RB Salzburg retained their Austrian Bundesliga title for the seventh consecutive year in a comprehensive fashion. They finished 12 points clear of their nearest rivals and had a goal difference of +76. This tactical analysis deals with their final match of the season – a 3-0 victory over LASK.
Prior to the lockdown, LASK were touted to be the biggest challenger for Salzburg in the title race as they finished six points ahead of Salzburg after the regular season. But they were punished for breaching social distancing guidelines in training ahead of the resumption of the season which resulted in 12 points being docked off their total. Nevertheless, LASK couldn’t replicate their form after the resumption and finished at fourth. They couldn’t even qualify for the UEFA Champions League.
The first half of the match was rather uneventful. Both teams mostly resorted to long balls to progress upfield and the goalkeepers had very little to do in the half. But, the second half was much more interesting. There were a lot of goalmouth actions on both ends of the pitch. Salzburg scored three goals in the half, two from the spot and one from a corner.
Valérien Ismaël lined LASK in their usual 3-4-3 with Andrés Andrade, Gernot Trauner, and Philipp Wiesinger guarding their backline. Klauss started upfront for the hosts flanked by Samuel Tetteh and Dominik Frieser in the wings. Klauss got injured in the first half and was replaced by their only goal scorer in the previous meeting between the sides, Marko Raguž.
Jesse Marsch set his team up in a 4-4-2 formation with André Ramalho and Maximilian Wöber playing at the heart of their defence. He deployed the teenage sensation Dominick Szoboszlai in the midfield. Hwang Hee-Chan and Patson Daka lead the forward line for the visitors with the former making his last appearance for Salzburg before making his move to Germany to join RB Leipzig.
LASK high press
LASK pressed high up the pitch committing a lot of players forward, trying to force mistakes from the Salzburg backline. They managed to get a few turnovers from the press early in the game but couldn’t capitalise on these mistakes. The scoreline and match result would have looked very different had they been more clinical from these situations.
We can see in both of the above situations, Salzburg is being pressed very high up the pitch by the hosts. Half of LASK outfield players are pressing in the Salzburg defensive third. LASK had a high defensive line and committed a lot of players up front to try and force mistakes. This, in turn, left a lot of space behind their defence.
Mostly, Salzburg tried to punt the ball upfield into the space behind the opposition line. LASK had players covering the easier passing lanes which forced Salzburg defenders to either look for long balls or take the riskier option. After a few nervous situations from turnovers early in the game, Salzburg backline mostly took the longer route to bypass the press. Also, the pace of Hwang and Daka made it very difficult for the hosts to defend against these long balls.
Because of the high number of players LASK committed in their press, they left a lot of space in the middle third. Salzburg also tried to play out from the back and exploit these spaces on numerous occasions. As we can see above, Szoboszlai moves into the vacant space in the middle to receive the pass from Enock Mwepu and then feeds into the path of an onrushing Andreas Ulmer. This created a 3v4 situation at the back for LASK. If not for a marginal offside call, this would have been the opening goal of the match.
Long balls : LASK and Salzburg
The match saw a lot of long balls in both halves of the game from the two teams. LASK rarely tried to play out from the back and tried to exploit the physique of their forwards using long balls. 21% of their total attempted passes were long balls. Salzburg too were forced to go long very frequently as LASK pressed them high and even in their defensive third. 17% of their total attempted passes were long balls.
Even though both teams frequently used long balls, their tactics were completely different. LASK long balls mostly targeted their centre forwards, who were dropping into the middle third to try and lay it over to their attacking partners. Meanwhile, Salzburg tried to exploit the space behind the LASK defence and tried to pass the ball into those areas.
In the above illustrations, we can see LASK’s centre forward dropping into the midfield to win the long ball. If he wins the ball, it opens up a number of opportunities for them to attack. Either he tries to lay it over to fellow forwards and midfielders or he feeds into the full-backs running down the wings. We can see in the first situation, the fullback makes a run down the wing after Raguž wins the long ball. Raguž feeds him the ball which then creates a crossing opportunity for the hosts. LASK used these tactics throughout the game to progress into the attacking third.
Salzburg had very different forwards to LASK. Hwang and Daka are famous for their agility rather than their aerial prowess. Hence, Salzburg tried to exploit the space behind the LASK defence with their long balls. As we can see in the above situations, Salzburg players are making a run past the defensive line.
The opening goal came as a result of one of such attacks – illustrated in the above image. Daka makes a run into the vacant half-space behind the LASK right back and receives the ball from Ulmer. This creates a 1v1 situation with the goalkeeper which results in a foul and a penalty for Salzburg.
Attack in transitions
Both teams tried to utilize the pace of their forwards during transitions, albeit in very different ways. Salzburg had both Hwang and Daka with enough pace to run past the defenders while LASK mostly used Tetteh as a weapon in such situations. In the following analysis, we’ll look at how the two teams tried to attack during quick transitions.
The above two situations show LASK’s movement during transitions. The first image shows Tetteh making a run into the space behind the Salzburg defence trying to latch onto the long ball. The second one shows Klauss dropping deep and dragging the centre back with him and creating space for Tetteh to run into. If Klauss had been successful with his nod on, it would have created a 2v2 situation for LASK.
Meanwhile, Salzburg had the luxury of two pacey forwards during transitions. They tried to release the forwards as early as possible to catch out the LASK high line. As we can see in the above illustrations, the Salzburg forwards makes a run between the two LASK centre-halves. Mwepu released them on both occasions. But the line referee flagged them offside in both instances. They were very close calls and would have most probably resulted in goals had the flag stayed down.
Szoboszlai – Ramalho connection
Ramalho had scored five goals in the league prior to this match. Two of which came in their previous two matches and were assisted by Szoboszlai. The teenager is famous for his accuracy from dead-ball situations. Despite all this, LASK somehow managed to consistently give enough time and space in their box for Ramalho to head the ball unchallenged. He missed the target on the first two occasions but scored in the third one.
Ramalho positions himself on the edge of the box before the corner. He then darts into the vacant space and is found by Szoboszlai. None of the LASK defenders tracked his run, giving him a free header. This would have been the opening goal, had he not put his header just wide. He got one more free header in a similar position shortly after this chance but could not keep it down.
Again we can see Ramalho in free space with no one marking him. He positions himself similar to the previous one but doesn’t make any runs. Szoboszlai delivers the ball right onto his head. The defender then powers the header onto the ground and the ball bounced into the far corner beyond the keeper.
Despite losing both Erling Håland and Takumi Minamino to Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool respectively in January, Salzburg managed to score a whopping 110 goals in the Austrian Bundesliga. They also scored six goals in their last two games against the LASK, who incidentally had the second-best defence in the league. This shows the gulf in class between Salzburg and the rest of the league. Salzburg will begin their title defence on the 13 September in a visit to Wolfsberger AC.