A new decade is afoot and it is that time of year where Red Bull Hub releases a list of five Liefering players to watch for in 2020.
Since the club’s inception as an incubator for Red Bull Salzburg in 2012, Liefering has proven to be a successful platform for players to take their first steps as professionals and was a pivotal factor in Salzburg’s UEFA Youth League triumph in 2017.
In recent years, the likes of Hannes Wolf, Amadou Haidara, Xaver Schlager, Diadie Samassékou, Stefan Lainer, and Dayot Upamecano have emerged out of Liefering and earned moves across the border to the German Bundesliga, amid interest from some of Europe’s biggest clubs. In their footsteps followed Mohamed Camara, Dominik Szoboszlai, Enock Mwepu, Patson Daka, and Sékou Koïta, who have been key for Jesse Marsch this season, with the latter three recently earning contracts until 2024.
A mass exodus seems inevitable this summer following Die Roten Bullen‘s successful run in Europe so far, but, as usual, the club has talent in abundance coming through the ranks that could be strong alternatives for those that leave. In no particular order, here is a list of five players to keep an eye out for in 2020 .
D.O.B: 18.08.2002 | Position(s): right-back/left-back | Nationality: Bosnia and Herzegovina
On par with another prospect in this list, Amar Dedić has been Liefering’s standout performer this season. Awarded a professional contract by Red Bull Salzburg four days after an impressive debut against Amstetten as a 16-year-old, the versatile full-back is highly-rated by the club and his performances are justifying why.
Despite being the fifth youngest player to feature this season, he has shown that he has a mature head on such young shoulders, with Bo Svensson and Frank Kramer putting faith in him as he has been an ever-present in both the 2. Liga and UEFA Youth League. A reason behind the reliance on him is his ability to play on either flank without a problem.
Although he isn’t the most gifted with his left foot, he has the technique with his right and intellect to be an effective left-back. Regardless of what side he is on, he is one of, if not the most, effective dribblers in the squad. Initially, he was a little conservative in that he would beat a man then make a sideways pass, now he is constantly looking to use a combination of excellent close control, agility, balance, and a burst of speed to evade pressure and progress up the pitch.
Looking at the surface of things, Dedić doesn’t look overly influential in the final third because he is yet to register an assist or score this season. If you ignore the statistics and observe him, he possesses an excellent cross on him that Liefering’s attack is yet to capitalise on and which will only become more threatening as he develops. He likes to try catch out the opposition with an early cross into the penalty spot, and when he’s on the left, he will cut inside onto his right and whip in an in-swinging cross with enough pace that it will only need the slightest redirecting.
As like many young defenders, his positioning can be off at times and teams will look to exploit the space behind him. However, Dedić has the speed to get back into position and make the all-important recovery challenge. Facing the ball, he knows where and when to step up and make an interception or tackle and he is well-equipped to deal with one-on-one situations.
Red Bull Salzburg is blessed with a plethora of talent on the right flank, but with the club’s heavy reliance on a 34-year-old Andreas Ulmer on the left, it could open up an opportunity for Dedić to put his name in contention for a place in Jesse Marsch’s squad next season.
D.O.B: 29.10.2000 | Position(s): centre-back | Nationality: Croatia
Despite Liefering having the fourth leakiest defence this season, it was a tough decision to chose between centre-back duo, Dominik Oroz and David Affengruber. Affengruber has emerged as a reliable option in midfield and defence this season, but I have opted for Oroz because since making his professional debut in February, the Vienna-born, Croatia youth international has become an important component in the 2. Liga.
Since making his debut as an 18-year-old, Oroz has cemented the position as his own and has developed from a naive centre-back into a more assured one in a short period of time. At the start, he would often struggle to impose an aerial presence despite being 6’2″ and would often be too cautious in his passing, choosing to make sideways passes under pressure after stepping out with the ball. These are areas he has improved.
