RB Leipzig's Emil Forsberg: a more effective quarter-back than winger?
What on earth has happened to Bundesliga assist king Emil Forsberg? In 2016/17, RB Leipzig's midfield architect chipped in with a league-leading 19 assists. Last season, that number fell to two.
Are the Sweden international's powers on the wane at 26? Have opposition players got him sussed? As it turns out, he's gone less prolific winger and more refined quarter-back...
Forsberg the Assist King
The season before last, Leipzig and, by extension, Forsberg, had the surprise element in their favour. No one knew what to expect from the Bundesliga newcomers, and for a good while no one could quite figure out how to handle their break-neck counter-attacking style of football.
The proof was in the points haul. Leipzig were sitting pretty in second place behind record champions Bayern Munich by the halfway point in the campaign, having won 12, drawn three and lost two of their opening 17 top-flight fixtures. Of their 34 goals, Forsberg had scored five and directly assisted eight.
Almost inevitably, Leipzig met stiffer resistance in the new year as teams began to sit off and allow the Lower Saxony upstarts more time on the ball in a bid to limit their rapier-like transitions. RBL collected fewer points (28 compared to 39) and registered marginally fewer goals (32 compared to 34), albeit still finishing as runners-up, thanks in no small part to Forsberg's game-changing influence: namely, a further three goals and 11 assists in 15 Rückrunde outings.
Watch: All 19 of Emil Forsberg's 2016/17 Bundesliga assists
Forsberg in flux
Nevertheless, growing expectations, coupled with the physical and mental strains of competing in UEFA competition, presented club and player with two additional challenges in 2017/18. And when Leipzig went into the winter break - although fifth in the standings - Ralph Hasenhüttl's men had collected 12 fewer points and scored nine goals less than at the same juncture in 2016/17. Forsberg, meanwhile, had scored one and assisted just two.
A persistent pubic bone injury did not exactly help Forsberg's cause. He missed eight matches (Matchdays 14-22), set up only one more goal (on Matchday 28) and did not play 90 minutes until Matchday 29. He also sat out the final three games of the season through suspension as Leipzig scraped a place in the UEFA Europa League qualifying rounds, after finishing sixth.
On the surface, Forsberg had lost his edge. Two assists in 21 Bundesliga games was a far cry from the 19 he provided in 30 outings in the previous campaign. But what those numbers fail to reveal is a subtle positional change even the Leipzig teamsheet continues to mask to this very day, three league matches into the 2018/19 season.
So next time you're wondering why he isn't on the scoresheet or directly laying on goals by the bucket load for Werner and Co., ask yourself one question: is that really all Forsberg 2.0 is designed to do?