Red Bull Salzburg have a handy knack of nurturing and developing unpolished gems into prized assets. Liverpool stars Sadio Mane, Naby Keita and Takumi Minamino can all name the Austrian champions as a former club. And as recently as January, we saw Erling Haaland swap the capital of Austria for Borussia Dortmund. It’s fair to say he’s doing pretty well for himself there.
Currently, Salzburg’s strikers Hee-chan Hwang and Patson Daka are firing in the goals. But at the ages of 24 and 21 respectively, they could get snapped up by a bigger club. If that happens, who would replace them? The answer could be Karim Adeyemi. Aged just 18, the German striker has enjoyed a scintillating season with Salzburg’s B team Liefering in the Austrian 2.Liga. Adeyemi has scored nine and set up four goals in just 14 second-tier games. He’s also scored three times in seven matches for Salzburg’s Under-19 team in the UEFA Youth League, who had beaten EFL side Derby County before football was suspended.
Adeyemi predominantly plays as a striker, but he’s also capable of playing on either wing. When he plays as a lone striker, he’s happy to drop a bit deeper and play between the lines, link play and create space for attacking midfielders to run into. When he’s deployed alongside a strike partner, he tends to drift out wide and run the channels to stretch the defence as much as possible. Whatever tactics manager Bo Svensson deploys, the youngster seems to adapt.
He spends a lot of time in the left-wing and half-space. Adeyemi uses his blistering pace to burst past defenders and pull the ball back into the box with his stronger foot. On his heatmap, there are plenty of blue and green dots in deeper areas. This is because when his team is defending, he’ll frequently position himself just behind the opponent’s midfield line. That means when Liefering win the ball back, he’s in a good position to receive possession in deep areas. He’ll use his blistering pace and breathtaking dribbling ability to turn defence into attack quickly.
The German youth international completes an average of 4.64 dribbles per 90 minutes. He’s certainly not a frontman who only comes alive in the box. But that doesn’t mean he’s not clinical either. He averages 0.65 goals from 0.38 expected goals per 90 minutes, and many of his goals come from inside the 18-yard box. More on that later.
Dribbling in transition
As well as boasting an eye-catching goal return, one of Adeyemi’s main jobs in Liefering’s team is to turn defence into attack quickly with his ability to carry the ball forward.
This map of his dribbles highlights that he frequently drops deep and takes players on when his team has just won the ball back in deep areas.
Below is an example of the kind of positions he takes up to start counter-attacks.
Liefering had just won the ball back, and his teammate had just played a first-time pass to him. Instead of staying on the shoulder of the last defender like many strikers do, he drops halfway through his own half. He does this so he’s available as a short passing option if his team do regain possession, and to give himself space to run at an exposed defence on the counter-attack. That also encourages the opposition to commit more men forward when they’re attacking, which will suit Adeyemi who can exploit this at the drop of a hat.
Now we’ll move onto an example of Adeyemi successfully taking on his opponents in transition.
He received possession on his left foot but instantly shifted it onto his right side as the Klagenfurt player pressured him, moving the ball away from his opponent. After taking one touch with his right foot he immediately moved it back onto his left as the third defender (out of shot) came forward and tried to tackle him. As the defender expected the teenager to take another touch with his right, Adeyemi easily knocked the ball past him.
The striker is so comfortable using both feet whilst he’s dribbling, and he uses his agility to quickly change direction so he can weave in and out of several defenders at once. He combines his technical excellence with an electric burst of pace that makes him almost impossible to catch. Adeyemi accelerates so quickly whilst dribbling, but whilst doing that he still manages to maintain control of the ball.
So the eye test certainly suggests Adeyemi is a formidable dribbler, but what about the numbers?
As you can see, the Munich-born prospect attempts and completes a high amount of dribbles compared to his fellow 2.Liga players. And it’s hardly a surprise. The challenge will be for him to replicate that at a higher level, and over a much longer period.
Link up play
A quick glance at Adeyemi’s passing stats flags up an obvious area for development. His passing accuracy is a paltry 57.78%. However, when looking at both positive and negative statistics, it is worth keeping in mind that he’s being judged on only 1,245 minutes of football in the Austrian Second Tier. Small sample sizes can often skew numbers.
Whilst watching Adeyemi play, you can see that at times he’s a capable passer of the ball. He’s more than capable of dropping between the lines and playing one-touch lay-offs to his teammates. The short passes he does make often find a fellow Liefering man in a lot of space because he usually draws two or three defenders towards him: before either trying to take them on or pass.
However, the biggest part of his game that he needs to improve on is his decision making; particularly in transition. When Adeyemi is holding the ball up with his back to goal, he has a good appreciation of where his teammates are on the pitch. But this can disappear when he’s leading a breakaway. The downside to Adeyemi’s electric pace is that he’s sometimes too quick for his own brain, and he falls into the trap of playing with his head down. That’s why his pass accuracy is so low.
In the image above, he tries playing a pass out wide (red arrow). However, the pass gets easily intercepted. Instead, he should have played a simple pass to his teammate (blue arrow). He’d have then been able to play a quick pass to Liefering’s right back: without the pressure of Klagenfurt players around him.
