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UEFA Europa League: How Domenico Tedesco Transformed RB Leipzig’s Season

When RB Leipzig sacked Jesse Marsch last December, it was inconceivable that the struggling German club would approach the end of the season on the brink of reaching two finals.

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In the last four months, Marsch’s replacement Domenico Tedesco has overhauled RB Leipzig, who are confident of beating Rangers in Thursday’s Europa League semi-final, the first leg at home.

Since he took charge, Leipzig have shot up the Bundesliga from 11th last December to fourth, punched their ticket for next month’s German Cup final and reached the last four of the Europa League.

Saturday’s 2-1 home Bundesliga defeat to Union Berlin, when they conceded two late goals, was Leipzig’s first loss since February and ended a 15-game unbeaten run.

“Nobody would have thought we would make it to the (German) cup final when I think back to last December,” admitted club boss Oliver Mintzlaff.

The turnaround has been nothing short of miraculous under Tedesco, who coached Schalke to second place in Germany’s top flight in 2017-18.

Since the 36-year-old German-Italian took over, Leipzig have picked up 32 points in the second half of the season – exactly the same as Bayern Munich, who were confirmed Bundesliga champions on Saturday for the 10th straight year.

RB laboured badly under Marsch, who won Austrian league and cup titles at sister club Red Bull Salzburg but lasted just five months after a bad start both at home and in Europe.

“In the first half of the season, many players were just unhappy,” midfielder Marcel Halstenberg told local newspaper MZ.

“We have the quality, we just need the right plan.”

After talking to the players, Tedesco put emphasis on again dominating possession, as Leipzig had done under Marsch’s predecessor Julian Nagelsmann.

Tedesco abandoned a back four for a compact three or five-man defence supported by wing-backs Angelinho and Nordi Mukiele.

French winger Christopher Nkunku has thrived on the space created inside for Leipzig’s forwards by Tedesco’s approach.

The Paris Saint-Germain youth product has been a revelation this season with 30 goals and 20 assists in 46 games. He also struck twice at Atalanta in the quarter-finals to seal a 3-1 aggregate victory.

Hungary international Dominik Szoboszlai is a constant menace for defences when he cuts in from out wide while Spanish attacking midfielder Dani Olmo can decide games on his own.

Yussuf Poulsen and Emil Forsberg, who headed in the winning goal in last Wednesday’s German Cup semi-final, have the experience to turn games off the bench.

The recent unbeaten run means confidence is high despite Saturday’s home defeat.

If Leipzig get through to the Europa final, on May 18 in Seville, they will have the chance to lift two trophies in four days with the German Cup final on May 21 at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.

“We have such quality in the team that we have to think it’s possible to win both,” insisted Forsberg.

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