Analysis: Red Bull Salzburg Lose to Liverpool Despite Valiant Effort

The last match provided a thrilling game for spectators when Liverpool played perhaps their most dominant half of 2019/20, leading with 3-0 in half-time. After a tactical change to a 4-3-1-2 formation from the American Jesse Marsch, Salzburg managed to score 3 goals in a very strong 2nd half performance, but still succumbed to a 4-3 defeat.

Klopp learned his lesson and prepared for what happened in that 2nd half while Marsch tried to approach the game more positively in this fixture, making several adjustments despite continuing with their usual 4-3-1-2 formation. The strong performance from Salzburg continued in this game too, with their vertical play and aggressive pressing creating many dangerous chances.


Red Bull Salzburg’s Diamond vs. Liverpool’s Positional Play

Straight from the start you could notice the triggers of Salzburg’s pressing-traps mechanism and their approach.

Salzburg held a semi-high midfield pressing approach and invited Liverpool to build-up and circulate possession in order to keep the team compact, preventing space behind the backline for Liverpool’s vertical plays into their lethal speedy attackers.

Salzburg waited for the eventual switch pass from CB to CB as the main trigger to set the trap.

Minamino acted as the #10 in deeper positions, shifting across to control passes between but also man-marked Henderson zonally, when trying to “activate” the trap.

The two centre-forwards had a zonal-responsibility of the half-space, in order to have access to Liverpool’s CB’s and eventual back-passes to Alisson, with cover-shadow pressing forcing keeper to one side.

Like the centre-forwards, the #8’s were also responsible for controlling the half-spaces, in order to access Liverpool’s full-backs and pressing them towards the touchline. 

Example of the “pressing-trap” towards the touchline by Salzburg in a 4-3-1-2 vs the 4-3-3- of Liverpool. The #8s, Mwepu & Szoboszlai aggressively pressed towards the fullbacks with situational man-marking roles in in ball-near areas to create access for potential ball-recoveries while Kristensen and Ulmer marked their respective wingers.

Many of their situations were successful by having a compact structure and quickly and aggressively executing the pressing, allowing them to recover possession several times consequently allowing them to find both Minamino and the forwards in favourable 1v1/2v2 situations vs Liverpool’s CB’s. 

(above)Håland and Hwang controlling the half-spaces(in this sequence they are positioned closer than necessary). We can also see how Szoboszlai is pressuring Trent Alexander-Arnold while preventing cutting of passing lanes into the half-space.  

Passes from Alexander-Arnold to Lovren and then van Dijk triggered Salzburg’s pressing, where they’d increase their pressing intensity, with the aim of forcing Liverpool into worse situations by decreasing each players time on the ball and also to recover the ball in advanced areas near the goal. 
The last sequence of pressing leads to a long pass from Alisson, quite centrally which Salzburg recover. Here we can see the diamond formation with short distances between players, controlling the central zones while pressing, leading to a dangerous transition moment for Salzburg

Although Salzburg’s pressing was successfully executed in many situations, Liverpool managed to find different ways to create superiority vs their diamond structure.
Liverpool used positional rotations on the flanks and in the half-space, with their wingers, #8’s and full-backs, in order to create opportunities to find free players/positional superiority. Examples from this game included Salah dropping deeper into the half-space, Trent advancing down the flank and the ball-near #8 moving towards the flank or into space. 

In this game Liverpool kept their full-backs deep and wide in early possession phases, in order to drag Salzburg’s #8s wider and thus decreasing their access to the ball. From there, the full-backs were supported by the ball-near #8 creating 2vs1 situations, but had also time to switch play to the ball-far CB or even fullback to fullback switches.

Szoboszlai pressing the widest player(Salah), with Keïta’s availability creating a 2v1 situation. A potential solution to this issue would’ve been to have the #8 pressing the wide players, using his cover shadow to prevent diagonal passes infield. 

