WHEN Jesse Marsch was sacked by RB Leipzig in December he communicated frustration at an inability to develop the “cohesion and stability” necessary to stay in Saxony.

Marsch, now of Leeds United, was viewed by many as the quintessential Red Bull coach when appointed last summer. Indeed, his move from the organisation’s Austrian side RB Salzburg appeared in keeping with the well-oiled, pre-planned succession planning synonymous with the brand.

The American is a Ralf Rangnick disciple, revered for his high-octane football centred on pressing. That’s not unique in the German footballing landscape where the majority of teams see off-ball style as a fundamental part of their game. However, Marsch’s tactics were too press-heavy and ultimately failed.

Why? Evolution. Gone are the days of simply pressing an unwitting opponent into oblivion. Football has adjusted to the German revolution and as a result, teams must match their off-ball efforts with on-ball proficiency, hence Leipzig’s subsequent appointment of Domenico Tedesco.

The Italian-born coach leads his side into tonight’s Europa League semi-final with Rangers in a far better state than he found them. He has uncovered the “cohesion and stability” that Marsch craved, ensuring Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s team face a far more complete team than they would’ve late last year.

The Red Bull philosophy 

Founded in 2009 after Red Bull purchased fifth-tier club SSV Markranstadt, the man responsible for Leipzig’s rise is current Manchester United boss Rangnick.

“It’s a legendary story and the most important figure in the club's history is Rangnick.”

That’s the view of Guido Schafer, a journalist and ex-professional footballer. Having spent six years at Mainz playing with Klopp and covered the club since its origin, he’s well placed to detail the journey.

“He [Rangnick] came to the club in 2012 when they were in the fourth division and changed everything. He made them faster, better, quicker, younger and built a squad not only with talent but mentality and power. Since their philosophy has developed with a clear vision of their football, it’s recognisable.

“Rangnick built his team with a clear idea: ‘We want to play this style of football, which players and coaches do we need? This culminated to form a successful team’.”

Known as the ‘Godfather of Genenpressing’, Rangnick had spells in the dugout alongside his pioneering work as Sporting Director. He is credited with catalysing the German pressing frenzy which has dominated football in the past decade, of which RB Leipzig are one of the most recognisable proponents.

Gegenpressing, translated counterpressing in English, is described as pressing directly after a ball has been lost because, theoretically, the opposition will be moving into the attacking phase while possession is regained, leaving them vulnerable and offering quick and viable routes to goal.

READ MORE: RB Leipzig forensically analysed: What can Rangers expect to face in Europa League showdown?

However, just as Klopp’s Liverpool have run less season upon season and Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea side won the Champions League based on their impenetrable defence, gegenpressing has evolved.

The Marsch experiment 

Having risen through the divisions playing Rangnick’s high-energy style, and unearthing talents such as Timo Werner, Naby Keita and Joshua Kimmich along the way, Leipzig’s second-place finish last season in the Bundesliga, alongside a Champions League semi-final spot the season prior, under the management of Julian Nagelsmann appeared to demonstrate evolution.

Nagelsmann retained the Red Bull principles Rangnick had worked to establish while improving the team’s on-ball ability. Their possession-share increased and reliance on transitions decreased, in keeping with other elite outfits. That’s why in the view of Schaefer and others, appointing Rangnick’s ex-assistant Marsch last summer felt like a backwards step that would undo the side’s development with the ball, rather than a move to continue their upward trajectory.

“They [Leipzig[ made one big fault in recent years, they thought they could have success with Marsch. He’s a lovely guy, I love him. But his style is too pressing focused,” Schafer adds.

“Marsch’s style in Leipzig wasn’t successful, after a few weeks some players went to him and said ‘we have to change a little’. When that happens I think the relationship is not possible to repair.”

The American’s heavy focus on transitions and winning the ball back appeared regressive, based on results and apparent player reaction. He inherited a team capable of possession-dominant football and a squad that fitted such demands. Therefore his persistence to revert to a purist Red Ball methodology seemed ill-fitting.

“We wanted to return to the core philosophy, classic RB football, but the team were never 100 per cent convinced about his match plans,” Chief Executive Oliver Mintzlaff said following Marsch’s exit.

German football expert Raphael Honnigstein added the appointment was the right man at the wrong time, “about five years too late in light of the side’s tactical arc”.

Perhaps in hindsight, Leipzig’s realisation that they must appoint a manager capable of progressing Nagelsmann’s own progression arrived six months too late. Nonetheless, the appointment of Tedesco was just that. Not a manager to rediscover Leipzig’s core philosophy, but their evolved adaptation.

The Tedesco appointment

According to Schafer, Tedesco’s appointment was a demonstration of the Leipzig hierarchy righting the wrongs of last summer.

“Before, the players were used to having an identity with the ball under Rangnick and Nagelsmann, they wanted this back. It was a very good decision to appoint Tedesco, he gave the players back everything they loved”, he adds.

Generally speaking, Tedesco has decreased the reliance on transitions, improved the defensive structure and introduced a style of football that suits the current squad, trends which are backed up by the numbers.

READ MORE: Three burning Rangers issues: Stifling Christopher Nkunku and an attacking dilemma

In their Champions League campaign, of which Marsch managed five of six group stage games, Leipzig averaged 98 pressures in the opposition half, demonstrating their intention to win the ball high up the pitch and score via ‘gegenpressing’. Under Tedesco in four Europa League games, against seemingly weaker opposition, that number has dropped to 57. Showing Leipzig are pressing the opposition less in their half because of a decreasing dependence to score goals through such means.

In addition, their PPDA, a metric which measures the number of defensive actions per opposition passes, has risen from 8.43 to 10.08. Considering PSG and Man City were group stage opponents, the drop in pressing intensity against Europa League opponents Atalanta and Real Sociedad is revealing.

The German outfit are now happier when in control of a game, rather than coexisting within its chaos. 

They’re still aggressive and retain blistering intensity in moments; however Tedesco’s balance between the old and new has led them to a DFB Pokal cup final, European semi-final and Champions League spot.

While Marsch nominally favoured a back four to get as many attackers on the pitch as possible, Tedesco has played a back three, which in turn enables the full-backs to become wing-backs and increases the backline’s strength.

“Tedesco loves the offence and defence, for him, it’s important that the defence is there and gives no space for the opponent. This is his main thing. They love the control, the ball and the match,” Schafer says.

In their 6-4 aggregate win over Borussia Dortmund, Rangers thrived on the German’s chaos. It opened up gaps to play into and stopped Marco Rose’s side from ever truly dominating the two-legged tie. Playing against a team now far more rounded and far less exploitable, can van Bronckhorst’s side do the double and progress to the final?

“For me, it’s unbelievable that Rangers score four goals like in Dortmund,” Schafer reasons.

“They [Tedesco and his assistant] watched the two matches against Dortmund, they know exactly what they have to do. Dortmund had no performance or confidence, it was an advantage for Rangers. I don’t think Leipzig will make the same mistake.”

Unlike in 2008, Rangers have not fought their way into the last four, they’ve dominated every tie. However, as with any European run, the Ibrox side have benefited from luck along the way and to progress against today’s opponents over both legs, fortune will have to intervene at some stage.

Tedesco has facilitated the rediscovery of Leipzig’s identity on their 13-year long journey from chaos to control. Tonight and next week, Rangers must hope there is a break in the German’s trajectory to continue their European dream.