Leipzig host Rangers in a fixture where they are the clear favorites; however, Domenico Tedesco's side cannot underestimate the Scottish historic club, as a bad result at home would make Die Roten Bullen reliant on getting a result at the always difficult Ibrox.
|Christopher Nkunku.||Photo: Steffen Prößdorf, CC BY-SA 4.0|
Domenico Tedesco made a handful of changes for Leizpig's most recent game last Sunday, once more against Union, trying to balance the need for a good result in the league with managing the players' workload for the clash against Rangers.
The gamble did not pay well, as Union gave Leipzig their first loss since February, with the players probably thinking more about the European fixture.
Die Roten Bullen are the favorites to advance to the final. Their performances since Tedesco was put in charge have been superb and are clearly on top of Giovanni Van Bronckhorst's side name by name.
Tedesco said he was amazed by the Scottish victory against Dortmund earlier this season, praising their opponent's physical game and emphasizing their quality through the wings.
The quarter-finals duel against Atalanta was a great test for Leipzig, with the Germans proving maturity and resilience.
However, the clash took its toll on Leipzig, with 3 important players missing the first leg against Rangers due to suspension – defensive anchor Willi Orban, superb youngster Mohamed Simakan and midfield organizer Kevin Kampl.
At the same time, Tedesco can once again finally count on a handful of key players, who have been out injured during the season. Marcel Halstenberg, Yusuf Poulsen, Tyler Adams, and Dominic Szoboszlai are all available for the match and with good minutes on their legs.
American Tyler Adams has a good chance to start along with Konrad Laimer, with Kampl missing and Haidara not being fit.
Halstenberg will fight with Klostermann and Mukiele for a spot in the defense; as Henrichs presumably will start at the right wing-back position, although any combination with those names is possible.
Rangers themselves have their share of missing players, with forwards Alfredo Morelos, Kemar Roofe, and Ianis Hagi all out with injuries, meaning Zambian Fashion Sakala will start as a number 9.
Aaron Ramsey will be assessed prior to the game to see if he's available, with his presence being very important to raise his side's quality and experience.
Coach and Dutch legend Giovanni Van Bronckhorst said they want to return to Ibrox with a good result, stating they're going to try to attack and be dangerous when having the ball, while they know there will be times of the games in which they're going to have to defend more than usual.
The quote about Ibrox is no coincidence or just wordplay.
The return leg against Braga in the quarter-finals showed how much of a factor the Scottish crowd can play in their team's performances.
Rangers are a quite offensive squad, playing very aggressively, going forward very fast with long passes trying to take advantage of the spaces, attempting to win the second ball if taking control is not possible.
Their long passes might come from any one of the players in the backfield, either directly forward or crossing the field from side to side.
Against Braga's three-man defense, Van Bronckhorst's side made a lot of damage through these passes.
Domenico Tedesco highlighted prolific winger Ryan Kent, whose dribbling skills and control of the ball make him hard to defend when coming down the wing, as he is capable of eliminating defenders quickly if the staggering does not come quick.
Despite this, Rangers' most important player is right-back and captain James Tavernier.
Owner of every set-piece, penalty and corner, Tavernier is the most decisive player in the squad.
Placing himself more as a winger than a right-back, his pace and his skillful right foot make the Englishman a superb offensive threat.
The space for Tavernier to attack is created by the positioning of the Rangers wingers, with Ryan Kent and Joe Ayodele-Aribo playing a bit more to the center, in between the lines, to allow both full-backs to rampage through the wing.
To cover the space left by both backs, midfield pair Ryan Jack and John Lundstram limit their offensive display, focusing on creating a safety box along with both centre-backs.
At times, Jack moves as a false right back to help Tavernier while Lundstram stays more centered as an anchor.
However, they are yet to face an opponent with the intensity and quality that Leipzig have. In comparison, Dortmund played without Haaland and had already started their spiral of disappointment. Leipzig's pressing and defensive strength will definitely be a problem for the Scottish club.
Christopher Nkunku's current form and mobility will be Die Roten Bullen's greatest weapon. The Frenchman presents a constant threat attacking the space behind Tavernier as well as dragging one of the center-backs out of their zone in case they follow him when dropping low to the midfield.
Dani Olmo's role will be key too. On offense, Olmo just has to be himself and take a bigger role in the team's build-up with the loss of Kampl.
Defensively, the Spaniard needs to be aware in the defensive transitions to help set the defense, giving a hand to Angelino and both midfielders to cut Rangers' combinations.
All four full-backs/wing-backs are in for a marathon, as most of their teams' functioning goes through their movements.
A good home result would definitely make life much easier the next week for 'Die Roten Bullen.