Europe: Europa League
By Rafael Garrido Reinoso
RB Leipzig visit Ibrox with a very short advantage on the scoreboard and after a hammering defeat on Monday against Gladbach. Rangers, on the other hand, drew in the Old Firm Derby where Gio Van Bronckhorst could not give rest to anyone, and received a hard morale blow on Tuesday.
It has been a weird couple of weeks in Leipzig’s camp after securing their appearance in the DFB Pokal final.
Domenico Tedesco’s boys have completely switched off from the Bundesliga, as back-to-back defeats against Union and Gladbach show, seeming to be completely focused on the semi-final fixture against Rangers.
Tedesco said in the press conference that while they are disappointed with the result against Borussia Monchengladbach, they are now only focused on Rangers.
Leipzig’s visit to Scotland will present a very different game than the one in the first leg, both for the atmosphere and for the home team’s needs.
Both the coach and midfielder Konrad Laimer stated that Ibrox will play its role, with Laimer acknowledging the stadium will be bouncing, but that is also a motivation for him to play in front of such a crowd.
Tedesco will have all of his players available except for Amadou Haidara who’s out for the rest of the season.
All 3 Leipzig players suspended for the first leg – Kampl, Simakan, and Orban – saw action on Monday.
Meanwhile, Rangers’ Dutch trainer Giovanni Van Bronckhorst still has a couple of key players in doubt for the crucial fixture, plus the morale shock the team suffered from the passing of their legendary kitman Jimmy Bell.
Rangers clashed against Celtic in another edition of the great Old Firm Derby, meaning they almost couldn’t rotate the squad thinking about the semifinals, with just central midfielder Ryan Jack starting on the bench.
Aaron Ramsey and Kemar Roofe are still a huge doubt for the match and will be waited until the last second.
They would be an incredible addition for the Scottish team and the neutral fans too, as the match would gain a great amount of talent with those two.
Van Bronckhorst will have to lift the team’s spirit after the sudden passing of kitman Jimmy Bell after 30+ years of experience with the club, with reports that suggest the squad is deeply hurt by the loss of a man whom many players generations called a confident and a friend.
The ex-Arsenal and Barcelona player said that while the spirit of the team is still down, the character of his players is the best he’s ever coached in his career and that they’ll do anything to reach the final.
Ahead of the crucial match, captain James Tavernier said he hopes the atmosphere affects Leipzig, recalling the return leg against Braga and how having the fans behind them kick the team on.
As Domenico Tedesco has once again all of the players available, the tactical display of the team might change to adapt better to Rangers’.
Kevin Kampl is going to start, and Willy Orban almost surely will too despite the great performance made by the defensive line on the first leg.
Orban offers a bit more strength and allows Gvardiol or Halstenberg to play in their more comfortable position.
Halstenberg’s great form since his return might prompt Tedesco to add him to the starting XI, although in the case he plays, he would probably replace Orban, as Gvardiol has been in immaculate form this season.
Simakan’s performance on Monday was not good at all, and mixed with Klostermann’s solid one on the first leg, the German defender might leave the French youngster on the bench in Scotland.
The other doubt lies in the offensive department, where Tedesco has an important decision to make.
In the first match against the Scottish side, Tedesco elected to play without a proper number 9, leaving Silva and Poulsen on the bench and trusting in the playmakers Olmo and Szoboszlai to link up with Nkunku and the midfield, as the team’s main organizer Kampl was suspended.
Leipzig crashed head-on with Ranger’s great defensive scheme.
Van Bronckhorst elected to mirror Leipzig’s formation by dropping holding midfielder John Lundstram as a center back and sitting inside their own half, allowing his team to stagger better and avoid the 2vs1 down the wings.
As Kampl was absent, Laimer could not break the lines with his typical forward runs as often as he usually does; the few times the Austrian could do it, it was a difference-maker.
The elected front 3 looked at times as if they were blocking each other, as all 3 of them feel more comfortable playing a bit farther from the area in between the lines and the pockets.
Thus there were almost no runs behind the solid defensive line to move it and create spaces, neither Szoboszlai nor Olmo attacked the spaces with the necessary conviction or speed to gain an advantage.
Even when they approached each other to create the offensive overload, they didn’t look good and created few chances out of this.
Rangers’ back 3 referenced well Leipzig’s offensive players, stepping up to them whenever they received the ball near them, while the fullbacks danced very tight with Angeliño and Henrichs.
Leipzig’s pressing was not their usual as well, with Olmo acting as the pressing trigger in the number 9 position, targeting to make Rangers go long instead of trying to steal the ball.
It would make sense for Tedesco to start with Silva or Poulsen as with the return of Kampl they have a better playmaker on the base, added to the fact that Rangers will be more aggressive in this match, the speed and physical presence of one of those forwards might be useful to attack the spaces and the long passes.
Tedesco himself stated that he’s expecting his team to have a bit more space as Rangers are going to attack more, which makes sense as they’re in need of the result, and the fans will carry them forward playing at home in Ibrox.
Rangers looked to get out of Germany alive and with a short result to leave it all for Ibrox, and they accomplished that mission.
As the team will go forward, their best player in the first leg will be even more crucial in this match, as Ryan Kent was an absolute problem for Leipzig.
The Scottish have to get Kent the ball in advantageous positions in which he could be a threat, especially behind the backs of the fullbacks or the half-spaces.
James Tavernier will also play another role. He was more focused on marking Angeliño in the first leg, but it seems hard to think that he will stay the same while playing at home and needing to make a difference.
Ryan Kelly will probably drop a bit to the right to cover for Tavernier’s attacking adventures.
RB Leipzig will have to resist the Scottish pressure to travel to Sevilla and reach their first-ever European final.
Final lineups are posted before start.
Celtic – Rangers 1-1
|2||J. Tavernier (C)|
|10||S. Davis ↪63|
|30||F. Sakala ⚽|
|37||S. Arfield ↪87|
|17||J. Aribo ↪63|
|9||A. Traoré ↩87|
|8||R. Jack ↩63|
|23||S. Wright ↩63|
Gladbach – RB Leipzig 3-1
|1||P. Gulácsi (C)|
|2||M. Simakan ↪46|
|32||J. Gvardiol ↪33|
|22||N. Mukiele ↪80|
|27||K. Laimer ↪80|
|33||A. Silva ↪65|
|18||C. Nkunku ⚽|
|9||Y. Poulsen ↩65|
|10||E. Forsberg ↩80|
|38||H. Novoa Ramos|
|16||L. Klostermann ↩46|
|23||M. Halstenberg ↩33|
|17||D. Szoboszlai ↩80|