fellow first-team regulars Kampl and Christopher Nkunku, albeit variously at central midfield, right midfield, right-back and even, on occasion, as one of the back three.

Jesse Marsch's Salzburg are on course for a second consecutive Austrian double, despite losing Dominik Szoboszlai to Leipzig midway through the season. - DFL

Marsch's Salzburg are considerably easier to unpack than Nagelsmann's Leipzig have been this season - at least in terms of tactical consistency. Opponents may be able to better guess how Leipzig's sister club will line up, but that hasn't stopped Die Roten Bullen from racing into a six-point lead over Rapid Vienna at the top of the Austrian Bundesliga, with just four games left to play in that competition.

In all but two of their 28 league games, Salzburg have lined up in a 4-4-2 formation. Patson Daka leads the line, invariably with Mergim Berisha for company. Still just 22, Zambia international Daka has plundered a league-high 23 goals, and 31 in all competitions. That Sekou Koita is their second-best scorer with 14 league goals, often from the bench, is testament to former Germany U21 forward Berisha's selflessness, eye for a pass and general hold-up play.

Szoboszlai is one of seven former Salzburg players Marsch will have to work with in Leipzig. - IMAGO / GEPA pictures

Most of the assists this season were provided by Dominik Szoboszlai, though. The Hungary midfielder laid on 11 in all competitions before swapping Salzburg for Leipzig in December. In the Austrian double-winning campaign of 2019/20, Hwang Hee-chan laid on three more goals than Szoboszlai (13 vs. 10). Marsch will find both players back under his provision by the time he succeeds Nagelsmann in Saxony.

From there, Antoine Bernede provides the steel in central midfield alongside former Werder Bremen man Zlatko's Junuzovic's silk, while age is no barrier to club captain Andreas Ulmer, who, at 35, contributes plenty to Salzburg's attacking output - 17 goal involvements over the last two seasons - despite his significantly deeper starting position than Angelino's at Leipzig.

Dominik Szboszlai will be pleased to see Jesse Marsch again at Leipzig. - DFL

So, what might the above mean for Marsch's Leipzig? It would certainly be a surprise if he deviated from the same 4-4-2 that he used in Austria, and that Rangnick, Hasenhüttl and even Alexander Zorniger sometimes implemented in the march through the divisions at Leipzig prior to Nagelsmann. New York Red Bulls - Adams' former club and another member of the family - even used it six times on their way to the MLS Cup Playoffs last season.

Alongside the system, there is familiarity in terms of personnel. Upamecano, Sabitzer, Gulacsi, Kampl, Amadou Haidara, Szoboszlai, Hwang and Laimer has all previously turned out for Salzburg, and although Upamecano will, like Nagelsmann, leave for Bayern at the end of the current campaign, that leaves seven players who have made exactly the same journey as Marsch.

Watch: Marsch looking forward to quality and possibilities with Leipzig

Hwang could plausibly be the happiest to see him again. The South Korea forward earned the nickname Hwangso at Salzburg - Korean for Bull - plundering 45 goals and 29 assists during his time in Austria, many of them alongside Borussia Dortmund's superstar striker Erling Haaland earlier in the Norwegian's career. Alexander Sörloth may not have scaled the same heights of his compatriot quite yet, but Hwang will be relishing the prospect of lining up alongside another 6'4" left footer in attack once again.

Brian Brobbey, arriving from Ajax, will add to the conversation in attack, but perhaps the biggest question remaining is what happens at centre-back with Upamecano gone? Fortunately for Leipzig, Orban, Ibrahima Konate and versatile full-backs Lukas Klostermann and Halstenberg make for an embarrassment of riches left over, while the inbound Mohamed Simakan and Josko Gvardiol further enforce the opposition, the latter hoping to follow Dani Olmo in making the same step up from Croatian football to German at the Red Bull Arena.