Sport Stef Wijnants on the Leipzig recipe for success: "Variation,...

Stef Wijnants on the Leipzig recipe for success: “Variation, surprise and intelligence” | Champions League

RB Leipzig is in the semi-finals of the Champions League. The criticism of the new rich man’s club gradually fades. Scorned by the German fan because it wants to knock off the traditional Bundesliga teams from the throne, the much richer Paris Saint-Germain awaits on Tuesday. Stef Wijnants believes in the opportunities of the Germans.

Atletico got a taste of its own medicine

No, it was not the Atletico we know. No knives between the teeth, no aggressive look in the eyes, no trotters to death in midfield. Diego Simeone bowed his head humbly, his Atleti was no match for the technically skilled, tactically intelligent and physically perfectly prepared German team.

At the second German goal, Simeone got a taste of his own medicine. Loss of ball Atletico, wonderful pass from Sabitzer, with overview put back by Angeliño and with a bit of luck shot in by Adams. So much passion, so much hunger, so much speed in the 88th minute performed by a gang of young wolves. Simeone saw his trademark in it, the Argentinian coach even put it on a round of applause.

This was a unique opportunity for Atletico Madrid to reach the final again in the ‘lesser’ table half. After the sensational elimination of Liverpool just before the Covid-19 outbreak and the great results in La Liga after the corona stop, some followers even bombarded Atletico as a favorite. In one match, Simeone’s ‘assassins’ could unbalance any opponent.

Seen little or nothing of this. A few successful dribbles and the strength of Red Devil Yannick Carrasco and the brilliant ball feeling of substitute Joao Felix turned out to be the bright spots. The rest did not respond. Shortly after the 1-1, the game still seemed to turn, but the Germans struck again in the final phase. Atletico home.

Attacks without Werner

In the run-up to this quarter-final, Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann was asked how he would tackle it in Lisbon without his super striker Timo Werner. International Werner recently signed a contract with Chelsea and, despite the London club’s approval to play this CL, did not want to play at Leipzig anymore.

Nagelsmann was able to count well and replied that he would not fight Atletico with 10 players. Of course, Nagelsmann could not miss Werner’s 34 season goals, but his attacking philosophy does not stand or fall with one player.

The German coach went back to his favorite line-up: three central defenders, two attacking wingbacks, a target man (the Dane Poulsen) and two creative players (the fast Nkunku and the graceful Dani Olmo) around the striker.

The team carries out what is asked: a lot of pressure forward, quick switching, vertical football. It is the trademark of the Red Bull network, to which Salzburg also belongs, and from which Racing Genk won a suit in the Champions League in the autumn of 2019.

But Nagelsmann also applied in this match what he often did during the season. During the match he sometimes fell back to four defenders and in the end to two strikers. Variety, surprise and intelligence. Signed Julian Nagelsmann.

Successful in reference match

As is known, the Red Bull group almost always invests in young talented players who are still tactically malleable. Apart from goalkeeper Gulacsi, defender Halstenberg and midfielders Sabitzer and Kampl, most players are in the front of the 20.

Leipzig could almost always impose its will against smaller teams in the Bundesliga, but many points were lost against the clappers. That is why this match against Atletico was a real reference match. The report is very positive.

At the back, the Frenchman Dayot Upamecano was not a mistake to be caught. Robust in a defensive way, with constructive consultation. Diego Costa stuck in his trouser pocket and couldn’t even go to war. In the past, the only 21-year-old Upamecano sometimes dared positionally in one-on-one situations, but if he can repeat his flawless performance against PSG next Tuesday, France will learn to discover him. Didier Deschamps will have another world-class central defender in the future.

Without Werner, efficiency in front of goal seems a lot more difficult. Despite the strong start, Leipzig could hardly threaten Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak. However, the somewhat wooden target striker Poulsen proved his worth by creating space for the incoming Dani Olmo at the first goal. Olmo (22 years old) was only taken over from Dinamo Zagreb in the off-season, but the Spaniard adapted to Nagelsmann’s concept in no time.


Upamecano tackles Llorente.

Nagelsmann child prodigy

Since entering the Bundesliga in 2016, the club has finished 2nd, 6th and twice 3rd respectively. The title has been left to Bayern Munich all these years, but in Germany there is a feeling that the former East Germans are coming a step closer every year.

Fans of traditional clubs such as Dortmund, Gladbach, Schalke or Hertha fiercely turned against ‘the new rich’. And yet, due to the financial fair play, the club can no longer spend so much on transfers, because its own income from sponsorship and merchandising is still a lot lower. Red Bull must not over-invest. That is why it buys young talents between 10 and 20 million euros and annually takes the greatest talents away from the sister club in Salzburg. That process now also seems to work in Europe.

On Tuesday, two German trainers will compete for a place in the final. PSG coach Thomas Tuchel, now 46, was one of the forerunners of a new generation of German trainers who approach football not only on a tactical level and from the gut. Scientifically based and with a lot of psychology, they successfully manage a group of players.

Julian Nagelsmann, at 33, is the new child prodigy of German football. There was never a younger trainer next to the field in the semi-finals of the Champions League. If he pushes RB Leipzig to the final of the most important competition on Tuesday, Leipzig will in the foreseeable future have only been the stepping stone for a great international career. But first send one Neymar or a named Mbappé to Paris.

Stef Wijnants

Stef Wijnants


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