UEFA Champions League 2019/20: Genk vs Red Bull Salzburg – tactical analysis


Genk have experienced a tough run in the Champions League this year. With no wins so far, Red Bull Salzburg at home seemed to be their best prospect of taking three points for the first time in their campaign.

Salzburg have looked promising on the other side of things. With two wins and a strong showing away at Anfield, the Austrian based side have been in good form so far. Additionally, their last match against Genk ended up in a 6-2 thrashing for Red Bull. Therefore going into the match, they would have been confident of securing a result. This tactical analysis will cover the tie between Genk and Salzburg.


UEFA Champions League 2019/20: Genk vs Red Bull Salzburg – tactical analysis tactics

In regards to team news, the main analysis point surrounded boy wonder, Erling Braut Haaland. Haaland was placed on the bench after some recent knee issues. From their last outing, Andre Ramalho was placed on the bench for Salzburg. Haaland was replaced by Patson Daka. Finally, Enock Mwepu started instead of Antoine Bernede.

From the last tie between the two, Genk had three changes. Bryan Heynen, Diumerci Ndongala and Jasper Uronen all made way. In came Casper De Norre, Joseph Paintsil and Carlos Cuesta.

Early Pressing Shapes

Jesse Marsch has frequently used the 4-4-2 diamond tactics throughout his time as a manager. He did so again this time, playing this formation in and out of possession.

When pressing high, which frequently occurred, the front two would occupy the centre-backs. The number 10 would take the deep midfielder who frequently dropped in between the centre-backs. The wide midfielders of the diamond then had a dual role. Depending on the opposition shape, the wide midfielders could be tasked with maintaining both the full-back and number 8s of Genk. If the wing-backs or number 8’s went too high, either the centre-backs or full-backs of Salzburg would press them. This set-up can be seen below.

UEFA Champions League 2019/20: Genk vs Red Bull Salzburg – tactical analysis tactics

Genk also decided to press with intent from the outset. Setting up in a 4-4-2 high press, Patrick Hrosovsky would join Mbwana Sabatta as a front two. Genk stood high on goal kicks, tempting Red Bull to play through them. In other phases of play, they dropped into a medium 4-4-2 block.

Genk missed opportunities

Because of Salzburg’s 4-4-2 diamond, their lone six can become isolated at times. When Genk switched the ball with pace, they could often find gaps between the lines and in front of the centre-backs. Salzburg’s diamond means they have a fairly even spread of players in vertical lines as seen below. However, if the players aren’t positioned well in relation to the others, large gaps can appear in their structure.

UEFA Champions League 2019/20: Genk vs Red Bull Salzburg – tactical analysis tactics
Genk struggled to recognise the gaps in Salzburg’s structures.

So for example, if the defensive midfielder of Salzburg comes across as seen below, the left diamond midfielder and number 10 of Salzburg must compensate in order to block passing lanes of the ball carrier. Above, Dominik Szoboszlai doesn’t come enough across and Takumi Minamino is positioned too high. As a result, a large passing lane opens up for Genk. However, Genk failed to notice this and therefore struggled to break down the defensive structure of Salzburg more regurarly.

Salzburg with similar issues

Salzburg also had some missed opportunities to punish Genk for high risk defending. The midfielders of Salzburg and Minamino would often aim to get between the lines of the back and midfield four of Genk as seen below.

UEFA Champions League 2019/20: Genk vs Red Bull Salzburg – tactical analysis tactics

With the full-backs often overlapping, the Genk full-backs had to decide whether to go or stay. By staying in their position, they allowed the midfielder to get the ball between the lines. By going tight, there was a threat to find the full-back or the striker in space.

As can be seen below, Salzburg missed a brilliant opportunity to find the furthest play with a penetrative pass. Paka was excellent at searching the room in behind, giving the ball carrier a clear pass to play.  These types of passes actually proved to be a source of problems in the second half for Genk once Salzburg got going.

UEFA Champions League 2019/20: Genk vs Red Bull Salzburg – tactical analysis tactics
Paka makes an excellent run into the space left by the full-back.

Often they would play into feet, rather than finding the space behind in the first half. This meant Salzburg struggled to create anything of note.  Therefore it wasn’t suprising that they broke the deadlock through a set-piece. Szobolosai whacked one into the wall and with the resulting rebound volleyed on goal. The keeper fumbled the ball which dropped to Paka who couldn’t miss.

Another Goal

Two minutes later, Salzburg delivered the sucker punch. As with many of their goals, Salzburg picked up a second ball from a cross. It dropped to Enock Mwepu who intelligently layed it to Minamino in space. The diminutive striker finished brilliantly into the bottom corner. Salzburg went into the break 2-0 up as a result of that.

UEFA Champions League 2019/20: Genk vs Red Bull Salzburg – tactical analysis tactics
Mwepu with a beautiful disguised assist.

Genk go for it

Genk came into the 2nd half 2-0 down. Therefore the Belgians decided to push further on in the second half. The first 20 minutes seemed to be spent in Salzburg’s half. Genk pressed extremely high, often either winning the ball back or forcing a turnover.

The pressure was building up on the Salzburg side who elected to play into the safer areas of the pitch.

Because of Genk’s 4-4-2 shape, they had good access to the back four of Salzburg. This set-up gave Salzburg an almost two-man advantage in the midfield. As can be seen below, the diamond midfield was up against only Sander Berge and Cuesta at times. Unlike the first half, the back four of Genk were hesitant to step forward.

UEFA Champions League 2019/20: Genk vs Red Bull Salzburg – tactical analysis tactics
Salzburg had a 4v2 overload in the midfield.

Salzburg’s reluctance to play into these four meant that they struggled to build up and progress the ball up the pitch. On the flip side, however, Genk weren’t producing many dangerous chances against the reds and therefore it was potentially a favourable situation for Jesse March’s side.

Game Set match

Much of Salzburg’s threat comes from the mobility of their two frontmen. Hwang, Paka and Haaland are all quick and perceptive in when and how to make their runs. However as stated previously, they struggled to receive the ball in the first half.

In the second half this changed, especially after the introduction of Haaland. With Genk tiring, further gaps opened up in their pressing structure. The Belgians began to get stretched and further out of shape.

A similar situation to before occurred. The right-back of Genk slightly stepped up. Haaland recognized this and made a penetrative run into the space behind the full-back. This time he received the ball. Haaland ended up cutting it back to Hwang for a tap in.

UEFA Champions League 2019/20: Genk vs Red Bull Salzburg – tactical analysis tactics
An excellent penetrative run was finally found and duly delivered an assist.

Another goalkeeping mistake, this time from Salzburg, gave Genk a goal in the tie. Salzburg replied immediately through their boy wonder Haaland. Genk’s press was penetrated through by Salzburg. They broke with numbers.  The ball eventually fell to the feet of Haaland. He duly obliged with a finish and sealed the tie for Salzburg.


Genk will feel hard done by. An extremely clinical Red Bull Salzburg made them pay for the rare mistakes that they made. Salzburg’s individual quality on the day and intensity seemed to be just too much for Hannes Wolf’s side to handle. With Genk’s fate already sealed, this matched in the end meant that Salzburg now still have a chance to qualify for the next round.

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