Is Marco Rose in line to become the Bundesliga’s next great manager?

Manager Analysis
Michele Tossani

Michele Tossani


With Bundesliga’s youthful coaching approach now a well-known phenomenon, a lot of bright young coaching minds have been highly scrutinised. At the begin of this campaign, as many as six of Germany’s football top tier 18 head coaches had yet to turn 40 whilst two others – Pal Dardai of Hertha Berlin’s and Hannover 96’s André Breitenreiter – barely crossed that line.

Although the trend to get younger at coaching is no more limited just to Bundesliga – examples raised in other leagues as in Portugal’s Primeira Liga – Deutsch speaking countries remain the epicenter of this tendency.

We spoke about ‘Deutsch speaking countries’ because, whilst the successful stories of Julian Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim, Domenico Tedesco with Schalke 04 or Hannes Wolf’s Stuttgart have been highly praised, there is still a story of a German young coach that earned success just across the border.

Red Bull Salzburg’s manager Marco Rose is the highest rated coach in Austria’s Fußball-Bundesliga and he also started to draw interest on the bigger Bundesliga’s circles. The odds on him moving to the Bundesliga next season are dropping each weekend.

The 41-years old coach recently gets Red Bulls out of the UEFA Europa League group stages following a 3-0 home win against Vitoria SC.

Below is Salzburg’s pass map against Vitoria SC, kindly provided us by @11tegen.

This is the latest highlight coming from former Mainz’s midfielder Rose, who cut his teeth coaching through the Red Bulls’ U-16 and U-18 sides before to be hired as first team’s manager back in June 2017.

Under Rose, RB Salzburg became an interesting side with a clear tactical pattern.

Marco Rose has developed and improved Red Bull by putting emphasis on playing with the ball, with a strong focus on the middle and the centre-halves build a tactically very interesting side.

Since he inherited the team, Rose departed away from the 4-2-2-2, 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 they played under Oscar Garcia. In fact, former 1.FSV Mainz defender installed a 4-4-2 diamond since he entered into Red Bull’s circle coaching the U18 side.

RB Salzburg’s midfield diamond.

At the time, that 4-diamond-2 shape also were in contrast to Roger Schmidt’s 4-2-2-2, which was established as the basis for the Red Bulls’ Academy.

However, the modern football principles to which Rose conformed his coaching basically the same: occupation of the and the half-spaces, defensive compactness through the ball position, ball-oriented offensive style and high-pressing and gegenpressing.

Gegenpressing by Salzburg led to Moanes Dabour’s goal against OM.

In a basic 4-3-1-2, the vertical compactness is high, and the distances between six and ten have to be small. The interior midfielders are naturally charged to occupy the half-spaces and also have to be able to move out wide providing width when needed. Still, into Rose system, forwards can be moved to occupy the wing areas while the center is massively occupied by the four midfielders.

The half-players also put pressure on the opponent’s outside defenders while the rest of the midfield shuffle on the strong side. If adequately deployed, this defending shape allows Re Bulls’ full-backs to remain deep rather than move high up the field forcing the remaining defenders to play a long defensive diagonal which is tough to execute and that also could create a gap between the close-to-the-ball full-back and centre-back. That said, this defensive movement it depends on the amount of players the opponent has in Red Bull’s last line and the height of their wing player; so sometimes it’s also the FB who presses high or Red Bull use two players to press the side player.

Instead, using the half-space players to press the opponent’s full-back allows Rose’side to gain a massive presence in the second and third line: the near-to-the-ball player in the middle can immediately attack the ball carrier there while all pass options are potentially covered.

An interesting aspect of Rose’s diamond formation is exactly the role of the half-space players as they can also retain a more interior spot. This positioning is particularly helpful as the two no.8 (usually Valon Berisha and one between Marc Rzatkowski, Reinhold Yabo, Haidara, or even Xaver Schlager) can stay compact in the centre of the pitch to help team’s presence in the middle by covering opponent’s interior vertical passing lines. But, as aforementioned, they also can push forward moving up the line of pressure.

