Tyler Adams raised more than a few eyebrows on Saturday when he lined up at centre-back for RB Leipzig in their DFB Cup first round clash with Nuremberg, the first time he has ever played in that position.
So is it a new-found calling for the 10-time USA international? And if so, why? bundesliga.com explores…
Adams was trained as a central midfielder and has been a defensive shield for the backline for the majority of his career to date. Nevertheless, playing elsewhere is nothing new for the 21-year-old, as he has also operated at right-back for both Leipzig and the US national team, and in various other positions across the midfield, primarily on the right wing.
But centre-back? Never. And certainly not as the central figure in a three-man backline in a competitive fixture.
Standing at 5’9” and weighing 159 pounds, Adams does not have the physique traditionally required of the position to nullify bulky opposition strikers. Compare that to teammate Dayot Upamecano, who started to Adams’ right against Nuremberg: the freshly capped France international is 6’1”, 198 pounds and someone who bullies forwards, rather than being bullied by them.
The sense of intrigue behind head coach Julian Nagelsmann’s decision to play Adams in defence only deepens considering Willi Orban and Nordi Mukiele were on the bench; both are tried and tested centre-backs.
Not only that, but Lukas Klostermann was also in the starting line-up on Saturday. The Germany international has previously played on the right-side of a back three, with Upamecano in the middle.
Clearly, then, Adams was not on the pitch to plug a gap due to some injury crisis – Nagelsmann had several other options at the back. And with regular central midfielder Konrad Laimer absent due to a knee complaint, the obvious choice would have been to field Adams in his normal position. The plot thickens.
It stands to reason, then, that Nagelsmann has seen something in the Wappinger Falls, New York native. The fact he played the full 90 minutes in the 3-0 victory that takes them into the DFB Cup second round, earning the Man of the Match award in the process, shows the Leipzig tactician was right.
“I definitely feel good,” Adams said after the final whistle. “I think we’ve had good preparation coming to the start of the new season. We used the Champions League as our pre-season games. They were competitive games as well that we’ve performed really well in, so we’re taking the confidence from those games and moving on to this phase now.
“I think the team did well. We had a couple of new players out there and they had some good performances as well. Hwang Hee-chan contributed with a goal and we’re very happy with the performance. We had tactics going into it and we executed it well.”
Those tactics involved exploiting Adams’ composure on the ball and passing ability when Leipzig were in possession, with fellow centre-backs Upamecano and Marcel Halstenberg closing the space in defence to allow the USA international to step forward into midfield and outnumber the opposition.
In effect, Leipzig essentially used him to build from the back much in the same manner as Mats Hummels does at Borussia Dortmund and Jerome Boateng at Bayern Munich. And whenever Nagelsmann's side lost the ball, Adams was invariably well placed to nip counter-attacks in the bud before they could develop.
“It didn’t work out at all in training on Friday, but it did in the game," said Nagelsmann afterwards. "We wanted to open up some new spaces in our build-up play. Tyler played like a quarterback. It gives us new opportunities for the future.”
It is not hard to see why. Leipzig’s No.14 found a teammate with 88 of his 94 attempted passes (94 per cent), while it was his interception and pass that instigated the move that led to Yussuf Poulsen putting the side 2-0 up. On top of that, Adams also won 67 per cent of all his challenges, including the only aerial duel he contested.
So could this mean a more permanent deployment for Adams in defence? Only time will tell, but judging by his display – and the congratulatory hug he received from Nagelsmann at full time – you would not want to bet against it.