Did Ethan Ampadu turn the corner against Spurs?
Background image: Berlinschneid, CC BY-SA 4.0
How does the saying go? Same shite, different club? Ethan Ampadu rarely features for RB Leipzig. After coming over on loan from Chelsea in search of playing time, four of the teenager's six appearances come from the bench. When the 19-year-old does start, it's in the Champions League. The 1-0 victory over Tottenham represents his only full 90 for the Bundesliga title hopefuls. He was lifted after 56 minutes in the two-goal draw with Benfica. The Wales international appears more frequently [seven times] for his country in 2019/20 than he has for Leipzig.
Patient when he joined Leipzig on a season-long loan from the Blues in the summer, he waited until late October to debut. It was a 20-minute cameo against Wolfsburg, mop-up duty with the energy drink mavens five goals up.
Ampadu is yet to start in the Bundesliga. His bow in the 3-0 win over Werder Bremen last weekend was his first action since a December Champions League match against Lyon.
In part, Leipzig’s success keeps the young Welshman out of Julian Nagelsmann's lineup. Die Roten Bullen sit a point behind leaders Bayern Munich and are losers in only three contests. Conceding 25 goals in 22 matches, they are the Bundesliga's second-best defence. You don't tinker with a functional squad. Nagelsmann rarely changes his starting XI, relying heavily on centre-back Dayot Upamecano. The Frenchman played 25 games for Leipzig this season. Nagelsmann deploys full-backs Lukas Klostermann and Marcel Halstenberg to either side of Upamecano in a 3-4-2-1. Both are in good form recently and started the last four matches as centre backs. The trio only let down keeper Peter Gulacsi once in that spell.
Spurs were a rare opportunity for Ampadu. Upamecano’s suspension and long-term injuries to Willi Orban and Ibrahima Konate left Nagelsmann with little choice. Ampadu showed his composure in helping the side maintain a clean sheet. His 95% passing accuracy led all players. While most of his passes were short and sideways, he showed his aggressive side with the occasional drive forward. Perhaps his familiarity with the Premier Leaguers paid off. His four interceptions were also a game-high and he dealt with every Tottenham incursion into the Leipzig box.
While it’s only one performance, Ampadu’s assured display against Spurs may be a turning point for the Welsh youngster. It will be difficult for Nagelsmann to ignore his performance. Bossing a Champions League fixture with little game time shows great maturity. Hopefully, the positive display will encourage Nagelsmann to present more opportunities for Ampadu to showcase his potential in the Bundesliga and Champions League run-ins. Fitting him into the starting XI is problematic without a tactical change, however. Upamecano returns to face Schalke on the weekend. Klosterman and Halstenburg flank him efficiently. Tinkering with a strong backline invites trouble. For now, the teenager's best hope will be for Nagelsmann to rotate Upamecano more often.
Meanwhile, the youngster's performance against Tottenham should garner Frank Lampard's attention. Chelsea's Achilles heel this term is defending. Rumours of Nathan Ake's return abound, as do calls for the club to sign Kalidou Koulibaly from Naples. The young Welshman may offer his boss a far cheaper alternative.