UCL Opposition Insight: RB Leipzig (H)

Take a closer look at United's opponents on MD2 of the Champions League.
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Manchester United host RB Leipzig at Old Trafford tonight, with both teams going into it on the back of big wins on the opening MD of the Champions League.

Let's take a closer look at the Bundesliga leaders ahead of what is set to be a difficult test.

JULIAN NAGELSMANN’S PREFERRED XI

Julian Nagelsmann has built one of the most tactically-apt teams in Europe at Leipzig, with and without Timo Werner. Leipzig boast several technically-gifted players with tireless work rates to match, which has helped them soar to the top of the Bundesliga with an undefeated start to the campaign.

Upon facing such a fluid manager in Nagelsmann, it’s difficult to predict how he’ll set up his team. He went with a 4-1-4-1 system against Istanbul Basaksehir in GW1 though, in a similar way to Pep Guardiola at City.

Peter Gulacsi is first-choice goalkeeper, with Angelino – the club’s top scorer this season on 4 goals – at left-back and Benjamin Hendrichs filling in for the injured Nordi Mukiele and Konrad Laimer at right-back. Dayot Upamecano is unsurprisingly ever-present in central defence, with Ibrahima Konate touted to make a return alongside him.

Kevin Kampl should operate in a holding midfield role, with Dani Olmo and Emil Forsberg ahead of him as advanced midfielders. Marcel Sabitzer and Christopher Nkunku are likely to start out on the wings, with Yussuf Poulsen acting as the sole striker.

Don’t be surprised if Nagelsmann opts for a three-at-the-back system, although whatever he chooses to start with will likely be altered as the game goes on. Solskjaer won’t get many tactical tests tougher than this one.

STAR MAN – Christopher Nkunku

In the absence of Timo Werner following his departure, and Marcel Sabitzer through injury, Leipzig have needed other attacking names to step up. Christopher Nkunku has been the standout in a free-flowing attack so far this season.

Although the goalscoring has been mainly executed by Angelino, Poulsen and Forsberg, Nkunku’s creative performances have made him a crucial part of Nagelsmann’s plans.

Nkunku has registered 2 assists in his 6 appearances so far this season, only bettered by Olmo with 3, but he’s created an impressive 17 chances in those games.

The young Frenchman has created 2.83 chances p90, with his closest team-mate in that metric being Marcel Halstenberg on 1.25.

Whilst other regular attackers have been maintaining average pass accuracies – for example Olmo (76%), Forsberg (76%) and Poulsen (75%) – Nkunku’s pass success of 85% is a class above.

Either featuring on the wing or in one of the two inside forward roles, he’s the player United need to pay special attention to once he gets the ball.

STRENGTHS

Pressing Traps

Under Nagelsmann, Leipzig have become the kings of aggressive pressing traps when the opposition are in possession.

If United bring the ball out through the wing-backs, Leipzig’s full-back, winger and central midfielder will quickly close the man down in an attempt to force the error.

It works in a similar fashion centrally. Leipzig’s striker and one of the inside forwards push high to force the defence to play through them, this way the other inside forward and defensive central midfielder can quickly press and dispossess.

Leipzig’s aggressive style of defending leaves minimal room for error.

Fluidity in attack

What makes Leipzig such a fun team to watch is the way Nagelsmann uses players that are comfortable playing numerous roles around the defence, midfield and attack.

They move the ball around quickly to pull the opposition out of shape, before finding that killer pass in between the lines, or catching the defence out with a low cross.

Regardless of whether they play a 4-at-the-back or 3-at-the-back system, Leipzig always seem to end up attacking with five forwards inside the final third.

The five players, usually consisting of the striker, two inside forwards and two wingers, opt for short passing, before looking for a through ball or a third man run out wide.

WEAKNESSES

Vulnerable to counter-attacks

While Leipzig’s attacking style makes them fun to watch, it could also perfectly play into United’s hands.

The Bundesliga side are no strangers to taking risks in the build-up to their attacks, which sometimes tends to leave the back three, or even a back two when the full-backs commit, open.

Although Upamecano and Konate have got pace in their locker, they can easily become overwhelmed with through balls, in particular, when faced with opponents of a similar speed.

It’s the only major weakness to report from a very strong Leipzig side who have the potential to cause United real problems.

If the Reds can pick them off like they did PSG last week though, there is every chance of another solid result in Group H.