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Timo Werner and Tyler Adams in a 3-4-1-2? RB Leipzig certainly have the personnel to thrive playing Julian Nagelsmann's preferred formation. - © DFL
Timo Werner and Tyler Adams in a 3-4-1-2? RB Leipzig certainly have the personnel to thrive playing Julian Nagelsmann's preferred formation. - © DFL

How will RB Leipzig line up under Julian Nagelsmann?


The Bundesliga's youngest ever coach will take charge of its newest club when Julian Nagelsmann swaps Hoffenheim for RB Leipzig next summer, but how will his new charges line up?

Fans at the Red Bull Arena should be licking their lips at the attacking possibilities ahead. Join bundesliga.com as we train our tactical microscope on Nagelsmann's Leipzig…

How do Hoffenheim play?

Nagelsmann was one of the earliest adopters of three at the back and up front, something which Andrej Kramaric and Kevin Vogt in particular have benefitted from. - DFL

The first clues are to be found in Nagelsmann's current Hoffenheim set-up. The 31-year-old steered the Sinsheimers into the UEFA Champions League group stages for the first time in their history last season, and recent form suggests he might be able to repeat the trick before leaving for Saxony.

Voted the German Football Manager of the Year in 2017, Nagelsmann's successes to date have been underpinned by his favoured 3-4-1-2 formation, the primary characteristics of which are a ball-playing sweeper, super-fit wing-backs, and an attacking triangle with one of the forwards slightly withdrawn.

Watch: Some personnel might have changed since we last looked at Hoffenheim's tactics, but many of the same cornerstones persist (skip to 01:47 for Vogt's role)

Club captain Kevin Vogt had been a journeyman midfielder with Bochum, Augsburg and Cologne before joining Hoffenheim in 2016. Spotting that Vogt had pace to burn - a top speed of 21.8 miles per hour is his to boast - but the distribution of a midfielder, Nagelsmann unearthed the perfect sweeper: fast enough to hoover up danger when the defenders either side of him were beaten, yet assured enough on the ball to keep possession once it was won back.

Flying full-backs Nico Schulz and Pavel Kaderabek facilitate quick transitions, meanwhile, their fitness up and down the flank allowing Hoffenheim a numerical advantage whether they are attacking or defending. Schulz, a left-footer playing on the left touchline, Kaderabek, a righty on the right, don't need to cut inside to cause trouble. An average of 13 crosses per game mean Hoffenheim boast a league second-best tally in that regard after Bayern Munich. Who needs inverted wingers?

Andrej Kramaric's (l.) ability to find space between the opposition's defence and midfield has helped him become Hoffenheim's all-time record Bundesliga goalscorer, with 49. - 2019 DFL

Certainly not Andrej Kramaric, tucked in behind a front two of Joelinton and Ishak Belfodil. That pair of traditional centre-forwards keep the opposition centre-backs occupied - battering ram Joelinton wins an average of 14 challenges per game - which frees up space for the Croatian playing between the lines. If not Kramaric taking advantage with 16 goals and four assists from deep, it might be Reiss Nelson, scorer of a goal every 83 minutes he has played…

How do Leipzig play?

RB Leipzig's 4-4-2 is something of a throwback, but it works! - DFL

Over at RB Leipzig, the league's youngest club have taken a surprisingly old-school approach on their eight-year march to the Bundesliga, meanwhile, at least on initial inspection of their tactics. Ralf Rangnick's men normally line up with the 4-4-2 that dominated the sport for most of the 90s and noughties, with two banks of four, and, usually, Timo Werner and Yussuf Poulsen leading the line together.

The Werner-Poulsen factor in particular is something of a throwback. Germany won the World Cup in 1990 with Jürgen Klinsmann and Rudi Völler playing as a front pair, but today, while Robert Lewandowski’s ability might be rare, the role he fulfils for champions Bayern, ploughing a lone furrow up front, is anything but.

The manner of their combined 30 goals - more than half of their team's total - is particularly illuminating. With a minimum of eight players defending when they don't have possession, no team in the Bundesliga is happier than Die Roten Bullen to sit back and soak up pressure before hitting opponents on the counter.

Watch: Leipzig, a counter-attacking force since they got to the Bundesliga

Leipzig win a league-high average of 116 duels per game: a German stat that folds in all one-on-ones - tackles, dribbles, headers et al. This number nonetheless highlights how able Rangnick's men are to win back possession, and a league-low 24 goals conceded lends weight to the claim.

Once they have it back, Leipzig play more long through-balls than any other team, invariably into space for Werner to latch onto. Their nearly 60 per cent chance conversion – a league third-best – is significantly easier to achieve when the opposition defence has been left for dead half a pitch ago.

So: Nagelsmann plus RBL?

Nagelsmann could hardly have asked for a squad of players more suited to his preferred 3-4-1-2. - DFL

So, what will this mean for Leipzig next season? The safe money is on Nagelsmann sticking to his trusted 3-4-1-2 - especially given that Rangnick has experimented with an almost identical set-up in recent weeks.

Leipzig last played a 4-4-2 in the Week 28 4-2 win at Bayer Leverkusen. Since then, the Saxony club have beaten Wolfsburg, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Freiburg in the league, while trying to come to terms with a new (and looming!) system. Rangnick will move back upstairs when Nagelsmann takes to the Red Bull Arena dug-out, and clearly intends for the transition to be as smooth as possible.

Julian Nagelsmann (l.) and Ralf Rangnick (r.) already know each other well having overlapped at Hoffenheim during the 2010/11 season. - imago/Michael Weber

Werner and Poulsen can expect their partnership to remain untouched given Nagelsmann's existing predilection for a front two, and it's no stretch of the imagination to envisage Marcel Halstenberg and Lukas Klostermann - both now full Germany internationals - continuing to fulfil similar roles on the touchlines. The former has provided a team-high eight assists in all competitions from his natural left flank this season, providing competition for Hoffenheim's Schulz to be considered Die Mannschaft's first-choice left-sider.

Emil Forsberg was the Bundesliga's assist king in his first top-flight season, meanwhile, providing 19 goals from out wide, but now does his best work through the middle. After returning from a torn groin muscle, the Swede has been getting back up to speed between the lines, fulfilling the Kramaric role. Three goals and two assists in his last five games suggest his Nagelsmann-led future will be bright.

Watch: Forsberg, Leipzig's quarter-back?

Three at the back picks itself, meanwhile. Leipzig are blessed with central defensive talent in club captain Willi Orban as well as France U21 stars Ibrahima Konate and Dayot Upamecano. Before Upamecano's knee injury in January, Rangnick's biggest tactical headache was turning three into two. Nagelsmann shouldn't have to.

As for who might sweep a la Vogt? Upamecano may never have been a midfielder, but his top speed of 21.3 mph makes him one of the fastest at the club, and he has completed 86 per cent of his passes this season…