Peter Michorl at LASK Linz 2019/20 – scout report
Last weekend the German Bundesliga celebrated it restart and fans around the globe were happy to see for the first time in weeks top-class football. In less than two weeks also the Austrian Bundesliga will return, and the plan is that we will get the last 10 matchdays of the championship and the relegation playoff respectively.
After the opening 22 games which were played ahead of the forced break due to the corona crisis, LASK Linz sat in the first position ahead of RB Salzburg. Since after this first phase of the season the 12 teams will get divided into two groups and the points of each team get halved, also the margin between Linz and Salzburg is now three instead of six points. Furthermore, Rapid Vienna is also only four points behind Salzburg. Considering this, the final phase of the Austrian Bundesliga could be quite interesting.
Even though RB Salzburg were last seasons dominant force, in this campaign, we have with LASK Linz a team who are performing on the same level as the squad of Jesse Marsch. One important player for Linz is the central midfielder Peter Michorl.
Positioning, movements and cooperation with Holland
LASK Linz used in this season only the 3-4-3 as their formation. They are one of the very few teams in the Austrian Bundesliga who rarely switch the system and stick with their one preferred one. Michorl and Holland are the two first-choice players for the central midfield of Valérien Ismaël. Michorl played in this season 1807 minutes in the Austrian Bundesliga while Holland was 1685 minutes on the pitch. Also, the fact that no other central midfielder of LASK played over 500 minutes shows that these two are clearly the regular starters.
Michorl is always the player on the left side while his Australian partner is the right central midfielder. By looking at the heatmap of Michorl for his 1807 minutes in the Austrian Bundesliga in this season below, we can see that he always stays on the left side, but doesn’t only occupy the left half-space as he also drifts to the outside.
There are two basic reasons why he often drifts to the left side as firstly, he can play from there dangerous balls with his left foot (as we will see later in this tactical analysis) and secondly he has often a lot of space there due to the movements of the left wing-back and the left-winger as we can see in the image below. Michorl likes to position himself outside of the opposition’s block during the build-up to have the whole pitch in front of him and additionally he gives himself more time.
While a central task for a lot of central midfielders is to win second balls, this is for Michorl and Holland elementary. One of LASK’s central tactics is the combination of long balls towards the three forwards (especially the centre-forward) and to then win the second ball and start the counter-pressing respectively. The two central midfielders are among the most important players when it comes to this tactic since they are the ones who are positioned in the space where the ball comes down.
In the shot below we can see a perfect example from the UEFA Europa League game against Manchester United. After a long kick by the goalkeeper Alexander Schlager towards the tall forward Klauss, Michorl fights for the second ball against the former Chelsea player Juan Mata.
Even though Linz are among the teams who press in at their opponents during the majority of the match (average PPDA value of 6.56 what is the second-lowest in the Austrian Bundesliga), there are also periods when they sit back deeper and put pressure on the opponents just deep in their own half. Especially in games against other strong teams like the EPL giants Manchester United.
Whenever Ismaël’s team decide to defend deeper, the wing-backs drop to create a back five and the two wingers position at about the same height as the two central midfielders to create a 5-4-1 as we can see it perfectly in the image below.
Considering that these two have to occupy and defend the centre mainly by themselves, you would expect that these two are defensively extremely strong. However, Michorl is definitely not among the defensively most solid central midfielders as we can see in the following graph. Most of his successful defensive actions come in moments when he reads the game and knows what the opponent will do as the following action, but he is by far not that strong when it comes to defending like Holland is. Therefore, these two complement each other perfectly as Holland is defensively strong and his ball-playing abilities are average while Michorl is exactly the other way around.
In the graph below, we have the number of defensive duels per 90 as an indicator of how often players are involved in these as well as the number of interceptions per 30 minutes of opponent possession. Furthermore, the size of the dots is directly proportional to the number of successful defensive actions per 90 minutes. The players in this graph are all central midfielders who played in this season at least 500 minutes in the Austrian Bundesliga.
With 4.93 defensive duels per 90 (average success rate with 53.54%), 5.6 interceptions per 30 minutes of opposition possession and 7.17 successful defensive actions per game, we can see that the 24-years-old Austrian is not among the defensively strongest players in the Austrian Bundesliga. However, we can also see in the numbers that Holland is on the other hand defensively solid.
As mentioned prior in this tactical analysis, Michorl is not that defensively strong and especially by looking at his number of defensive duels per 90, we can see that he is not that often involved in these. If the 24-years-old can improve his skills in the fight for the ball, he could become an even more complete player. However, as we have now a basic overview of his positioning, movements and his tasks in the tactics of LASK Linz, we will now have a more detailed look at his technical skills and his vision. Both aspects help him during the possession phase of his team in which he is incredibly important.
