Austria were drawn with the Netherlands, Ukraine and North Macedonia for UEFA Euro 2020, and this will be a big chance for Austria to aim at qualifying for the knockout phase for the first time ever. In fact, this would only be their third-ever appearance at a European Championship finals, and they went out at the group stage on both occasions previously, at Euros 2008 and 2016. Thus, Unsere Burschen will be champing at the bit to try and make it out of the group stages at least, and they have been dealt a pretty decent hand in that regard, with only the Netherlands likely to provide a difficult test from their group.
The Austrian squad contains several talented and experienced players such as David Alaba, Marcel Sabitzer, Julian Baumgartlinger and Marko Arnautović, and these players will be fundamental to determine what Austria can achieve at this tournament. There are also some talented young players in the squad who are ready to make a difference, with the likes of Saša Kalajdžić, Xaver Schlager, Konrad Laimer and Phillip Leinhart all having done well for their clubs in the German Bundesliga in recent seasons.
The team qualified for these Euros by finishing in second place in their group, behind Poland but ahead of North Macedonia, Slovenia, Israel and Latvia. Thus, Austria have actually played one of their group-stage opponents in North Macedonia fairly recently, and this match should therefore be one to watch out for as these two sides will try to pick up a positive result in this game, ahead of sterner tests against Ukraine and the Netherlands.
Head coach Franco Foda has also had the chance to experiment a little during the UEFA Nations League campaign, where Austria finished top of their group in League B and will therefore be promoted to League A for the next season. All of this shows how Austria have improved in a big way over the last few years, and they will definitely consider this tournament as one to make an impact on.
In this tactical analysis, in the form of a scout report, we will provide a comprehensive analysis of Franco Foda’s squad, the tactics that the 55-year-old manager successfully deployed to help his country qualify for the Euros, and a preview of the tactics we anticipate they’ll use at this tournament.
We will now look at Foda’s preferred formations and tactics for Austria, and it is notable that he has been quite flexible with regard to the formations used, as Austria lined up in a 4-4-2, 5-3-2, 3-4-2-1, 5-4-1, 3-5-2 and 4-2-3-1 shape across their games in the last year or so. The 4-2-3-1 is the formation that was used most frequently, especially during crucial matches as it helped the team keep a balance between defence and attack.
Alexander Schlager, of LASK Linz, is expected to be the first-choice goalkeeper, with Pavao Perdan and Heinz Lindner providing experienced backup. Martin Hinteregger and Aleksandar Dragović will line up in central defence, with both players having years of top-flight experience in the Bundesliga and elsewhere under their belts, while Stefan Lainer and Andreas Ulmer will be the full-backs. The likes of Lienhart, Stefan Posch and Marco Friedl provide cover for these positions, as well as additional options should Foda feel the need to switch to a back three at any point.
In midfield, we can expect to see Baumgartlinger, the captain of the side, and Stefan Ilsanker in the double pivot. Both players are well above 30 years old now, and will provide a solid base for the team, protecting the back four and also helping the team during build-up and in transitions. The likes of Xaver Schlager, Alessandro Schöpf, Florian Grillitsch and Laimer can provide more athletic and attacking options, either off the bench or from the start if Foda wants to change the setup.
David Alaba and Valentino Lazaro will start on the flanks – the now ex-Bayern Munich man is extremely versatile and offers cover at left-back, centre-back and in central midfield as well, but has been used in an advanced position on the left wing by Foda to maximize his talent, while Lazaro will bring pace and direct running on the opposite flank. RB Leipzig stalwart Sabitzer will be the creative player in the middle, just behind Arnautović, while there are some excellent and in-form options on the bench as well in the form of Kalajdžić and Michael Gregoritsch.
When looking at this age chart, we can see that the Austrian squad has plenty of experience, with a number of players who are at their peak years or slightly beyond, while there are quite a few younger players who have also seen significant minutes in the last calendar year, and should therefore arrive at this tournament match-fit and also with the confidence of being able to influence proceedings if and when they make it on the pitch.
