Sadio Mane at RB Salzburg: A Reflection of the Future?

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Liverpool have signed Sadio Mane this week, continuing the trend of shopping on the South Coast. The reported fee has ranged between 30 million pounds to 36 million pounds depending on whom you would want to believe. It is a valid question whether the question is of great significance in that if you have stumped up 30 million, 2 or 4 million more should not be the point of focus.

What should be the point of focus is the role of Mane at Liverpool, and in this piece we are going to look back to see whether his role at Salzburg is a pointer to his future at Liverpool. This piece will also look at the methods employed by Salzburg as suitability to a system is the most key tenet personally for me when we buy any player.

Sadio Mane at RB Salzburg - A Reflection of the Future

How did Salzburg setup under Roger Schmidt ?

As shown below, Salzburg under Schmidt usually employed a flexible 4-4-2, which you could say was actually a 4-2-2-2 as described in the below tactics board. Mane was usually employed on the left side of midfield while Kampl was employed in the same role on the right.

RB Salzburg 2013/14
                                                                                                 RB Salzburg Off-the ball movements 2013/14

Pressing tactics

The Salzburg team under Schmidt were often described as ‘Pressing under Steroids’, with the level of intensity quite often unmatched across Europe. The closest comparison one could make was the Dortmund team under Klopp, which should be good music to us with respect to Sadio Mane.

When the opponent goal keeper has the ball, the role of Mane will be either be one of the two

  1. Pressing his nearest centre-back, while Soriano retreats to cut the pass into midfield
  2. Pressing his nearest full-back, while Ilsanker moves ahead to slot in behind Soriano.

When Mane pushes ahead to press the centre-back, the goalie is only left with the option of passing it to the right-back in wide areas, who will be covered by Ulmer . The pass to the right-back is often risky as there is no chance of playing 360 degrees with the touchline acting as a boundary and thus restricting the passing options for the full-back itself.

                                                                                                          Sadio Mane Pressing Actions

Such intense closing down forces the opponent to make high risk passes, increasing the chances of turning over the ball. Once the ball is turned over, Salzburg would be already in a transitional phase to over-load the opposition.

Salzburg Counter Pressing

The most common and well known counter-pressing technique used by Schmidt was the ‘alarm clock’. In training, once the team lost the ball, an alarm clock would be started which would run for 5 seconds, by which the team is expected to recover the ball. At the end of 5 seconds, the alarm would ring, and if the ball is not won, the team would have retreat into a compact defensive position.

Salzburg Counter Pressing and Transition
                                                                                                 Salzburg Counter Pressing and Transition

As shown above their counter-pressing scenario is explained in this diagram:

  1. The keeper hits a long ball, and the Salzurg midfielders often contest for the second ball and apply the first press.
  2. Once they win the ball, their first passing option is the wide players as shown by the white arrows.
  3. Simultaneously the strikers make their move to either drop deeper to act as a passing option while the wide forwards make the overlapping run. The other alternative is for the wide players to cut inside while the forwards go wider forcing the opposition centre-backs to follow them creating the space for Kampl or Mane to run in.

Salzburg Off-the-Ball and Compact Defence

If Salzburg do not win the ball in the first press, they drop deep with the wide players cutting in to narrow the field of play. If the ball is played on Salzburg’s right wing for example, Mane would cut in from his wide left position and act as an auxiliary left midfielder.

The centre- midfielder on the right side (Leitgeb in this example) would press the opponent along-with Kampl, and if they manage to win the ball, then Mane immediately moves forward as part of the attacking transition and becomes a passing option due to the constricted field of play as shown above.

Salzburg Defensive Shape and Transition
Salzburg Defensive Shape and Transition


Salzburg Attacking Movement

One of the most favoured attacking movement sequences used by Schmidt is shown below.

Sadio Mane Attacking Movement
                                                                                                             Sadio Mane Attacking Movement

Since the flexible 4-2-2-2 system lacks a #10 player, the wide players often mask their movements to create a false #10. When a fast transition is out of question, Salzburg often resort to patient build up play from the back. In such cases, the wide players drop deep and narrow to be available as passing options to the midfield. Mane often used to receive the ball and use the initial acceleration to beat his closest opponent before carrying the ball into the #10 position. This inward movement is compensated by the striker’s outward movement who is often followed by the opposition centre-back.  This creates 2 passing options for Mane

  1. Pass to Alan,who occupies the now vacated space by Soriano.
  2. Pass to Kampl, who runs into the space being vacated by Alan.

Irrespective of the option chosen, Mane continues his run inside to take up a shooting position in anticipation of the return pass from Kampl or Alan, as the opposition is often in a chaotic phase defensively due to the opposing movements.


We can see that Mane is hugely exposed to a high-intensity pressing system at Salzburg, which is perfect for Liverpool under Klopp now. He understands the needs of the system from an on-ball scenario, off-ball scenario, pressing & counter-pressing.

A player bought to suit the system to a ‘T’ is such a refreshing change.

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