Austrian Bundesliga 2019/20: RB Salzburg vs Rapid Vienna – tactical analysis
This match of the 12th matchday of the Austrian Bundesliga promised to be an exciting game. RB Salzburg sat ahead of this match in the first position while Rapid Vienna were in the fourth place. Both teams already met in this season in the cup as well as on the first matchday when the game ended 2:0 for Salzburg.
In this tactical analysis, we will look at the tactics used by the two teams and also try to examine why set-pieces played an important role in this match.
Jesse Marsch set up his side with 3-5-2 formation. Carlos Coronel was the goalkeeper since Cican Stankovic, and Alexander Walke are currently injured. The back three consisted of Maximilian Wöber, Jérôme Onguéné and Marin Pongračić.
Zlatko Junuzović was the defensive midfielder in front of these three men while Takumi Minamino and Dominik Szoboszlai supported the Austrian in the central midfield. Andreas Ulmer and Rasmus Kristensen were the wing-backs and had the task to provide width. The young star Erling Haaland and Hee-Chan Hwang partnered upfront.
On the other side, Dietmar Kühbauer went for a very similar formation, and the only difference appeared in the central midfield. Richard Strebinger was between the sticks, and the back three consisted of Christopher Dibon, Maximilian Hofmann and Mateo Barać. Maximilian Ullmann and Filip Stojković played in the wide areas. Dejan Ljubicic, Stefan Schwab and Dalibor Velimirovic were the three central midfielders, but their positioning changed throughout the game as we will see later on in this analysis. The Greek Taxiarchis Fountas and Christoph Knasmüllner were the two strikers.
Opening 30 minutes
“the first 20 minutes of the game were evenly matched, but after the first penalty we came off the track.” – Dietmar kühbauer
Even though the coach of Rapid talked about the first 20 minutes on the press conference after the game, in truth, the period took about 30 minutes. During this first half of an hour, Salzburg dominated the game (61.78% of possession) but weren’t able to convert this dominance into goals since they had just two shots on goal in this time while Rapid had none. However, Vienna were able to keep the game open, and RB Salzburg rarely seemed to get into dangerous areas.
When Salzburg were in possession, the two wing-backs positioned themselves extremely wide to stretch the opposition. At the same time, Junuzović positioned very deep to create with the back three a kind of a triangle or diamond which was responsible for the ball circulation. They had in the opening 30 minutes on average 5.38 passes per period of possession while Rapid just had a value of 2.73. In the passing map of Salzburg in the image below we can see Junuzović (16) as the deepest midfielder in front of the back three.
Minamino and Szoboszlai were mostly positioned in the half-spaces but had a lot of freedom. The two strikers also had no strict positions, but when one of the three centre-backs or Junuzović were on the ball during the build-up, the two men upfront stayed very narrow.
On the other side, Rapid’s formation slightly changed when their opponents were in possession. Velimirovic pushed forward to be positioned near Wöber. So, in some situations, it looked more like a 5-2-3 formation since the wing-backs stayed deep and, Schwab and Ljubicic were positioned in the central area in front of the back three and back five respectively.
Ahead of this game one of the most discussed topics in the Austrian press was how the players of Rapid went into the defensive duels during the last games. Especially after the last game against Wolfsberger AC, this was a huge topic as the team of Kühbauer committed 21 fouls in this game. However, in this match, they had a lower number of fouls than their opponent with just 14 compared to Salzburg’s 18. Anyways, this wasn’t because Vienna didn’t go in every duel, but they were very disciplined and aggressive at the same time. Together with their high situational pressing, it was hard for Marsch’s team to get forward up the pitch during the first 30 minutes.
During this phase, Salzburg were just barely able to get into the final third respectively into Rapid’s penalty box. Kühbauer’s men either pressed higher up the pitch, as shown in the image below or sat back deeper to keep the distance between the players and the spaces for Salzburg as small as possible. Especially the three centre-backs of Vienna were really present and didn’t give Salzburg’s strikers any time to breathe.
Within the first half of an hour, Salzburg just got two times into the front of the opposition’s goal. Once after a long ball which is shown in the image below. In this situation, they were able to find Haaland with a through pass, but the young Norwegian striker wasn’t able to perfectly control the ball, and so Strebinger was able to steal the ball from his feet.
The second time when they were able to get into a dangerous area within the first 30 minutes was after a well-executed counter-pressing by Minamino and Hwang. The counter-pressing is already for years one of the trademarks of RB Salzburg, and in this situation, the two Asians showed how effective it can be. The situation can be seen in the two shots below. Minamino tries to find Hwang with a vertical pass, but Barać defends very well and can intercept it. However, as soon as the Japanese midfielder sees it, he instantly tries to win the ball back and his teammate Hwang supports him. They are able to win back the ball, and the Japanese Minamino immediately plays a through pass to find Haaland. However, the centre-back Hofmann defends well and can avoid a dangerous situation.
On the other side, Rapid mostly tried to get forward either with vertical passes to find Fountas or Knasmüllner as fast as possible or tried to find the right wing-back Stojković. Kühbauer’s team either tried to exploit his speed with through passes as it can be seen in the first image below or used long balls to switch the side and take advantage of the space on his site. This gets visible in the second shot below.
However, in the first 30 minutes, it was an evenly matched game as Kühbauer said after the game at the press conference. But you also have to add that his team rarely got into dangerous situations while Marsch’s men were two or three times able to do so. Anyways, Rapid defended well and tried to press higher up the pitch on certain occasions as we already saw in this analysis. But after half an hour the turning point of the first half took place as we will see in the next paragraph.