Austria’s attacking phase has been solid in the past year or so, as confirmed by the numbers shown above. The team has ranked high for xG per match (68th percentile), shots per match (80th percentile), touches in the penalty box per match (80th percentile) and possession% (80th percentile), which points towards a side that is comfortable keeping the majority of possession and also converting said possession into goals and chances. It is also interesting to note that they are just above the average for forward passes per 100 passes (52nd percentile) and directness in possession (56th percentile), while extremely low for offensive duels per match (24th percentile), indicating that Austria are generally a patient side on the ball. However, they can mix it up when needed, as seen by the 68th percentile rank for long pass tendency as well as crossing tendency.
One area of concern is the low score (24th percentile) for shots on target – when considered together with the percentile ranks for touches in the box, xG per match and shots per match, this shows that Austria need to improve the accuracy of their shooting, as they are definitely getting into good positions. Efficiency in front of goal will be vital at the Euros, especially once the knockout stages commence, and the likes of Arnautović and Kalajdžić will need to take whatever chances fall to them.
Alaba and Lazaro will provide quality on the flanks, with both players capable of progressing upfield with the ball, dribbling past opponents and picking out their teammates in the box, and in Arnautović and Kalajdžić, they also possess two players who have good instincts in the box and can generally be relied upon to get on the end of those passes in dangerous positions, as this example shows.
Crosses from wider positions could be a key attacking tactic for Foda’s side at this tournament, since Arnautović, Kalajdžić and Gregoritsch are all excellent in the air.
Another key part of this attacking strategy will be Stefan Lainer’s delivery and attacking bursts from right-back. The previous image shows the Borussia Mönchengladbach player delivering an inch-perfect cross for Kalajdžić to convert, and he will be crucial to Austria’s attacking plans, as he can provide dangerous crosses from deeper areas as well as by advancing down the flank. The next example shows his ability to break lines through his passing from deep as well, incidentally against one of Austria’s group stage opponents, North Macedonia.
A fit and firing Lainer will play a big role for Austria at these Euros.
Of course, in addition to all of these threats, Austria possess one of the Bundesliga’s finest creators in Marcel Sabitzer. The RB Leipzig captain is versatile enough to play in a deeper role as well as on the flanks, but he will be used as the number 10 in this system, from where his excellent vision, dribbling ability and passing skills will come to the fore. Sabitzer also has the ability to score from long range, as these two instances show, and this is another trait that can help against the sort of deep-lying defences that we are likely to see at these Euros.
Even though Austria have generally been solid defensively over the last 12 months, we must also consider the quality of their opponents during this time – they have not played against too many high-quality sides, and therefore could struggle when facing a bigger side at the Euros. There are some metrics which stand out – recoveries per match (96th percentile), defensive duels won % (88th percentile), interceptions (68th percentile) and recoveries in own third (88th percentile), which paint a picture of a team that is aggressive, physical and active defensively, looking to engage opponents and win duels wherever possible.
The PPDA metric supports this as well – Austria’s 12th percentile rank here indicates a very aggressive press, but this is likely a targeted press, since they are below average (48th percentile) for recoveries in the final third. They have also conceded very few shots per match (28th percentile). All of this is extremely encouraging, but there are some worrying signs as well. While the Austrian side competed in a significant number of aerial duels per match (80th percentile), they won very few of them (48th percentile for successful aerial duels). This is worrying, and could be targeted by opponents through crosses into the box as well as at set-pieces.
Additionally, the Austrian defenders are prone to lapses in concentration and mistakes, which will be punished at the Euros, especially against top-quality sides. The next image is an example from their match against Denmark, where they were beaten 4-0. The opening goal came after Dragović had left Ulmer isolated against his opponent by getting dragged out to the right flank, while Ulmer also did himself no favours by allowing the player space to run into. These sort of errors are the kind that can cost sides dearly, and it seems as though the Austrians have a tendency to pull one of these out more frequently than others.
Another example of an error from the same match – here, Ulmer is at fault once again, as he is too far from his opponent, and in fact has turned his back on him, while his teammate is too slow to get across to block the shot. This sort of lazy defending will be ruthlessly taken apart at the Euros, and Foda will need to work on his side’s defensive shape if they are to have any hope of progressing deep into the knockout rounds. The defensive line needs to be more compact to minimize horizontal space, with at least one of the two defensive midfielders also staying back to provide cover.
