Widely regarded as the most promising young manager in the entire world of football, there is a lot to like about Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann as he has managed to make a big name for himself in recent years. But recent displays in the UEFA Champions League have shown that there is a learning curve, even for managers, and that is certainly the case with the former German defender.
Nagelsmann, at just 33 years old, is already a phenomenal manager. His capacity to alter formations, his attacking patterns, his man-management and capacity to improve players is truly remarkable and it is almost inevitable that he is going to get the chance to coach a top side in the future. But there is still time for that to wait.
The recent 2-0 defeat at home against Liverpool in the round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League showed something quite clearly: as talented as the former Hoffenheim manager is, he is still learning his trade and that was exposed in their recent performance against Jürgen Klopp’s men this last Tuesday.
The issue was not the defeat itself, but rather how Leipzig punished themselves due to systemic flaws that they were not willing to fix and were willing to take against a Liverpool side that was perfectly equipped to press and attack their high line. Nagelsmann played right into Klopp’s hands and was duly castigated because of that.
This was something that Nagelsmann already showed against Thomas Tuchel’s Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League semifinals last season and against Manchester United at Old Trafford when they lost 5-0 this season: a constant desire to play with a high line and play from the back against team that excel greatly when having lots of space to roam.
Now, I understand Nagelsmann’s desire to implement his playing style and not adapting to other teams’ terms. In fact, I applaud it. But the greatest tacticians are capable of adjusting elements of their setups for big games and exploit their enemies’ weaknesses while minimizing theirs, which is something Leipzig regularly struggles with.
When you are punished time and time again in big games for such systemic issues, you have to rectify. A little twist here, a little twist there, and all of the sudden his already good teams would become even better. Nagelsmann is highly regarded and rightfully so, but we must also understand that he is not a messiah of football and he is bound to make mistakes from time to time and has to learn from them.
One of the biggest issues of Bundesliga teams bar Bayern is the lack of capacity to defend in key games and if Nagelsmann wants to fulfill his potential as one of the best managers of Europe, he needs to deal with this learning curve and be capable of adapting his high line to this sort of challenges.