Red Bull Salzburg have garnered a bit of a reputation for producing players in recent years. The 13 times Austrian Bundesliga champions have won the last seven consecutive league titles after a 3-0 win at home versus Hartberg on the 28th June saw them clinch this season. What has been the key to their recent success? In 2005 ‘SV Austria Salzburg’ as they were then known were purchased by the Red Bull Company. Red Bull are now well-known owners of other football teams such as: RB Leipzig, New York Red Bulls, Red Bull Brasil. As well as teams in other sports. Red Bull and Scuderia Toro Rosso being two of those, both in Formula One. Anyway, Back to RB Salzburg. In the past five years some of Europe’s best and brightest prospects have plied their trade in Salzburg: Sadio Mané, Dayot Upamecano, Naby Keïta and Erling Braut Håaland are just a few examples of players that once played for Salzburg that are now household names playing for some of Europe’s biggest teams.
History would suggest that it is only a matter of time before another star in waiting gets his big break with a transfer seeing him leave the Austrian Champions. Patson Daka could well be that man. The 21-year-old Zambian has been at Salzburg since 2017 and with Håaland and Takumi Minamino departing in January 2020, the youngster has become somewhat of a key figure in Jesse Marsch’s tactics. In this tactical analysis, we will produce an in-depth analysis on the Zambian’s game and produce a scout report on his strengths, with the ultimate aim of discovering whether or not Patson Daka is the next star to roll off the illustrious Red Bull Salzburg production line.
Without a shadow of a doubt the most important part of a striker’s role is to score goals. Daka has scored 23 goals in the Austrian Bundesliga this season and a whopping 32 goals in all competitions, (correct at the time of writing). We can see in the following image that Daka is comfortable shooting with either foot, with a total of 56 shots (48%) coming from his right foot and 45 shots (39%) with his left.
What we can also learn from the image above is that Daka very rarely shoots from outside the box, with most of his shots being taken inside the penalty area. His xG, however, would suggest that he is still finishing difficult chances and isn’t scoring just tap-ins. With 32 goals from an xG of 21.82.
If we compare Daka’s conversion rate and shots per 90 with strikers in Europe’s top five leagues as well as the top divisions from Austria, Belgium, Portugal and the Netherlands.
In the above scatter graph, we can see just how impressive Daka’s goal-scoring prowess is. He is keeping company with the most elite strikers in Europe for shots per 90 and no other striker in Europe has a higher conversion rate than Daka, who has a phenomenal conversion rate of 36.5%.
What is it that makes Daka so clinical in front of goal? The Zambian is as cool as a cucumber in front of goal and has incredible composure. He frequently uses his first touch to buy himself a yard of space before firing into the far corner with his second touch, managing to do this even when under pressure. We can see an example of this below.
A pass is played into Daka’s feet and he uses his first touch to beat the on-rushing defender and fires a shot to the far corner which beats the goalkeeper.
Another key aspect of Daka’s prolific goal-scoring is his late runs across the front of his man and getting a shot on goal from close-range. Once again, an example of this is below.
We see Daka make a late surging run past his defender and as a result finds himself on the edge of the six-yard-box and manages to tuck his shot past the Hartberg goalkeeper at the front post. It is these intelligent runs combined with his pace and power that make him a defender’s worst nightmare. The Zambian is comfortable taking the ball onto either foot when shooting, meaning that a defender isn’t able to show him onto his weaker as they would with other strikers.
There is one more area that I would like to highlight. Daka’s anticipation. Several of his 32 goals this season have come from pouncing on rebounds of shots that an opposition keeper has spilled. A true fox in the box. Daka never switches off when there is a chance of a goal being scored. An example from RB Salzburg’s recent UEFA Champions League match versus K.R.C. Genk is shown below
Salzburg have a free-kick that is parried by the goalkeeper and Daka is straight on the scene to capitalise and taps the ball past the stranded Genk ‘keeper.
There is no doubting Daka’s ability as a goal-scorer, he is keeping pace with some of this generation’s very best despite only being 21-years-old, albeit in a weaker league.
Intelligent off-the-ball movement
Daka has mastered the art of goal-scoring, he scores all different types of goals in various scenarios. A major reason behind why Daka has so many shots is due to his movement off the ball. It compliments his attributes as well as fitting in perfectly with Salzburg Boss Jesse Marsch’s tactics.
Daka loves to exploit the half-space, on several occasions during a match, he will make a darting run into the half-space. He does this for one of two reasons, either to provide his team-mates with a passing option in behind the opposition defensive line or to take away defenders so that a team-mate has more space.
An example of Daka’s movement is shown above, he often makes a diagonal run in behind the defensive line and into the half-space. This movement is important as it suits Salzburg’s style of play. With playmakers such as: Dominik Szoboszlai and Hwang Hee-Chan, Daka’s smart runs gives these creative players license to pull the strings in behind. Let’s look at an example.
In the above example, Salzburg are trying to break down a low-block Admira defence. Daka makes a run in behind the Admira centre-back into the half-space and Salzburg left-back Andreas Ulmer manages to find him with a wonderfully weighted pass – Daka then goes onto finish with aplomb by firing towards the far corner with his left foot.
As discussed earlier, this movement is a big component of Red Bull Salzburg’s tactics. A lot of teams play a low block defensive line against Salzburg and Daka running in behind makes it difficult for opposition defences to keep Salzburg at bay. The young Zambian will frequently make selfless runs in order to create space for his team-mates, showing that he also has a footballing brain way beyond his years.