Austria are quite good when it comes to offensive transitions – the midfield pivot usually looks to pass forward quickly, while Sabitzer also drops deep to pick up possession and play direct passes out towards the flanks. The following image is an example of this sort of situation, where Sabitzer is able to bypass the opposition’s press and set his teammate free down the right flank with a pass. He is quite press-resistant, able to work the ball away from onrushing players and also use his physicality to defend possession, and this makes him the perfect player to be on the ball during counter-attacks.
Austria’s attacking options include players such as Arnautović, Kalajdžić and Gregoritsch, which is a decent group with different qualities. Arnautović , who used to play in the Premier League, leads the group for touches in the box per 90 minutes, and this is also an indication of the evolution of his own style of play, as he has gone from a winger to an attacking midfielder to now being a poacher in the later stages of his career. However, when we look at goal contributions versus expected goal contributions this season, it is the 23-year-old Stuttgart striker Kalajdžić who comes out on top, having averaged 0.8 goals + assists per 90 minutes over the last 12 months, which is a very strong performance, especially considering that this season has been his breakout season for Stuttgart in the Bundesliga. Arnautović has also done well in this regard, and these two players are likely to be the key when it comes to scoring goals for Austria at these Euros.
Next, we look at the midfielders who have been called up to the Austrian squad over the last 12 months. The left chart, which considers passes to the final third and progressive passes per 90 for this season, is an attempt to try and gauge the creativity of these players, and it is no surprise to see Alaba topping both metrics – this is even more impressive when you consider that he has usually played as a centre-back for Bayern Munich this season. Sabitzer is another who stands out, alongside Ilsanker and Grillitsch, and these players will be the ones who Austria will rely on for creativity from midfield.
We have also looked at their goal and assist contributions versus their ‘expected’ tally on the right, and it is a player who is not a part of the squad for the Euros, in Raphael Holzhauser, who is miles above the rest. Of the players who are in the squad, 21-year-old Christoph Baumgartner has the best goal contribution ratio this season at around 0.5 per 90, but he is unlikely to see too much game time. In general, Austria’s midfield is unlikely to provide too much of a goal threat, and it will be down to their attackers to pick up the goalscoring burden.
These charts look at Austria’s defensive options, where we consider defensive stats on the left chart, and their ability to progress the ball on the right. Dragović ranks high here, and he will need to be the leader of this defence, with the likes of Hinterreger, Lainer and Ulmer also quite competent at defensive actions.
In terms of ball progression, it is clear that this is a unit that is more likely to attempt progressive passes than progressive runs. Among the expected regulars, Hinteregger, Dragović, Ulmer and Lainer all averaged around 10-12 progressive passes per 90 this season, while Lainer has the most progressive runs per 90 at a little over 2, which emphasizes the earlier point.
Marcel Sabitzer is coming into his prime now, and the RB Leipzig stalwart will play a key role for Austria at these Euros. The chart shows how he has been excellent across most creative and attacking metrics this season, with particularly strong ranks for xG per 90, shots per 90, passes to the penalty area per 90 and through passes per 90. This shows how the 27-year-old provides a goal threat himself while also being able to set up chances for his teammates.
He is also heavily involved in his team’s possession, as seen by the high percentile rank for passes per 90, while another measure of his creativity is the similarly high rank for passes to the final third per 90. His tendency to attempt riskier and therefore more damaging passes can be seen by the fact that he is only around the Bundesliga average for pass accuracy for midfielders, which is a further indication of his playmaking style.
Simply put, Sabitzer will be the creative fulcrum of this Austrian side, and a strong performance from him will go a long way towards propelling Austria through the tournament. Moreover, by doing well at the Euros, Sabitzer will get the chance to move to one of the other top European leagues: Premier League, La Liga or Serie A.
PREDICTIONS FOR THE TOURNAMENT
Austria should make it to the round of 16 as runners-up in Group C behind the Netherlands, which would pit them against the winners of Group A, most likely to be Italy. This is probably going to be the extent of their ambitions for this tournament, and anything more than this will be a welcome bonus.