Austria Wien hosted TSV Hartberg in the first-leg of the Austrian Bundesliga Europa League play-off final. Two teams each have qualified for the UEFA Champions League and Europa League respectively with this tie determining the final European spot from Austria. Wien were the overwhelming favourites coming into the tie as they were unbeaten in their last four meetings in the Austrian Bundesliga against Hartberg, including a 5-0 thrashing when the two teams met here earlier in the season. Wien were in excellent form, with seven wins in their last eight matches including four clean sheets. Whereas, Hartberg had only two wins in their last seven matches.
The match started in the worst possible way for the hosts as they went 1-0 down inside 10 minutes. Wien managed to equalise after the half-time but two goals in the space of 10 minutes by Hartberg put the tie to bed. The hosts managed to pull one back in the 79th minute but couldn’t find an equaliser despite their best efforts in the final minutes. This tactical analysis will inform you how this match unfolded.
Christian Ilzer set Austria Wien up in a 4-1-3-2 formation with his trusted lieutenants, Manchester City loanee – Erik Palmer-Brown and Michael Madl guarding the defence and flanked by Florian Klein and Alexander Borkovic. James Jeggo and Thomas Ebner were deployed in the middle of the pitch. Christoph Monschein, who scored a hat-trick when the two teams met last time played upfront along with Benedikt Pichler. Ilzer subbed in all of his outfield players in the bench except Bundesliga loanee Andreas Poulsen during the match.
TSV Hartberg started in a 5-4-1 setup with Christian Klem, Thomas Rotter and Felix Luckeneder in the heart of their defence. They were flanked by Dante Amadou and Andreas Lienhart in the wing-back roles. Their talismanic striker Dario Tadić led the attack supported by Lukas Ried and Jodel Dossou in the flanks.
Wien press and Hartberg long balls
Both teams had a scrappy start to the game, frequently losing possession and committing a lot of fouls. The hosts pressed Hartberg high up the pitch which forced the visitors to look for long balls for almost the entirety of the game. This, in turn, allowed Hartberg to bypass the opponent’s numbers advantage in the middle of the park and avoid dangerous turnovers in the midfield.
Wien can be seen pressing Hartberg high-up the pitch. Wien had the overwhelming advantage in the midfield which made it difficult for the visitors to play through the press. As a result, Wien had a clear advantage in terms of possession, 63% to Hartberg’s 37%. But the physical presence of Dario Tadić and the pace of Jodel Dossou allowed the visitors to carve out chances from long balls.
Hartberg tried to bypass the Wien press by punting the ball up-field or quick interplays in the wings which would then be passed to either Tadić or Dossou. The above situation depicts such a sequence. Andreas Lienhart receives the ball in the right-wing and passes it first time over to Tadić who is dropping infield. This creates space for Dossou to run into. Their third goal came as a result of this first time passing in the wings.
Jodel Dossou – TSV Hartberg’s relentless engine
Jodel Dossou was the much-needed spark for the visitors throughout the game. He assisted their first goal and scored the match-winning third goal. Dossou was the focal point of their attack with 66% of Hartberg’s attacking plays going through their right-wing. He was also their major outlet during the counters and also helped Lienhart in containing Wien’s advances through their right-side.
Dossou received the ball in the middle of the pitch after a clearance from their defence. Tadić can be seen making a run past Wien’s defenders. Dossou’s superb through ball set Tadić up for an easy chance to score.
The image illustrates Dissou tracking back and helping out in defence. He tracked the run of Alexandar Borkovic and made a vital tackle to snatch the ball from the full-back. Only 9% of Wien’s attack came through Hartberg’s right side and most of it came after Dossou moved into a more central position later in the game.
Dossou was their target-man during counter-attacks. The incisive pace of the forward caused a lot of problem for the hosts throughout the game. The above play shows the moments leading up to their third goal. Dossou received the ball at the halfway line and then squared it off to Tadić. He then darted past the Wien defenders to receive the return pass from Tadić before finishing it past a hapless Patrick Pentz.
Wien’s toothless attack and endless crosses – First half
Wien’s top goalscorer this season, Monschein had only one touch in the penalty box in the entirety of his 85 minutes on the pitch. This perfectly sums up the hosts futile attacking advances throughout the game. They were particularly dreadful in the opening half with only 0.03 expected goals (xG). Their interplay and passing in the attacking third improved in the second half but still found it hard to break down a resolute Hartberg defence.
Hartberg defended as a pack in the first half, completely nullifying the hosts attacking players. Hartberg had nine players behind the ball for the entirety of the first half. Wien were able to find space in the attacking third only when they had a rare turnover in the middle of the park. This too came at a fortune as Hartberg mostly played long balls. Here, we can see Manprit Sakaria attempting a cross but Monschein is in a 3v1 situation and has little chance of reaching it.
Here, we can see Hartberg defending as a unit and leaving no space for the opposition to pass through them. They maintained their defensive structure superbly throughout the half and with the added help of the midfielders, they made it impossible for Wien attackers to find space
On the rare occasion when someone finds space between the Hartberg defence and midfield, one of the centre-backs stepped up to clear the danger. This was mostly done by Felix Luckeneder, as in the above case. He completed nine recoveries, 10 interceptions and two clearances in the match. The opening goal they scored came as a result of such an interception and clearance by Luckeneder.
Wien’s rejuvenated attack and a tired Hartberg defence – Second half
Wien were an improved side post-half-time with much more purpose and drive in their attack. They started pushing more players upfield and the Sakaria started getting more involved in the build-up. But, pushing for a goal meant that they were susceptible to counter attacks. Hartberg would have gone 5-1 up in the tie within 75 minutes if Tadić hadn’t squandered two very good chances.
Here we can see Sakaria finding space and the full-back Florian Klein making an overlapping run. As the game wore on, Hartberg defenders started tiring down and Wien attackers started getting behind their defence. Rene Swete hadn’t faced a shot on target in the first half but had four on target and one coming off the post in the second half.
Sakaria crosses into the far-post and Patrick Wimmer got in behind Lienhart but squandered the chance. Unlike in the first half, we can see three Wien players in the opposition box waiting for the cross.
As more players pushed forward, Wien started creating more 1v1 situations. This resulted in their creative players finding more spaces in the attacking third. As we can see from the above situations, Sarkaria can bee seen in the space between their midfield and defence. Had he been more decisive in these situations the scoreboard would have looked different from the current one. Wien had an xG of .96 in the second half and had nine of their 12 shots in the match between the 56th and 79th minute. Their two goals came in this period.
As you would have guessed from the analysis, it was an intriguing contest between two teams with very different playing styles. Both teams had very good opportunities to better the scoreboard. Hartberg executed their tactics into perfection, utilising the pace and quality of their forwards. Meanwhile, the hosts dominated possession but failed to carve out clear cut-chances and lacked incisiveness in their passing.
After a drab first half, the game lit up in the second half with some exhilarating end to end football. The tie is brilliantly poised for the second leg at Hartberg. With Europa League qualification at stake, both teams will be going all out for the win.