Updates on Leipzig's finishing woes, Upamecano, Simakan, Gvardiol and Angelino

Match recap, RBL’s finishing issues and Upamecano\Simakan\Gvardiol news

Friday night’s Leipzig match against Augsburg was by no means a classic and the 2-1 home win can be described as routine. Although there was some late drama and Augsburg complained about the retaken Olmo penalty (Gikiewicz was off his line to be fair) and Haidara being (passively) offside for the 2-0, it would be hard to say that Heiko Herrlich’s team, which for 75 minutes was held shotless, deserved a point.

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In many was it went as they say “chalk”:

FCA have lost the last 5 encounters, 4 in the league 1 in the cup - and Augsburg ended up on the losing end against Leipzig for the third time since October.

Leipzig’s typical set up was superior: 3 central players (not always defenders, the occupation of zones\spaces is more important than positions\players) two wide players, slight overload on ball side, plenty of receiving options between the lines

However, lot like the typically dominant RBL matches - featuring structural supremacy, great ball circulation, suffocating pressing and counterpressing, occupying and winning key spaces - it lacked finishing: Christopher Nkunku’s 4th goal of the season has him in a 5-way tie for Bundesliga top scorer for Leipzig. On the one hand, such diversity is a testament to the versatility of Nagelsmann’s squad, which also has 15 different Bundesliga goal scorers but it’s also an indictment on the difficulties of replacing Timo Werner. Given the struggles of Sorloth (1 league goal on 33 shots in 9.9 90s), Hwang (COVID) and Poulsen up top, unless Leipzig get a set piece or a penalty goal, it’s a lot of long-range speculative efforts. Prior to the match Dani Olmo (53) and Marcel Sabitzer (27) have taken 80 shots and scored 7 goals, with FOUR of them being penalties. Their shot quality is 0.07 NPxG and 0.05 NPxG respectively, so even if the pinned in opponents are packing the box, the data suggests that their shot selection could use improvement. In particular, Olmo’s at such a combination of heavy volume and poor quality that in the big 5 leagues among the top 50 shooters, only Nabil Fekir (0.06 NPxg) is worse. Here is where the importance of Christopher Nkunku - who only played half of the available minutes due to combo of ankle problems and the birth of his child - is magnified, as the young French attacker has 14 shots on target on 31 shots vs 16\51 for Olmo. Given that Olmo leads the team with 14 goal creating actions ahead of Nkunku (who takes set pieces, while the Spaniard has 9 live ball passes leading to goals), it would be ideal if they could play more together. So far, due to the aforementioned issues, they’ve not been able to share the pitch as starters too often.

*all numbers from the great Fbref.com*

Replacing Upamecano

You can also argue that the match was overshadowed by transfers - not Angelino’s 18m option until 2025 that was triggered by the number of appearances for RBL - but of course by the Bundesliga’s worst kept secret: the reported Upamecano buyout by Bayern from the summer for 42.5m.

At any rate, Upa was rested for the upcoming Liverpool match (in Budapest, which under normal circumstances would’ve been a cool even to attend for the author….

I’ll spare everyone my #Upamecanotakes, because I probably started the bandwagon and rather get on to replacements:

Of course, being the smartly run club they are, Leipzig have already made sure of replacing Upa with the impressive Josko Gvardiol already secured a while back. Gvardiol, who has been loaned back to Dinamo Zagreb, also has added some muscle to his game, though he still made some pretty grave defensive errors vs Ferencváros, Koprivnica and can get confused/overwhelmed by blocking schemes on set pieces. Nevertheless, he’s been working on his game, and his German language skills and it’s good to see such self-awareness below:

The other piece of news is that Strasbourg’s Mohamad Simakan is coming. Although there are some concerns about the knee injuries of the 20-year-old, RBL scooped in and paid 15m now and ultimately won the battle for one of the hottest prospects. Strasbourg and Simakan flirted with Milan, but the deal reportedly fell through due to the French club wanting to keep him in the summer and asking for 20m, so the Rossoneri went for Fikayo Tomori. Here are some data comps, from which we can gleam that Simakan is a very active and successful defender in 1v1s, though he’s rather poor in the air. He tends to foul a fair amount, but seems to know what to do with the ball.

It will be interesting to see how much playing time Simakan and Gvardiol will get next season, particularly because of the future of Ibrahima Konaté - someone who when he burst on the scene had a slightly higher ceiling than Upamecano in my opinion. After missing the majority of the last two seasons due to injuries and complications stemming from them, Konaté finally returned for a cameo last night. It did not go super well, as he not only gave away a clumsy penalty vs Pedersen’s run, but also looked slightly nervous in possession, despite 1-2 trademark runs. While we should not make too much of his first match since late December, it will be interesting to see if he can get back to his best. Particularly, because he was a regular for the UCL group matches this season (alongside Orbán and Upamecano), though I would bet against him starting vs Liverpool next week. Apparently, Manchester United are very keen on him, and much like Upamecano, he has a contract until 2023, although the buyout clause is closer to 30m. Whether or not he moves on in the summer is anyone’s guess, but losing two generational, do it all CBs, isn’t perhaps the best look for Leipzig, who are known for allowing players to leave for the right offer. Nagelsmann has shown both last season (Halstenberg and Klostermann as side CBs) and this season (rediscovering Willi Orban, Mukiele playing well) that if he has one transcendent CB (Upamecano) he can cobble together a great defense regardless of talent, skill set, age or fit. That is of course if Nagelsmann is still the RBL head coach next season….

Thanks for reading!