Adeyemi needs to learn when to slow the game down, and when to be more ambitious and try to take players on. There’s another example of this in the next image.
The explosive forward was carrying the ball in transition, and he had two teammates running with him. Adeyemi was up against three defenders, which is a scenario he’d fare better in than most other players due to the reasons I mentioned before. However, on this occasion, he tried dribbling down the right side before getting crowded out and tackled.
If he slowed the game down and tried finding a pass to his teammates (potentially in-between the two Klagenfurt players in the centre-circle) then they could receive the ball in a two versus two scenario. This depends on the quality of the pass and the speed that the opposition re-adjust, but it would have been handy for him to play with his head up and appreciate where other players are on the pitch.
He seems to have a direct, single-minded attitude: which does work for him most of the time. But to develop his game further, Adeyemi needs to improve his footballing intelligence. Which, by the way, is completely normal for an 18-year-old. He possesses a lot of key raw attributes; that’s the main thing at his age.
Movement inside the box and finishing
The analysis will now focus on Adeyemi’s movement and finishing. He’s scored a total of nine goals from an xG of 5.24 this season, and 12 from an xG of 8.21 over the last calendar year. This demonstrates his high efficiency in front of goal. Over the last calendar year, the teenager also boasts a conversion rate of 24.5%, and he manages to get just over half of his shots on target.
Part of this is down to Adeyemi’s ability to find space inside the area, meaning that he’s taking shots from locations that are closer to the goal. As you can see in the graphic below, he takes most of his shots and scores most of his goals from inside the area. He also demonstrates an ability to poach within the six-yard box.
Adeyemi averages 4.84 touches inside the penalty area per 90 minutes, which places him in the top ten of all players in the Austrian second tier. He finds space in the area by separating himself from defenders.
In the example below, Liefering have just played a cross into the area.
At the height of 5ft 9ins, Adeyemi isn’t going to win many aerial duels against defenders, so he cleverly stood off the centre-back as he attempted to head it clear. As the Klagenfurt player was backtracking towards the ball, it was difficult for him to generate enough power to get the ball out of danger. Adeyemi recognised this, so he anticipated where the defender was going to head it. When it fell to him inside the area, he took a touch around the defender and rifled a shot into the roof of the net.
When he’s anticipating a cross, Adeyemi looks to operate on the blindside of defenders so he can get in behind them, instead of challenging an aerial duel. If he’s expecting a low cross towards the back post, you’ll often see him peeling off the blindside back of the full-back at the back post, which makes tracking his movement very difficult. Also, if he peels off onto the full-back and the cross ends up coming in the air he’d normally have more chance of winning a header than if he was up against a central defender.
Sometimes Adeyemi will run in between the central defender and full-back, but on the blindside of the central defender. This is usually when he’s expecting a high cross from a deeper area. The example below shows you how he got in behind BW Linz’s defence to score a header.
As you can see, he’s already anticipated where the cross is going and has made a run into space off the back of the defender. As he’s on his blindside and the defender is facing the ball, it’s very difficult for him to match Adeyemi’s run and head the ball clear. The youngster gets in behind him and nods the ball home. He’s able to score a header up against a taller central defender by using clever movement to run off his back and into space.
Particularly in the modern game, defending starts from the front. The analysis will now focus on his pressing.
Adeyemi is no stranger to harrying opposition players out of possession. His blistering pace is useful in attack and defence. To use this to full effect, Adeyemi doesn’t always prevent the goalkeeper from playing short balls to opposition defenders by standing on the edge of the area.
In the image above, Adeyemi allowed the Klagenfurt ‘keeper to play the ball out to the centre-back. The striker stood about 20 yards back. However, when the defender received possession, Adeyemi sprinted towards him at full speed. This caused him to panic and rush the clearance, stopping the away side from building an attack.
By holding back from the press initially, this creates an illusion of time for both the opponent’s defender and goalkeeper. The defender will initially be relaxed in possession as he thinks he’ll have time to pick out a pass, but the unexpected sprint from Adeyemi will cause him to panic and either knock the ball long or out of play, where Liefering are likely to win it back. It also makes the goalkeeper want to pass out from the back, which Adeyemi can then capitalise on.
Another plus side to Adeyemi pressing in this manner is that Liefering can retain vertical compactness. If he presses and Klagenfurt decide to play a pass over him, he’s taken out of the game. By pushing up from the start, Adeyemi could have invited them to play a pass into a player in the middle third as he’d have vacated that area of the pitch. But with the position he takes up, the German makes it difficult for them to play a ball into midfield from the goal kick.
After being released by Bayern Munich in 2012, Adeyemi has taken rejection on the chin. He’s taken his game from strength to strength and is widely recognised as one of the best teenage footballers in the world. The likes of Barcelona, Liverpool and Arsenal have been linked with him in the past. Adeyemi did make his debut for Salzburg in the Europa League for them earlier this campaign, and there’s a good chance they’ll want him to add to that. The question is: will they ever get the chance to throw him into the first team next season, or will he have moved on to a bigger club?