Another crucial aspect of Daka’s movement is his instinct to look to break lines as soon as Red Bull Salzburg regain possession. Due to his pace and power it allows Salzburg to exploit any defences that do look to push up and force Salzburg back. Many of these are unselfish runs that pulls a defender away from one of his team-mates.
If we look at an example of this, we will be able to see just how influential his movement in counter-attacks can be.
Salzburg have just won back possession from Bundesliga outfit Eintracht Frankfurt and immediately Daka looks to run wide and as a result pulls the Frankfurt defender with him. This leaves Szoboszlai free with space to run into and Salzburg in a promising ‘3v2’ position.
Pace, power and persistent pressing
So far in this scout report of Patson Daka, we have analysed his clinical finishing and his movements off the ball. Next, we will discuss how his physical traits are of massive assistance to his style of play and compliment his desire and persistence to regain possession of the ball.
Firstly, we will look at his pace and how he utilises it to full effect. Daka is lightning quick off the mark and this is a major factor in his style of play, he looks to exploit opposition defences by using his pace to get in behind a defensive line.
Here we see Daka lay the ball off for his team-mate who plays a first-time ball over the top of the Frankfurt defence for Daka to run onto. Daka powers past two of the three defenders and challenges the third for the ball before unfortunately taking a heavy touch, allowing the Frankfurt defender to pass back to the goalkeeper who is able to clear the ball.
Whilst Daka didn’t manage to retain possession on this occasion. His pace gave Salzburg some breathing space, they were able to push the defensive line higher up after some sustained Frankfurt pressure. Daka not only gave his side a chance to push higher up, but that persistent and relentless desire to regain possession saw his run apply considerable pressure on the Frankfurt ‘keeper forcing him to go long; the goalkeeper going long enabled Salzburg to contest a ‘50/50’ aerial duel and the following second ball. If Daka did not continue his run and apply pressure. Frankfurt would have been able to play out safely and comfortably from the back.
Secondly, we will analyse Daka’s power. At 183cm (6ft) Daka isn’t the tallest striker around, but if we combine his physical stature with the abundance of pace he possesses and he becomes a powerhouse of a striker capable of holding off defenders and retaining possession in tight areas by shielding the ball. In the following example, we can see the ball break into Daka’s path, and he drives purposefully through the heart of the Hartberg defence – no pun intended! He does this whilst holding off the defender who is eagerly trying to hold him back and halt his progress.
Daka’s directness and ability to drive with the ball is a powerful trait. Have you ever tried to stop someone that is running at full tilt? How about a six-foot Zambian who is coming at you with every intention of either going past you or – if he must – go through you. Daka is a nightmare for defenders. His movement. His pace. His power. His ability to shoot with either foot with no drop off in power or accuracy. It is frightening!
Another example of Daka’s strength is his ability to hold up the ball and link up with team-mates. In the following example from the Salzburg match versus Austrian Bundesliga rivals LASK Linz in March 2020. A long-ball is played forward to Daka, who shields the ball from the LASK Linz defender – who is pressuring him from behind. Daka manages to bring the ball down on his chest and plays a pass into space for a team-mate to run onto.
Finally, we can analyse Daka and his persistent pressing. In the image below, we can see all Daka’s recoveries in the final third this season. As we can see the Zambian had made 39 final third recoveries this season via a mixture of counter-pressing and positional pressing situations. 17 of the 39 recoveries (43%) result in a shot and 10 of those 17 end up on target. We can also see that Daka commonly presses the opposition’s left-back area with 12 recoveries compared to three on the opposite flank. There is also a cluster of three goals from recoveries around the six-yard-box. This backs up our earlier analysis that Daka is persistent and relentless in his hunt for the ball.
Daka is clearly active and efficient when it comes to pressing – which makes him a perfect fit within Salzburg’s tactics. If we look at an example of his pressing (first image below) We see that after the LASK Linz goalkeeper plays the ball to the defender, Daka is straight onto him and looks to press with intent whilst creating a passing shadow that prevents the defender from turning inside. The defender dwells on the ball for a second too long and Daka pounces and recovers the ball and drives towards goal, which can be seen in the second image below.
Improvements? Perhaps just a greater challenge
Patson Daka seemingly has it all, there are no glaring weaknesses in his game, he performs his role in Salzburg team to (almost) perfection. He is an out and out goal-scorer and boy does he score goals. Maybe the improvement he needs is to improve the standard of league he plays in. With RB Salzburg and RB Leipzig obviously having a close partnership and the departure of Timo Werner to Premier League side Chelsea, could we see Daka make the Red Bull switch that many have made before him?
The step-up to one of Europe’s top five league may be the best move for his development, if we analyse his record against other Austrian Bundesliga teams and his record against those teams he has faced in the UEFA Champions League and Europa League this season, it becomes a trend that his best performances are against the weaker teams in his league appearances.
It is worth taking into consideration that per 90 statistics are more accurate the more minutes that are played. In domestic competitions Daka has played a total of 1989 minutes, whereas in European competitions he has amassed a mere 376 minutes. It may be that Daka’s European per 90 statistics would be significantly different if Salzburg would have played more matches in Europe this season.
Patson Daka certainly has a bright future ahead of him. The Zambian has been considered a hot prospect at Red Bull Salzburg since he arrived in 2017. He is truly a sensational player. His knack of scoring goals is not a fluke. As we have analysed in this tactical analysis his pace, movement and positioning are all just a few examples of what make him an exciting prospect for the future. His desire to win the ball back and press selflessly for the team would make him an ideal fit for a team that adopts a high press that is on the look-out for a new talisman. He has the skill set to be a success in one of the top leagues. His next goal is surely to secure that lucrative move like so many before him thus becoming the next star off the Red Bull Salzburg production line.