Nowadays, he is more assured in aerial duels and is the most capable in the squad at defending them. On the ball, he has never been someone that will attempt a risky dribble at the back, but he’s always been comfortable stepping out with the ball and now he not only makes the simple pass into the full-backs or defensive midfielder but he’s more willing to break through lines with one or send it diagonally for one of the forwards to run onto.
In terms of a Red Bull style centre-back, Oroz somewhat goes against the grain because he isn’t the most athletic and is more no-nonsense; he is a strong tackler of the ball and isn’t afraid to make a last-ditch block. He typically reads the play well and provides good cover for his centre-back partner, coming across to use his large frame to shepherd it out of play, although, when a forward applies pressure when he’s about to come onto the ball, he will send the ball high into the stands.
A key attribute to the 19-year-old’s game is his aggression into challenges – despite it having its pros and cons. If an opponent is receiving the ball with his back to goal, Oroz doesn’t shy away from attempting to nip in front to retrieve possession, this often works, but sometimes he can step too high and misjudge it, leaving a gap behind him to exploit. As time goes on and as he develops, this will be an area he will perfect.
The centre of defence isn’t an area Jesse Marsch is lacking in, with six options at his disposal, therefore opportunities for Oroz could be few and far between. If he doesn’t get the chance at Salzburg, he would definitely be someone worth keeping an eye on should he make a permanent or temporary move elsewhere.
D.O.B: 08.08.2001 | Position(s): defensive midfield | Nationality: Slovakia
Peter Pokorný is one of two survivors from 2019’s list and he is included this time because 2020 could be the year he makes the inaugural step into the first team picture. Despite not featuring in any of Liefering’s first seven matches this season due to a foot injury, his development is back on track and he could be on course for a big year.
An ever-present in Frank Kramer’s UEFA Youth League team, completing all but one match, Pokorný had a few shaky appearances upon returning to domestic action, but would eventually find his feet closer to the winter break. The Slovakian was a instrumental figure last season and is proving so once again under Bo Svensson, acting as the metronome that keeps the tempo and team ticking. When you watch him, you can see he is mature beyond his years and he has never looked out of depth player against seasoned professionals, even when he made his debut at 16.
Like a traditional Red Bull holding midfielder, his role isn’t just to interrupt play, but to instigate it as well. Wherever the ball is on the pitch, he is constantly looking for space to provide an option – when the ball is at the back, he will always be in a pocket of space to retrieve, whether it be in between the centre-backs or the opposition’s lines to turn and progress. His positioning is typically excellent and whenever there is a turnover in possession, he’s always in an area to keep Liefering on the front foot.
On the ball, he is constantly looking for options and he has the passing arsenal to find the correct pass, be it a short pass to the full-back, one through the opposition lines in the final third or a scathing diagonal pass across the pitch. If there isn’t an option then he will be patient and wait for an opportunity to arise. Should he come under pressure in the meantime, he has the composure and ability to skip past the press and, if need be, he has the strength to shake them off with ease.
Pokorný also excels when it comes to disrupting opposition’s play; he is a rock in the middle and it is no easy task to get past him. As touched upon, his positioning is excellent and it allows it to always be in close proximity to the ball to snuff out the danger, stepping in to make a well-timed interception or to come in with a strong tackle. Either way, you will rarely seem him to go ground to retrieve the ball.
In March, the 18-year-old signed a five-year deal with Red Bull Salzburg, therefore he could be someone that is in the club’s long-term plans and he is someone worth keeping an eye on him.
D.O.B: 06.06.2001 | Position(s): centre-forward | Nationality: Austria
Year-on-year, Red Bull Salzburg receives high praise for the club’s scouting department’s expert eye for talent and bringing them into Liefering to develop, but a lot of people overlook the domestic players coming through the academy, with the likes of Xaver Schlager, Stefan Lainer, Hannes Wolf, Valentino Lazaro and Konrad Laimer all coming through from the under-15/16s.
