Austrian Bundesliga is heading for its most important stage, the playoff rounds. Twelve teams will be divided into two groups which consist of six based on their position on the league table. The top six will compete for the championship and five European spots. The bottom six will make sure they aren’t the last placed team, which is an automatic relegation spot.
The second matchday of the playoff rounds took place last weekend. And LASK Linz versus Red Bull Salzburg clash was one of the most interesting clashes that caught the eyes. Both teams are currently managed by two innovative and talented coach, namely Oliver Glasner and Marco Rose respectively. Their style of play attracted many compliments from football fans and professionals throughout Europe. That is why their clash last Sunday was expected to be thrilling and exciting.
And it was worth the wait. Linz and Salzburg approached the game with high confidence and a free-flowing style of play. They created many chances towards each other’s goal and Rose’s side showed their quality in converting those chances. Fredrik Gulbrandsen and Patson Daka were the scorers for Salzburg and helped them sealed three important points. This tactical analysis will help you take a closer look at why Salzburg could come out with a win against Linz.
The home side had two changes to their familiar 3-4-3 setup. Christian Ramsebner was replaced by Markus Wostry as a right centre-back. Dominik Frieser was chosen to fill in the space that Reinhold Ranftl left behind. Up front, João Klauss and João Victor continued their chemistry as strikers after scoring a total of two goals last match. Playing behind them is Thomas Goiginger. Former Bayern youngster Fabian Benko and veteran Emanuel Pogatetz appeared on the bench.
Rose only made one change to the side that secured three points against Austria Wien last week. Former Werder Bremen midfielder Zlatko Junuzović replaced Hungarian prospect Dominik Szoboszlai as a left central midfielder. Moanes Dabour (or you might know him as Munas Dabbur) hoping to extend his sixteen goals record this season. Diadie Samassékou acted as a single pivot in front of André Ramalho and Jérôme Onguéné. Norwegian prospect Erling Braut Håland is still waiting for his second match for the club.
Linz’s defensive structure
Glasner has adopted a very interesting style of play for Linz this season. When not in possession, they tended to press the opponent depending on the situation and time. But occasionally, we would see the strikers press high up the field. Their aim was to regain possession as soon as possible and start a counter-attack.
Combining with their man-oriented marking system, Linz’s pressing game became harder to deal with. In the shot below, we see there is at least a Linz player followed a Salzburg player. They wanted to suffocate the passing options that the ball-carrier had, forcing him to play a long ball.
At some point in the game, they adopted a conservative press when they couldn’t overload the opposite half. But against a Salzburg side that moved the ball quickly, Linz usually got caught off when the press was bypassed. The players would have to move back immediately into their own half and this made them tired easily.
Their defensive structure was also another interesting point that we should have a look at. As mentioned earlier, Glasner lined his side up in a 3-4-3. But it would turn into a narrow 5-2-3 when Salzburg entered their half with the ball. Wing-backs Frieser and Maximillian Ullmann would change their status from attack to defence and joined up with the centre-backs. Their main responsibility was to prevent any passes came into the half-spaces and wide spaces. They would also stop any wide movements that could come from Dabour and Gulbrandsen.
The central midfielders, namely Peter Michorl and James Holland, would act as the link between the defenders and the strikers. These two would actively contribute to the team’s defence and attack, but were fixed to the middle area. Looking through the stats, we might have a feeling that Michorl was similar to a deep-lying playmaker. He made 26 accurate passes, had no shots, registered 17 duels and only made two dribbles. While Holland was far more active and was similar to an all-rounder. He made 28 accurate passes, had two shots, registered 31 duels and made four dribbles.
An interesting fact was that when Salzburg circulated the ball in their own half, Linz formed a 3-3-1-3 defensive structure. This would help them pressed the centre-backs more easily, if they were intended to. Michorl combined with the inverted wing-backs to form a line in front of the centre-backs. Holland’s responsibility was to move between Michorl’s line and the strikers. If there are any through balls made by the centre-backs, he would be the second person to intercept it.
Their defensive structure was also quite narrow, again, this helped them intrigued the press more easily. If Salzburg moved the ball to the other side, the structure would shift with the ball. Glasner found that Salzburg rarely used long-balls to rotate their attacking direction and that’s why he decided to adopt this system.