The diamond formation is a formation which creates a “net” of access in pressing situations and almost every potential player can control central spaces. Also, due to the many lines of the formation be, the diamond creates both horizontal & vertical compactness.

To prevent losing horizontal compactness within the team and the access to wide opposing players in case of playing against very fast and wide circulation in possession of an opponent, the #8’s must be able to adjust positions constantly, in order to create enough access but to also anticipate the best moment to apply pressure.

In these situations, the fullback was given the role to leave his “defending line” in order to press the wing-positioned player of Liverpool, trying to prevent the player from advancing further.

Here, Salzburg are very compact, with their ball-oriented pressing creating pressure around the ball. Firmino creates a numerical situation vs the #8 which gives Robertson enough space to switch the play to Alexander-Arnold. 
Here, Salah occupies a wide position in order to drag the full-back out of position, while Alexander-Arnold occupies a position closer to the half-space while advancing the play. Ulmer continued to press higher, forcing the backline to shift quickly in order to control the large, open spaces. 

This led to situations where Ulmer would pressing very high, allowing Liverpool, excellent in playing vertical passes into the space behind the back-line, to try and play longer balls behind Ulmer to Salah running in-behind, leaving exposed because they weren’t able to push-up as a unit, accordingly because of the threat of Liverpool’s threatening runs in-behind.

Here Keïta tries to create a  2v1 situation by moving wider, occupying Ulmer  creating an opportunity for Salah to run in-behind to receive a pass from Alexander-Arnold. 
As seen here.

These sequences saw Salzburg losing their central compactness. Because of their less-compact structure, the hosts were better prepared to win 2nd balls and to take advantage of the visitors horizontally spaced out back-line(due to Ulmer’s positioning)  and the 2v1 situation on the opposite flank, with Mané & Robertson.

Salzburg in more advanced areas trying to press Liverpool with Ulmer in a more advanced position, pressing the wide player.
Here we can see how Salah again tries to run in-behind the space of Ulmer, leaving Salzburg with a situational 3-man back-line. The 2nd ball is won by Wijnaldum who can […]
[…] continue the switch to Keïta, after having drawn Salzburg into an uncontrollable situation, with less access horizontally, putting Liverpool in superior situations in wide areas. Notice the position of Kristensen (rightback).
Another example. Here, Firmino wins the ball back for Liverpool. 

Liverpool’s also formed situational a 3-man back-line, decreasing the effectiveness of Salzburg’s triggers. When closer to the goal, Alisson created the 3rd player with the CB’s splitting wider or Henderson would move diagonally into half-spaces.

This could’ve occurred due to lack of aggressiveness, caused by waiting too long to apply intense pressure(this is of course id also due to the fact that Liverpool forced Salzburg to cover lots of spaces and shift a lot by orienting their ball-circulation towards the flanks). The more the game went on, the more Henderson would move out diagonally, allowing Alexander-Arnold & Robertson to position themselves higher up the flanks.

When Henderson positioned himself diagonally in the half-spaces, Keïta and Wijnaldum positioned themselves more centrally, closer to Minamino, creating a 2v1 situation. 
When Liverpool rotated positionally, the roles of  Salzburg’s players in pressing were the same, as the #8 still pressed the full-backs and Minamino shifted across to man-mark the ball-near #6. The fact that the full-backs were in advanced positions out-wide, basically forced the #8’s to position themselves in relative to the situation, thus creating wider positioning further opening up space in central areas.

Comparing Liverpool to other teams, they are great at using cover-shadows to direct passes towards the flanks during midfield pressing, which forces the team to play centrally to areas where Liverpool want to stay compact and execute a “trap” centrally.

Henderson’s position occupied Håland which invited him to pressure, to basically open up even more spaces behind for Liverpool two #6s to receive. Minamino was tasked with pressing in central areas but in these moments, Liverpool could bypass Salzburg’s first line of pressure with Lovren playing a pass Keïta.
By Albin Sheqiri


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