Austria will have to improve on recent displays if they are to provide EURO 2020 Fantasy managers with much to think about this summer.
Five years ago, an array of talent led many to appoint Das Team as the tournament’s dark horses but their group stage exit in France means they arrive at EURO 2020 still without a major-tournament victory since 1990.
The fact that appearances at World Cup 1998, Euro 2008 and Euro 2016 produced five draws, five defeats and only five goals perhaps sums up the expectation level for Austria at EURO 2020, especially considering recent criticism levelled at Franco Foda for his over-cautious approach.
Throw into the mix an ongoing debate over David Alaba’s (€5.5m) best position and Marko Arnautovic’s (€7.0m) lack of elite-level game-time over the last two years and it is hard to know whether Foda can finally get the best out of a squad that, on paper, is filled with quality players.
Still, in a competition where even three draws can see teams through to the knockout stages, Austria’s uninspiring style of play does make some of their budget defenders worth investigating ahead of the Matchday 1 deadline.
In partnership with UEFA, we continue our series of EURO 2020 articles by examining Austria in detail to see if any of their players can compete for a place in your Fantasy teams.
ROAD TO QUALIFICATION
AUSTRIA’S EURO 2020 QUALIFICATION RECORD
|Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Goals for||Goals against||Clean sheets|
Nothing sums up Austria’s rather dull version of a Jekyll and Hyde analogy better than their EURO 2020 qualification campaign. This is a team that is equally capable of grinding out results with an impressive level of professionalism as they are of slipping to unexpected defeats.
Two of these in the first two qualifying matches, against Poland and Israel, triggered Foda’s conservative approach which led Austria onto winning six of the next seven before losing to Latvia in the final round. With Aleksandar Dragović (€5.0m) and Martin Hinteregger (€4.5m) forming a solid and consistent centre-back partnership, Austria were certainly an organised outfit, if not attritional and uninspiring.
A pair of 1-0 wins over Slovenia as well as a 0-0 stalemate with Poland were the key results that got Austria into this summer’s tournament but they were not particularly fun watches for the neutrals.
That is not to say Das Team cannot offer up talented players, their starting line-up a laundry-list of well-known Bundesliga players, perhaps why they are admittedly well-drilled and effective when pressing the opposition. Their total of 404 balls recovered during the European qualifiers was one of the best totals on the content, which produced an average possession of 59%, even if they did not always do very much with it.
Glimpses of what can be achieved with such a style did appear half-way through Austria’s qualification campaign when they six past Latvia, scored three against Israel and won 4-1 in North Macedonia.
Even if just 13 of their 19-goals tally (68.4%) came in just three matches, there is, of course, some solace to take from facing North Macedonia again this summer, a team they beat 6-2 across two qualification meetings. Still, it is these sort of results that cause fans to question Austria’s consistency level under former Sturm Graz and Kaiserslautern manager Foda.
AUSTRIA’S MATCHES IN 2020 AND 2021
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Even during a successful Nations League campaign in which Das Team earned promotion from the second tier, there remained a feeling that there is not as much of an attacking spark as there should be, as well as too much focus on simply not conceding goals.
All four of their wins, against Norway, Northern Ireland, Romania and Northern Ireland again, were achieved by a one-goal margin while their defence-first approach only yielded two clean sheets anyway.
Their recent World Cup qualification matches were even more disappointing. Under pressure to find a more exciting way of playing, Foda has been more adventurous in his selections and tactics, his experimentation producing a 2-2 draw with Scotland, allowing the Faroe Islands to open the scoring in Austria’s 3-1 win in Wien before Denmark left there with a 4-0 victory under their belt three days later.
Unsurprisingly, those performances and results has led to Foda doubling-down on his conservative tendencies so Fantasy managers should expect to see Das Team hoping to edge tight encounters in Group C this summer…
- Most starts: Aleksandar Dragovic (10), Valentino Lazaro (9), Marcel Sabitzer (both 9), Marko Arnautovic, Julian Baumgartlinger, Martin Hinteregger, Andreas Ulmer (all 8), Konrad Laimer (7).
- Most goals: Marko Arnautovic (6), Valentino Lazaro, Marcel Sabitzer (both 2).
- Most assists: Konrad Laimer, Marcel Sabitzer (both 3).
- Goals scored: 19
- Goals conceded: 9
- Clean sheets: 4
THE KEY TARGETS
At the time of writing, Alaba is the most-popular Austria asset in UEFA’s EURO 2020 Fantasy, owned by 15% of managers. There is, of course, no doubt that the 28-year-old, who recently earned a move to Real Madrid from Bayern Munich, is the best footballer in this team, but a few things could count against his Fantasy credentials this summer.
As already mentioned, perhaps the biggest talking about among Das Team fans this summer is where Alaba should play in Foda’s 4-2-3-1 formation. In all competitions for club and country in 2020/21, he played 29 matches in central defence, nine at defensive midfield, four at left-back, two as a left-winger, one as a traditional central midfielder and another as a left-midfielder.
