Progressing to the round of 16 via a hard-fought 4-3 aggregate win over Basque club Real Sociedad, Red Bull Salzburg travelled across the Austrian-German border to come up against Borussia Dortmund on a night that the Salzburg faithful won’t forget any time soon. Thanks to a fearless, high-intensity performance, the visitors go into the next week’s sold-out home fixture with two away goals to their name, after Valon Berisha was able to secure a brace in a 2-1 triumph. Let’s have a look at how the Austrian’s went about achieving their first-ever win on German turf.
The host’s lined-up in the 4-2-3-1 shape which has become conventional under the stewardship of Peter Stöger. Although, this time it came with a twist, as Gonzalo Castro, a well-known midfielder, began the game at right-back. With Salzburg without an out-and-out winger, Castro would move inside to create a numerical superiority in the midfield third, while Schmelzer, on the left, was tasked with making overlapping runs and providing width. The duo in front of Dortmund’s back-line consisted of Julian Weigl, a man who’s role was to break-up play and instigate play from deep, and Mahmoud Dahoud, another creative outlet who was situated further up the pitch; creating positional superiority with his clever movement. Sitting in front of them and behind the centre-forward was Mario Götze with the freedom to roam. But in a defensive phase, he’d drop deep to create a midfield triumvirate. André Schürrle and Marco Reus were tasked to get inside and create shooting opportunities for themselves, with the on-loan Michy Batshuayi leading the line. A lot of fluidity shown from Dortmund, especially between the attacking quartet who interchanged positions.
Meanwhile, Red Bull Salzburg went with an orientation of the traditional 4-4-2, a formation which suited the Austrian’s style of player perfectly. Stefan Lainer, the right-back, was integral in an attacking phase, but not as influential in defence, as he maintained a high starting berth along the touchline. Ulmer, on the other hand, was more conservative in his approach. Samassékou acted shield in front of the defence with his main goal to break up attacks and protect the back line. Berisha had the most advanced role in Salzburg’s midfield, arriving into the box late or moving into the right flank so Salzburg can operate in a 4-3-3 shape used in an attacking phase. The two wide midfielders, Haidara and Schlager, would be enticed into the centre to create positional superiority. Finally, Hwang was situated further up the pitch, allow Munas Dabbur to take up a role which grants him more freedom.
Salzburg’s actions in a defensive phase disorientated Dortmund’s approach. In the initial build-up, the visitor’s zone-oriented pressing prevents the home side from executing their game plan. Often forcing them into playing diagonal passes into the wide areas, bypassing the midfield. Often initiated by Munas Dabbur, Salzburg’s press focused on blocking the passing options for the man in possession by using a triangular shape – as shown below – aiming to force the play into a compact zone.
If Dortmund were able to escape the press, Salzburg sat back into an organised and compact deep block. Their defensive structure was impressive as they shuffled across to compress the space in which the ball was situated. Meaning that there was minimal space between the lines for Dortmund to operate in, and the wide areas were covered by Schlager and Haidara who kept the width. The full-backs moved into the half-spaces to cover the runs from the inside forwards. As a result, Dortmund struggled to break Salzburg down.
You can see how compact Salzburg’s defensive structure is in the image above. With a distance of about five metres between every player, except for the forwards, compressing the pitch into the area of the ball carrier. You can see there is little space in the half-spaces or the zone between the defence and midfield.
Dortmund forced into wide areas
Due to Die Roten Bullen’s impressive organisation and their success in overloading in the midfield, it allowed them to prevent Dortmund from executing their build-up patterns, with most of their attacks originating from the wings. In transition, Dortmund had to skip to the second phase of the attack without getting the ball into the midfield. Therefore, the centre-backs preferred the vertical, direct option where they attempted to create two-on-one situations and achieve numerical superiority. This was evident down the left flank as Batshuayi’s intelligent movement allowed Dortmund to achieve a three-on-one scenario on occasion. Schürrle laterally shifts inside to create space from Schmelzer to run into, while Batshuayi drops into the half-space. Reus moves into the space vacated by Belgian, aiming to create an numerical imbalance in a targeted wide area.
When Dortmund kept possession, it was sterile, non-penetrative and near enough useless. Dortmund’s heat map from the game shows how centred their play was in the wide areas. This is a massive accolade for Salzburg, who forced a side superior to them into playing a specific style due to their tactical discipline and structure.
Stefan Lainer’s importance to Salzburg
The pass map for the game shows the importance of Stefan Lainer for Salzburg, especially in an attacking phase. The Austrian’s overlapping runs were vital in providing a wide outlet for the team, especially with Amadou Haidara – who’s naturally a central midfielder – drifting inside. The Austrian’s movement was important in providing an impetus in the final third. When the play became too congested in the middle, Lainer’s positioning allowed Salzburg to stretch the pitch. Something that suited him his attacking style.
Marco Rose tactically outwitted Peter Stöger. The Leipzig’s born coach’s game plan was very good and the players were able to implement it perfectly. Their actions in the defensive phase especially impressed me, as they dominated a team that was superior to them due to their organisation and the tactical ingenuity of the coach. As for Dortmund, they struggled in transition. Despite having three technically gifted midfielders in Weigl, Dahoud and Mario Götze, the supply to the trio was blocked. The one positive for the home side was their adequate exploitation of the half-spaces and wide areas of the pitch. It will be interesting to see how the second-leg pan out and how Peter Stöger will try and out-think his Rose.