When taking over the team mid-season Domenico Tedesco reverted to playing with three defenders with RB Leipzig being able to switch from their initial 1-3-4-1-2 formation to a 1-3-4-2-1 very smoothly and quickly. In both of these shapes the key is the movement of the offensive midfielders (Nkunku, Forsberg), who depending on the needs can either position themselves wider attacking the penalty area from wide zones or narrowly next to the advanced striker (Silva) and strongly rotating vertical entries and exits from the box.
RB Leipzig likes to play the ball out from the back with active use of central defenders, but usually does so with a sequence of quick passes to the center where the absolutely fundamental figure for the further development of the action is the deep-lying playmaker (Kampl). His movement in the middle of the field increases the freedom of his partners and frees up space on the wings, but also allows the team to adopt a 3+1 play structure where the team gets two additional options: to create a wide diamond in the center or a channel for vertical entry into the opponent’s defensive zone. During this time the defensive midfielder can go a little wider and a lot higher, giving Tedesco’s team better passing options, but most importantly freeing up space on the flanks, which seems to be the constant target of their rotations in the center.
Another recurring pattern of RB Leipzig’s ball-playing is the switching of sides of the pitch, which occurs with the use of the wide center-backs (Simakan, Gvardiol). One of them then passes the ball diagonally into the center and from there it is quickly directed to the wing, where the other wide center-back is positioned. In this way the action reaches the wide zone and there the overload begins which is then continued all over the pitch with 4 or even 5 players.
In the offensive third they usually line up 1-3-4-1-2 with the offensive midfielder coming in between the lines and the strikers going deep so that the ball can be played vertically towards the opponent’s goal in several fast penetrating sequences, then withdrawn and passed there again.
In a slightly less offensive variant they position their wing-backs high in order to stretch the field of play and create more space in the center for the central defenders, where the deep descending forwards look for a pass. Overloading the center and the very high line of playmaking put more responsibilities on the central defenders, but this allows the midfielders to create more triangles in the center and push the wing-backs out into higher positions. Given the high positioning of their wing-backs in the build-up phases, Leipzig can also counter-attack very aggressively, which happens especially after losing the ball in the wide zone.
Having lost the ball they are able to change their formation into 1-5-2-3 or 1-5-3-2 very fast without hesitating to switch to a medium or even low block. After all in the first phase after losing the ball they use high pressing and many times we can catch them in a 1-3-4-3 shape, as their false nine becomes real one and leads the pressing.
In the low block they usually line up 1-5-4-1 but still with higher positions of their wing-backs which gives them better space limitation all over the pitch. They always keep short distances between players, compact in defence and a fairly high defensive line.