There are many different ways to play FIFA 21 Ultimate Team, but if you want to really test your skills and earn the best rewards, you need to compete in the FUT Champions Weekend League. Taking place every Friday through Sunday, it's a gauntlet of 30 matches against hardcore players who have the best cards in the game, and matchmaking is based on current form (i.e. your win/loss ratio that weekend) rather than Skill Rating, so there's no way to avoid tough opponents. Only a complete maverick would walk into it with anything less than their best possible starting XI.
Welcome to the RB Leipzig Weekend League Challenge. With Die Roten Bullen flying high in the Bundesliga, we thought it would be fun to take the players that RB Leipzig manager Julian Nagelsmann uses in real life and put them through their paces in FIFA 21's toughest competition. But we won't be going at it alone. We've enlisted the support of professional FIFA 21 coach Steve Stokes to help nail down our formation, personnel and tactics, with Weekend League gameplay advice from Red Bull Athlete Ryan Pessoa and FW Ben, host of the popular FUT Weekly Podcast.
"So what?" you may be thinking. "RB Leipzig are second in the Bundesliga. They can't be that much of a downgrade on your regular team."
Oh my sweet summer child.
Let us introduce you to the RB Leipzig playing personnel that we can choose from in FIFA 21 Ultimate Team:
- Emil Forsberg - CF, 82 rated (Gold In-Form)
- Yussuf Poulsen - ST, 78
- Hee Chan Hwang - ST, 77
- Alexander Sorloth - ST, 77
- Marcel Sabitzer - CM, 85 (Objectives card)
- Dani Olmo - CAM, 84 (Gold In-Form)
- Konrad Laimer - CDM, 82
- Kevin Kampl - CM, 81
- Christopher Nkunku - CAM, 80
- Tyler Adams - CDM, 76
- Justin Kluivert - LM, 74
- Lukas Klostermann - CB, 85 (Champions League Live card)
- Nordi Mukiele - RB, 84 (Rulebreaker Objectives card)
- Dayot Upamecano - CB, 82 (Gold In-Form)
- Marcel Halstenberg - LB, 82
- Ibrahima Konaté - CB, 82 (Gold In-Form)
- Angelino - LB, 80
- Willi Orban - CB, 79
- Péter Gulácsi - GK, 85
- Philipp Tschauner - GK, 72
(Side note: Eagle-eyed FUT watchers will note there are a few cards missing from this list. We think the gold Gulácsi is fine so haven't bothered with the in-form, Headliners Upamecano is too expensive for a small improvement over his in-form, and, uh, we never managed to do the Emil Forsberg Moments SBC. Dammit!)
So then, in a game where speed is super important, RB Leipzig have only one FUT card with 90+ pace, which is the first drawback. Their only natural winger in FUT is a 74-rated silver card, Justin Kluivert, who has 66-rated passing. And in a meta where defenders auto-block shots from the very best strikers, RB Leipzig's shooting stats are in the mid-70s. To put this in perspective, Kylian Mbappé has 96 pace and 90 shooting. We're toast.
RB Leipzig do have strong defenders and a solid goalkeeper, but given that we concede an average of 1.5 to 2 goals per game in Weekend League with the best meta defenders, we suspect this may not be quite enough to counter our shortcomings going forward.
We're not trying to overegg the pudding here, because your humble correspondent does regularly finish Gold 3 (14-16 wins). It's just that we're used to playing with high-end cards, using an attack built around in-form Cristiano Ronaldo and the Base Icon version of Samuel Eto'o. Going from that to Forsberg and Hwang Hee Chan inevitably results in a little culture shock. But that's the challenge.
To paraphrase Matt Damon's Martian, we are going to have to tactics the crap out of this.
Enter the Tactician
"He's a chameleon, isn't he?"
Steve Stokes, aka The FUT Coach, runs a Patreon called The FUT Academy, where he shares his insights into the tactical side of FIFA. We caught up with him to discuss the RB Leipzig Weekend League Challenge, and having spent some time exploring Julian Nagelsmann's approach, he was intrigued by the prospect. Nagelsmann's chameleonic flexibility means we could try various formations, but after quizzing us about our usual play style, Steve suggests we go with three at the back. "I think that will probably be the most authentic as well, to be honest with you." We settle on using a 3-5-2 in-game.
We've done a little homework before speaking to Steve, cobbling together a basic team that ends up with Justin Kluivert and Nordi Mukiele as wingbacks and Emil Forsberg and Hwang Hee Chan up front. Early forays into Division Rivals have not gone well. We can't score for toffee, and we're not exactly offsetting that with our tragicomic defending.
