Matchday three of the Austrian Bundesliga season has ended, but not without some exciting football. In a clash of title-winning sides, Ried took on RB Salzburg at the Josko Arena in front of a live crowd. RB Salzburg entered the fixture off the back of a UEFA Champions League victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. The result disappointed their supporting fans, but Ried pushed RB Salzburg throughout the match. This tactical analysis will examine the buildup and tactics of Jesse Marsch’s side. The analysis will explore the defensive tactics of Gerald Baumgartner’s Ried and how the losing side almost secured a point at the end of the match.
Ried lined up in a 3-5-2 with Samuel Sahin-Radlinger in goal. Constantin Reiner, Thomas Reifeltshammer, and Luca Meisl formed the back three. Michael Lercher played at left wing-back across from Manuel Kerhe. Markus Lackner played alongside Marcel Ziegl and Daniel Offenbacher in the midfield. Marco Grull and Bernd Gschweidl led the line for Baumgartner’s side.
Marsch opted for a 4-2-3-1 that looked more like a 4-2-2-2/4-2-4 when in possession. Cican Stankovic played behind the centre-back pairing of Maximilian Wober and Jerome Onguene. Captain Andreas Ulmer played at left-back with Albert Vallci on the opposite side. Mohamed Camara and Majeed Ashimeru commanded deeper midfield roles behind Noah Okafor and Luka Sucic. RB Salzburg fielded a front line of Sekou Koita and Mergim Berisha, leaving the likes of Dominik Szoboszlai and Patson Daka (both rumored to Ligue 1, EPL, and Serie A teams) to come on as substitutes.
RB Salzburg build-up
RB Salzburg dominated possession in the game, holding 74% of the ball in the first half. To progress the ball in possession, Marsch’s defensive midfielders played a vital role in building from the back.
The diamond shape seen above was the primary mode of buildup for RB Salzburg in the game. Here, Wober and Onguene stretched wide while Camara dropped to become the deepest player. Ashimeru played in between the two Ried strikers while the full-backs found more advanced positions closer to the front line. This shape maximized the passing options for any one player on the ball. The two Salzburg centre-backs had options to play to Ashimeru in the midfield, the full-back on their side, or one of the advanced attackers making a run. The latter of these options is so dangerous because the various passing lanes open to each of the players are different; Wober and Onguene could see diagonals to play passes into attackers occupying the opponent’s half-spaces.
In this situation, the diamond formation allowed RB Salzburg to contract the Ried defence before finding space on the left side. Vallci passed to Ashimeru in-between the two Ried front lines. Instead of conceding space to work in the centre of the field, the midfielders and strikers collapsed to force Ashimeru off the ball. He found Wober running forward on the left-side into space. Camara was again the deepest player in the diamond, allowing Wober to play a more attacking role. Because Ried sat so far back with a compact formation, Salzburg needed as many players as they could to help break the lines and find opportunities. The diamond solved this issue, providing openings to play passes and methods to advance more players in possession.
This image provides an example of Wober’s tendency to push forward in attack. As RB Salzburg’s front four occupied central areas, Wober attempted to make an overlapping run as the widest player. While not a successful attacking situation, this aggression in attack by the Salzburg centre-backs shows the confidence of the side but also the importance of either defensive midfielder. Camara and Ashimeru often took on the role of make-shift centre-back in the formation, and Camara made many Guardiola-esque tactical fouls to prevent dangerous transitions.
The shape was flexible, though. In this image, Ashimeru and Wober make up the two side points of the diamond with Onguene the deepest player. Regardless of the role within the formation, the pivots drifted throughout the back line hoping to draw out defenders. The movement of the holding midfielders and centre-backs probed the staunch Ried defence, just waiting for a forward movement from an attacker. RB Salzburg’s creative buildup pattern produced 2.18 xG during the match.
RB Salzburg’s attack
In the attacking line, RB Salzburg’s strikers and attacking midfielders had to be careful in their movements. With four players running at a back line of five, width and vertical lanes are vital to chance-creation.
Although stated a 4-2-3-1 in the graphic, the away side often had a front line of four while pushing for a goal. Here, Ulmer played a through ball to Okafor, making a wide run off the shoulder of Reiner. Berisha and Koita, or other substitute attackers, stayed in the spaces between Ried centre-backs for most of the game. Okafor and Sucic constantly communicated and moved with the full-back on their side. The attacking midfielder and full-back always occupied different vertical lanes to provide opportunities like the one above, where Ulmer played a ball outside the widest player as Okafor ran in between the wing-back and centre-back.
