UEFA's Technical Observers analyse Leipzig's UEFA Europa League knockout round play-off second-leg win at Real Sociedad.
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After departing the UEFA Champions League with seven points from a group containing Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, Leipzig have a fresh challenge in the form of the UEFA Europa League.
And the way they overcame Real Sociedad in San Sebastian on Thursday night, in the second leg of their play-off tie, augurs well for their hopes of a long run. Here, presented by Swissquote, the UEFA technical observers' panel assess the aggressive pressing game which caused La Real such problems, as Leipzig earned a 3-1 win and 5-3 aggregate success.As it happened: Real Sociedad 1-3 Leipzig
0-1: Willi Orbán (39)
A penalty brought the breakthrough goal. Adrien Silva's pass released Christopher Nkunku, who went down under goalkeeper Mat Ryan's challenge. Ryan responded by diving low to his right to save Silva's spot kick but the ball squirmed back across the face of goal and centre-back Orbán was first to it to score his first Europa League goal.
0-2: André Silva (59)
As La Real looked to work the ball through the middle third of the pitch, Leipzig won it back and advanced quickly, Mohamed Simakan carrying it forward before feeding Silva. The Portuguese forward stepped into the box on the right and unleashed a shot high into the roof of the net. An exceptional technical finish.
1-2: Martin Zubimendi (67)
Adnan Januzaj's curled free-kick from a deep position on the right was the origin of the goal that gave the hosts fresh hope. Igor Zubeldia and Joško Gvardiol jumped to contest the ball and Mikel Oyarzabal then challenged Emil Forsberg successfully, nodding the ball forward to where Zubimendi gathered it, sidestepped a defender and finished low from seven metres.
1-3: Emil Forsberg (89, penalty)
As in the first leg, Forsberg concluded the scoring from the penalty spot. After Aritz Elustondo handled the ball to stop Nkunku's advance inside the box, Ryan dived the right way again but Forsberg's kick was too precise.
The hosts' set-up was a 5-4-1. The three centre-backs focused on their defensive tasks while neither of the wing-backs, Joseba Zaldúa (2) and Aihen Muñoz (12), offered much penetration in the opposition half. They defended in a low, compact block – and, with the ball, sought to play a controlled game. This may have been partly a response to the pressure exerted by the visitors as early in the game La Real did try to press up the pitch but ended up in trouble with Forsberg almost scoring after a wayward kick out by Ryan (see the first clip in the video above).
UEFA's technical observer highlighted the efforts of Zubimendi, the home side's screening midfielder, who played a significant role as the engine of the team, organising the defensive block and matching Leipzig counterpart Kevin Kampl for most recoveries (nine) in the match.
The Bundesliga side lined up in a 3-4-1-2 formation and unlike La Real, their centre-backs did play a part offensively. The holding midfielder, Kampl (44), had a crucial role in controlling play for Leipzig while Konrad Laimer (27) did a strong job alongside him both in defence and attack, looking to get forward with wing-backs Lukas Klostermann (16) and Benjamin Henrichs (39) whenever possible.
Back in his home country, Spanish international Dani Olmo (25) also caught the eye of the UEFA observer in the role of creative playmaker behind the front two, his stats including one through ball, two key passes and six crosses.
Leipzig controlled the match from the beginning with their high pressing a key feature of their tactical approach. Domenico Tedesco's men looked to win the ball and launch quick transitions – which was the source of their second goal just before the hour. As Leipzig defender Orbán said afterwards: "After half-time, Real had to come and press higher and that meant they gave up more space for us."
Additionally, Leipzig's aggressive pressing from the front meant that La Real struggled to build from the back and resorted to looking long. It was not just Leipzig's three forward players who pressed high as the wing-backs did likewise on the flanks. Indeed the second clip in the video above highlights the difficulties the home defenders faced in playing out in the face of seven Leipzig players pushed up in opposition territory.
Leipzig ended the night with more shots on target (eight) than any other team in Thursday's play-off second legs – and second only to Barcelona for the highest pass completion percentage in the opposition half (87.3%). And though Zubimendi's goal led to the home side generating some momentum in the attacking third, Leipzig ultimately limited La Real to three shots on target. Ultimately, they were strong in all aspects – including their mindset given the positive approach they took with them to northern Spain following a 2-2 home draw a week earlier.
Imanol Alguacil, Real Sociedad coach
"German teams are the best at transitions. If you give them space they kill you. Playing with five defenders doesn't mean it's a conservative system – we tried to press."
Domenico Tedesco, Leipzig coach
"After the 2-2 in the first leg, it wasn't going to be easy here with this atmosphere for any team. The fans really spurred Real Sociedad on. I'm proud of the team for withstanding this pressure. We stayed patient; we've become a bit more mature."