Why Austria Are Dark Horses Going Into The 2024 European Championships
With the 2024 European Championships in Germany just around the corner, many teams will be heading to the tournament with hopes of winning and Austria may just fall into that category.
Currently, the Austrians sit in a comfortable second in Group F of the European Qualifiers behind a rejuvenated Belgium side on 13 points. Third-placed Sweden only sit on six points so Ralf Rangnick and his squad will be expected to qualify.
There are many reasons for fans of the Burschen to be optimistic and these include recent form, a clear tactical identity under a talented coach and a very talented pool of players to choose from.
Since losing to Italy in the Round of 16 at Euro 2020, Austria have only lost once in all competitions and this result came on October 13th when they were defeated 3-2 by Belgium.
This impressive run of form has allowed Austria to cement a clear second place in the qualification table behind the Belgians who are only three points clear of their rivals in second.
In this run of form, Austria have taken a point from Belgium and all six points against a talented Sweden team who many expected to qualify rather easily from this group. Instead, Austria beat them 2-0 and then 3-1 with their swashbuckling football overwhelming the Nordic side.
Although this form is undoubtedly a good look on this side, playing at the tournament itself is a different experience altogether so the squad should not get too confident and complacent once they are playing it out in Germany come summertime.
After his disastrous short stint at Manchester United, Rangnick had a lot to prove to the football world, and in Austria, he has seemingly found the perfect project to get his career back on track.
The so-called ‘football visionary’ has certainly got Austria playing a good brand of pressing and attacking football. With the German’s tactics usually taking a bit of time to transfer over to his players, it has come as a big surprise that he has transferred his ideas so quickly.
One reason for this could be that the majority of the squad are based in Germany’s Bundesliga where many coaches have been influenced by Rangnick’s ideas and try to implement them themselves.
In terms of formation, Rangnick likes to line up in a 4-2-2-2 but can also transfer to a 4-5-1 when facing more dangerous sides who will have the majority of possession.
In the defensive phase of the game, this narrow 4-2-2-2 allows for the centre of the pitch to be packed with players and difficult to break down but it does leave them open on the flanks.
However, they try to not let the game get to this point as they press high up the pitch in the hope they can win the ball back as soon as they lose it and create goal-scoring opportunities when the opposition are on the back foot.
Meanwhile, in the attacking phase, they like to play at pace and bring in as many players as possible into the attack. This then overwhelms the opponent, meaning many chances are created.
Considering that the Austrian Bundesliga is of a relatively low standard, Austria has produced a team of unwavering talent in the class of 2023/24.
Starting off in defence, there is the 2022/23 Ligue 1 Team of the Year centre-back Kevin Danso. Normally paired with team captain David Alaba, this partnership works very well as Alaba is calm in possession and offers leadership while Danso offers a much-needed bite to the rearguard.
Now moving into midfield where they arguably have the most depth. To start with they have the ever-present Florian Grillitsch, Konrad Laimer, RB Leipzig duo Xaver Schlager and Nicolas Seiwald and the creative Marcel Sabitzer.
When you list these midfield names it is no surprise to see them doing so well. In Grillitsch and Laimer, they have somebody who can stay back, control the tempo of the game and break up play when needed.
Next to one of these is usually Schlager or Sabitzer as these two are expert ball players and are very press-resistant which means the team can maintain possession in the middle third.
In the two attacking midfield positions, Rangnick prefers to play Patrick Wimmer and another RB Leipzig talent Christopher Baumgartner. This adds a nice balance to the frontline as Wimmer has the ability to take players on while Baumgartner is more creative but has an excellent final third product.
Now into the pair of strikers where Michael Gregoritsch is usually deployed as the deeper of the two, but due to recent injury worries, this role has fallen on the shoulders of Manprit Sarkaria. The other striking position is taken up by Sasa Kalajdzic, who at six-foot-five, offers an aerial threat and a different outlet for the Austrians.
With a host of exceptional players, a clear identity and a progressive coach, it seems that Austria can travel to EURO 2024 with hopes of getting a best-ever placed finish. Time will only tell however if they have the quality to perform on the international stage.