Schalke should have their work cut out when they host Timo Werner and RB Leipzig. - © imago images
Schalke should have their work cut out when they host Timo Werner and RB Leipzig. - © imago images

Schalke vs. RB Leipzig: How do they compare?

Deontay Wilder's WBC title defence against Tyson Fury isn't the only heavyweight bout to look forward to in the sporting world this weekend. presents the tale of the tape on Schalke's showdown with RB Leipzig...

Although Schalke coach David Wagner has 15 years on Leipzig counterpart Julian Nagelsmann, there's nothing antiquated about his ideas. Proactive football frames the 48-year-old's work; intense man-to-man pressing defines it.

When possession is relinquished, Schalke's wide players squeeze inside to support the striker, restricting the opposition's options of playing out from the back. The two holding players - usually Weston McKennie and Omar Mascarell - push forward to suck the life out of the midfield. Hunting in packs is very much the norm.

Wagner's Schalke are no less of a weapon of mass disruption as an attacking unit. Rapier-like transitions make it very difficult for the opposition to regain their shape. Wingers like Daniel Caligiuri have licence to drift inside, and the full-backs, Jonjoe Kenny and Bastian Oczipka, raid forward at will.

A team doesn't score seven counter-attacking goals and a league-leading nine from recovered possession without being super efficient.

Watch: How David Wagner has improved Schalke

Nagelsmann is of a similar school of thought, predicated on high-tempo football on and off the ball.

Incisive vertical attacks coupled with quick forward passes have contributed to the third-highest number of goals in the Bundesliga so far this season (56). Terrier-like pressing when the opposition are on the ball has resulted in just 25 conceded. Only leaders Bayern Munich and fourth-placed Borussia Mönchengladbach have shipped fewer (24); Leipzig took points home and away off the pair of them.

Schalke lost 8-0 on aggregate to Bayern this season, but drew one and won the other against fourth-placed Gladbach. Like Leipzig, they held third-in-the-table Borussia Dortmund to a draw. But while Wagner sticks almost religiously to a 4-2-3-1 formation built around a midfield double pivot, Nagelsmann has showed himself to be something of a tactics chameleon. The 32-year-old has gone 4-4-2, 3-5-2 and shut out Bayern on Matchday 21 with a 3-4-3 that had midfielder Dani Olmo operating as a false number nine. Bold doesn't always mean brash.

No matter the system, the mechanics remain the same. By drilling his wide players to push high up the pitch in the build-up, Nagelsmann knows the opposition will be forced to break ranks to cover the impending threat on the flanks. Space emerges in the central areas, where Leipzig can exercise that killer vertical pass. It's no accident that Die Roten Bullen are the third-highest scorers in the Bundesliga this season, averaging 2.54 goals per game and only failing to find the net in two of their 22 league games.

Watch: How Julian Nagelsmann stopped Bayern from scoring at the Allianz Arena

Timo Werner has accounted for 38 per cent of Leipzig's 56 Bundesliga goals in 2019/20. The 23-year-old feasted on 14 alone between the club's record run of netting at least three times in eight successive games between Matchdays 10-18 and - although three behind Bayern's Robert Lewandowski in the scoring charts - has a league-leading six single-game returns of two or more goals to his name. Withdrawn or through the middle, 'Turbo Timo' is in the form of his life.

"I've become more versatile under Julian Nagelsmann, and have already played in a number of positions," Werner explained after pulling to within one of his career-best Bundesliga haul of 2016/17. "I haven't just played out on the left or right like, but also as a No.10 or lone striker."

The Nagelsman effect has also given wings to midfielder Marcel Sabitzer, Leipzig's next-best goalscorer (seven) - already a personal best. AS Roma loanee Patrik Schick maxed out at five across his previous two seasons before moving to the Red Bull Arena, but is already on six goals in 12 Bundesliga outings, while Paris Saint-Germain's former surplus-to-requirements winger Christopher Nkunku has produced a team-leading seven assists, as well as four goals. All told, 14 different players have found the net for Leipzig in 2019/20.

