Tactical analysis of Milan’s draw against Salzburg

Milan and Red Bull Salzburg tied 1-1 in the opening match of the Champions League group stage in a game that was an interesting tactical game.

Before the match there was a lot of talk about Salzburg’s formidable ability to press, which certainly looks like they have had success in the competition so far given that they reached the knockout stages last season and even drew with Bayern Munich at home.

After the match, those among the Milan fans who were unfamiliar with their playing style surely came next, as the hosts were uncompromising against the Rossoneri. Here’s a demo of how their compression mechanism works…

Salzburg Approach

Their new coach Matthias Gisele – who took over from Jesse Marsh after his departure to Leeds United last season – plays 4-3-1-2 or 4-4-2 Massey which means he gets a lot of central dominance but not a lot of width. For that, he needs his defenders to press.

In this sequence, Red Bull Salzburg starts pressing with its players in the lead, Fernando and Noah Okafor. Passing to the middle meant that Milan would beat 3v4, so they had to push the ball away.

Here we can see Okafor following Kalulu while Kjaergaard (LCM) pushes out to put pressure on Calabria. AM’s job is to cut the passing lane toward one of the dual axes while Capaldo comes inside to keep the playing space tight.

This allows the single axle – the Seiwald – to have a vertical backup from the Kjaergaard (LCM) giving Salzburg an extra layer of protection.

press break

Milan fought an intense derby and couldn’t expend more energy, therefore, they had to come up with ways to get past the pressure of Salzburg. With pressure-resistant players like Tonali, Theo and Di Kitilari manage to make it happen.

Milan regained the ball again and Tomori passed it to Theo. The left-back sees Tonali and De Ketelaere in close proximity.

To facilitate swipe movements, the best way is to shorten the distance between the transmitter and receiver. Here De Ketelaere and Tonali were close together, and Theo’s quick header pass meant Salzburg was restless and unable to settle into their pressing structure.

Once Milan got the ball back, Tonali and De Keteleare checked their options, and Theo’s quick pass meant Salzburg right-back Diedic had the decision to follow the CDK and leave Leao.

De Ketelaere made two touches to allow Dedic to get ahead of him while Tonali dragged Seiwald away to make room for Bennacer to run unmarked, and De Ketelaere made a superb pass to release him.

Once Dedic was pulled out of the move by the CDK, it meant that Leao had free space to run and beat Solet and then the goal happened.


There were a lot of clear points of comparison in the game such as the commitment of the two clubs on and off the field in scouting, signing and developing young players through an exciting and modern style of play, and both teams showed a lot of that in Austria.

Perhaps Milan will have more energy in the tank for the rematch at San Siro and will have more players fully integrated into Pioli’s mechanics, because playing with pressure is the only alternative to succumbing to it.