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Austria need David Alaba to play defense or they’re going nowhere at Euro 2016

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This was David Alaba’s worst game in a long time

Austria v Hungary - Group F: UEFA Euro 2016 Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Austria entered Euro 2016 as one of the dark horse favorites to win it all. From there they promptly lost their first game to Hungary in embarrassing fashion. And a lot of that blame falls squarely on the shoulders of their best player — and one of the world’s best players -- in David Alaba.

Ostensibly deployed in a box-to-box role behind Werder Bremen’s Zlatko Junuzovic, Alaba’s role critically involved pushing high in attack while tracking back in defense. He was good at the first. He was terrible at the second. Both Junuzovic (10) and Alaba (8) advanced high into attack seeking to drive Austria’s attack forward. But in Austria’s 4-3-3 formation that’s tantamount to committing tactical suicide.

Average position map via WhoScored

Austria’s wingers Martin Harnik (11) and Marko Arnautovic (7) are only cursory able to defend. Their lack of two-way skill leaves gaps in behind that demand Austria play a true three-man midfield when defending. While Hungary’s defensive stance demanded that Junozovic push higher, by proxy also shifting the Austria lines higher, that left more than enough space for Alaba — and Baumgartliner (14) — to dominate in midfield and shutdown counterattacks as required by the box-to-box midfielder required of that formation type.

For Bayern Munich, that’s a role he’s played with aplomb. Against Hungary, Alaba seemed disinterested in aiding Julian Baumgartliner advancing extremely high allowing Hungary to launch dangerous counters into space on the wings before exploiting the lack of defensive cover in midfield that his performance allowed.

This was a disastrous start for Austria and if they’re going to have any chance at making it out the group stage now they need David Alaba to perform. And they need it now because the spectre of facing Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal is just four days away.