The German Football Weekly: Issue #6
Free weekly newsletter highlighting some the biggest news, and headlines, from the beautiful game on German soil
by Adam Khan on September 24
Lots to Ponder for Jesse Marsch & RB Leipzig:
What’s gone wrong for the American coach in his first weeks at Leipzig?
We’re only 5 games into the Bundesliga season, yet there are already alarm bells ringing off around RB Leipzig.
New head coach Jesse Marsch has endured the worst start in the club’s Bundesliga history, with just 1 win in his opening 5 matches far below the standard for a club striving to win its first title this season.
Whilst Marsch’s radical shift in style will need time to settle at the Red Bull Arena, the American coach is already under pressure, with various key players bemoaning his F***ing Forward Football as a backwards step from the possession-based approach under Nagelsmann.
So, what has gone wrong for Jesse Marsch in his first weeks as a Bundesliga head coach?
It’s no secret that the former Red Bull Salzburg manager wants to bring back a more intense pressing game to Leipzig. Whereas last season Nagelsmann's side completed more than 420 passes in 30 of 34 Bundesliga matches, Jesse Marsch's side has completed more than 420 passes in just one of their opening 5 matches.
Such limited possession is by no means a marker of poor performances, but Marsch’s heavy metal pressing approach hasn't hit the right note yet as Leipzig have been mercilessly exposed by opponents who are able to successfully expand the width of the pitch.
Manchester City were perhaps the best example this season, (putting 6 past the Leipzig defense) but even 1. FC Köln found simple avenues to bypass the Red Bull pressure.
Here is a good clip from last weekend’s match, I’ll let it play out in full before dissecting it further.
There’s clearly something fundamentally wrong with how Leipzig defended the attack. Within 4 relatively uncontested passes Köln put the ball into the net.
But what exactly could Die Roten Bullen have done better?
(above) Leipzig made the biggest error in this first phase. André Silva and Dominik Szoboszlai (the two players highest up the pitch in black) are both looking to put pressure onto the Köln backline.
This has been poorly communicated to the rest of the side though, and now Köln’s defensive midfielder is able to turn uncontested in midfield with Amadou Haidara too far away to apply any meaningful pressure.
(above) Here we can see what the home side did so well, stretching the pitch as wide as possible and providing a lot of options for the player in possession.
This means the likes of Christopher Nkunku and Dani Olmo are forced to remain wide with the fullbacks, and thus are too far away to create a numerical advantage on the Köln player in possession.
(above) And the final nail in the coffin.
Whilst the Leipzig midfield are forced to back off and contain, the backline have taken the cue from forwards Silva and Szoboszlai and pushed high up the pitch to compress the playing field. This proved costly, with one smart ball slicing through the Leipzig midfield and now creating a footrace for the back four.
A tight offside line saved them in the end, but it was yet another example of what has gone wrong in Leipzig’s behavior out of possession this season.
Long approach routes, disconnected units, and a high defensive line are extremely dangerous against top sides in the Champions League and Bundesliga.
Whilst Marsch’s structured press is effective when compressing the pitch and locking an opponent into the wide channels, it is barely functional against teams who are able to effectively use the width and create numerical advantages.
In such situations Marsch must react by falling back into a defensive shape to create the game in possession and find the right moments to instigate collective pressure.
Leipzig's approach out of possession was by far the most pressing (😉) issue from the first 5 matchdays, but I also wanted to briefly hit on the chance conversion, or rather, lack of.
André Silva was the man meant to add a finishing touch in the final third, but the Portuguese international has enjoyed a slow start to life at the Red Bull Arena - he is yet to score a non-penalty goal in all competitions. One can expect the goals to start flowing soon for Silva after netting 28 in 32 matches for Frankfurt last season, but beyond that Marsch’s goalscoring options already begin to run dry.
Midfielders like Nkunku, Olmo, Szoboszlai, and Forsberg are all chiefly creative presences, whilst Yussuf Poulsen has scored more than 5 goals in just 1 of his 5 Bundesliga seasons (2018/19). Brian Brobbey is also worth a mention, however the 19-year old is viewed more as a long-term project and has played just 12 minutes so far in the Bundesliga.
This lack of cutting edge is reflected in Leipzig’s stats this season.