Having shown a recording to Steve, the first thing he suggests is that we, uh, downgrade the attack. What the hell, man?!
"The first thing that stood out to me was that there's no Yussuf Poulsen there," he points out. He is quite correct. Having inspected Poulsen's 78-rated gold card, with its 71 shooting, 67 passing and 54 balance -- a card so cheap that most players would probably discard it rather than going to the trouble of selling it on -- we decided to avoid him. Steve raps our knuckles and stands up for the integrity of the RB Leipzig Challenge. "I think for authenticity, he may not be the greatest card, but in terms of the way Leipzig play, they do definitely have that target man up front." That's us told. Poulsen lines up next to Hwang, the only player with any pace that RB Leipzig can muster in FIFA 21, supported by Forsberg in the "Number 10" CAM position behind them.
It also feels important to both of us that we get Angelino involved. The left back, on loan from Manchester City, has been a revelation for Die Roten Bullen this season, roving forward in a role that feels more like an attacking midfielder at times than a wingback. As Manchester United discovered in the Champions League, he can be a real handful. His card in FUT 21 does not reflect his current form, but he ends up slotting into our midfield quite conveniently alongside the more traditional CDM Konrad Laimer.
Defence takes care of itself, thankfully, with Gulácsi in goal and a genuinely solid trio of Konaté, Klostermann and Upamecano ahead of them. (The latter two are practically meta!) Nordi Mukiele's Rulebreakers card, a fast right-back, is a natural choice for the right wingback role, while Marcel Sabitzer's 85-rated Objectives card is a good enough option for his counterpart on the left flank. (It's a shame not to use him in midfield, but we can always bring Justin Kluivert off the bench to play left wingback and shuffle Sabitzer over.)
While we begin with a 5-3-2 formation to achieve full chemistry, we then switch to a 3-5-2 in-game. This is the line-up:
- Goalkeeper: Peter Gulácsi (85)
- CBs: Ibrahima Konaté (82), Dayot Upamecano (82), Lukas Klostermann (85)
- Wingbacks: Marcel Sabitzer (85), Nordi Mukiele (84)
- CDMs: Angelino (80), Konrad Laimer (82)
- CAM: Emil Forsberg (82) or Dani Olmo (84) depending on our mood
- Strikers: Hwang Hee Chan (77), Yussuf Poulsen (78)
- Substitutes: Justin Kluivert (74), Kevin Kampl (81), Tyler Adams (76), Alexander Sorloth (77), Christopher Nkunku (80), Dani Olmo (84), Benjamin Henrichs (76)
The Game Plan
It's all very well having RB Leipzig players, but if we want to play like RB Leipzig, we need to start messing around with Custom Tactics. RB Leipzig smother opponents to reclaim the ball high up the pitch and pass forward quickly, bouncing off the target man and involving the wingbacks in creative moves. All of that may be easier said than done with these cards, but it has to be our ambition. Steve agrees.
On the main Tactics page, we adjust the Defence and Offense slider bars to mimic Nagelsmann's approach.
"Defensive style would definitely be 'Press After Possession Loss'," says Steve. "He does that really aggressively. The 'Width' I would keep quite narrow at 4 or 5. 'Depth' you're going to have to crank that up to at least 8 [out of 10]. That means your team will press high up the pitch, so you'll win the ball back high, which is a very Leipzig feature." In a meta where players love to fire through balls blindly so that Mbappé can sprint onto them, the prospect of running a high line is a little terrifying, but we can't stop now.
One of the challenges of playing 3-5-2 in FIFA 21 Ultimate Team is making the most of your wingbacks. Steve advises us to lower the team-wide 'Width' under Offense from 5 to 3 so that the wingers get more involved.
With the broad tactical identity defined, we dive into the nitty-gritty of Player Instructions, where we tell individual cards how to behave in-game.
"One of the things that really stands out is that the front three are the ones who start the press all the time," says Steve, referring to RB Leipzig's recent Bundesliga matches. "But once the press is broken, they drop back, so the dilemma is whether you have them on 'Stay Forward' so they can press high, or 'Drop Back' so they withdraw... I think on balance I'd probably have the front three on Stay Forward. You want Poulsen on 'Target Man' so he gets in positions where you can play the ball to his feet." All three are set to 'Aggressive Interceptions'. We also really want the wingbacks to get involved in the attack, rather than staying out wide, so we switch them to 'Free Roam' and 'Get Into The Box For Cross'.
"You're going to have to have some substitutes prepared, because the front three are going to be knackered," says Steve, who evidently hasn't seen our bench. Ulp.
