Darmstadt have had a tricky last couple of seasons in the landscape of German football. After barely avoiding the drop last season under Dirk Schuster, Die Lilien where hopeful of making push towards pastures greener in the top half of the standings. However, an element of déjà vu overcame Darmstadt as midway through the previous campaign they were languishing in the fight to avoid the drops. Fortunately, through a change of coach with Dimitrios Grammozis Darmstadt managed to finish a respectable 10th.
Heading into this season Darmstadt have identified players to help bolster the squad in an effort to build on a strong last couple of months. One player who caught the eye was Austrian winger Mathias Honsak. The 22-year old has untapped potential and after a season in the 2. Bundesliga, he joined from parent club RB Salzburg for an undisclosed fee. This tactical analysis and scout report looks at what Honsak brings to the table and how he can help Darmstadt this season.
The junior years
Stability isn’t something you would associate with Honsak’s career to date. He has bounced around from club to club in the Austrian footballing scene. Floridsdorfer AC, Austrian Wien, and FC Stadlau all had Honsak throughout his junior career. It would be at FC Stadlau in the Wiener Stadtliga where Honsak would break into the first team as a 15-year old. He impressed playing a role off the bench where he scored twice in his debut season.
Honsak would remain with FC Stadlau for another season making 25 appearances and scoring nine goals in a showcase of his talents. The Wien native would move to Erste Liga FC Liefering at the beginning of the 2014/15 and made and showed glimpses. Five goals and three assists playing in a variety of different roles. Honsak would only remain with Liefering for another half a season before joining Austrian Bundesliga side SV Ried on an 18-month loan deal. Initially, Honsak struggled to make an impact in the initial phases but came on strong in the 16/17 campaign where he was a regular starter in Lassaad Chabbi’s side. An MCL injury would end his stint at SV Ried and his season.
At the beginning of the 2017/18 campaign, Honsak signed with Austrian juggernaut Red Bull Salzburg. However, it became evident that a first-team spot would be hard to come by. Honsak was shipped to SCR Altach on loan until the end of the season. Like his time at SV Ried, Honsak didn’t have a specific role to play and plugged the gaps where necessary. Another leg injury cut short Honsak’s time with SCR Altach which ended with three goals and assist from 19 league appearances.
A season with Holstein Kiel
Prior to the previous campaign, Honsak had played for a total of seven different clubs both professional and junior as he turned 21. Quite extraordinary for a player who up to this point didn’t have a defined role nor position which he consistently played. Honsak was once again sent away but this time to 2. Bundesliga side Holstein Kiel for a loan fee of £45k.
Under Tim Walter, Honsak hit the ground running with an excellent performance on the opening day of the season in a 3-0 win over Hamburger SV. Honsak scored the final goal in stoppage time to cap of an exceptional display by Walter’s side. The Wien native continued his good form early in the season with a couple of assists against Greuther Fürth and Bochum before missing a month with a fractured arm.
The injury came at an ill opportune time for Honsak who would spend the rest of the season in and out of the starting lineup. Honsak had a few good performances in that stretch including his efforts against Erzgebirge Aue on matchday 26. A goal and two assists in a rampant 5-1 win.
Finishing your dinner
In Honsak’s first season in the 2. Bundesliga, the Austrian winger was quite productive. Four goals and five assists in 25 appearances with Holstein Kiel and it isn’t inconceivable that these numbers could’ve been greater had he not missed games through injury. This part of the tactical analysis will look at three of the goals scored by Honsak last season.
The first goal comes from the opening game of the season against Hamburger SV as Kiel look to counter and potentially add a third. The match-up between Honsak and Gotoku Sakai is important in the piece as the Japanese full-back tracks back. Alexander Mühling is on the ball and eases past Lewis Holtby allowing the play to develop.
Mühling plays the ball to space allowing David Kinsombi to gain possession unopposed. In just six seconds, Kiel are entering the final third and Honsak has surpassed Sakai and is an option on goal. With Kinsombi gaining defensive pressure he plays the ball to the edge of the area.
The ball from Kinsombi is good as Honsak controls with his chest. Sakai at this point is still in the picture but has been outworked and outhustled by a more determined Honsak.
