Europa League Red Bull Salzburg Celtic Tactical Analysis

Our story continues with an introduction to the second club in our three-part series: FC Red Bull Salzburg. 

The last few weeks have been exhilarating, to say the least. RB Leipzig and FC Salzburg faced each other for the first time in European competition and the first meeting between the two rivals did not disappoint. Due to sponsorship restrictions, the club is known as FC Salzburg and wears a modified crest when playing in UEFA competitions.

The two clubs entertained viewers that night and continually enhancing their reputation of playing attractive, fluid football that resulted with a climatic ending. Considered two of the favourites in the Europa League, FC Salzburg has been particularly impressive of late especially since their win over their domestic rivals in swash-buckling style with poise and elegance. To better understand FC Salzburg, let us examine their history and tactics to understand their current success.

Formerly known as SV Austria Salzburg, Red Bull GmbH bought the economic and sponsorship rights to the Austrian club in 2005 and re-branded their colours from its traditional violet and white to red and white. Red Bull changed the club’s name, management and staff, declaring “this is a new club with no history”. They also renamed the club to FC Red Bull Salzburg with their stadium known as the Red Bull Arena. 

The immediate reaction from fans was to form a new club named SV Austria Salzburg to keep its history alive. The club commenced participation in the seventh tier of Austria’s national league system in 2006, then rose through four successive championships to the third tier, Regionalliga West, in 2010. In 2015, the club gained promotion to the Erste Liga, one tier below the Austrian Football Bundesliga, only to be relegated a year later. 

RB Leipzig witnessed a dramatic reaction in the German Bundesliga with opposition fans boycotting games and even throwing a severed bull’s heads onto the pitch. Forming another football team due to the distain some fans had with the change in the clubs official colours is quite severe. 

A club that won three Austrian Football Bundesliga titles in their history have now won eight in the last 10 years. Five of those have come in back to back seasons. FC Salzburg are finally reaping the rewards of their hard work; the club have finally started to impress and their popularity exploded through a semi-final run in the UEFA Europa League last season. If Red Bull’s intention was to start off with a clean slate and build from the ground up then they could not have asked for a better start.

Tactical Blueprint

FC Red Bull Salzburg are managed by the very talented Marco Rose and assistant Rene Maric. They were placed in charge of the first team after taking the under 19s to victory in the 2016 UEFA Youth League. The pair achieved extraordinary success in their first season by winning the Austrian Football Bundesliga, reaching the final of the Austrian Cup and semi-final of the UEFA Europa League. They beat Real Sociedad, Borussia Dortmund and Lazio in the process before falling to Marseille. 

In truth, Marco Rose’s success is not a sole result of his own knowledge and skillset but also that of his assistant Rene Maric. The assistant coach has been an influential figure as Rose’s right-hand man. The former tactics blogger was discovered by Thomas Tuchel who had read one of his reports. Maric coached in his home village of Handenberg – 30 miles north of Salzburg. After being forced to give up his playing career, the German coach looked online to exchange ideas on coaching philosophies.   Having graduated with a psychology degree, Maric combined volunteer work as a U-17 coach with writing fairly impenetrable dissertations on tactics and players for and the Spielverlagerung blog. 

One individual who noticed and admired his work was Thomas Tuchel. Maric was emailed by one of his assistants during Tuchel’s stint as coach of Mainz 05. The accuracy and insight written by Maric was incredible. This prompted a call to Mainz and he was given an opportunity to express his opinion on all things football.

After several small projects, he became Tuchel’s main focal point on tactical analysis. This did not go unnoticed and eventually, assignments started coming from Matthew Benham, owner of Brentford and Midtjylland, and then, finally, from Salzburg. Marco Rose was managing the under-18s side and was impressed with Maric’s in-depth analytical style. After several meetings between the pair, Maric decided to ask Rose for an opportunity to work with him. 

‘Hey, why don’t I just ask?’ We’d been talking about all sorts of things and then I asked: ‘Next season do you need an assistant coach?’ He said: ‘Yeah, let’s try.’ In the end it worked out pretty well.”

The under 18s team won the UEFA Youth League for 2016-2017 defeating Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain in the process. This success has been achieved in exciting style with Salzburg playing progressive, exciting football and this success elevated the pair to the first team. 

