The Austrian Bundesliga has witnessed some of its notable offensive talents leave for other leagues in the past season. Erling Haaland going to Borussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga and the most prolific player in the league, Shon Weissman transferring to Real Vallodolid in La Liga. As some players leave, more arrive. Such is the case with Marco Grull of Ried. The Austrian forward scored 13 goals to go along with four assists last season, helping his team to win the Austrian Second Division. The 22-year-old will now face tougher tests in the Austrian Bundesliga.
In this tactical analysis, we will look at what drove Grull’s offensive output and his role in his side’s buildup. This analysis will review the tactics which Gerald Baumgartner used at Ried to provide context for Grull’s play.
In this past season, Ried shifted between a 4-2-3-1 and a two-striker formation. Therefore, Grull’s heat map is a little mixed. He played mostly as a left-winger, but he would also play as a left striker on occasion. As we will explore later in this scout report, Grull will play deeper at points to support his team.
While more an outlier situation than standard, this image provides evidence of a two-striker formation Ried played at different points. Highlighted in yellow is Grull, playing alongside another striker with three of a midfield four lined up behind. His experience playing out wide and centrally provides versatility in the final third that not all attackers can boast.
One of Grull’s premier skills is his dribbling. In the Austrian Second Division last season, he ranked in the top 25 for both dribbles per 90 and progressive runs per 90. What stands out while watching him play is his ball control; he keeps the ball on the string even while moving with pace.
The situation above captures the most common in-game area where Grull takes on defenders off the dribble. Finding space on the left, Grull drives into the box from the left-wing, taking on an Innsbruck centre-back. He takes only two or three heavy touches before stopping instantly just short of going out of play. The centre-back attempts a slide tackle to block the pass but cannot affect the play. While not taking on the defender directly, Grull’s control with the ball at his feet produces a dangerous situation for Ried.
In this image, Grull is in a similar position driving inside from the left. At a different angle this time, Grull must keep the ball tighter to avoid a turnover. He opts to take a few dribbles at the centre-back before cutting to his right with the outside of his foot. He creates a shot for his stronger right foot in this situation from his stellar ball control. At a higher level in the next season, he will need to be even more careful as the defenders will be better than the centre-backs he faced in the Austrian Second Division.
This run from Grull leads directly to a goal. Starting centrally this time instead of on the left, Grull attacks the open space in front of him. The centre-back commits forward to stop his run, but Grull calmly cuts to the right, avoiding the tackle. He draws the attention of an additional defender in the box before laying it off to a teammate to set up a goal. The benefit of strong dribbling ability may not be entirely clear, as not every possession requires a player to dribble at a defender. However, any side needs players who can provide a spark in possession. Grull provides this, attempting 8.67 dribbles per 90 last season at a success rate of 50.8%.
Grull has displayed his dribbling in the final third, but his control also has beneficial effects in the build-up. In this image, Grull finds himself deeper in the field with two defenders converging on his spot. He first uses his body to avoid the defender behind him, then cutting back towards the sideline to escape the onrushing opponent. After breaking through this trap, Grull has a sizeable amount of space on the left sideline to drive into. Taking out two players from the defending team has a huge effect on the overall attack. With two fewer players to defend them, Ried now has an immense advantage in the attack. Grull’s control deeper in the field can provide benefits later in the possession.
This final picture provides an example of Grull’s poise with the ball. He receives a throw-in with his back to one of the centre-backs. He brings the ball under control and creates a small slice of space near the sideline. Instead of panicking and forcing a bad pass, Grull waits for his teammates to get open and completes a pass into Stefan Nutz at the edge of the box. The confidence Grull has while dribbling translates to suave patience while under pressure. This comfort only makes him more dangerous as Grull gives himself more time to make better decisions. While his dribbling can create goal-scoring chances in the final third, Grull’s ball control can provide benefits all over the pitch.
Grull’s attacking movements off the ball are just as productive as his ball-control. Although favoring him out wide, Baumgartner trusted the Austrian to play as a striker in a more central position. Grull’s movement on the last line of the defence creates passing lanes and opportunities for his team.
This image comes from a game where Ried used a two-striker formation, Grull playing on the left next to Bernd Gschweidl. In this image, Nutz has the ball on the right side with Gschweidl in the space between the opponents’ defensive and midfield lines. Grull makes a diagonal run behind Gschweidl, off the shoulder of the right centre-back. Nutz spots the run and plays a through ball to Grull, who squares for a Gschweidl goal. Grull has the vision and understanding of the defence to spot open space from the other side of the field.
