In what will arguably be the most exciting match of the Europa League quarter-finals, a motivated RB Leipzig side coming off a marvelous 1-4 win against BVB welcome Atalanta, who will want to move on from a disappointing 0-3 home loss to Napoli.
|Christopher Nkunku.||Photo: Steffen Prößdorf, CC BY-SA 4.0|
Both teams have players on absolute fire, with Leipzig relying on the superb season from Nkunku and Gvardiol, as well as Dani Olmo’s return to his usual level, not to let aside Laimer’s and Angeliño’s great moments.
La Dea also have some players in a sweet spot, with Muriel and Malinovskyi commanding the team up front and Demiral showing the great defender he is after his cruciate ligament rupture in 2020.
In terms of team news, Leipzig will be without Tyler Adams, Amadou Haidara and Yussuf Poulsen. Meanwhile, Atalanta are sweating over the fitness of their top goalscorer, Duvan Zapata, while Rafael Toloi and Josip Ilicic will miss out.
Since taking over as Leipzig coach in December, Domenico Tedesco has been able to completely turn around the situation at the club with 4 wins and 2 ties in the last 6 matches, showing a solid style of football and slowly crawling up to Champions League spots.
Much of this change is due to Tedesco’s decision to bring back the defense with 3 centre-backs, the squad immediately showed signs of feeling more comfortable and started to play better, and the last game against Borussia Dortmund was a sign of it.
Leipzig’s 3-4-1-2, which turns into a 5-3-2 in defense, really allows the players to get the best out of their traits. Angeliño, Gvardiol, Nkunku, and Laimer have personally benefited from this, the defense as well has gained solidity and stability.
Meanwhile, Atalanta have been working under the mastermind of Gian Piero Gasperini since 2016, reaching the Champions League on several occasions and displaying possibly the most daring football style in Europe.
Despite having to rebuild the squad at the beginning of every season, Atalanta’s results have stayed the same thanks to the effort of the squad and their immense and almost blind confidence in their style of play.
Both teams have a fair share of similarities: Both love to press to recover the ball quickly, they want to be as vertical as they can to stretch the opponent as fast as possible; they even play the same formation.
But how are they different and how can the game end up being? Well, there are subtle differences apart from the player’s characteristics.
Defensively both teams press quite high, both defenses jump to press the receiver no matter how far he goes, this is especially obvious with the centre-backs.
However, Leipzig’s attacking midfielder (Olmo/Szoboszlai) tends to drop a little at times to form that 5-3-2; with the 2 forwards starting the pressing, and from that point on the rest of the block finds and follows the closest opponent to limit the passing options, trying to create a numerical advantage on the side of the ball.
That midfielder at times also presses quite high, but it depends more on the development of the play.
This is different with Atalanta, who use man-to-man marking at the start of every defensive play thanks to Gasperini’s philosophy.
The Italian manager views the defensive game from a very clear point of view: If the offensive player is facing his own goal, you have an advantage, but once the offensive player makes a half turn and faces the defender, the defender has everything against him because of the simple fact running backward is harder than running forward.
Gasperini emphatically emphasizes that the opponent’s “Talentuoso” (talented, but referring to the player with a huge class) cannot be allowed to turn.
Thus, every Atalanta player is ordered to run into a specific opponent during the pressing.
That applies for the central attacking midfielder too, especially when Malinovskyi or Pessina play instead of Koopmeiners, chasing either a centre.back, the midfielder that comes down to start the build-up, or even the keeper, with every other player stepping forward to cover their man as they look to launch a counterattack as soon as the ball is recovered.
What's for certain is that Atalanta and Gasperini do not change their style under no circumstances. Not even when they're behind.
So there will be tons of individual duels, with Nkunku and Dani Olmo being key in this aspect for Leipzig, as they are the players who can make a difference, with Olmo needed to receive the passes for the build-up into the half-spaces and channels directly from the centre-backs as Laimer and Kampl are going to be tightened up.
However, Domenico Tedesco’s Leipzig is a more versatile squad, as shown in the game against Dortmund.
RB Leipzig has the possibility of sitting on a strong middle block and unleashing fast and killing counterattacks from this point; not only can they do this, but they also feel comfortable doing it.
Another thing to notice is Leipzig’s bit of imbalance when attacking, predominantly doing it through the left wing. Half of the Bulls’ chances against Dortmund came from the left side of the field, and Angelino is the third best crosser in the league behind Raum and Kostic.