Chemistry Styles, which boost certain stats on a card once applied, will also play an important role in getting this team to play like RB Leipzig. Steve suggests using Deadeye for Poulsen and Hwang to improve their Attack Positioning. In the centre of the pitch, Angelino and Laimer are responsible for shutting things down if our opponent beats the initial press. Both get a Shadow Chemistry Style. Angelino ('Cut Passing Lanes', 'Aggressive Interceptions', 'Stay Back While Attacking') will attack the ball carrier, while Laimer ('Man Mark', 'Stay Back While Attacking') will provide cover if Angelino fails.
"What we should achieve there, hopefully, is two blocks of five. Five to defend with, five to attack with." With the instructions plumbed in, Steve is excited to see how the team fares, so we head into Division Rivals with The FUT Coach watching on via Shareplay.
Sports Training Montage
Our first opponent is exactly what you would expect. Meta players, meta formation, lots of fast vertical passing and attempted through balls. They must be licking their lips on the loading screen when they see our novelty squad with its massive 81 overall rating and sub-80 striking duo. Here comes an easy W, they think, as we kick off.
In the opening exchanges, the team feels quite similar to the one we assembled before we spoke to Steve, mostly because we're on the back foot and simply barricading the defensive third with a combination of Klostermann, Upamecano and Konaté, all of whom are very good at obstructing impatient attackers.
But when we gain possession, it's another story. Poulsen is doing a fantastic job dropping into pockets of space to receive the ball and lay it off to Hwang and Forsberg, while Sabitzer and Mukiele continue to dart around giving us options to keep hold of it as we probe for space and chances. When things break down, the front three, supported by the two wingbacks, form a stifling first press, retrieving and recycling the ball several times. It must be maddening to play against. We're not really threatening the goal too often, but it's noticeable that we are dominating the ball and playing in our opponent's half more often than not. Playing this way is also, dare we say it, fun?!
All the same, we go in at half-time with the score 1-1. We've only had one shot compared to the opponent's 7, but other stats are encouraging -- we are completing a lot of tackles and have the lion's share of possession. This is what we want to see.
The second half is when things really click. Poulsen is having the game of his life, playing Harry Kane to Hwang Hee Chan's Heung Min Son, and both players get on the scoresheet. We're also really enjoying the wingbacks. Sabitzer is an underrated card anyway, but in a free-roaming left-sided role he feels like a true box-to-box midfielder, surging ahead to stretch the play and giving Poulsen, Hwang and Forsberg space to test the opposing defence. Angelino is doing a surprisingly good job as the more aggressive of the two CDMs, too. With a few minutes to go, we're 4-1 up.
It's here that we realise something else about this team. Opponents will obviously underestimate it, which can work in our favour, but fickle or easily frustrated players are also going to really struggle with the mental side of losing to all these discardable Bundesliga strikers. It's one thing keeping your chin up when someone scores a couple of goals with Mbappé and Neymar, but if you're hurrying to complete your 30 matches and Yussuf Poulsen is making your Icon centre-backs look like discards, are you really going to play your best FIFA? We make a mental note to save a good chunk of our matches for Sunday evening when patience and tempers are often at their most strained.
Eventually we close out the game 4-1. We've had fewer opportunities (7) but 100% shot accuracy, 54% possession, 16 successful tackles and obviously four pretty well-worked goals. More to the point, we're playing... a bit like RB Leipzig.
"This is why people hate FIFA, you know?" says Steve. "Because they try to play the meta stuff all the time and it's boring! This is more fun."
Weekend League Prep
Division Rivals is one thing though. Weekend League is another. Before we head into battle, we want to make sure we're ready for the unique challenges of the 30-game gauntlet. Fortunately, we have a pair of FUT gurus lined up to advise us. What would they say to someone who is deliberately taking an underpowered team into the Weekend League?
"Not to do that!" says Ben, host of the FUT Weekly Podcast, who is an Elite-level Weekend League player. You're telling us, Ben. But, you know, if you do happen to do it...
"I suppose go in expecting not to do as well as you normally do, and for results not to be what they normally are," he says. "Also be aware that you're going to have weaknesses in certain areas, so try to push your opponent into stronger areas of your team. So if your right-back isn't that good, try to push players to the other side of the pitch."
Well, defence is the strongest part of our team, and we suspect given our lightweight midfield and clunky front three, we should have no trouble showing opponents towards our defence! Job done! Joking aside, the right defensive quadrant of our team, where Laimer, Mukiele, Klostermann and Konaté will be operating, is probably the safest place to usher people. We're sticking that one on a Post-It...
