RB Salzburg lost in the first 16 games of this Austrian Bundesliga season no game and won 12 of them. Last week they just drew against Admira Wacker 1:1. However, their hunter LASK Linz lost last weekend against Rapid Vienna and due to that ahead of this week’s game they were still in the first position with two points ahead of Linz.

On the other side, WSG Tirol lost their last game against Sturm Graz 1:5 and are currently in a bad 10th position with just 12 points out of the first 16 league games. Only Admira Wacker and Mattersburg have fewer points at this stage of the season.

Considering this, it seemed to be an easy game for Salzburg, but since on Tuesday they would face Liverpool at home in the Champions League in the deciding game of the group stage, this was somehow the rehearsal for this big game.

In this tactical analysis, we’ll look at both teams’ tactics and how Salzburg was able to beat Tirol 5:1.

Lineups

Austrian Bundesliga 2019/20: RB Salzburg vs WSG Tirol - tactical analysis tactics
Both teams’ lineups

Jesse Marsch chose a 3-1-4-2 formation with Cican Stankovic in goal. The back three consisted of André Ramalho, Jérôme Onguéné and Maximilian Wöber. The 19-years-old Mohamed Camara was the only defensive midfielder while the wing-backs were the Austrian captain Andreas Ulmer and Rasmus Kristensen. Takumi Minamino and Masaya Okugawa were the offensive midfielders while Patson Daka and Erling Haaland were the strikers. Dominik Szoboszlai and Zlatko Junuzović were on the bench and didn’t come on as Marsch gave them a break ahead of the important game against Liverpool.

On the other side, Thomas Silberberger lined his team up in a 5-4-1 formation which already told how defensive they would act during these 90 minutes. The captain Ferdinand Oswald was between the sticks. The back five consisted of Felix Adjei, Stefan Hager, Sandro Neurauter, David Gugganig and Sebastian Santin. Michael Svoboda and Lukas Grgic were the central midfielders while the wings were occupied by Benjamin Pranter and Florian Rieder. The 19-years-old Kelvin Yeboah was the lone man up front.

Early goals

Right from the begin on Salzburg dominated the game as we expected them to do so and they had 69% of possession after the 90 minutes. Tirol just mainly focused on the defending and wanted to keep the clean sheet as long as possible. We’ll look at their system as well as at the tactics of Salzburg later in this analysis. However, at first, we analyse the two early goals which Salzburg made. Already in the third minute, Daka scored the first goal after a corner. As you can see in the image below, all players of Salzburg who are strong in the air positioned themselves in front of the goal of Tirol. Due to that, a lot of men were in the six-yard box and Ulmer’s cross exactly fell down there. Additionally, the goalkeeper Oswald also came out but didn’t reach the ball. Daka went a few steps back and was completely free to score the opening goal of this day.

Austrian Bundesliga 2019/20: RB Salzburg vs WSG Tirol - tactical analysis tactics Austrian Bundesliga 2019/20: RB Salzburg vs WSG Tirol - tactical analysis tactics

However, it just took a few minutes until the fans in the Red Bull Arena had another reason to celebrate as in the ninth minute the second striker Haaland also scored. As we will see later in this analysis, Salzburg didn’t just use short passing combinations to dominate the game and find a way through the low block of Tirol but also used long balls. Such a long pass perfectly worked off in the ninth minute ahead of the score becoming 2:0. The right striker Daka dropped a few yards to lure the centre-back Neurauter out of the back five. This created space for Okugawa who started a deep run and received a perfectly timed through ball from Camara. He then delivered a low cross into the centre where Haaland just had to tap the ball in for the 2:0 lead.

Austrian Bundesliga 2019/20: RB Salzburg vs WSG Tirol - tactical analysis tactics
The centre-back follows Daka and this creates space for Okugawa

Austrian Bundesliga 2019/20: RB Salzburg vs WSG Tirol - tactical analysis tactics

Salzburg dominating the game

These two early goals just helped Salzburg as they had more confidence and continued to dominate the game with the aid of possession. The interesting aspect about this was that Salzburg once more used a different formation during the build-up compared to their games before. In the last game, they used a back four, two weeks ago Marsch wanted that two deep defensive midfielders would support the back three and this time just Camara was deep to support Wöber, Onguéné and Ramalho.

