Matthias Jaissle is part of the vanguard of young German football coaches looking to revolutionise the beautiful game. And this is certainly the feeling that his team, Red Bull Salzburg, has been giving of late.
In this new analysis by our collaborator Fernando Nuñez, we reveal some key aspects of the Austrian team’s success.
Over the years, the gap between domestic European leagues has become ever more apparent. In countries where there hasn’t been a sizable investment in the sport, many teams have suffered when competing in international competitions.
However, from time to time, a club breaks through which provides an exception to the rule. And this is the case with Red Bull Salzburg. Investment by the energy drink giants combined with a commitment to the youth system seems to be bearing fruit. In the current champions league campaign, they have already surpassed Sevilla FC and Wolfsburg in the group stages.
Red Bull Salzburg line up in a clear 4-2-3-1 system with a vertical game plan and dizzying pace. Matthias Jaissle’s team delight European football lovers with highly entertaining matches from the Red Bull Academy (a style also seen at German club Leipzig, another team in the same franchise).
Speed and continuous movement are the typical aspects of the team. Great movement means that they can squeeze their opponents, offer support to teammates, and lose their markers, putting themselves in open positions to receive passes.
Red Bull Salzburg defend with suffocating pressure, in which up to four players close all the passing lanes, leaving very few options for their opponents. By doing this, they create doubt in the mind of the player with the ball, allowing them to apply pressure and steal.
If, on the other hand, the opponent plays the long ball, Jaissle’s men have two central defenders and a defensive midfielder with tremendous strength, making them winners in almost every battle. Very little escapes them.
In addition, if the opponent is actually able to overcome the pressure, they don’t skimp on their efforts. They withdraw and reform their lines quickly and efficiently, accumulating enough players behind the ball so that the opponent has, again, very limited options to get behind the lines. The central defenders are fast and can retract at great speed.
After withdrawing, Salzburg defend with up to seven players in the central area. The two players closest to the ball will apply pressure so as not to end up in a 2 vs 1 situation. Three players will cover the 6-yard box and goalmouth while another two players will cover the 12-yard box, controlling possible passes to the front of the area.
The remaining players will hover around the area, waiting for a rebound in order to mount a counterattack.
Salzburg start their attacks from the back with short goal kicks. The Austrian team lines up as follows: the two open central defenders stay within the area while the wing backs push as wide as possible and a little higher than the central defenders.
The central midfielder positions himself on the edge of the area, while his teammate in the same line pushes a little deeper, on a par with the playmaker. The two wingers play open, in the opposite field, and the centre forward supports his teammates from a distance waiting for a possible long pass.
If the pressure allows it, the goal kick will go to one of the central defenders who subsequently move it out wide or slip it through the middle. If the opponent applies high pressure, they often look for the long ball to either the wingers or the striker. If this happens, there are always two players waiting in support.
The plan is to always play as vertically as possible. If this is not possible straight away, they combine to pull the opponent forward, opening space behind them. In order to achieve this, the central midfielder will often position himself as the third central defender. The wing backs are then given greater height to attack the opposing field, creating numerical superiority. This makes marking extremely difficult for the opponent.
The objective is clear: to get the ball behind the opposing players. This is a common trend for Austrian footballers, with the attacking lines constantly unchecking from their markers and receiving filtered passes from the midfield, or even defense.
Attacking from the wings is one of RB Salzburg’s greatest strengths as their wingers are fast, skilled players. The usual tactic would be to attack the bassline, though they are also capable of making diagonal inward runs.
There are always three players stacked in the box, waiting to receive a cross or through ball. These players are distributed well, giving them the highest possible chance of creating a scoring opportunity.
This team handles transitions very well, as their speed is conducive to executing them well.
In the defensive transition, they apply rapid pressure after losing the ball. The closest players suffocate the rival so that their first pass goes backwards. Meanwhile, the rest of the team position themselves and then press correctly. This accumulates many players per behind the ball, leaving no space for the opposing team.
As for offensive transitions, this is where Salzburg excel. Offensive transitions are, perhaps, the greatest weapon in their arsenal.
After stealing the ball, the plan is clear. Salzburg come out at speed with up to three players accompanying the man with the ball. The player with the ball drives inside, generating space for his teammates who make their way out wide until they reach the rival defensive line, which they continually threaten to break.
By doing this, they perform a double task: they pull the opponents wide, clearing the way for the man with the ball and, in turn, position themselves advantageously so that they can filter passes and appear alone in front of the goalkeeper. If the player who stole has a teammate in front of him, there is no doubt: move forward so that he leads and the rest run, thus disarming the opponent.
Undoubtedly, Salzburg put on a great exhibition of physicality that, combined with talent and youth, shows a great desire to succeed. They demonstrate their worth with a joyful and colourful game which is great for the fans.
They have also had great success this season, not only in domestic competitions, where they are extremely dominant, but also outside the borders of Austria, in European competitions, where Jaissle’s men have shown that they are more than ready for the next level.
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