This RB Leipzig team wants to play on the front foot, but Red Bull Athlete Ryan Pessoa advises us to temper that aggression and choose our moments.
As soon as you lose a game, take a small break for maybe 10 minutes and come back
"I would say to play a lot more reserved," he says when we speak to him after a busy weekend with esports qualifiers. "Because you’re likely to play teams that are a lot more expensive with better players than yours. I have the same issue when I play on my Road To Glory account [where players don't use FIFA Points to buy packs], but I find myself naturally keeping possession a lot more and waiting for perfect chances to score or counterattack."
Success in Weekend League often has as much to do with mentality as playing ability, and our experts tell us we need to pay close attention to both aspects.
"I'd say as soon as you lose a game, take a small break for maybe 10 minutes and come back," says Ryan. "It's key to forget about the loss you've just had, or else it will ruin your performances going forward." Especially when people use the Beach Towel celebration, which we both agree is irredeemably toxic. Oh you use that? You're a bad person.
"It's also good to think about how Weekend League works," says FUT Weekly Ben, "because people tend to finish on pretty similar records. If you play a full Weekend League, your results probably don't change that much... Because of the way 'form' works, you'll lose a bit here or there, but ultimately that means you'll play worse players, so you can recover."
Ben advocates warming up for Weekend League if possible, rather than just diving in.
"If I have time, I'll play some Rivals matches first," he says. "Play Rivals with the team you're going to use, so you can get nice and comfortable with it, because actually that's one of the things that doesn't matter what team you have -- familiarity is going to help you to do well."
Warming up first and taking breaks after defeats help get you in the right state of mind, but you also need to be wary of how long you can maintain peak performance anyway.
"The dream thing, if you have time, is to play a warmup game and then play two games or three games," he says. "But nobody really has time for that over a weekend. If you're unable to do that, three games is good, or four if you're feeling very confident, but I think even if you win four games in a row, you should take some kind of break, just because people's concentration span isn't that long. Your concentration span is, what, 20 minutes if you're having to focus? So as soon as you go into even the second game, you're maybe slightly less concentrated.
"But there's this counterbalance where you don't want to be rusty or not in the zone. The amount of times I've come to a session, played my first game and not played as well as I could... It's often the first half of that first game when you feel a bit off the pace, but you can end up coming back into that game."
We know from experience that this advice makes sense -- warming up first, playing in short bursts rather than mammoth sessions, and stepping away after a loss to reset ourselves mentally have all played a part in helping us rescue challenging Weekend Leagues. We will do all of this with the RB Leipzig Weekend League Challenge to make sure we're set up for success, or at least as much success as we can optimally muster.
Lastly, we ask Ryan and Ben whether they have any ideas for unsettling opponents or regular Weekend League weaknesses that they think we can exploit, given that our opponents won't exactly be quaking in their gamer chairs when they see our team.
"People playing 'Press After Possession Loss' at the moment is quite a big one you can exploit," says Ben. "Because although it can be useful, if they're playing it throughout the game, the chances are they're going to leave themselves exposed at the back. Their centre-backs will often run out towards your player and that leaves some gaps that you can run into and exploit.
"The other mistake people make is not adapting. If you're playing really well, and dominating someone, they tend to not switch their tactics. But if you're playing against someone and you're using a tactic that isn't very effective for you, then you should switch your tactic in order to take advantage of them, because they won't switch."
Ryan also advises us to show the opponent that we know what we're doing.
"Keeping the ball straight away and doing skill moves instantly makes the opponent fear you," he says from experience. "Stepovers, or skill cancels, or other tricky skills, just to let them know that they’re in for a tough game." La Croqeutas for days. Got it.
"Also watching replays when scoring or at intervals is frustrating."
With that, our preparation time has run out. The Weekend League lies ahead of us. 30 matches against teams full of meta players. One crumb of comfort is that we happen to be competing in the Weekend League directly prior to Team of the Year, so a lot of players have 'gone liquid' in FIFA parlance, and will be grinding through FUT Champions with untradeable teams so that they don't have their coins tied up in expensive players during a potential market crash. If that means we face fewer Mbappés and more Player of the Month Iago Aspas cards, then we'll take it.
Then again, it may also mean that fewer people play in the Weekend League than usual. Only the most dedicated, in fact. Only the best.
Hoo boy. We're going in. See you on the other side.
Join us for Part 2 of the RB Leipzig Weekend League Challenge to see how our intrepid Gold 3 hero fared against FIFA 21's best and most expensively assembled.