Onguéné was the central man of the back three and a bit deeper positioned compared to the other two men. Camara positioned between Tirol’s only striker Yeboah and their four midfielders. In light of this, they created a kind of a diamond with Yeboah in the middle of it. Logically, the 19-years-old wasn’t able to put real pressure on the four men due to the clear numerical disadvantage. So, Salzburg easily circulated the ball in the deeper areas. Meanwhile, Kristensen and Ulmer were the only men on the wings and positioned wide to stretch the opposition.

Austrian Bundesliga 2019/20: RB Salzburg vs WSG Tirol - tactical analysis tactics
Camara in the space between Tirol’s midfield four and Yeboah

However, since Salzburg just had one player on each wing, just Tirol’s wing-backs had to stay wide and look after them. The two wingers of the midfield four could stay more centrally due to that and keep the distance between themselves and the central midfielders Svoboda and Grgic small. This gets visible when we look at the average positioning of Tirol’s players.

Austrian Bundesliga 2019/20: RB Salzburg vs WSG Tirol - tactical analysis tactics
Average positioning of Tirol’s players. Notice how close the midfielders (#7, #46, #3, #16) are positioned to each other

On the other side, Marsch’s strikers Haaland and Daka mainly stayed high to pin the centre-backs back. This created a bigger distance between the back five and the four midfielders. Exactly in this space, Minamino and Okugawa permanently tried to create vertical and diagonal passing lanes for their teammates as we’ll see later in this analysis. The 5-4-1 formation of Tirol, as well as the positioning of Salzburg’s players, can be seen in the shot below.

Austrian Bundesliga 2019/20: RB Salzburg vs WSG Tirol - tactical analysis tactics
Typical positioning of Salzburg’s players. Ulmer (highlighted) is positioned wide. Minamino and Okugawa are in the space between the lines

As already mentioned, Salzburg often opted with long balls as, for example, ahead of the 2:0. All in all, after the whole game they played 34 long passes. However, these long balls weren’t always through balls behind the back five of Tirol. We also saw quite often that they wanted to find Daka or Haaland with long passes in the space between the lines where they were forced into aerial duels. However, all these different kinds of passes also had a second goal: winning the second ball in higher lines. As soon as one of the three centre-backs played a long pass, Camara moved forward and the according wing-back (in the example below Ulmer) shifted inside to create at least numerical equality in the space where the second ball would come down.

Austrian Bundesliga 2019/20: RB Salzburg vs WSG Tirol - tactical analysis tactics
Salzburg creates numerical superiority to win the second ball

As we already saw in an example above, Yeboah had a hard time when the opposition were in possession since he was the only man up front and had no real chance to win the ball for his team. However, it was almost the same situation when his team started a counterattack. Due to the deep positioning of his teammates, he was the lone man up front and had numerous duels with Salzburg’s centre-backs. The shot below is a typical example. He mainly had to face Onguéné who mostly was able to clear the situation successfully and if not, Wöber and Ramalho supported their teammate. Tirol was almost never able to get in a dangerous situation and their goal also resulted out of a corner. Besides, their goal was the only shot in the 90 which was on target.

Austrian Bundesliga 2019/20: RB Salzburg vs WSG Tirol - tactical analysis tactics
Yeboah alone against the back three of Salzburg during a counterattack

Movements in the higher lines

Since four players of Salzburg were positioned deeper during their build-up, the four offensive players and the two wing-backs had the task to create goalscoring situations. Since they already scored two goals very early in the game, they had no real pressure to score another goal. However, you had the feeling that the offensive players of Salzburg enjoyed being on the pitch together and used different movements and runs to permanently create passing lanes. These various runs and patterns made it hard for Tirol to defend against Marsch’s team since Salzburg’s attacks were almost always different compared to the ones before. We’ll now look at the three typical patterns which occurred several times in this match.

The first one is a typical vertical pass to find one of the strikers or offensive midfielders between the lines of the opponent. Okugawa and Minamino permanently positioned themselves in the half-spaces to receive such passes while Haaland and Daka also sometimes came deeper to position in the room between the lines. In the image below, we see such a typical penetrating pass and Camara finds Okugawa with a good ball.

