Julian Nagelsmann says his RB Leipzig side “have the quality to create chances” when they face a famously defensive Atletico Madrid team in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals on Thursday.
That set up the single-game knockout fixture in the finals tournament in Lisbon against Atletico, a team ranked second in UEFA’s coefficient ranking after reaching the final in 2014 and 2016, and winning the Europa League in 2010, 2012 and 2018.
Yet despite the Spanish side’s European pedigree, Nagelsmann is confident his charges have what it takes to advance to the semi-finals.
“My first thought on Atletico was, ‘they’re a very strong side defensively’,” he told Spanish publication Marca. “We’ll have to be a very solid block and be very persistent in the final third in order to create opportunities to score.
“We have enough quality in the squad to replace Timo Werner. It’s hard to create scoring chances and it’s a task we’ll have to share out among various players. I think it’s very difficult for other teams to work out how we play. Timo’s a great player who left after scoring a lot of goals, but I think it’s possible for other players who were in his shadow to step up.
“We have the quality, especially in attack, to compensate for his loss and to create good chances against Atletico.”
Nagelsmann cited two winter arrivals, Angelino and Dani Olmo, as players who could potentially shoulder extra responsibility in that regard after impressing in the second half of the Bundesliga season.
“Angelino’s been a great addition for us,” the 33-year-old said of the Spaniard. “He’s played virtually every game since he arrived with us. He’s given us a lot of strength on the left wing, which is something we were missing in that position. He’s a very good footballer who always finds solutions.
“Dani had a couple of minor problems adapting, but now he’s at a very high level. He’s in great form, is very aggressive, has a winning mentality – even in training. He’s got a great touch. He needs to work a bit more on becoming more dangerous in front of goal, rather than just providing assists. Both of them are players that have helped us develop a lot. We’re lucky to have them.”
That duo will link up with the likes of Christopher Nkunku, who recorded a team-high 13 assists in the Bundesliga last season, Emil Forsberg, Marcel Sabitzer and Patrik Schick as Leipzig seek to get the better of Atletico and advance to the last four, where a tie against either Paris Saint-Germain or Atalanta awaits.
Nagelsmann is also aware, however, that creating opportunities will not be enough; his players will need to be clinical in finishing them.
“In the second half of the season we didn’t score as regularly as we did in the first half,” he said. “We created a similar number of chances, but weren’t as efficient in front of goal.”
Watch: All of Nkunku's goals and assists in 2019/20
If anyone can find a solution to that particular concern it is Nagelsmann, a coach widely regarded as a tactical mastermind – and he has had plenty of time to study and analyse Atletico.
“I always try to adapt the team depending on who we’re playing. That means you have to vary your personnel. I’m not that obsessed with starting formations because they don’t give me anything. What’s important is the structure of space the other team has. They have their way of playing and I pick my team according to that.”