In having this double role, the half-space players become pivotal on the defensive phase as they can manipulate opponent’s offensive shape. In fact, a possible advantage of using 2 centre-half midfielders is a better way of manipulating the oppositional first and second-lines.

Red Bull’s 4-diamond-2 pressing structure is ideal for applying pressure. They mark all the interior passing options for the GK and the centre-backs with the three men up front, and also have 3 midfielders in between the opponent’s next line of play. It means whatever the ball is played to, Rose’s midfield 3 can shuffle from side to side, making hard for the opponent’s midfielders in the 2nd line to receive the ball without a Salzburg midfielder putting pressure.

Sure, rivals could switch the play from the strong to the weak side – which would be a 4-4-2 diamond’s weakness – but these long passes could easily be controlled by a Red Bull side which retain four at the back providing good width positioning – as earlier mentioned. Also, Red Bull’s press and positioning prevents switches while they also have some movements to control width.

So, being both Berisha and Rzatkowski mobile players, Red Bull doesn’t need double wing occupancy as their half-space footballers are able to provide the needed adaptation. The defender of the bulls had to remain deeper (and did so), if the opponent had an excess in these situations.

On deep zones, should this switch be effective, centre-half players and no.6 have to be extremely coordinated with the close-to-the-ball full-back. In this case, the strong side full-back should aggressively push forward to face the ball carrier whilst the near half-space player or the no.6 should shuffle covering the full-back.

Red Bull pressing is very organized: they defend in a kind of 2-3-2-3 with four lines of pressure with forwards and ten which can operate in the highest line. Defending out from four lines gives Rose’s team the possibility to make their pressure very. An interesting part of this pressure is that the goal is not always to direct the opponent to the outside, as often the forwards try to force the opponent to play the ball inside in the middle, where the rhombus usually has a numerical superiority and a better compactness and coverage. The flexible Red Bull’s defensive shape allows them to also being able to react to different build-up situations of the opponent.

Full-backs are also a key part of Rose’s offensive phase as they become active in ball possession providing width and giving Red Bull a secure option for switching the play to the weak side.

Red Bull have enjoyed success manipulating full-backs to pull them away from the defensive line, before attacking that area through interior midfielders’ runs or advancing their own full-backs.

Red Bull are a very vertical oriented team when in possession. That said, sometimes Rose’s men ball possession resulted into a kind of U circulation which means they struggled to create scoring chances against well-organized positional structures. This U circulation is the consequence of a poor positioning, namely ‘cause full-backs are not high enough or centre-half players are not well positioned into their half-space preventing Red Bull from expose passing lanes between the lines.

No.10 Hannes Wolf is the key player occupying the space between the lines into opponent’s defensive shape. His task is to manipulate rival’s defensive structure. In order to do it, Wolf has to occupy the spaces alongside the opposite’s no.6 room, making them unable to cover him through situational orientations. In addition, the ten can also take the centre-half providing a double presence – but higher – with Berisha or Rzatkowski.

That said, Wolf is not a classic ten, but has much more freedom to follow forwards – Fredrik Gulbrandsen (or Hwang Hee-Chan) and Munas Dabbur – as quickly as gaps are formed in the last line of the opponent and he also is allowed to join his teammates into the penalty area.

Furthermore, having Wolf so mobile combined with their spacing with two clear half-space players, Red Bull are suited to use diagonal passes from a half-space to the other or from the strong side to the ball-far side.

With Gulbrandsen and Dabbur drifting out wide, both Berisha and Rzatkowski can push forward. The latter usually used the space thus opened, in order to lead the Germans to the front and into the gap.

The centre-backs usually are the starting point for almost every attack of the Red Bull. From them the ball can come over to the outside defenders, the no.6 or the eights, with an opportunity too to play a through pass on Wolf between the lines. Red Bull can face issues according to the height of the full-backs. In fact, should the outside defenders play too high, the passing line between them and the centre-back is broken and could be exposed to the opponent’s coverage which can result in slowing down or ruin the whole build-up phase.

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