Red Bull Salzburg – Liverpool: Liverpool Wins In Austria To Advance Into Champions League Knock-Out Rounds (0-2)

Salzburg started the match furiously but could not hold on for long. Liverpool controlled most parts of the first half, but had some issues that invited Salzburg to create chances. Jürgen Klopp’s minor tweaks in the second half gave his team a comfortable lead, which they were able to defend until the final whistle.

Tactical analysis and match report by Jonas G.

The first leg between Salzburg and Liverpool at Anfield was a spectacular game. Although trailing by three goals after half an hour, Salzburg proved  they are able to compete at this level and staged a brilliant comeback. Eventually they lost the game three to four, but the fact they scored three goals in Liverpool made people believe that there might be even the slightest chance to achieve the total upset and knock the title contenders out of the Champions League. 

Salzburg started their game at Anfield in a 4-2-2-2 shape that saw them being completely overrun by Liverpool. It was the switch to the 4-3-1-2 formation that allowed them to start their comeback. Therefore, it did not come as a surprise that Jesse Marsch set his team up in the diamond formation from the start in this match. 

Liverpool, unsurprisingly, started in their nominal 4-3-3 shape with Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané up front. Behind them, James Milner and Joe Gomez – who both started during the weekend against Bournemouth – were rotated to the bench and were replaced by Georginio Wijnaldum and Trent Alexander-Arnold. 

Salzburg with chances in the beginning

Salzburg started with an aggressive high press, that forced the Liverpool defenders to play long balls. After recovering it, the Austrians immediately looked after strikers Erling Braut Håland and Hwang Hee-chan that made runs behind the opposition’s center-backs. A few good chances in the first few minutes resulted from these kinds of attacks. Liverpool had a risky strategy by leaving their central defenders Dejan Lovren and Virgil van Dijk in a two-against-two situation.

After the first ten to fifteen minutes, Salzburg dropped back and formed a more passive medium block. A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. The successfully focused on covering the center and guide Liverpool’s buildup to the fullbacks. Salzburg also looked to press one of the center-backs to prevent switches. Liverpool mainly started to build their attacks through the right side via Alexander-Arnold. The right back was pressured by Dominik Szoboszlai, Andreas Ulmer, Zlatko Junuzović and Takumi Minamino covered the spaces behind him. With Salah’s interior position as well as Naby Keïta and Jordan Henderson being marked tightly, Alexander-Arnold had a hard time to find a passing option forward.

Salzburg guided Liverpool’s buildup to the wings, where they were able to isolate Alexander-Arnold.

However, Liverpool were prepared for this scenario, and tried to attract Salzburg to one side to then switch the ball to the other side. Roberto Firmino had an important role for these switches, as he constantly dropped back into the spaces next to Junuzović, where he was able to receive the ball. The ball was then switched to the left wing where Mané took on Salzburg fullback Rasmus Kristensen and was supported by the overlapping When a wide player, most of the times a wing-back, runs outside to fill in the space left by a winger going inside with or without the ball, this is called overlapping. Andrew Robertson. 

One of these attacks led to Liverpool’s best chance in the first half after 29 minutes. Once again, the ball was switched from the left to the right side due to Firmino’s involvement in the center. Salah found himself open inside the box but missed from a promising position. Although Liverpool were able to play through Salzburg’s midfield occasionally, the chances occurred from situations where Salzburg were unsorted and unorganized. 

Firmino’s involvement in midfield can also be seen in the passmap.

Even game with few chances

After Salzburg started the game on the front foot, Liverpool took control afterwards with longer possession spells. But as Salzburg defended well, both teams were not able to create scoring chances. Liverpool struggled with Salzburg’s medium block and the Austrian’s were too wasteful in their counterattacks. The strikers did not make as many runs behind the backline as in the beginning; on top of that, too many technical errors finished the attacks. 

In their own possession spells, Salzburg looked to bring the ball into the center – either through long balls and immediate counterpressing After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. or through passes from the fullbacks. Liverpool had problems against these kinds of attacks, leading to a lot of promising situations for their opponents. But even then, Salzburg were too inaccurate to profit. 

All in all, both teams played under their usual level. Liverpool controlled the game with possession, but were vulnerable in defense. Their pressing switched between compact and aggressive and too passive, failing to defend Salzburg’s quick combinations. Salzburg did not live up to the pre-match expectations as well, though. Thus, the game went into half-time without any goals. 

Liverpool’s quick goals tame Salzburg

Liverpool had a good start to the second half, with Firmino being the initiator for Salah’s two chances. But it also became visible that Klopp made an adjustment to his team’s attacking strategy. Salah positioned himself even more in the center now and basically played as a central striker. Liverpool successfully used long balls to overplay Salzburg’s pressing, too. But Salzburg as well started the second half like the first and created chances via through balls to the strikers. 

After the game looked to settle again, Liverpool’s first goal was aided by a chain of mistakes from Salzburg. First, Kristensen needlessly moved to the wing to pressure Robertson who was already followed by Enock Mwepu. Mané then received the ball in the space behind Kristensen. As a consequence, center-back Jérôme Onguene had to move out of his position but came too late and Mané dribbled past him inside the penalty box. He eventually played to Keïta who scored against his former club. 

Just one minute later, one of Liverpool’s long balls behind Salzburg’s backline forced Onguene to defend in an uncomfortable situation. His pass was too short to be cleared by goalkeeper Cican Stanković, Salah took the ball, dribbled past the goalkeeper and beautifully scored from a very tight angle from outside the box. 

Liverpool control the game

Although they still had some defensive issues, Liverpool controlled the game after the two goals. One reason for that is the improved counterpressing. Through that, they were to recover the ball in the opposition’s half and stopped Salzburg’s counterattacks. However, Salzburg occasionally found the spaces behind Liverpool’s midfield to create promising situations, but the players were not able to turn these situations into goal scoring chances. 

As Salzburg needed three goals to advance, they opened up. In addition to that, their counterpressing was not at its best and Liverpool exploited the high defensive line with long balls to Salah. With fifteen minutes to go, Klopp subbed in Milner for Firmino and switched to a 4-4-2 shape. Salah now played as a striker with Keïta behind him. Milner defended on the left side in front of Robertson. 

After an even first half, Liverpool improved and created enough chances to win the game.

With Liverpool now improving against the ball as well, Salzburg’s players were not able to create any promising chances at all anymore. Liverpool, especially Salah, had a few more chances to make it three or even four goals for his side, but were too wasteful.


In a game where both teams were far from their best performances, Liverpool showed the quality to punish their opponent’s mistakes as Salzburg failed to do the same. The Austrian’s again showed that they can compete offensively in the Champions League, but their defense remains a problem and was the decisive factor once again. If they want to participate in the last stages of the Europa League, they have to improve in that regard. 

On the other side, Liverpool fail to impress but keep on winning games. Their pressing is not at last season’s level and if Salzburg’s players had better decision making in the final third, The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. this could have been a close game. Against Salzburg’s medium block, they showed good attacks every time Firmino was involved in the center and punished their opponents on the break. Salah role as a striker in the second half was a clever adjustment by Klopp. However, Liverpool should not be to tempted by their current record as the defense remains a big issue. 

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