Featured image courtesy of Stuart Franklin via Getty Images
RB Leipzig have crashed out of the Champions League in match week four despite drawing 2-2 with Paris-Saint-Germain. An early goal from Christopher Nkunku and a late penalty from Dominik Szoboszlai were enough to seal a late point but were not enough to keep the German sides Champions League dreams alive.
Manager Jesse Marsch lined up his side in their recently favoured 3-4-2-1 formation, one that had seen Leipzig go unbeaten in four games (3W, 1D). The switch from a back four had seen his side gain more stability in the Bundesliga and certainly helped them implement their famous and aggressive high pressing football.
This tactical change had an impact in the game almost immediately when Leipzig’s aggressive pressing in PSG’s half forced a poor pass from Angel Di Maria. Andre Silva latched onto the pass and whipped a spectacular cross on his weak foot into Nkunku. The Frenchman caught Presnel Kimpembe napping, beat him to the header and perfectly guided his effort past Gianluigi Donnarumma to make it 1-0 to Leipzig in the 8th minute.
The hosts kept up their intensive pressing and fashioned another chance just a minute later when Nordi Mukiele sent a ball up to Silva. The Portuguese international flicked his header into the path of Nkunku who was sent through on goal. The Frenchman was tackled by Achraf Hakimi but the ball rebounded back into Silva’s path who was subsequently and clumsily taken down by Danilo Pereira for a penalty.
It was Silva who stepped up to take the spot kick but the usually reliable forward produced a very poor effort that was comfortably saved by Euro shoot out star Donnarumma.
Leipzig’s tactical formation change and high pressing was definitely causing PSG problems in midfield. The German side were very positionally disciplined without the ball and their midfield five completely suffocated the French sides midfield trio throughout the tie.
For the opening 20 minutes the Parisians couldn’t find a way through Leipzig’s aggressive midfield but eventually they broke through in the 22nd minute when a spectacularly weighted pass from Neymar Jnr sent the rapid Kylian Mbappe through into the box. The 22-year-old then cut a cross back cross the six-yard box to find Georginio Wijnaldum free, to score his first goal for the French giants.
Soon after this it became very apparent that Leipzig’s aggressive high press left them very vulnerable to Paris’ speedy counter attacks. PSG fashioned themselves a great chance on the counter in the 38th minute after Neymar sent Wijnaldum through on the right-hand side.
The former Liverpool ace ran into the box and picked out Di Maria free on the left-hand side of the box. The Argentine connected first time with the Dutchman’s cross, with a vicious left footed volley which was sent behind for a corner.
It was from this set piece that PSG took the lead as Marquinhos flicked on his header to Wijnaldum and the Dutch international headed past Peter Gulácsi to score his and his sides second of the game.
It was clear from this point on that Leipzig’s weakness to the counterattack had almost certainly been highlighted to the PSG players by manager Mauricio Pochettino. Every time the French side gained possession of the ball high up, they would instantly look to break or feed the ball through to Mbappe.
The Parisians almost caught Leipzig out again just before half time when former Everton enforcer Idrissa Gueye, intercepted a pass from Nkunku and offloaded the ball swiftly to Di Maria. The Argentinian played a ball through for Mbappe who sped past Mohamed Simakan and was through on goal, but the Frenchman sent his poor shot straight at Gulácsi.
Marsch made only one change at half time, bringing Midfielder Amadou Haidara on for Centre-back Willi Orbán but changed the formation to a back four to try and cut out PSG’s lethal counterattacks.
Leipzig started the second half much like they did in the first and created a great chance in the 51st minute when their high pressing football paid off again. Haidara stole possession off Pereira deep in PSG’s half, leaving the Germans in a 3v2 situation but unfortunately the Malian dithered and failed to pass to Nkunku who would have been through on goal and was dispossessed by Marquinhos.
To keep up their energy levels Marsch made a double substitution in the 58th min, bringing on Szoboszlai and Youssef Poulsen on for Emil Forsberg and Silva.
Despite the change to a back four, Leipzig were still getting caught out on the counterattack and nearly paid the price in 63rd minute when Neymar found Mbappe out on the left wing after winning possession back. The 22-year-old silkily beat Mukiele and sped off down the touchline, into the box but again his end product failed him as his shot saved easily by Gulácsi.
The Germans then had a golden chance to equalise in the 71st minute when their high press caught out PSG again. Poulsen won the ball high up and sent Nkunku into space on the right wing. The 24-year-old then whipped a brilliant ball into Szoboszlai who was free in the box but the Hungarian missed the target completely to waste the brilliant opportunity.
Leipzig’s late pressure finally paid off when the German’s were awarded a penalty after VAR deemed Kimpembe to have dangerously taken out Nkunku following a corner. 20-year-old Szoboszlai stepped up and struck a perfect penalty into the bottom left corner, past Donnaruma to bring RB Leipzig level in the 90th minute.
RB Leipzig’s Dominik Szoboszlai reveals how Neymar tried to put him off before his penalty: "He was asking me 'you gonna score?' I said yes. He said to me 'are you sure?' I said yes, I never miss. It is how it is."
Unfortunately, the fulltime whistle went shortly afterwards, meaning Leipzig were left to rue their missed chances and thinking what could have been.
With two games to go, a third-place finish and a space in the Europa League’s round of 32 is still very much up for grabs but their Champions League dream has come to an abrupt end for this year. Against any other side, Marsch’s high pressing, energetic side would have probably won the game and let them live to fight another day but it was perhaps unfortunate that they were up against one of Europes most deadly and rapid attacks, even without Lionel Messi.