One of the things I love most about the Bundesliga – and this may be falling into a stereotype but it’s true – is how even the clubs are every year. Yes, Bayern dominate and Leipzig is upending the long-time business norms, but clubs like Gladbach and Wolfsburg are title contenders one year, and relegation battlers the following. Why these extreme swings? The league is well coached and the players themselves are incredibly disciplined. When you watch many other leagues, the clubs that barely avoided relegation the prior year default to negative tactics to try and establish themselves mid-table. This is not a revolutionary statement, but when you watch a match like Augsburg and Leipzig, you realize that matches can be won on the training ground without cynical fouls and poor defence.
Let’s explore this idea within the 1-0 Augsburg victory over Leipzig on Tuesday. As a whole, the match was fairly dull. Both sides had good chances and the scoreline could have been vastly different if a few shots went a few inches to the right or left. What made it a fascinating watch, though, was the incredible discipline Augsburg showed at home against a side many tabbed as title contenders.
With Champions League mid-week last week, the visitors were facing some tired legs. As such, Ralph Hasenhuttl made nine changes to the weekend’s starting XI that drew with Gladbach. Leipzig still had on form Timo Werner in the XI, so Augsburg had to account for him in the game plan. Manuel Baum set out his men in what was listed as a 4-5-1 but after kickoff morphed into something quite different. Augsburg in this match showed a formation fluidity that at the same time was incredibly disciplined. Let us take the first half of the first half as an example. Early on, the assumed 4-5-1 changed into a fluid 3-5-2. Ciuby, who the game feed placed on the left wing, either pushed forward to join Finnbogason up top or floated in behind to pair with Gregoritsch to create almost a set of three attacking players. Meanwhile, with Caiuby floating forward, Max played masterfully as a winger, pushing up to support the attack but able to track back and protect the left often when needed.
After grabbing an early goal, Augsburg was content to play on the counter and allow penetration from Leipzig. The front two of Poulsen and Werner were finding some space in the back three especially as the midfield runs overran the defence at times. What saved Augsburg was a highly organised backline which cut out incisive passes and drew Leipzig into offside positions. Yet as the half wore on, the visitors were getting better and better chances. So Baum gambled a little. He moved his back 3 up and condensed the midfield, daring Leipzig to make long runs behind the defence. Based on who was on the field, this was not their strength and while they did get chances, for the most part Augsburg muddled the midfield and prevented Leipzig from putting consistent pressure. Again, the key was a stout defensive backline that stepped and work in tandem, as well as players able to switch from a counter attacking style to a pressing, high line style in minutes with the same players.
Leipzig look to be suffering from fixture congestion, as many European debutants are wont to do. However, their opponents deserve a lot of credit for a solid gameplan and flawless execution to grab all three points.