In a few hours time RB Salzburg have the biggest game in their recent history. They welcome reigning Champions League winners Liverpool to the Red Bull Arena, with the chance to cause an upset. Group E is finely poised, with a Salzburg win putting them through at the expense of the European champions.
Austrian football is not known for it’s quality. Austrian clubs do not have a great history in the Champions League, making this potential achievement even more remarkable. The club has some European success, reaching the UEFA Cup final in 1994 along with a semi-final berth in 2017-18. Even with Red Bull backing, simply reaching the Champions League is a first for the club. So how did they get to this point?
SV Austria Salzburg were founded in 1933, it was bought and rebranded as RB Salzburg in 2005. With investment the club has risen to become a dominant power in Austrian football. Ten league titles in 15 years, along with regular Europa League appearances. They have always found ways to mess up qualifying for the Champions League, however were granted an automatic place this year as champions Liverpool qualified domestically.
RB Salzburg have improved the quality of Austrian football, using the same model as sister club RB Leipzig have used. They have scouted impeccably, finding hidden gems before selling them on. Their most famous graduate will be facing them tonight. Sadio Mane arrived from Metz, spending two years in Austria before moving to Southampton in 2014 for £11.8m.
In recent years they have sold players to the likes of Inter Milan, Sevilla, Marseille and Bundesliga leaders Borussia Monchengladbach. They have learned to scout players away from the football spotlight. The player that has put them on the map is striker Erling Braut Haland, signed from Molde in Norway. He is being talked about as the next superstar striker, and is linked with moves to the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United and Bayern Munich.
Fellow striker Patson Daka was signed from Zambia in 2017, and has scored 13 goal in 17 league games this season. Hwang Hee-chan was signed from South Korean youth football, contributing three goals in their Champions League campaign. Takumi Minamino came from the Japanese league, now he has three assists and two goals from five games against Liverpool, Napoli and Genk.
The team have stolen headlines with their attacking mentality in Europe. Most Champions League debutants are passive, however Salzburg have performed strongly. They have the third best goals record with 16 in five, along with the second top scorer, Haland, with eight goals.
Whatever happens in this game RB Salzburg have exceeded expectations this season. They are guaranteed a spot in the Europa League if they fail to qualify tonight, and will no doubt be a serious contender for that trophy. They are set to win yet another Austrian league title, and could still win the Austrian Cup.
Traditionalist fans may moan at their obvious corporate nature and what this means for football, but nobody can begrudge admiration for this team after their performances. They’ve looked like seasoned veterans not debutants at this level. The team is full of young talented players who play exciting attacking football. The fact we’re even talking about a potential upset tonight shows how far they’ve come in a short space of time.
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