“(Asked if Alaba is better at left-back or in midfield): David can play in several positions at the highest level, which is exceptional in international football. He is an intelligent, versatile player who can read a game very well. In the national team, David plays the position where it’s best for the team. I try to come up with a plan for how to win against the next opponent. I position the players accordingly. Everyone, not just David Alaba.” – Franco Foda
Most recently, Alaba has been used as a left-winger for Austria but he continues to chop and change his role. While he is often an influence regardless of position, it is perhaps no surprise that a lack of consistency goes hand-in-hand with accusations that Alaba struggles to replicate his club form on international duty, perhaps an unsurprising outcome when asking a defensive player to staff the attack.
While he has 14 goals in 79 caps for Austria, Alaba has produced just three since March 2018. And over the last three seasons, he has produced just one assist for Das Team. Meanwhile, his midfield classification in UEFA’s official EURO 2020 Fantasy game certainly robs him of significant potential given the maximum number of points he can achieve for clean sheets is one.
With Foda expecting to come into the tournament with a conservative approach, and debutants North Macedonia their first opponents, Austrian defenders could provide some value in Matchday 1. Any interested Fantasy managers may want to keep an eye on the fitness of defensive midfielder Julian Baumgartlinger (€6.0m) though. The 33-year-old has become a fixture in front of the defence for the best part of five years and was sorely missed by Austria after his long-term knee injury in January. He recovered at the end of May but was not involved in Wednesday’s friendly against England.
Hinteregger and Dragović are the nailed-on centre-back pairing which makes the former the most viable. Bayer Leverkusen man Dragovic comes in at €5.0m while Hinteregger can be picked up for €4.5m. Goalkeeper Alexander Schlager (€4.5m) remains first-choice after starting all World Cup qualifiers this year, even if Daniel Bachmann (€4.5m) had a runout at Middlesbrough.
Stefan Lainer (€4.5m) has become the first-choice right-back in recent seasons, starting all four of Austria’s fixtures in 2021, assisting in two of them. Considering Alaba could always drop back into left-back, any of the options on that side of Das Team’s defence are perhaps best avoided. Marco Friedl (€4.5m) played 90 minutes against England on Wednesday but Andreas Ulmer (€4.5m) started each of the last two World Cup qualifiers in March.
THE LONG SHOTS
It must be said that there remains a little up in the air about the spearhead of Austria’s attack ahead of EURO 2020, especially in the centre-forward position in Foda’s 4-2-3-1 formation. The fact that his side has struggled for goals of late could make him more likely to chop and change during the summer tournament.
Marko Arnautović (€7.0m) has more international goals than any other member of Das Team’s squad this summer and only Dragović has more caps than him (90 to 87). Historically, he has been the first-choice striker for his country but that may no longer be the case, no matter what the manager says.
“Marko once again proved last year that he is a very important player, even if he doesn’t have a high rhythm. He has outstanding quality, he can give he decisive impetus in the game and thus make the difference. He is also a leading figure for our young players.” – Franco Foda
The former West Ham man has not featured for Austria since November 2020 and his pair of Nations League appearances that month are the only two caps he has won since the end of 2019.
After starting eight European Championship qualifiers, Arnautović was replaced by Michael Gregoritsch (€5.5m), who started five from a possible six Nations League meetings, contributing two goals.
As mentioned, Arnautović came back for the final two matches en route to promotion, adding two assists but since then Sasa Kalajdzic (€7.5m) has all but taken over as Austria’s number-one centre-forward.
The Stuttgart striker is the tallest player in the Bundesliga but is considerably more than a target man, producing 16 goals in 33 league appearances in 2020/21. The 23-year-old is showing promise for his country too, with three goals in his first six caps, starting in every match Austria have played in 2020/21.
So, while Arnautović maintains a level of seniority that could earn him significant involvement at EURO 2020, his two-year spell in China with Shanghai SIPG, and resulting lack of elite-level game-time since leaving West Ham, could count against him when compared with the in-form Kalajdzic.
Goal-scoring midfielder Marcel Sabitzer (€8.0m) deserves to be in the conversation, even if he is perhaps too dearly priced. He produced eight Bundesliga goals and three assists for RB Leipzig this season and is a nailed-on number 10 for Austria. He was involved in five goals during qualification.
“Marcel is a player that every coach likes to have in his squad. He is extremely ambitious and confident, but never satisfied with himself. Marcel is a player who gives everything in the 90 minutes and works a lot for the team.” – Franco Foda
FanTeam Price Corner
Sabitzer is perhaps a better option to take a punt on in FanTeam’s version of the game where he only costs €5.5m.
Kalajdzic is Austria’s most expensive player at €6.0m while Arnautovic can be picked up for €5.5m.
And it is FanTeam’s game where Alaba offers better potential as a Fantasy asset considering he is classified as a defender and priced at €5.0m.