Austrian Bundesliga 2019/20: RB Salzburg vs WSG Tirol - tactical analysis tactics
Penetrating pass to find Okugawa

However, not just the central players were involved in the creation of goalscoring opportunities but also the wing-backs. As already mentioned, they were positioned very wide to stretch the opposition and pin the oppositional wing-backs. As soon as they received a pass, we saw two interesting movements which were made by the offensive midfielder and striker on the according side. These runs can be seen in the shot below. As Ulmer receives the pass, the oppositional wing-back Santin comes out to get into a duel. This creates space behind him for Okugawa in which he runss. Furthermore, since the offensive midfielder sprints into the wide area, Ulmer has no passing option in the centre. Because of that Haaland drops diagonally into the space between the lines to give Ulmer a passing option. Now, the left wing-back has got two options as he can play a through pass to Okugawa or find Haaland in the centre.

Austrian Bundesliga 2019/20: RB Salzburg vs WSG Tirol - tactical analysis tactics
Due to the typical movements Ulmer has two passing options

Anyways, as already described the wingers of the midfield four of Tirol were often positioned very narrow and near to the central midfielders since their wing-backs marked Kristensen and Ulmer. This narrow positioning made it in some situations really hard to find players between the lines with passes which already has been described. Due to that, sometimes the wing-backs positioned more central to bypass with two short diagonal passes the midfield of Tirol and get in the space behind them. This can be seen in the shot below. After Ulmer’s pass, Minamino dribbles past two defenders to then score the 4:0. We can also see that Wöber has no chance to find neither Okugawa nor Minamino with a vertical pass due to the narrow positioning of the midfield four of Tirol.

Austrian Bundesliga 2019/20: RB Salzburg vs WSG Tirol - tactical analysis tactics
Passing combination ahead of the 4:0

Intensity to win back the ball

As it can be seen in the images above, Salzburg used interesting movements to get into the dangerous areas in front of the goal. Besides, they used their high and aggressive pressing and counter-pressing to not allow Tirol to have a build-up or start a counterattack respectively.

In the shot below, we can see a typical situation which took place just seconds after Salzburg lost the ball higher up the pitch. They instantly surrounded the opponent on the ball and just as it looked like Tirol was able to get out of this situation with a good pass, Okugawa puts pressure on the receiver of the pass to win back the ball for his team.

Austrian Bundesliga 2019/20: RB Salzburg vs WSG Tirol - tactical analysis tactics
Counter-pressing by Salzburg and Okugawa wins the ball

However, this intense counter-pressing also has his risks as the opposition have a lot of space when they are able to bypass the counter-pressing. Tirol was rarely able to do so in this game and when they were able to overcome the counter-pressing, the back three of Salzburg defended well. However, in the shot below you can see such a situation after a failed counter-pressing. Notice how many players of Salzburg are positioned higher up the pitch than the ball. Tirol haven’t got the class to exploit such situations, but Liverpool have and will create something dangerous in such moments on Tuesday when they get such chances.

Austrian Bundesliga 2019/20: RB Salzburg vs WSG Tirol - tactical analysis tactics
Tirol can overcome the counter-pressing of Salzburg but it leads to nothing

But Marsch’s team didn’t just put pressure on Tirol, when they lost the ball. They never gave Silberberger’s team a chance to have a calm and structured build-up. Salzburg permanently used a high pressing to don’t give them any time to breathe. This is also one of the reasons why Tirol just had 31% of possession after the 90 minutes. In the shot below we can see such a pressing situation in which Salzburg force their opponents to play a long ball which is then easily defended by the back three.

Austrian Bundesliga 2019/20: RB Salzburg vs WSG Tirol - tactical analysis tactics
Salzburg’s pressing

Besides, another statistic shows the difference between the two teams. Salzburg had a PPDA-value (passes allowed per def. action) of 4.6 after the match compared to Tirol’s 20. With the aid of these values, we clearly see how aggressive and intense Salzburg used their (counter-)pressing.

Conclusion

Salzburg dominated the whole game and scored two early goals which decided the game almost before it really has started. Tirol showed a disciplined performance, but Salzburg’s different patterns in attack just gave them no chance to defend against. It’s questionable how this game would have been if Marsch’s team didn’t score such two early goals.

Anyways, a good win ahead of their big clash with Liverpool. Also, it’s great that Haaland was for the first time in some while part of the starting XI. You still notice that he’s not at 100% after his injury, but he’ll be a key factor in the match against the Reds. So, it was important for him to get enough time on the pitch this weekend as he did.


Total Football Analysis Magazine #16: December 2019

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