21 Forward RB Leipzig Austria
We first clocked Austrian winger/forward Marcel Sabitzer while watching a previous batch of his endlessly exciting compatriots for these pages. Almost without exception Sabitzer outshone them in those games, firstly with SK Rapid Wien and then with Red Bull Salzburg. He was a thrilling prospect, dominating Austrian Bundesliga matches despite his modest years and backing it up with impressive levels of production.
2015 has been…
A year for Sabitzer to bide his time. The 21-year-old has essentially taken his deferred step backwards in order to move forward and his career path has been an unusual one. He quickly secured his first big move from Admira Wacker, joining Rapid in time to make his debut in 2013. So far, so familiar.
But in the summer of 2014 he left one of Austria’s biggest clubs to enter into the bizarro world of Red Bull, taking the somewhat surprising step into Germany’s second division with RB Leipzig and the immediate, altogether less shocking switch back into the Austrian top flight on a season-long loan with the brand’s Salzburg team; how to upset Rapid Wien supporters with a single signature.
Playing the heel mightn’t necessarily be part of Sabitzer’s make-up but he’s settled into the role well. After a full-blooded encounter with Rapid before the turn of 2015 he followed up by picking up a straight red card for a two-footed tackle against Admira in March.
He’s got a bit of that viciousness and petulance in him (although that red was his only dismissal to date, with one exception from his spell with Admira II) but he’s also got quality by the bucketload; in May he was in action against Admira once again and snared a couple of goals.
They took him to 17 for the season and two more followed. It was a tremendous haul and one that was instrumental in Salzburg’s League and Cup double in 2014/15. Returning to Leipzig, though his form has been good, just has that odd feel of a backwards step.
Sabitzer can play on the right wing or off a front man but never gets stuck out wide. He moves around plenty between the lines, often drifting in and out of the right-hand channel where he does his best work. He makes some superb runs with and without the ball, not least when attacking the box like a centre forward.
He has good vision and composure on the ball, decent feet and enough strength to maintain possession under pressure. He has a nifty turn in his locker to get him into space and his first-time passing is crisp. His passing around the edge of the box is unflustered and inventive and he’s got a fabulous awareness of what’s around him, making the most of his technical flair.
Sabitzer has shortcomings. As much as we want to make a case against Red Bull’s decision to buy him off a huge, historical club and dump him in 2. Bundesliga, he doesn’t dominate enough for Leipzig. He’s tenacious and hard-working but not always able to get himself as involved as he should be. He’s sometimes a little too eager to offload the ball and everything’s coloured by inconsistency.
His quality is undoubtedly high but he’s raw and a little unreliable, and arguably too easy to defend against too often. It’s nothing a bit of experience and consistency won’t solve and he’s a nailed-on starter for Leipzig under Ralf Rangnick this season so it’ll come sooner rather than later.
Sabitzer’s likely to be in Germany for a while, whether or not it’s the best place for him in the medium-term. Internationally, he’s made strides. He has a handful of Austria caps after playing at countless youth levels, and is scoring at roughly a one-in-three rate as he makes his mark.
C- Slower progress than we expected but time’s on his side
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