In the 31st minute, Salzburg received a penalty after the goalkeeper Strebinger fouled Haaland in the penalty box. The Norwegian was ahead of this situation for the first time in this game able to get behind the last line of Rapid and control the ball there as he got in this space with the aid of a deep run and then received a good through pass. After that, in the one-on-one with the goalkeeper, he got rewarded the penalty kick, and Szoboszlai converted it to bring his team in front. It was the first time in this game that Marsch’s team was able to get with a low through pass behind the back five and back three respectively.
However, from there on Rapid seemed to be shocked and completely lost their track. Just three minutes later it was once again Haaland who received a through pass and this time it was Barać who fouled Salzburg’s striker in the penalty box. Even though Hwang didn’t score, it showed how Salzburg would be able to get dangerous: when they can get behind the last line of Rapid with a low through pass after a combination of short passes.
Anyways, it wasn’t only noticeable that Rapid weren’t that organised anymore when they sat back deeper, but also when they tried to press higher up the pitch. In the first 30 minutes, the whole team of Vienna pushed forward as soon as the two strikers decided to put pressure on the defenders or the goalkeeper of RB Salzburg. However, after the first penalty, Kühbauer’s players didn’t seem to be that confident anymore to push forward and support Fountas and Knasmüllner during the pressing.
This can be perfectly seen in the example below. In general, it was a good situation to press since Onguéné received a pass from his goalkeeper in a bad situation and additionally they weren’t in their typical triangle and diamond respectively which already got explained in the analysis. In light of this, Rapid’s strikers were right to put pressure on Salzburg’s defenders, but all other players of Kühbauer’s team stayed deeper and so Salzburg easily kept possession.
Ahead of the 2:0 which Haaland scored, it was for the third time the case that Salzburg were able to get him into a dangerous position with the aid of a through pass. Considering this, they received between the 30th and 38th minute two penalties and scored once. All three situations were a result of a low through pass in the space behind the last line of Rapid.
Additionally, it’s noticeable that we have another pattern on every single occasion. The Norwegian striker always dropped a bit deeper to have some yards to pick up speed before receiving the pass. This made it easier for him to beat the defenders in the race for the ball as they stood when the through pass was played, and Haaland already was almost on his top speed.
Rapid were able to score the 2:1 just a few seconds before the half time whistle as they played a free-kick at the height of the halfway line short and then crossed it in the dangerous area ahead of the goal. This once more proved that Salzburg is weak when it comes to the defending of crosses and especially set-pieces what we will analyse later on too.
So, when the second half kicked off, Salzburg was just with one goal in front. Additionally, Kühbauer made a slight change in the central midfield during the half time. As we already saw above, in the first half, Velimirovic often positioned himself higher and put pressure on Wöber to create a sort of a 5-2-3 formation. However, in the second half Rapid’s midfield just mirrored RB Salzburg’s. So, Schwab positioned himself higher and behind the two strikers while Velimirovic and Ljubicic stayed deeper to create a kind of a 5-2-1-2. Firstly, its goal was likely to take Junuzović out of the game and in addition, Schwab could use in this more advanced position his ability to win aerial duels.
However, in the first half of the match, it was often Schwab who supported the left wing-back, Ullmann, to get out of pressing situations of Salzburg with the aid of short passes. Since then in the second half, Schwab was further upfront, and Ljubicic didn’t help Ullmann that quickly in many situations, it was in several situations possible for Marsch’s team to force the Austrian to long balls since he had no short passing options as it can be seen in the image below.
Due to the fact that they mirrored the midfield of Salzburg, they created three one-on-one situations in the central midfield and used man-marking as tactic there. However, Junuzović was still the man on the pitch with most actions with the ball after the 90 minutes (101). But Rapid were able to get back on the level on which they were in the first 30 minutes of the first half and kept the game thrilling.
Set-pieces are surely among the very few weaknesses of RB Salzburg in this season. It’s no surprise and no big deal that they didn’t score a goal after a set-piece since they were once more able to score through other ways, but they conceded two goals after set-pieces. On the other side, Rapid have a clear concept of how they want to defend opposing corners which gets visible in the two images below. Three men are positioned in front of the goal while four or five players man-mark opponents. So, it’s a mixture of zonal defending and man-marking. Besides, the remaining players are positioned either at the front post or at the edge of the box to win the second ball.
The 2:1 of Rapid was scored after a free-kick at the height of the halfway line. Kühbauer’s team played the free-kick short and then crossed into the dangerous area in front of the goal. However, they managed to score the 2:2 in the 87th minute also after a free-kick which Barać headed into the goal. It’s quite strange that a team looks that unorganised ahead of a freekick as Salzburg did in this case. You also have to add that Schwab crossed it perfectly into the centre, but it still once more showed Salzburg’s weakness when it comes to the defending of set-pieces. Additionally, Rapid had five corners compared to Salzburg’s three and March’s team fouled their opponents more often what gifted Vienna several good positions to cross the ball into the centre. In the light of this, Salzburg has to work on the defending on set-pieces and should also try to avoid to give so many corners and free-kicks near the goal to the opposition.
Anyways, Junuzović converted in the injury time a free-kick into a beautiful goal to make it 3:2 for the home team and so Salzburg got away with the three points. It was a tight match with a deserved winner since Salzburg had between the 30th and 45th several times the chance to score another goal.
Rapid played well, but it didn’t pay off. However, both goals resulted out of set-pieces what shows that they have to work on the creation of goalscoring opportunities. Anyways, Vienna showed that they are able to play on the same level as Salzburg while the team of Marsch continued to dominate in the Austrian Bundesliga.
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