This image provides another example of a diagonal run from Grull. He once again finds space in the space behind the right side of the defence. These runs are very difficult to defend against when timed well. The open passing lane passes through the half-space between the full-back and centre-back while the run cuts between the centre-backs. This blindsides one half of the defence if executed well. These runs usually come from strikers in more central positions. That Grull times these runs well while mostly playing as a winger speaks to his versatility.
This run from a deeper position conveys Grull’s understanding of space. As his teammate slows his progression on the left side, Grull picks up his pace to cross in front of his teammate. This creates a partial overload on the side as the isolated defender must either track the run of Grull or concede space to his teammate. This situation does not lead to a goal, but the talent he displays from his off-ball movement bodes well for his potential in higher competitions.
This run differs from the ones before. As the Ried right-back dribbles forward, the opposing left-back must move forward to stop his progression. Timing his run to this trigger, Grull gravitates to the open space vacated by the left-back. The best way to succeed as a forward is to find the open space before it becomes available. Grull times his runs to match the absence of defenders. Doing this maximizes the potential for every offensive move as the defence now has to recover quickly as to not give up even more space. Defences at the higher levels will play tighter lines, so this space is much more difficult to find. Grull will gain experience against tougher defenders in the coming season.
We touched upon this in the earlier sections, but Grull does more than just contribute in the final third. Although playing sometimes as a striker, the Austrian forward moves towards his own goal to help facilitate possession.
This image provides an isolated example of his positioning. Partially due to his ability on the ball, Grull will drop as far deep as his half to help move the ball up the field. While we established that his dribbling pays dividends in the final third, he also makes progressive runs from deeper in the field to assist Ried in the buildup phase.
In the above picture, Grull’s position, as a winger, is lower than the rest of the Ried forward line. He takes the ball and dribbles up his favored left sideline, drawing a second defender to cut him off. By forcing the second opponent out of position, he creates space in a central area for a teammate. This run displays the effects in the buildup of Grull’s dribbling, but it is possible only because he comes back to receive the ball earlier in the possession.
In this image, Grull takes possession of the ball further back than most forwards in a crowded area. Instead of turning the ball over, he is patient enough to find the progressing Ried full-back to join the attack. As the attack shifts out of the left side area, the opposing defence must scramble to rediscover their shape before conceding a chance. Some wingers can get disconnected from earlier phases in the possession. This leads to frustration and isolation for the forward if the team cannot progress the ball into the final third regularly. Grull displays the ability to play a role at different phases of the attack.
This image helps connect the ways Grull plays within a fluid possession. He starts this run in a deeper position than the man on the ball and his striker teammate, both highlighted above. The Ried striker makes a ball-side run, fronting the opposing centre-back. The first movement vacates space for Grull to make a delayed run into. As we discussed above, dropping further back can aid his team in possession. However, this image provides an example of how Grull can delay his runs from this position. Instead of running into a crowded box, he now can make an unmarked run into a threatening position. By starting deeper on the field while Ried is in possession, Grull can both facilitate possession and find open space in the final third.
While the previous analysis has praised his versatility, Grull is slightly one-track when it comes to scoring. He clearly favors his right foot, shooting with that side almost 70% of the time. He only managed one headed shot through all last season. Reliance upon one tool can work out well, but that player must be dominant in that part of their game. His goal conversion rate on all shots stands at 14.7%, which is solid but not lethal.
In this situation, Grull has the ball with enough space to make a move in the box and take a shot. With defenders blocking a cut inside, his only option is to run upfield. Because he is not entirely comfortable shooting with his left foot, Grull hesitates after a few steps to reassess his situation hoping to switch to his right foot. This just gives the defenders more time to close him down, and Grull never gets a shot off. Lacking the ability to use either foot equally limits the opportunities a player will have during a game. Grull bagged 13 goals in the Austrian Second Division, but the Austrian Bundesliga defences may exacerbate his limitations to a greater extent.
With the start of the Austrian Bundesliga this coming weekend, our analysis has identified a player to watch for the coming season. Although RB Salzburg has a wealth of exciting prospects, Grull has quality in multiple phases of the game that he will have to show for his squad this season. This scout report has broken down Grull’s strengths and shortcomings. He will play a big role in Ried’s return to the first division.