The first Salzburg goal comes from Berisha playing the space between Ried defenders. Because Ried’s defence played in such a compact formation, as touched on below, their lines limited half-spaces. In this moment, Berisha found a pocket between Lercher, busy with Okafor, and Reiner. With two strikers both in dangerous positions, Salzburg gave themselves options to exploit the back five. Ultimately, the forwards found and capitalized on small spaces.
The front four had a huge manipulative effect on the Ried defence. Vallci has the ball wide with a singular defender challenging him. Every other Ried defender joins two midfielders in preventing an opportunity for one of the RB Salzburg attackers. As Ried defenders outnumber them, the strikers and attacking midfielders had to work together to create opportunities for any single attacker.
The transition for the second goal comes from an interplay between three of the RB Salzburg attackers. Sucic drove forward with the ball as Berisha and Koita ran at the Ried centre-backs. Koita fronted Meisl so he could receive a pass from Sucic. Once the Malian striker received the pass, the Ried centre-backs naturally turned their attention to him. As this happens, Berisha continues his run into a pocket of space where he could receive and score Koita’s pass. The intelligence, movement, and positioning of RB Salzburg’s attacking line contributed to their three goals.
Ried’s compact defence
Ried was comfortable to cede possession to their opponents for most of the match. Mostly, Baumgartner’s defensive tactics worked. RB Salzburg managed 22 shots in the match, but only eight were on target and the xG values of each chance were relatively low. This adds up over the course of a game, reflected in the final score.
The home-side organized themselves in a tight 5-3-2 defensive formation as seen above. The focus of the formation was compaction; the Ried strikers pressed very little, evidenced by the 34.9 PPDA (a higher value meaning less intensive pressing) during the first half. The back five remained a narrow position to limit the half-spaces where the RB Salzburg forwards wanted to exploit. Baumgartner gave the opponent full-backs space to operate in favor of limiting the RB Salzburg forward line.
The defensive line and midfield lines attempted to limit the space in between them. Thus, the midfielders played deeper than usual, right in front of the centre-backs when the ball reached the attacking third for RB Salzburg. The combination of preventative tactics held Salzburg scoreless for much of the first half.
Of all the players in the 3-5-2, the wing-backs had the greatest responsibility to move out of position. Here, Kerhe pressed Ulmer, breaking from the tight lines of teammates. The midfielders for Ried and strikers remained in central positions to congest attacking plays. Therefore, the wing-backs held responsibility for wide progressive runs.
This situation provides an example of the ways Ried frustrated RB Salzburg attacks. When an RB Salzburg played a dangerous pass into the area in front of the box, there are at least six Ried players in the vicinity to disrupt. Baumgartner’s exclusion of Stefan Nutz, Ried’s primary attacking midfielder, from the starting lineup reflected his defensive tactics. The three midfielders chosen focused heavily upon defensive duties.
While the match ended 3-1 in the favor of RB Salzburg, Marsch made a substitution in the 73rd minute which contributed to a goal for Ried. Rasmus Kristensen replaced Wober, the Dane playing right-back and Vallci moving to centre-back.
In the goal Ried scored, Vallci found himself out of position marking Ried substitute Seth Paintsil. Fellow sub Julian Wiessmeier exploited the gap Vallci left in his wake, and Ried got one back through a simple exchange. Mistakes are unavoidable, but this change in tactics did not add more defensive stability in the back.
In one of the best scoring opportunities for Ried down the closing stretch, Kristensen left the defensive line isolated. The right-back attempted a challenge further up the field in the third minute of extra time. To make up for the mistake in judgement, Camara rushed to challenge Grull dribbling down the left side. A skilled dribbler, Grull passed Camara with ease and forced a save from Stankovic in the dying moments of the game. While these two mistakes may be down to random chance, it is notable that 1/3 of Ried’s xG in the game came from players involved in a single substitution.
While the score line tells a story of comfort, Ried pushed RB Salzburg to the final whistle. The away side dominated possession, using their two pivots to progress the ball into the front line. Ried had a sharp defensive plan, but RB Salzburg forwards were too good in the half-spaces. Ried looked good for a newly promoted side, but the reigning champions collect all three points from this match.
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