Linz’s attacking phase
When in possession, Linz tended to build from the back. Against a high pressing team like Salzburg, their three-man back line became more vital. The away side usually pressed with two strikers only and Minamino acted as a supporter. The Japanese didn’t join the high press and he rathered wait for the ball to reach the halfway line. This gave Linz’s a man advantage when they played out from the back.
They usually focused their attack into the wings, mainly the left-hand side. Linz already acknowledged that the middle area was congested and they decided to distribute widely. When this happened, Ullmann would join the attack and provide a passing option. He then had two options. Dribble towards the final third and made a cross, or laid it off for João Victor. The second option was occasionally chosen, as he made seven passes towards the Brazilian midfielder and only registered two crosses.
They also tended to overload the final third using the wing-backs. At the same time, the central midfielders would join the attack when needed. This created more passing options for the ball-carrier and helped them to be more precise in their chances. But luck wasn’t on their side today, as they could only register three shots on target.
Salzburg’s style of play
For some who have followed the Red Bull clubs, Rose’s style of play will be very familiar but he also made some changes to it. When not in possession, Salzburg usually lined up in a compact 4-3-1-2 or a diamond 4-1-2-1-2 depend on how you see it. Samassékou acted as a shield in front of the defence, his responsibilities were cutting passes and stop any individuals efforts. The Malian was joined by Xaver Schlager and Junuzović as they formed a three-man midfield line. Occasionally, Minamino would drop off his line and support the midfielders.
Their structure would create an overload in the center of the field, forcing the opposition to play the ball wide. They also rely on the occupation of the half-spaces, the positions which the interior midfielders and strikers were in charge of. Their responsibilities were put pressure on the opponent’s full-backs when they are overlapping.
Rose instructs his players to press aggressively throughout the pitch. Their aim was to win the ball and limit the passing options that the ball-carrier had. This caused frustrations for the ball-carrier as there weren’t many spaces in front of him to execute a pass. He then was forced to play a back pass or circulate the ball with his teammates. By then, Salzburg’s structure would stretch out and restart the press again.
Salzburg also played with a high defensive line, which was similar to Linz. In defence, they would wait for a long ball from the opposition and make a clearance. Ramalho and Onguéné’s aerial superiority and positional awareness were key to the system. They registered eight and seven clearances respectively. They also made thirteen and nine interceptions throughout the match.
In attack, they were the first line to start the attack, especially using penetrative passes by Ramalho. Because Salzburg usually put an emphasis on playing the ball vertically, this helped them reduce their attacks building time. At times, left-back Andreas Ulmer could also drop deep to provide a passing option for Onguéné and Ramalho.
Up front, the attackers and midfielders will locate themselves between lines of pressure. This would allow for quick combinations in and around the final third through one-two passes, layoffs and through balls. Usually, Dabour would drop deep similar to a false nine, received the ball or intrigued a press to get the ball. He then made a pass into the run of Minamino or Gulbrandsen, who already exploited the space behind Linz’s backline. This was demonstrated clearly through Gulbrandsen’s first goal and through the shot below.
If the central area is congested, he would encourage his players to play the ball wide to the full-backs. Ulmer and Stefan Lainer were located near the halfway line, but would still be able to dribble forward. They usually received support from the interior midfielders, who are willing to drop out of the centre and into the half-spaces. In the meantime, Salzburg players would create an overload inside the opposition’s half and wait for the cross.
Red Bull Salzburg has been the dominated side in the Austrian Bundesliga in recent seasons. But this match showed that Oliver Glasner’s LASK Linz could also become a side that could threaten Salzburg’s domination. There are some similarities in both teams’ style of play, but still, they are very distinctive. It’s very interesting to see how far could Linz go with Glasner and the possibility of them progressing in the European competitions.
For Salzburg, once again they have shown their class to dominate the league and head for that double. But it’s time for them to focus more on continental competitions, where they had succeeded in recent seasons. It’s hard for a team that comes from a less-known domestic competition to progress further enough, still, Salzburg had shown the opposite. Linz and Salzburg are a very interesting side to watch at the moment and this match indicated my statement.
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