No Bundesliga club has completed more passes into the final third, but RB's 6 goals are only good enough for the 9th best total in the league.
Whilst passes into the final third don't necessarily translate into goalscoring opportunities, a side's expected assists do, and as of gameweek 5 no side in the German topflight is underperforming their xA as much as RB Leipzig (-2.0, or 2 fewer assists then the quality of chance created would have predicted)
So there we have it. RB Leipzig may not be the title favorites which I so boldly predicted at the beginning of the season, but it is still far too early to label Jesse Marsch as the Bundesliga’s latest managerial flop. Despite some discouraging results in the opening weeks of the season, Leipzig have shown glimpses of the fluid attacking football and swarm-like pressing which made Marsch such a resounding success in Salzburg.
If the Wisconsin native can find the right balance between his high-risk high-reward style and the possession-oriented approach favored last season, we could yet see RB Leipzig win their first major trophy in the clubs 11th season in the football pyramid!
But what do you think RB Leipzig are capable of? And, is Jesse Marsch the right man to lead them into a new era? Let me know on twitter using #BUNDESLETTER
GAME OF THE WEEK:
Friday 19:00 (CEST): Hallescher FC v 1. FC Magdeburg
On a weekend where the two Borussias battle it out in the Bundesliga, it seems odd to pick the third division’s Saxony-Anhalt derby between Hallescher FC & 1. FC Magdeburg as the game of the week.
Yet, since 2016 this is a match that has taken on far more significance than the 3 points up for grabs. A once feisty derby has now become a centerpiece for fan activism and anti-hooliganism.
This dramatic change all came about following the untimely death of Magdeburg fan Hannes Schindler. Schindler, on his way back from watching his beloved FCM entered a train packed with Hallescher supporters stemming from the fearsome ultra group Saalefront.
Drunken and irritated by his Magdeburg colors, things quickly turned physical, with the 80 strong ultra group turning on Hannes. What happened next is unclear, but either through his own omission or through the will of enemy force, Hannes was flung out of the train moving at 38 km/h, suffering major injuries which would lead to his tragic death in the hospital 11 days later.
Football, whose intoxicating 90 minutes has the capacity to transport fans away from the struggles of life reared its ugly head that evening. October 1st, 2016 a date which will be forever remembered as the day the Saxony-Anhalt derby changed forever.
2 weeks after Hannes’ passing, the clubs met in the league, and what was usually a feisty atmosphere with physical altercations and drunken disputes was subdued as both sets of Ultras refused to attend.
The Magdeburg players ran out for the warm up with shirts bearing the face of Hannes, and before the match his brother gave a rousing speech in which he mentioned the hopelessness he felt when driving to the hospital in the knowledge that it was likely the final time he would ever see his brother, "all because he wore the wrong colors that evening".
Now, almost 5 years on from Hannes’ death, the Schindler family is still yet to receive closure.
In 2017 the public investigation came to the conclusion that “there was no reasonable suspicion against anyone”, despite the postmortem autopsy showing the angle at which Hannes’ head hit the concrete was consistent with an unexpected push.
In January 2019 FCM fans collected 30,000 signatures to pressure authorities to reopen the case. Just over a year later it was finally reopened after a witness came forward who reported seeing the whole incident. Since then no more information has been made public.
The legacy of Hannes lives on as a symbol of football’s continued fight against hooliganism.
FCM ultras continue to boycott the fixture in the hopes that the derby will lose its meaning, whilst numerous Hallescher fans have taken a more proactive step in ensuring the Saalefront ultra group isn’t allowed to stay silent in the face of such serious charges.
When the 62nd Saxony-Anhalt derby kicks off this evening it isn’t about 1st v 8th or The Blue Generation v Saalefront, but instead it is a reminder of football’s role as entertainment and relief rather than a vessel for discrimination and the loss of life.
To learn more about the events of October 1st, 2016 and the life, and legacy of Hannes Schindler check out this documentary.
Bundesliga GOTW: Saturday 18:30 (CEST): Borussia M’gladbach v Borussia Dortmund
2. Bundesliga GOTW: Sunday 13:30 (CEST): Hamburger SV v 1.FC Nürnberg
++TWITTER THREAD THURSDAYS++
In this week's edition I take my pick of the best South American to appear for each Bundesliga club!