Both sides finished in the top six of the Austrian Bundesliga last year, granting them access to the play-offs at the end of the season. Going into this year, each team would have had ambitions to build on their respective performances previously. However, with St. Polten sitting bottom and Austria Vienna around mid-table, both teams were in vital need of the three points. This tactical analysis took a look into the unfolding events of the match between the two sides.
On paper, St. Polten lined up in a 3-4-3 formation. Austria Vienna opted for a 3-5-2 formation in similarity to their last match. For Austria Vienna, Alon Turgeman came in for Maximilian Sax. Whilst Alexandar Borkovic came in for the injured Erik Palmer-Brown. Michael Madl also returned for his first start after an injury absence.
St. Polten opted for a change of formation tactics, including starts for Kwang-Ryong Pak, Sandro Ingolitsch and Daniel Dreschler. This wasn’t surprising after a 4-0 smashing in the last matchday against Wolfsberger AC.
In the game, St. Polten’s structure was slightly different from the line-ups forecasted. Husein Balić and Pak occupied striker roles. They were usually placed just in front of the wide centre backs of Wien. Robert Ljubičić found himself playing a central role. He alternated between playing as a central striker and number ten. Most of his time, however, was spent deeper as a number ten.
Early Goal to Vienna
St. Polten’s defensive shape was loosely differentiated between a 3-5-2 and 3-4-3 depending on which area of the pitch they were in. If pressing high, St. Polten tended to have a 3-4-3 shape. The three strikers would occupy the centre-backs. The central midfielders were outnumbered in the middle and so occupied the half-spaces. Additionally, the wing-backs pushed onto the opposition’s wing-backs. This, therefore, left St. Polten with a man numerical advantage at the back.
However, this free man tended to step into midfield on several occasions for St. Polten. Each time this happened, it was a trigger for the Austria Vienna striker to make a penetrative run into space just vacated. This exact mechanism led to an early goal for Austria Vienna.
The right wide centre-back was caught in no man’s land stepping up to pressure Alexander Grünwald. Turgerman came to feet, with Christoph Monschein making a run into the vacant space. Monschein was played in and finished coolly with his left foot.
The early goal was a showcase of what was best about Austria Vienna throughout the first half and match. Additionally, it highlighted some poor defensive play evident throughout from St. Polten.
Austria Vienna find joy wide
An analysis of Austria Vienna saw them continue to exploit the wide spaces in the transition of St. Polten. As the wing-backs pushed on, there were spaces in behind the wing-backs of St. Polten. The Austria Vienna strikers were excellent in making penetrative runs into the space. Additionally, the wide centre-backs for St. Polten were caught out on many occasions. They stepped forward in situations where there was improper pressure on the ball. This meant they failed to cover the channel and accentuated the wide spaces in their defence.
Struggles in build-up
The three striker press of St. Polten created opportunities for Vienna to play from the back. The numerical advantage of St. Polten in their back-line meant Austria Vienna had a spare man when playing out of the back. This often meant that Vienna had a 4v3 in the back third with their three centre-backs and a defensive midfielder.
As seen below, the centre-backs were occupied. Because of the three midfield structure for Vienna, St. Polten’s two central midfielders were also pinned back. This meant huge amounts of space for Austria Vienna’s Jimmy Jeggo. However, Vienna lacked the composure to play into the 4v3. They struggled to find solutions in order to exploit this overload and create a successful progression out of the back.
One such solution would have been to use the higher central midfielders as a third man bounce option to create access for Jeggo. On other occasions, they could almost have chipped the ball into Jeggo. The space was big enough to do so. This felt like a missed opportunity for Vienna. It would have allowed them an extra way in which to control the game and create phases of established possession. This was something Vienna struggled with throughout the match.
St. Polten’s own possession struggles
St. Polten also struggled in established possession. There were numerous reasons for this. One of the clearest reasons for their struggles was the decisions made by the ball carriers. Specifically in regards to the back five. Austria Vienna set up in a 3-5-2 defensively. The two strikers had clear pressing triggers to press the outside centre-backs once they received the ball wider. They would attempt to show them one way. This was in order to eliminate the 3v2 overload that the centre-backs had over the strikers.
St. Polten struggled to use this situation in their favour. The central centre-back would often pass directly into the Austria Vienna pressing trap. He did so because he failed to wait for the pressure from one of the strikers before passing it. By passing it so early, the pressing striker had time to close the other centre-back. This put the outer centre-backs under extreme pressure, meaning they often gave the ball away in these wider areas.
They would on many occasions try to play a similar ball to Vienna. They tried to chip down the sides or in behind the wide centre-backs. The difference being that Vienna were not in a transition moment defensively. Vienna had shuffled across and therefore were much more compact horizontally. In the diagram below, we can see how a majority of their ball loses came in the wider areas. The mechanism above offers an explanation as to why we see this represented on the graphic below.
