Red Bull Salzburg returned to European action this week with their tie against Club Brugge in the UEFA Europa League round of 32 tie. The Austrian champions overcame a potentially tough group stage encounter beating the likes of RB Leipzig and Celtic to progress as group winners.
Having avoided a tougher draw, Salzburg would have fancied their chances against the Belgian club to complete the straight forward task of progressing to the next round, but Brugge were not going to roll over so easily. This feature will dissect and examine the different tactical aspects that were key in this game and how Brugge managed to silence the Red Bulls.
Red Bull Salzburg
Marco Rose lined up in his usual 4-3-1-2 looking to use his four dynamic midfielders to supplement his two in-form strikers. The full-backs would be used for width to try and get in behind the Brugge defensive line. Stefan Lainer and Andreas Ulmer have been in fine form for Salzburg this season and were instrumental in their victories against RB Leipzig and Celtic providing the impetus and supplying crosses that led to their goals.
Diadie Sammasekou and Xaver Schlager bring stability and protection in midfield while Hannes Wolf and Zlatko Junuzovic supplied industry and creativity to support the two strikers in Fredrik Gulbrandsen and Moanes Dabbur. The two strikers have been in scintillating form for Salzburg in the Europa League this season with 10 goals between them in the group stages. Their clinical finishing was expected to decide the outcome of the match.
The Belgian club lined up in a 3-5-2 formation with the aim to try to remain compact in midfield and protect the defence whilst being able to counter-attack by winning the ball deep in their own half. Ivan Leko wanted his side to keep it tight and battle Salzburg in midfield to try and take the game to them. When the opportunity arose, the two full-backs would supply width for the two strikers.
Club Brugge produced a performance that no one would have expected. In beating Salzburg, they inflicted their first defeat of the season making the tie a much closer affair than originally anticipated. They salvaged a draw against Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund earlier in the campaign showing their capabilities.
The first half took its time to settle and chances were snapped at by both sides. Even after the first goal, the game kept a similar pace with Brugge owning the majority of possession but were far less accurate than Red Bull Salzburg who had four shots on target. Both teams were looking to press and win the ball in midfield to attack with their wing-backs.
Brugge did well to disrupt Salzburg’s flow in the first half as they limit their chances. However, the first goal was something of a classic by Salzburg as they caught Brugge’s defensive line higher up. One long ball into the left channel by Andreas Ulmer to Zlatko Junuzović resulted in a goal.
As Andreas Ulmer receives the ball, he quickly plays it down the line and catches Brugge’s midfield and defensive lines out. The team was fixated on Moanes Dabbur’s position and did not notice Junuzović’s deep run. Some quick thinking from Junuzović saw him lob the goalkeeper who was off his line.
The first goal seemed to have sparked some life into Brugge who suddenly started to play a quicker passing game and tried to utilise their wing-backs more, bringing Wesley Moraes into play with his height and linking up with Hans Vanaken. The 6″2′ Brazilian striker was fundamental to their play throughout and not only used as a battering ram but dropped deep and linked up with the midfield. This coincided with the wing-backs attempting more crosses (eight) as the half wore on, making wide play and set-pieces more critical in the second-half.
Here we can see how Wesley attempts to move into the empty space to help his wing-back and create space for other runners to engage the empty space. He repeated this multiple times and made himself a nuisance to the Salzburg defence.
Brugge began the second half much more quickly than the first. The tempo was visibly higher and they moved the ball around much more energetically. They made two changes at the break bringing on Benoît Poulain and Krépin Diatta for Sofyan Amrabat and Dion Cools. These changes contributed to Brugge’s resurgence in the second-half.
The first minute brought about the first corner of the half and set the tone for what was to come. A header from substitute Poulain was cleared off the line by Dabbur. Poulain got away from his marker (Xaver Schlager) quite easily and should have scored.
Brugge decided to focus on using the wings as they did towards the end of the first half and found success. Emmanuel Dennis was the catalyst for their improvement as his direct running style, interchanging play and crosses were instrumental in getting Brugge back into the match.
As you can see with his touch and heat map above, Dennis spent the majority of his time in the final third. Krépin Diatta’s introduction brought a lot more attacking impetus down the opposite flank as his industrious running stretched the Salzburg full-backs.
As you can see here, Diatta makes an early run from his teammate’s pass down the flank. As he gets to the byline, he attempts to take on both Ulmer and Sammasekou whom he beats to get a cross in. With no one able to reach his cross, Dennis’ run from the opposite side manages to yield success as he fires a shot onto the post. Brugge’s influence over the match was starting to take shape and Salzburg needed to sustain constant pressure.
As the half wore on, Brugge gained a better foothold in the game and started to dictate play making it look as though Salzburg were the chasing team. A goal was coming and in the 64th minute, Brugge struck gold.
This corner had an identical setup to the goal with Salzburg using their zonal marking system against Brugge. The three men in the centre of the box are trying to run into the empty space ahead of them using their power and size advantage to win the header. Stefano Denswill loses his marker, rises highest and powers a header away from Alexandre Walke to equalise.
The winning goal came after a period of extended pressure by Club Brugge. The home team had used the momentum from the first goal to keep the pressure on and not allow Salzburg to rest, exploiting the spaces they started leaving.
Salzburg have been susceptible to crosses this season and it was evident again after Denswill’s first goal. Earlier in the group stages against RB Leipzig, Salzburg gave up a two-goal advantage to the German club courtesy of a headed goal from Yussuf Poulsen. The Danish striker rose high to score a thumping header. Shades of that evening in Leipzig were repeated here in Belgium when Wesley scored a header from close range to give Brugge the lead on the night.
Once again, Dennis makes another marauding run down the right flank and fires in a cross that is met by Wesley who scores to give Brugge the lead. The goal ensures they go to Austria with a fair chance of qualifying for the next round.
Red Bull Salzburg would have been shocked by the result but more so by their performance after Brugge inflicted their first defeat of the 2018/19 season. They will still be considered favourites to progress but will need a near flawless performance next week to ensure they make it through.
Marco Rose will have to remind the players that the tie is not over yet and still salvageable but no complacency can creep in otherwise their hopes of bettering their semi-final finish will be dashed for yet another season. After losing Amadou Haidara to RB Leipzig in the January transfer window, it is only a matter of time before Europe’s heavyweights come in for their talented squad causing Salzburg to rebuild once more.
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