For the first time, I plotted myself on the sofa and watched an entire Bundesliga match from start to finish. I have to say it wasn’t a bad experience at all. Sure, it wasn’t as fast-paced and physical as the English Premier League, but I don’t think that was a bad thing. Instead, it showed a different style of football that I was less accustomed to. The Leipzig-Freiburg encounter emphasized how technical ability was the primary focus in the German topflight. While I often had to rely on google to find out who the commentators were talking about, seeing familiar names like Timo Werner and Ademola Lookman did help me ease into the game.
Besides the final scoreline, I daresay that Jack’s prediction on how this match would turn out was fairly spot-on. Julian Nagelsmann’s didn’t enact the team’s high-pressing approach to full effect. The Leipzig manager probably toned down their usual playing style due to the squad’s lack of match fitness. Yet, even if Nagelsmann wanted to, Leipzig would have struggled to successfully utilize their high-intensity pressing because of how the Freiburg team were effective in closing down Leipzig players and snuffing out passes in midfield.
Initially, Leipzig started brilliantly against Freiburg and dominated the initial minutes. I thought that Christopher Nkunku’s thunderbolt of a strike, which forced an incredible save from Alexander Schwolow, was supposed to set the tone for the rest of the fixture – or so I thought. Instead, after the first 10 minutes, the rest of the half was truly a sluggish affair between both sides with Leipzig coming close on a few instances only to be denied by Freiburg’s outstanding shot-stopper. The only player that looked dangerous during the first half for Leipzig was Nkunku. Unlike the former-PSG Frenchman, other players like Timo Werner, Yussuf Poulsen, and Angeliño were mediocre at best in the first 45 minutes.
The match seemed like a drab affair when out of nowhere, Freiburg took the lead through Manuel Gulde. The goal itself was bewildering because of the nature in which it was scored. With zero shots registered at that point in the game, Freiburg suddenly won a corner after making a rare attack. Vicenzo Grifo took the corner, and the football appeared to find its way into the goal without coming off any player in the penalty box. However, upon replay, Grifo’s cross subtly flicked off Manuel Gulde’s heel, and the ball was sent to the back of the net, as everyone watched on. Christian Günter came close to doubling Freiburg’s lead before the break, but alas that was not to be.
However, it was within their own half where Freiburg saw most of the action. Leipzig peppered the Freiburg goal with 17 shots. Out of these shots, 7 were on target, but the Freiburg custodian managed to deal with most of these attempts effectively. Schwolow’s performances have thoroughly impressed me, and he played a critical role in ensuring that Freiburg didn’t concede as many goals as they did. The highlight was when he saved Timo Werner’s effort in the second half. After finding himself ample space, Timo Werner drilled a low-driven shot which was a sure goal. Somehow, Schwolow’s managed to block the effort with an outstretched leg.
Luck was soon to run out for the keeper, and before you know it, a tactical change made by Nagelsmann proved to be effective in their equalizer. In the second half, former Everton forward Ademola Lookman was brought on for central midfielder, Nordi Mukiele in the 46th minute. In the 69th minute, Marcel Sabitzer was brought in for central defender, Tyler Adams. In doing so, Leipzig transformed from a conventional 4-3-3 formation to a wildly unorthodox 2-4-4 formation with 2 defenders, 4 midfielders and 4 forwards. This radical change arguably reflects how desperate Leipzig were to ensure they remained in the title race with Dortmund and leaders, Bayern.
The formation change resulted in Leipzig engaging on the attack more. Lookman came the closest to scoring just before the equalizer. Kampl’s long ball managed to find Lookman in the box, and somehow the English forward managed to miss what seemed like a simple goal. In fact, it was harder to miss such an open goal than score it. But Lookman’s miss also demonstrated to the Leipzig players that the Freiburg defence was cracking and this motivated them to push on.
In fact, their break came in a similar fashion. Once again, Kampl was the architect. The Slovenian’s lobbed pass found Poulsen in the box. Before this, Poulsen was having a torrid time in the final third. While you couldn’t fault him for his work ethic and perseverance, he wasn’t clinical upfront. This time, however, he made no mistake. The Dane rose up and headed the ball expertly into the bottom left corner of the goal, well beyond the reaches of Schwolow. It was a real shame for the Freiburg no. 1, who had been the best performer on the field up to that point.
However, the equalizer didn’t cap off the night and in stoppage time some drama unfolded as Robin Koch poked in what was sure to be a late winner from a Freiburg free kick. Yet his goal was ruled out for offside after a VAR review.
Had I not known about Leipzig’s high-press approach before the match (thank you, Jack), I would have thought that the game was a drab affair. Even though I know players were not fully match fit, the match appeared slow and sluggish because that was Freiburg’s game plan: to stop Leipzig’s high intensity attacking play. Their initial formation of 3-4-3 morphed into a variation of 8-1-1 by the end of the game. Freiburg controlled the tempo for much of the game and frustrated Nagelsmann and co.
Besides the actual gameplay, the ambience, or rather the lack of one, made the fixture feel like a training game. Perhaps, the Bundesliga could emulate what the K-League has done and incorporate artificial fan chants.
Nevertheless, my first encounter with the German topflight was a refreshing one, and I cant wait to see the team that I chose, Bayer Leverkusen play. It will be interesting to see how teams perform when players are more match fit and more used to empty stadiums.