Celtic face FC Salzburg on Thursday evening. Joel Sked looks at the Austrian champions.
Their link with RB Leipzig
Eyebrows were raised around European footbal when Salzburg were drawn in the same Europa League group as RB Leipzig. It was something that had been a curiosity since the German side reached the Bundesliga in 2016 and caused a number of headaches in the corridors of Uefa.
Both sides have strong links to Red Bull with the energy drink company buying each club.
Leipzig qualified for last season’s Champions League, while Salzburg entered the preliminaries. However, in June of 2017 Uefa confirmed that they had no issues with the prospect of both sides facing each other despite rules relating to the integrity of the competition which prevents two clubs with close ties facing each other in the same competition.
Uefa said that due to “several important governance and structural changes” which took place at both clubs they were able to compete in the same competition. It is believed that Red Bull are simply a sponsor of the Austrian side after the restructuring.
It finally came to fruition this year as Salzburg once again failed to qualify for the Champions League dropped into the Europa League.
Founded in 1933 as Austria Salzburg, the club had little top tier success until the 1990s. They were more akin to changing their title than winning a title. They’ve also been known as SV Casino Salzburg and SV Wüstenrot Salzburg.
It was as Casino Salzburg they had the most successful season in their history, winning their first ever Austrian Bundesliga in 1994, while they reached the Uefa Cup final in the same season but were defeated over two-legs by Inter Milan.
Since the change of name and ownership in 2005, Salzburg have never finished outside the top two spots in Austria, winning the title nine times in 13 campaigns, including the last five.
In that time they have entered the Champions League qualifiers on 11 occasions but have yet to reach the group stage in their current incarnation. The team will likely get another chance next season. They currently lead the Austrian Bundesliga by five points having won all nine games so far.
Europa League Powerhouse
Salzburg have racked up all manner of records in the competition:
• 8 - Most group stage appearances
• 86 - Most points in the group stages
• 73 - Most group stage goals
• 5 - Second most qualifications from group stages
• 4 - Most group stage first places
• 18 - Most points in a single season
Last season they embarked on a 12 game unbeaten run in the Europa League (including qualifiers) to reach the semi-finals, defeating the likes of Marseille, Borussia Dortmund and Real Sociedad along the way.
In his last 70 games for Salzburg, Munas Dabbur has hit 42 goals, including 13 in 15 this campaign. It is a strike-rate which has seen him linked with moves to the Premier League and Serie A.
Celtic will have to be very wary of the striker’s threat. He isn’t one to get too involved with the build-up - ten team-mates have played more passes than him and he has only recorded one assist in the league despite Salzburg’s dominance.
However, he comes alive in the box. He looks to get on the end of low crosses and cut-backs, while anticipating mistakes or the ball dropping in a certain position. All seven league goals have been scored between the width of the goalposts, he has hit nearly twice as many shots as the second most frequent shot-taker and 20 more touches in the opposition box than anyone else.
However, the star man is Amadou Haidara. The 20-year-old is the player who will look to drive through the Celtic midfield and penetrate the defence, either by his dribbling ability or his smooth passing and fine vision.
He was subject of a £15million bid from RB Leipzig as well as interest from a host of Premier League clubs but boss Marco Rose was adamant to hold onto him having lost key players Duje Caleta Car and Valon Berisha. It is understandable that he has drawn comparisons to Naby Keita, who left Salzburg for Leipzig before making the move to Liverpool.
Manager Marco Rose is an interesting figure having played under Jurgen Klopp at Mainz 05 in Germany and progressed through the ranks as a coach at Salzburg.
Sky Sports’ James Walker-Roberts describes the team’s style under Rose as “a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield, a compact defence and a high and organised press”.
Yet, perhaps the more curious individual among the Salzburg coaching staff is Rene Maric. The 26-year-old is one of Rose’s assistants and was noticed by now PSG manager Thomas Tuchel for work he carried out on a blog called Spielverlagerung which is highly respected in the football tactics community.
His sharp football mind was noticed by Brentford owner Matthew Benham who gave him some work before he moved to Salzburg and assisted Rose as Salzburg won the Uefa Youth League in 2016‑17 in their first season together, defeating Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.
Now the duo are in charge of the first team.