Red Bull Football Tactics

Red Bull Salzburg – RasenBallsport Leipzig: Austrian victory in chaotic Bullfight (1-0)

In a chaotic, high tempo game it was Red Bull Salzburg who got the win they deserved. Although RB Leipzig were more or less obliged to win in order to get through to the knockout phase, they did not manage to make life difficult enough for their ‘little’ brother from Austria.

Tactical analysis by Rowdy Nossent.

Besides the fact that this game is of course a prestigious battle between two Red Bull clubs, there was a lot at stake for Leipzig in terms of their chances of playing European football after the winter break. Going into the match, Red Bull Salzburg were topping the group, with twelve points out of four games. A very comfortable position for the Austrian champions.

RB Leipzig, on the other hand, were still embroiled in a battle with Celtic (both teams on six points), with the second place in the group at stake. Both of these teams are doing quite well in their domestic leagues. RB Salzburg is the undisputed leader in Austria, as they are already twelve points ahead of their competitors, while RB Leipzig currently sit fourth in the Bundesliga.

Salzburg had a number of injury concerns beforehand, but their biggest absence was Amadou Haidara, who is an important force for the Austrians in midfield. Manager Marco Rose opted for Salzburg’s usual 4-1-2-1-2 formation. Goalkeeper Cican Stanković was replaced by Alexander Walke, as Salzburg maintain a rotation policy between the posts.

Leipzig manager Ralf Rangnick made some changes formation-wise. The German coach set his team up in a 3-5-2 formation, which had proven to be successful in a 3-0 win against Leverkusen two weeks earlier. The away side had to cope with a long list of absent players, as Emil Forsberg, Marcel Sabitzer, Kevin Kampl and Diego Demmer were unavailable due to various injuries. The only good news on the injury front being the return of Dayot Upamecano in the squad, who immediately occupied his usual position as a left central defender.

First half initiative due to better balanced passing game

Salzburg displayed their attacking and aggressive intentions right at the start of the game. They were comfortable in their build-up play, in which center-backs Marin Pongračić and André Ramalho would position themselves extremely wide, making it difficult for Leipzig’s front two to press them.

When Leipzig’s strikers Timo Werner and Jean-Kévin Augustin would try to press the center backs, Salzburg’s holding midfielder Diadie Samassékou positioned himself in the gap between the two pressing strikers. Fullbacks Stefan Lainer and Andreas Ulmer pushed high up the pitch, while midfielders Xavier Schlager and Zlatko Junuzović would position themselves in the center of the pitch, close to the front two consisting of Munas Dabour and Fredrik Gulbrandsen. Shadow striker Hannes Wolf tried to find space by drifting into the wider areas in order to link up play with his two strikers.

Salzburg’s flexible 4-4-2 diamond formation versus Leipzig’s defensive 5-3-2 organization

When Salzburg attempted to build up from the back, Leipzig would form a 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 wing-back on the side of the ball would attempt to press the Salzburg fullback when brought into play. When Salzburg progressed into positions higher up the pitch, Leipzig would drop back in a 5-3-2 formation, in which they ended up playing most of the game.

With predominantly short, direct passing in the center of the pitch, the Austrian Bulls tried to break Leipzig’s defensive lines. Salzburg managed to strike a fine balance between being direct and vertical, while also positioning themselves in a way in which they would be able to execute the counter press when they lost the ball. This eventually made the difference in being able to hold on to the initiative.

In contrast, Leipzig were very sloppy in possession. Of course, their typical passing style – which is vertical and direct – goes along with relatively low successful passing rates. Their successful passing percentage overall in this match was 58% in this match, which is extremely low.

This was also enforced by the relentless (counter)pressing put on display by Salzburg. Salzburg managed to do this without getting caught by passes behind their own defense due to the aggressive high press initiated by the forwards, with Wolf forming a narrow front three alongside Dabour and Gulbrandsen when pressing. The Leipzig ball carriers were given almost no time on the ball and this resulted in a very hasty, sloppy way of playing from the away team.

Even though Salzburg had the initiative, they did not manage to produce a lot of scoring opportunities. In the 20th minute – of course after a turnover – Dabour chipped a ball over Leipzig’s defense, Gulbrandsen got a nice chance, but could not make it count.

Leipzig’s biggest opportunity was when Timo Werner produced one of his typical runs. The German international drifted out wide to the left side, where he patiently waited before being launched by a through ball by Bruma. Inside the penalty area, Werner placed the ball on the wrong end of the post, which meant the score was tied at half-time still.

Second half substitutes do not make desired impact

In the second half the game did not get a lot better, in regard to the type of football being played. A lot of duels, fouls and loss of possession made it a chaotic match to watch. Salzburg failed to continue their level of the first half, but still were the better side, partly because of Leipzig’s underperformance.

With the match still at 0-0 in the 62th minute, Rangnick decided to bring on Yusuf Poulsen for Jean-Kévin Augustin, who failed to make an impact on the game. Leipzig tried to bring the Danish striker into play, by feeding him long and direct balls. This had very little effect in terms of creating dangerous situations in front of goal.

The next Leipzig substitute did made a big impact on the game, albeit in a negative way. Only four minutes after Lukas Klostermann came on as a fullback, he was severely being lured out of position. Dabour made the run inside and with Klostermann drifting out of position, Salzburg’s left back Ulmer found a pocket of space. Junuzović recognized the gap and played a clever ball to the left back, who immediately hit a low cross in the path of Gulbrandsen, who did not hesitate and made it 1-0. All in all, a goal that felt deserved since Salzburg had been the better team for seventy four minutes of play.

After this event the game seemed to ignite. Rangnick made a tactical change, going from a back three to a back four, adding an extra midfielder with Marcel Halstenberg. Timo Werner managed to get a decent shot on goal, which forced Salzburg’s goalkeeper Walke to make a save.

However, the only team that came close to taking advantage of this change was Salzburg. With Leipzig pushing higher up the pitch a lot of space was left in behind. A fairly great amount of opportunities to hit Leipzig on the break failed in different ways. On the other hand, Leipzig were not able to make a real effort to make Salzburg pay for their sloppiness. The fact the Germans only succeeded in hitting the target twice in this game (twice from outside the box), was a testimony to their impotency in creating chances.

Red Bull Salzburg passmap


Salzburg showed again that they are a very hard opponent to play against. The Austrian champions added another win to a two-year unbeaten run in their own stadium. For the second time in this group they won against “big” brother Leipzig, beating them by displaying a better version of the brand of football Red Bull stands for.

Besides being a pressing machine, Salzburg showed a lot more quality and composure on the ball then Leipzig and this eventually made the difference. However, the credits are not entirely for Salzburg, as they played an opponent that simply did not show up.

Leipzig was confronted with a familiar problem. When teams adopt to their style of play, Leipzig have a lot of problems to come up with a ‘Plan B’. A lack of creativity and composure in possession made it almost impossible to get a goal against Salzburg in this game. Of course, a part of the problem can be attributed to the absence of Emil Forsberg, Kevin Kampl and Marcel Sabitzer. These players play an important role in the creation of chances for Leipzig and without a doubt Leipzig will be looking forward to getting some of these players in the starting line-up again.

Rowdy Nossent (24) is interested in football tactics and everything that goes with that. Started coaching youth teams quite early, as he has been doing this for ten years now. Feyenoord Rotterdam is his main club, but watches football from all over Europe. Tends to give his opinion on teams without a proper game plan. Prefers Serie A or Bundesliga. [ View all posts ]


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