Red Bull Salzburg – Bayern Munich: Bavarians Survive The Bull Rush (1-1)
Matthias Jaissle’s Red Bull Salzburg attacked with a ferocity not often expected from teams facing Bayern Munich, and the reward for their bravery was a draw which could easily have been a win had it not been for the awareness of Kingsley Coman. While the scoreline may indicate Bayern Munich’s offensive struggles, it was the defense that was the real concern, with the visitors simultaneously suffering from a sudden inability to convert their chances.
Tactical analysis and match report by Manasvin Andra.
After the shocking loss to Bochum on the previous Bundesliga weekend, Bayern Munich supports expected a comprehensive reply against lowly Salzburg in the Champions League. It seemed to be a matter of by how much they would win rather than if they would win, especially with Nagelsmann reverting to the 3-4-3 formation he has used since Alphonso Davies was ruled out. Dayot Upamecano was dropped in favor of Corentin Tolisso, who returned to the double pivot alongside Joshua Kimmich.
Salzburg had emerged from an intriguing group of teams, edging out Wolfsburg and Sevilla with their exciting, fast-paced style of play. Jaissle has earned good reviews for his performance so far, and looked to set out for the win despite the opponents being overwhelming favorites. The usual 4-3-1-2 shape was picked, with Andreas Ulmer, Maximilian Wöber, Oumar Solet and Rasmus Nissen making up the defense. The midfield was anchored by Mohamed Camara, who was flanked by Nicolas Seiwald and Nicolás Capaldo. Ahead of them, Brenden Aaronson supported the strike duo of Karim Adeyemi and Noah Okafor.
Salzburg’s pressing scheme
For all of Bayern’s offensive accomplishments this season, the defensive issues that have cropped up in the last few weeks led to some reservations regarding their chances against Salzburg. While understandable, these fears were somewhat blown out of proportion, as the Bavarians retain the capacity to outscore most opponents. Still, Salzburg lived up to their tag of potential giant killers with a fine first half display, in which they largely held Bayern in check despite giving up a handful of good opportunities.
Salzburg’s pressing was intense and impressive, despite Bayern having a natural three-versus-two advantage in the first line of buildup.
To begin with, Salzburg pressed out of their base 4-3-1-2 formation, but with a twist as Seiwald pushed up higher on the left than Ulmer on the right. With Aaronson marking Kimmich and Tolisso in the forwards’ cover shadow, Seiwald was the one pressing Pavard down Salzburg’s left. To prevent Bayern from exploiting the space behind, left back Ulmer often pushed up to press Thomas Müller or Serge Gnabry, with midfielder Camara sweeping up behind his defender.
On the right, right-sided midfielder Capaldo was tasked with covering Leroy Sané in the halfspace, though this happened only when the forward dropped deep. Otherwise, Capaldo would close down the free midfielder, which meant Salzburg left Lucas Hernández unmarked. However, this did not mean that he was left free, as Adeyemi would shift on to him immediately with Salzburg closing Bayern down on their left wing.
We have seen Bayern dismantle pressing structures in the past, but the front foot defending from the midfielders and aggressive back pressing from the forwards disrupted the usual slick sequences that we see from Bayern down the wings. This is not to say that Bayern did not their chances – they found it convenient to move the ball into the final third, and switches of play to Gnabry were always dangerous. There were sequences where Müller rotated onto the right wing and attracted pressure, before passing the ball back for a lofted pass into Gnabry’s path. Similarly, Sané also had opportunities to score, contributing to Bayern racking up xG numbers.
The two modes of offense for Salzburg
The hosts were playing against the ball, but their buildup could take one of two forms. If keeper Philipp Köhn didn’t like the look he was getting, he would send the ball long, with Salzburg preparing a good structure for winning second balls or counterpressing. It was fascinating to see how committed the Salzburg forwards to getting pressure immediately on the ball carrier, and Jaissle’s organizational ability would undoubtedly have impressed Nagelsmann.
The alternate way was Salzburg’s usual buildup, but Bayern were mostly useful in shutting them down. The usual method was to keep the fullbacks deep while the midfield moved to a diamond shape, with both Adeyemi and Adamu (who replaced Okafor) ready to make those in-to-out runs.
More often however, it was the manner in which Salzburg counterattacked against Bayern’s high line, as Aaronson and the forwards seemed to constantly be in the right position to take advantage of the backtracking defense.
Salzburg’s rest offense remained engaged and managed to break forward routinely.
Often, Aaronson would receive the ball just behind the second line of Bayern’s rest defense, with the forwards making runs outside of the wide center-backs or in the channels if the Bayern defenders were poorly spaced. While the former is usually counterproductive (since increased distances between players removes the possibility of link play), it allowed Aaronson to drive with the ball since Niklas Süle had to drop deeper to bridge the gap between Benjamin Pavard and Hernández. With both Adeyemi and Adamu possessing blistering pace, they could then beat their defenders to get on the end of through balls in the channels or lure Bayern to one side to access the runner in the blindside, which were the situations that Salzburg were trying to engineer.
Nagelsmann moves his pieces around
In the first half, the higher position of Seiwald suggested that Salzburg wanted to guard against the Müller-Gnabry rotation on the right flank. However, Nagelsmann made a couple of tweaks to start the second half: he moved both Müller and Sané into higher positions in the halfspace, with a 3-2 base for buildup. More importantly, they drastically cut down on back passes to stand-in keeper Sven Ulreich, which prevented Salzburg from charging up and pressing.
Now, Bayern could slow down the pace of circulation a bit, allowing for Kimmich to find players directly from deeper areas. When Müller and Gnabry exchanged positions, it was when Bayern were already in the final third. Since the forwards were now in higher positions, Seiwald and Capaldo now had to be constantly aware of where the Bayern players were as they could easily interface with the wingbacks (who were mostly left open) after receiving. The visitors now had a higher starting position, and were in place to slowly throttle Salzburg with their usual game.
However, despite their best efforts, Bayern were unable to force through a goal. The addition of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting saw Sané shift to right wingback, but while Bayern continued to have chances, their inability to finish them off against a rugged and athletic Salzburg defense seemed to doom them. That Salzburg were able to withstand Nagelsmann’s second half positional overload was impressive, that they were equally solid against the wingbacks is exceptional. They seemed destined to arrive at munich with the upper hand right up until the 90th minute, where Kingsley Coman smashed home a loose ball to restore parity to the tie.
Salzburg will likely lose in the return leg, but their effort cannot be questioned and the chances of an upset remain alive. Given that away goals do not count, the return leg in Munich will be another fight, but Jaissle has shown enough to suggest that his team has a shot.
For Nagelsmann, the defensive issues are the primary headache – the offense is too loaded with talent to struggle at chance conversion for long. The defending, however, is a personnel issue, and Nagelsmann will have to scheme around these weaknesses.
Match plots will be added as soon as they are available.