Honsak still has plenty to do as he brings the ball to his feet. Julian Pollersbeck has covered centrally but a shot to the near post would have to be powerful to beat the Hamburg shot-stopper. To ensure Sakai can’t affect the play, Honsak takes it first time and with Pollersbeck’s momentum going towards his right he is all but a bystander. It’s a fantastic goal, beautiful technique to control the ball from chest to feet in stride and out of the reach of the keeper.
Honsak’s second goal isn’t one for the highlight reel by any means, but shows the importance of positional play and putting yourself in an optimum area to pick up the pieces. We start with Lee Jae-Sung in on goal, he’s drawing a crowd with three Dynamo Dresden defenders watching his move. The shot on goal is saved by Markus Schubert, however, with very little area to parry the ball heads into the danger area of the box. Honsak at this stage has peeled off Dresden defenders and awaits the rebound.
As the ball cannons off Schubert, Honsak is in the perfect position to finish off any loose ends to which he does. Had one of the Dresden defenders managed to cover Honsak perhaps the danger is dispelled.
The final scenario ironically comes against his new employers Darmstadt in what was a 3-2 win for the hosts. Here, Darmstadt fail to clear in this situation allowing Kiel a re-entry into the 18-yard box. As the defence has pressed up enough, Honsak remains onside as the first time ball from Atakan Karazor plays the Austrian in.
Honsak still has plenty to do as Darmstadt’s defence closes in on the 22-year old but the Austrian is determined towards goal. Four Darmstadt players look to thwart Honsak’s effort on goal but the Wien native is able to persist and perceiver to score the equaliser.
As mentioned, Honsak hasn’t had a conventional career so far. He has played in a variety of different positions at different clubs, but despite not having a set role it allows him to be flexible to managers. Honsak has played predominantly on the left-hand side whether as a left midfielder or a left back/wing back. However, Honsak with his pace and ability to finish chances has seen managers play him up top as a striker or playing in behind the number nine.
His heat map from last season showcases his DNA as a left-sided player where Walter would use him specifically as a winger or full back. But we can also see the heat map heating up within the 18-yard box where Honsak featured prominently in the second half of the season. Take that in comparison to his career heat map and you can see managers were reluctant to use Honsak in a central role.
Looking to blossom at Darmstadt
With many unsure as to where Honsak’s next move would be, whether he would fight for a place at RB Salzburg with new manager Jesse Marsch or would it be elsewhere? Honsak had plenty to offer but after an excellent campaign for RB Salzburg which included a Europa League round of 16 birth and dominance in domestic play, he was deemed as surplus. With his future hanging in limbo, Darmstadt came in and signed Honsak on a deal keeping him at the club until 2022.
Darmstadt play in a 4-2-3-1 formation and under Grammozis it garnered great success, in 11 games Darmstadt only lost on three occasions and all on the road. Wins against Hamburger SV champions Köln and Union Berlin just a few of the victims Darmstadt took with the change of manager. Honsak will have a great opportunity to start from the get-go with the departure of Joevin Jones to the Seattle Sounders. He could partner either the experienced Marcel Heller, Erich Berko or David Atanga with later pair joining Darmstadt this season. Atanga himself let go by RB Salzburg after a loan stint with Greuther Fürth last season.
One up top is favoured in this system with target man Serdar Dursun the likeliest to start come matchday 1 against Hamburger SV. However, a quicker outlook could see Felix Platte as an option as well. In attacking formation, Darmstadt could opt for a 4-3-3 with Honsak and either Berko or Atanga as attacking wingers instead of midfielders. Grammozis has plenty of tactical options at his disposal for the upcoming season.
Honsak has been on the scene for quite some time despite only being 22 and now at his 9th club, the Austrian will hope for some stability with Darmstadt. Die Lilien are getting a player with bundles of talent and someone who can play in a variety of positions under different tactics. However, it can’t help that the lack of continuity in terms of positional output for Honsak has hindered his development somewhat. The hope is that Darmstadt will ensure Honsak has consistency in where he plays. With the 2. Bundesliga just two weeks away, we await to see how the marriage of Honsak and Darmstadt works out.
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