Rose usually lines his side up in a fluid 4-1-2-1-2 or 4-3-1-2 formation. Both formations create a midfield diamond, with an aim to play fluid, quick football with a focus on playing centrally. The fullbacks are used as an additional outlet when their primary strategy of attack falters. The two fullbacks are usually positioned in wing back positions but have pushed up as auxiliary wingers to break down stubborn defences when required, just as they did against Celtic FC in the Europa League. The two strikers are usually playing as deep-lying forwards and poachers, who rotate roles to create an unpredictability for opposition defences.

Image courtesy of Wyscout – Most used formations this season

The team usually consists of the following eleven:

Cican Stankovic; Stefan Lainer, Andre Ramalho, Marin Pongracic, Andreas Ulmer; Diadie Samessekou, Amadou Haidara, Xaver Schlager, Hannes Wolf; Moanes Dabour, Takumi Minamino.

Image courtesy of Sofascore – Strongest Starting XI

This midfield is fairly flexible with Xaver Schlager the most versatile of the four being able to play a number of midfield positions including central and attacking midfield. Moanes Dabour remains Salzburg’s premier striker and is joined by Fredrik Gulbrandsen, Takumi Minamino or Reinhold Yabo. The defence is fairly settled with the experienced goalkeeper Alexandre Walke playing in European competition this season.

The defence will play between themselves actively searching for an opening in the opposition defence. Just as RB Leipzig’s centre backs play long balls to their strikers, Andre Ramalho particularly tries to find the feet of a Salzburg striker who drops deep to receive the ball taking his marker with him, whilst his attacking strike partner moves into the space created. Their verticality allows them to counter-press effectively. With numbers in midfield they can surround the opposition player if one of the long balls is intercepted or lost.

Another form of attack for FC Salzburg is the width provided by the two full backs. Many opposition teams will look to disrupt the flow and rhythm of the midfield quartet and look towards congesting the middle of the park. Stefan Lainer and Andreas Ulmer are usually central to any positive move FC Salzburg create.

Scouting System

They possess an incredible scouting system that has seen some of their players move on to Europe’s most prestigious clubs. Sadio Mane, Naby Keïta and Dayot Upamecano are three Salzburg discoveries that have gone onto to play for Liverpool and RB Leipzig. Naby Keïta’s rousing success at RB Leipzig secured him a move to Liverpool worth £53m. Their attractive football has won over many onlookers after the backlash from Red Bull’s take over in 2005. Marco Rose and Rene Maric have transformed the club into playing some high octane, exciting football that makes them one of the most attractive teams in Europe.

While FC Salzburg unearths more gems, RB Leipzig has continued to plunder and pillage their affiliate clubs of their best players. Dayot Upemecano was the fourth player to move to the East German club last season. Questions are again being asked of the relationship between the two clubs. Leipzig have paid Salzburg over 35 million euros in transfer fees. 

The Red Bull clubs extend their reach into South America and USA and have been set up to act as developmental hubs to feed RB Leipzig and pump them with talent to dethrone Bayern Munich. Poaching FC Salzburg’s top talent disrupts their ambitions of becoming a European heavyweight but Red Bull will be fixated on making RB Leipzig a rousing success by transferring over each affiliate’s clubs best players. The Bundesliga already boasts the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Arjen Robben, Manuel Neuer and Marco Reus making it one of the most watched leagues in the world.


FC Salzburg have been the kings of Austria since the takeover in 2005. Die Rotten Bullen have become an eccentric side that has encapsulated the world with their brilliant and electrifying football. Red Bull’s expansion into North America, Europe and South America was not without extensive planning. Red Bull’s plan to create serial winners in three different leagues was a dream that has slowly become a reality. FC Salzburg are the first ones to accomplish the Bull’s grand master plan by securing back-to-back Austrian Football Bundesliga trophies. They were in touching distance of conquering Europe last season but just fell short.

The Austrian champions have had the perfect start with 10 wins from 10 games with 30 points. Concentrating on European glory will be their goal this season. Marco Rose and his assistant have found a winning formula and could see this season as their only chance to achieve success with this squad before players are forcibly moved on. Hannes Wolf, Xaver Schlager and Amadou Diawara are targets for RB Leipzig and other European heavyweights. It is only a matter of time before FC Salzburg have to rebuild but with the current model in place to accommodate this system, new players will come through and fill in for the departed ones.