There must be something in the Hoffenheim water because Wagner - who also coached the Sinsheim club's youth teams - shares Nagelsmann's penchant for personnel development.

Given a new lease of life under the former Dortmund reserves and Huddersfield Town boss, Amine Harit has learned to manage past tragedy and indiscipline off the pitch and rediscover the kind of form that earned him the 2017/18 Bundesliga season's Best Young Player gong. During the first half of the season, the Morocco international produced a team-leading six goals and four assists.

"I described how I saw things to him, and he said how he saw things," Wagner told Bild of a pre-season heart-to-heart with Harit. "We decided to tackle it together and reconvene at the end of pre-season. In the end, the second conversation wasn't needed. Everything had become clear."

Harit has since been replaced at the top of the scoring charts by Suat Serdar. The Mainz-reared talent turned Germany international claimed his seventh goal of the campaign in the 2-1 win against Gladbach on Matchday 18, but that remains Schalke's only three-point haul in their last seven league assignments.

Harit hasn't fired in nine, while Benito Raman - the club's highest-scoring nominal striker - has only struck four times. Indicative of Schalke's current standing as the tamest attack of all top-six teams (32 goals), their next-best scorer is centre-back Ozan Kabak (three).

Schalke's fab four of Ozan Kabak, Suat Serdar, Benito Raman and Amine Harit woud gladly welcome a new member. - Matthias Koch via images/Matthias Koch

A work in progress at putting goals away, Schalke are verging on the finished article at keeping them out. Die Knappen boast the third-meanest defence in this season's Bundesliga (27 against) behind Leipzig, Gladbach and Bayern. They've kept seven clean sheets to Leipzig's six, conceding two or more in only six of their 22 league games.

At the same stage last season under Domenico Tedesco, Schake had shipped 32, and finished the season with 55 against. Sweeping 3-0 and 5-0 defeats to Bayern under the carpet, Wagner's preferred back-four shield of McKennie and Mascarell is doing its job.

Leipzig are even even tougher nut to crack, and that despite long-term injuries to central defenders Ibrahima Konate and Willi Orban. Dayot Upamecano has been the only out-and-out centre-half in the starting line-up in recent games, but that's pure semantics for a 21-year-old who, averaging 76 per cent for aerial challenges won per game, could be hit by a ten-tonne bus and still wouldn't budge.

Leipzig's Dayot Upamecano is on 66 per cent for challenges won this season, and 91 per cent for passes to a man. - imago

That said, Leipzig are by no means infallible. Eintracht Frankfurt - along with Bayern - have succeeded in preventing the wannabe champions from scoring, while Schalke are one of three teams to have beaten them.

Eintracht did so with a little help from a spectacular Almamy Toure goal, Freiburg are something of a bogey team for Leipzig and took advantage of facing a half-fit Werner, but Schalke fought fire with fire.

The Royal Blues worked, played and ran harder in a polished 3-1 triumph that harked back to the swashbuckling, unknown quantity Leipzig ensemble that finished their debut Bundesliga campaign as runners-up. Even Nagelsmann had to concede his team were second best.

Watch: Highlights of Schalke's 3-1 win in Leipzig

"Schalke have improved the athletic side of their game dramatically compared to last season," the 32-year-old admitted, after his unbeaten start as Leipzig coach came to an unceremonious end on Bundesliga Matchday 6. "They were noticeably more active off the ball than we were, and defended high up the pitch for 60 to 65 minutes. They punished us."

That's not something Nagelsmann has had to say too often since making history as the youngest coach in Bundesliga history, aged 28, a touch over four years ago. In his 148 matches in the dugout since, he has presided over back-to-back league defeats to the same opposition on four occasions. Losses are usually settled on technicalities; taking a pummeling and staying down for the 10 count isn't in his DNA.

In the royal-blue corner, it's Schalke. In the red and white, Leipzig. Let's get ready to rumble!

Chris Mayer-Lodge