Marco Rose’s enthralling Red Bull Salzburg

Marco Rose has won the UEFA Youth League with Red Bull Salzburg before ultimately being promoted to the first team as the side became one of the most entertaining teams on the continent. Rose has put together two impressive Europa League campaigns while continuing Salzburg’s stranglehold on the Austrian Bundesliga. They implement a 4-4-2 diamond with brilliant execution of positional play and other fundamentals that are imperative in modern day football. Rose will join Borussia Monchengladbach next season as his success with Salzburg has granted him and Rene Maric the opportunity to implement this style in the Bundesliga.


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Salzburg will normally switch to a 2-3-2-3 shape in build-up play as the centre-backs will form a two-chain, the fullbacks will move into the midfield line next to the deepest-lying midfielder as they will move forward with possession, constantly remaining available for combinations to progress play. The intriguing thing about Salzburg’s use of centre-backs is that if the opposition are in a medium-block, marking the midfield line, the centre-backs are entrusted with carrying the ball to engage the opposition to move the line of pressure higher. The centre-backs also move into positions where there are opportunities for passing combinations and positional overloads to create combinations to progress play.


In the above situation, Napoli are applying a higher 4-4-2 press as when teams press higher, Salzburg switch to a 2+4/2+5 to create overloads as the wide midfielders will drop next to the deepest-lying midfielder as passing options for the centre-backs as avenues out of opposition pressure. The wide-midfielders are integral to the build-up shape as not only passing options and options to combine with the fullbacks, but they also play underneath the full-backs when they push up high as when possession is lost, the wide-midfielders can cover for the fullbacks by counter-pressing the opposition player in possession. This allows Rose’s team to transition between the possession phase and defensive phase rapidly and seamlessly.


The centre-backs will also split wide as the goalkeeper, either Alexander Walke or Cican Stankovic will push up in between them to create a three chain. This forces the opposition forwards to move wide to track the centre-backs which creates space for Diadie Samassekou to drop into as Andre Ramalho has become gifted at playing the diagonal pass from a wide position to a central Samassekou to circumvent pressure. 


The centre-backs will play short passes to the deeply positioned fullbacks, but Salzburg seek to build-up through the centre with adequate player spacing for overloads and quick combinations to create space. The fullbacks will normally pass the ball back while the centre-backs and Samassekou will look to break central lines with early passes into the pockets for layoffs and combinations before Salzburg eventually work the ball wide in the final third. Salzburg have a mastery of vertical passing sequences, especially moving the ball from wide-centre-backs to the defensive midfielder or wide-midfielder dropping into the half-space as they also specialise in playing direct balls through the lines for layoffs and quick combinations in between the lines.


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Salzburg press in a diamond 4-4-2 shape as the two strikers will press the opposition centre-backs while the midfielder at the tip of the diamond will mark the opposition midfielder. The wide midfielders will mark the opposition midfielders while Salzburg’s defensive midfielder, normally Diadie Samassekou will remain deployed at the base of midfield. Rose seeks to force the opposition team out wide to the fullbacks as Salzburg will shift their wave of pressure into a highly aggressive lateral press.


 Salzburg rely on multi-functional midfielders in their system as in the situation above, Samassekou has moved up to press the deep-lying Napoli midfielder as Junuzovic has filled in for him at the base of midfield. Salzburg also look to tighten their diamond to suffocate the opposition as the ball-far wide midfielder has tucked in to close spaces in the centre. This also allows Salzburg to hunt possession in packs as they have the numerical superiority of the player in possession as Samassekou and striker, Patson Daka close the player in possession down while Moanes Dabbur looks to close down possession to the other centre-back who is out of the picture.

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In the lateral pressing phase, the ball-far midfielder will tuck inside while Rose tasks his strikers with moving out wide to press the man in possession as Salzburg look to constrain the space and prevent the opposition from making a switch ball or playing loose pass down the line. Salzburg look to win possession in the higher and wider areas before playing quick vertical passing combinations to work the ball into the box and create goalscoring opportunities while the opposition is disorganised.


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Salzburg counter-press aggressively as in the photo above, the right-back Lainer has pushed up to engage the man in possession as they have worked a 3v1 situation. The wide midfielder, Enock Mwepu has moved to act as press security and cover the situation in case Napoli manage to play out of the situation.


 Another intriguing aspect of Salzburg’s aggressive counter-pressure is that the centre-backs who are already positioned wide in the build-up phase will not move to a central position, instead remaining in their wide position and pushing up to act as press security. This will allow Salzburg to work an overload on the flank and have a higher chance of winning possession as the centre-back can win possession and recycle the ball in a higher position, effectively and efficiently.


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Marco Rose’s side employ aspects of positional play in their approach play as they seek to stretch the field and have representation in the half-spaces. Wide-midfielder and full-back combinations and interchanges in the lateral zones are integral to the creation of low crossing opportunities and space in the wide areas.


In the photo above, Andreas Ulmer and Mwepu are stretching the pitch as Lainer and Dominik Szoboszlai are occupying the half-spaces as the strikers also have the ability to occupy the half-spaces and the lateral zones. Salzburg seek to engineer high-quality goalscoring opportunities by working passing combinations and sequences in the final third.

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In the situation above, Salzburg are in a 2-3-5 approach play shape with the centre-backs recycling the ball as the midfield three drop into space to create passing options. The full-backs are establishing width while wide midfielders Mwepu and Szoboszlai are positioned in the half-spaces but dropping into space to receive possession, turn and work combinations with teammates. Rose’s side can find themselves in this shape in the opposition half as they push the opposition back and look to work possession through the central areas before stretching play. The attacking midfielder is pushed up into the attacking five in between the strikers as Dabbur especially, is gifted at moving into space and receiving passes to work balls in the lateral zones as well as in the central pockets


Marco Rose and his precocious assistant, Rene Maric will move to Borussia Monchengladbach after a highly successful spell with the Red Bull Salzburg youth teams and the Red Bull Salzburg first team. Their highly entertaining style as well as their penchant for developing youngsters will suit the Bundesliga well as it contains tenets of the contemporary Rangnick high-pressing and counter-pressing style with a ‘Juego de posicion’ flavour in possession. Salzburg remained dominant in the Austrian Bundesliga and in the Austrian Cup while they produced two impressive Europa League campaigns as they continued with their enthralling style of football, no matter the opponent.