Another potential name to add to this list is Junior Chukwubuike Adamu, who joined the club in from Grazer AK in 2015 as a 14-year-old. As he rose through the ranks, he earned himself the reputation of a recognised goal scorer, finding the net 42 times in a combined 57 appearances for the under-16s and under-18s, including an impressive 12 in 11 for the latter in the first half of the 2018/19 season before he made his Liefering debut.
Adamu isn’t the most spectacular of centre-forwards, but he is one of the more effective. He compliments the next man on this list very well as he is always to drop deep to receive with his back to goal, creating space for Adeyemi to move into. Sometimes his first touch can allude him as the ball will get stuck under his feet, but once he gets it under control it is hard to get it off him because he backs into defenders so effectively to wait for options.
In this role he is often at the heart of combination play, either in a confined space on the edge of the box or with an overlapping full-back. Passing isn’t a strength of his, but on occasion he has shown he’s capable of pulling a rabbit out of a hat with an inventive pass and it’s an aspect of his game that will only improve as time goes on. Should an attack break down, he isn’t averse to defending from the front and will track back 20-30 yards to nullify the threat.
The strengths in his game lay in front of goal. Although his movement is something that can be improved as he will often stray offside, when he times it well he has the composure to steady himself before slotting the ball past the goalkeeper. He’s what can only be described as a ‘fox in the box’ as he is usually in the right place at the right time to finish, with 7 of his 9 goals this season coming from inside the area – albeit three of them penalties.
The 18-year-old signed a contract with Red Bull Salzburg until 2023 in July and featured in pre-season. With Erling Håland’s move to Borussia Dortmund confirmed, Hwang Hee-chan heavily linked with a move elsewhere, and Smail Prevljak misfiring, if Adamu can maintain his form this season he could be a shoo in to be part of Jesse Marsch’s plans for 2020/21.
D.O.B: 18.01.2002 | Position(s): winger/centre-forward | Nationality: Germany
Adeyemi is the second of two players to make the list for a successive year and it’s because his development has taken huge strides in 2019. Awarded gold in the prestigious Fritz Walter Medal for under-17, he has been causing havoc to defences in the 2. Liga and UEFA Youth League this season and he could be on course to make his Red Bull Salzburg breakthrough after the winter break.
A noticeable development in his game is the increased output in front of goal. In 2018/19, he only managed six goals and four assists in 20 appearances, this season, however, he has already double his goal contributions in two less games, scoring 11 and assisting 10 in 18 appearances (all competitions), while halving his goal-to-minute ratio from 264 minutes to 132.
A factor behind the upturn in form is the change in mentality that has made him more clinical in front of goal. Previously, he would create an excellent opportunity on the counter, but instead of finishing the move, he halted his progression to wait for support. Now he is showing more of a killer instinct and when he is through on goal, he has the ability to fire a controlled shot across goal at speed or the composure and audacity to round the goalkeeper or chip him in a one-on-one.
The 17-year-old provides Liefering with multiple dimensions in attack. He is at his most effective on the wings and has proven to be a formidable figure in these areas; even if he starts centrally, he is given the freedom to drift wide and attack the full-back in a one-on-one. What makes him so difficult to contend with his is electrifying speed and acceleration as he has the capability to come to a halt before bursting past a defender and leaving them in his dust.
By no means is he a one-trick pony, either. At such a young age, he is a magnificent technician on the ball and has the ability to use his quick feet, low centre of gravity, and balance to beat an opponent effortlessly. If he’s not latching onto a pass, he’s dropping deep to drive the team forward, either by running with the ball or using a great sense of awareness to pick out an on-running team-mate with a well-weighted pass.
Although this list isn’t in order, the best has been saved for last. Subjectively speaking, Karim Adeyemi is the most exciting prospect in the entire Red Bull system and it comes to no surprise that he is already attracting the attention of Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool, Arsenal and Barcelona, with the Catalan club reportedly having a €15 million bid rejected. Not only does a big year await him but a big decade too.