St. Polten play into the hands of Vienna
There was another factor which hindered St. Polten’s ability to progress up the pitch with the ball. St. Polten struggled to have numbers between the lines. Often, their only players were their wide strikers, who on occasions came inside and just in front of the centre-backs. Both wide strikers would sit high, making it extremely easy for Vienna’s centre-backs to access them. Additionally, St. Polten struggled to have any runs to pin the outer centre-backs of Austria Vienna. This meant the outer centre-backs could step all day long with the strikers. As they were playing in a 3-5-2 shape, their number 10 was also directly marked with ease by Austria Vienna’s number six. This situation therefore further oriented itself towards some sort of third man play. However because St. Polten’s midfielders were all marked or positioned deeper, there were no bounce back options for the strikers.
There were glimpse throughout the match what St. Polten were capable of. On occasions, St. Polten managed to get their central midfielders higher and available for the bounce pass. This could have been a good avenue of chance creation. When the central midfielders were wider, it created passing lanes into the strikers. St. Polten failed to create this situation on more regular occasions to aid their ball circulation. Therefore much like Vienna, they struggled in established possession.
Signs of improvement
However, there were some signs of improvement towards the end of the first half. When the middle centre-back drove in himself, it caused all sorts of problems for Vienna. One of their central midfielders would have to leave their man-oriented structure in the middle. This provided an excellent third man run opportunity for St. Polten to exploit. When St. Polten did this, they created excellent chances. As seen below, by driving in, the centre-back draws Grünwald towards him. This creates an extra bounce option once the ball is played into the striker. Additionally, the other player for St. Polten recognised this moment. He spun and created a further bounce option.
The other solution for St. Polten which worked well was playing back into central areas. Specifically in regards to when the full-back or wide centre-backs received the ball. By doing so they increased their numerical advantage, leading to numerous chances. They started to do so at the end of the second half and looked much the better side for it.
Instead of playing those lofted balls into the channels, they played back inside. This often exploited the late positioning of the striker for Vienna. He was tasked with picking up one of the central midfielders. The distance was often too big for him too reach and meant a numerical overload for St. Polten centrally. It was, therefore, a good opportunity for St. Polten to break down Vienna.
Second Half starts, first half themes continue
The second half was largely a continuation of the themes of the first half. Both sides somewhat improved but still struggled in established possession. Austria Vienna had struggled to play out of the back third in the first half. We saw more of this in the second half.
However, due to St. Polten dropping slightly deeper, Vienna was afforded the ball more in the middle third. From here they tended to exploit the 3v4 better than in the back third. They managed to find Jeggo on the other side of St. Polten’s strikers on numerous occasions.
The next issue for Vienna was the next phase after the ball came into Jeggo. They struggled to break down St. Polten from here on. Often, they didn’t have even spacing of players between the lines, leaving the ball carrier with limited options. On occasions, multiple players would inhabit the same zone, which made St. Polten’s task easier defensively. This meant that Vienn struggled to get into the third phase in ball possession.
St. Polten claw it back
At 1-0 down, St. Polten needed to come out and create more chances in order to get back into the game. The middle centre-back began to step more when unpressured into midfield, causing issues for Vienna. Additionally, St. Polten had better use of some third man combinations. This was made easier by the centre-back stepping in and therefore creating an overload.
This mechanism led to the equalizer for St. Polten. The middle centre-back stepped forward with the ball. The central midfielders were higher, which caused confusion for the backline and midfield. Tarkan Serbest slightly stepped forward in case of the ball going into the midfielder directly above him. As seen below, this moment allowed Pak to make a penetrative run. He ran into a 1v1 and scored the equaliser. It was a brilliant pass. Furthermore, the situation was recognised excellently from both Pak and Luan.
Vienna strike back
In transition, Vienna still looked dangerous. Their main avenue of penetration and chance creation came down the sides of the three centre-backs. Vienna’s second goal of the match came courtesy of a fortuitous error from the keeper. The keeper made a hash of a long ball, with Turgerman tucking home. This suited Vienna who could now sit and preserve a result.
Still, St. Polten didn’t create much of note. It made sense that the only way they would score would be through a random chance, not connected with the pattern of the game. A rather safe floating cross was looped into the box from St. Polten. It ended up being headed back into the six-yard. Austria Vienna’s Jeggo made very slight contact with the St. Polten striker. The referee signalled for the penalty and what would be the equalizer of the game.
The game came to an end, with both sides sharing the spoils. Neither team managed to establish effective spells of possession. This was highlighted by both teams averaging just under 4 passes per possession.
Upon analysis, Austria Vienna would have felt hard done by. They did create the better chances on the day. These chances were created in transition moments as they exploited the poor defensive line of St. Polten. Therefore if it wasn’t for a controversial penalty call, Vienna’s attacking transition play would have seen them take all the spoils.
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