UEFA's Technical Observer panel analyses Leipzig's hard-fought Europa League semi-final first leg victory over 'disciplined, compact' Rangers.
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Rangers' ability to frustrate Leipzig in Germany in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League semi-final leaves them hopeful of overturning a single-goal deficit in this week's Ibrox return.
In this article, presented by Swissquote, the UEFA Technical Observer panel analyses the defensive set-up of Giovanni van Bronckhorst's side, who retain hope of a first European final since 2008 despite Angeliño's late winner last Thursday.As it happened: Leipzig 1-0 Rangers
1-0: Angeliño (85)
The Spanish wing-back has conjured up five assists in European competition this season but this was his first goal, a left-foot volley from outside the box to edge Leipzig closer to their first European final. When Christopher Nkunku's corner was headed out by Fashion Sakala, he returned it through a crowd of players, the ball bouncing beyond Allan McGregor and into the goal.
Domenico Tedesco's men lined up in a 3-4-1-2 formation when attacking, while switching to a 5-2-3 defensively. At times, two of the front three would occupy the half-spaces as two No8s, with Nkunku (18) leading the line. In midfield Konrad Laimer (27) was the more attack-minded of the central duo, trying to change the rhythm with his quick dribbling and deep runs.
The back three of Lukas Klostermann (16), Joško Gvardiol (32) and Marcel Halstenberg (23) ended the night as the top three-ranked players for most touches of the ball but played little part in their side's offensive game.
With 30.6% possession, Rangers had less of the ball than in any of their previous European matches this season, which meant their out-of-possession structure – a 5-3-2 – was more evident than their 3-5-2 with the ball. They were highly disciplined in this set-up and stayed compact in the middle, especially in the second half.
Their shape then morphed to a 5-4-1 as Scott Wright (23) and Ryan Kent (14) tucked in to support the central midfielders and Joe Aribo (17) played as the sole front man.
As the video above shows, Rangers kept a rigid defensive structure which helped them to dominate the game without the ball – in their own half at least. There were few gaps as they stayed tight to one another and blocked the passing routes.
On the offensive side it was not until the 76th minute that Rangers, through Kent, brought a save out of home goalkeeper Péter Gulácsi. Kent was lively, with six take-ons (a 66.7% success rate) and a shot flashed across goal early in the second period. He also registered the joint-most duels (16) along with Aribo, who caught the eye of UEFA's Technical Observer for his presence, robustness and hard running in several positions.
UEFA's panel judged that Leipzig struggled to engineer opportunities for 1v1s or overloads as the Rangers players shifted well across the pitch to ensure they were seldom outnumbered. Laimer offered some bright moments when escaping his marker with his change of speed and, in the second half, the fast, tricky Nkunku began to impose his individual qualities.
He drew the first save of the night with a fierce shot in the 53rd minute and later shot over after rounding McGregor. As another measure of his impact, of all the players in first-leg semi-final action who produced more than ten passes in the attacking third, he was most consistently accurate with his use of the ball – 19 passes and an 85% success rate.
From a defensive perspective, Leipzig defended well and pressed aggressively when they did not have the ball, with Gvardiol showing impressive authority. This allowed them to defend long balls and stop Rangers from threatening much on transitions.
The German side may well be tested more at Ibrox where Rangers have won four of their last five home games in the competition, scoring at least twice each time. For this reason, Rangers' defensive effort on a night they were missing forwards Alfredo Morelos and Kemar Roofe warrants praise, allowing them to go into this week's return with everything still to play for.
Domenico Tedesco, Leipzig coach: "A Europa League semi-final isn't always a spectacle. If it were, I'd have set Rangers up with a back four and more offensively to give us more space. We had a good second half and worked some good opportunities for ourselves. You’re not going to get many more chances. Rangers will have to come at us in the second leg; perhaps not right from the off, but, at some point, they will have to attack."
Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Rangers coach: "I think it was a good overall display. Of course next week we have to win. We also have to attack them at the right moments with more bodies, but we can overcome a 1-0 defeat. Ibrox will give us the energy."