In truth, it is always the vision and the understanding of the game which is important to find and choose the right option and then you need the technical abilities to execute your action. Considering this, these three aspects need each other in every action in a football game. Anyway, to break it down we will now focus on the technique and (body) positioning of Michorl and in the following section on his vision and understanding of the game. Logically, we will permanently have overlaps, but we will structure it that way to get a better understanding of the different parts of Michorl’s qualities.
Michorl and Holland are both responsible for the progression of the ball together with the three defenders. One of the two central midfielders usually drops a bit deeper while the other one stays in the centre. As already mentioned in this scout report, the 24-years-old Austrian stays mainly on the left side and we can see this also in a typical example for Linz’s build-up in the shot below. Michorl stays deeper to collect the ball while Holland is positioned higher up the pitch. In this sequence, he receives the ball from the right defender and plays then a long through ball towards the left wing-back.
Also, the Austrian always finds the best body orientation before he even receives the ball and tells his teammates how they should pass him the ball, so he can then instantly start with the next action. Also, his decent body positioning helps him to have the important part of the pitch in his sight, so he can scan it quickly and find the right player for the pass.
In the example below, we can see all these aspects in one situation as he is positioned the way, that his body orientation is towards the goal before he even receives the ball and he tells his teammate, that he should play the ball slightly in front of him, so he can instantly go forward. While he receives the ball and dribbles a few yards forward, he scans the area around the penalty box in front of him as he detects the deep run of Samuel Tetteh to find him with a decent through-pass. In this situation, we have a good body orientation, his vision and the technical abilities all at once.
As the last point in this section of the tactical analysis, I would like to mention that Michorl chooses in the majority of the situations the right technique to execute his actions. He’s not only able to play precise, low-thriven and powerful through passes as we can see in the example above but also often plays long balls to the wing or behind the opposing defence, is responsible for the corners and freekicks from a greater distance as his crosses are decent and also can score goals with the aid of simple but effective shots like the one below.
Vision and understanding of the game
Now, we come to the probably most important part of this scout report as we look at the qualities which make Michorl one of the most interesting players in the Austrian Bundesliga. As we already saw that his body positioning and technique are really good and next we talk about his understanding of the game, I want to note once more in this tactical analysis that he could become an even more special player within the upcoming years when his defensive skills will improve.
Before we now look at some situations in which the 24-years-old shows off his incredible vision and understanding of football, we will take another quick look at some stats. In the graph below we have the number of passes per 90 minutes as well as the expected assists (xA) per 90. Again, the players in our pool are all central midfielders who played in the current campaign at least 500 minutes in the Austrian Bundesliga.
We can see that Michorl has an about average value for passes per 90 with 42.53, but his number of expected assists is incredibly high (0.27). One main reason for that are his well-delivered set-pieces, but another major reason are his penetrating passes.
But before we look at these passes to the final third and other moments in which you see his understanding of the game, I want to come back to his already mentioned positioning on the left-wing. Besides the fact that the left wing-back (mostly René Renner) is often positioned really high, this positioning also helps him to have all the other players in front of him and besides he can play great switches to the other wing or diagonal passes to the centre with his left foot in this position. We can see an example for that in the shot below as he detects his free teammate on the opposing wing and finds him with a long ball.
Since Michorl is not an outstanding fast player, he doesn’t dribble that often (1.69 times per 90 minutes). He just tries to go past an opponent, when he detects a free space in which he thinks it is worth it to risk something and dribble. In these moments, he often tries to exploit that an opponent rushes towards him and then he just gets past him by moving quickly to the side. To execute such actions, a player needs to permanently be aware of the free spaces and especially detect early enough when an opponent tries to press in at him. We can see a decent example for that in the shot below as Michorl receives the ball and the player of Basel rushes towards him. The 24-years-old quickly steps to the side to get past the opponent and dribbles forward into the free space to then play a through pass.
The Austrian midfielder played in this season in 20 out of the 22 possible games in the Austrian Bundesliga and provided 11 assists which is an incredible statistic. Even though the majority of Michorl’s assists come from corners, we also often see him playing decent through passes which then result in a goal like the one in the following image in which he found Tetteh with a perfect lobbed ball as he detected the gap in the defence.
Set-pieces are a central part of the abilities of the 24-years-old midfielder, but since LASK have so many different variations, we won’t look at them in this scout report. As we saw in this tactical analysis, Michorl’s greatest strengths are his ball-playing abilities while his partner in the centre Holland is defensively stronger. In the moments of offensive transition, the Austrian instantly looks for the forward option and we can often see him trying to find a forward with a long ball during counter-attacks.
Michorl is 24 years old and an incredibly important player for one of the two best sides in Austria. Due to that, it would be no surprise if we see him, for example, in the Bundesliga in a few years. Who knows where his path will lead to if he can keep up these decent performances.