The result last week at Signal Iduna Park was far from ideal. Red Bull Salzburg were supposed to be a far easier draw than expected, despite their impressive recent record in Europe. They were supposed to be a straightforward passage into the quarter-finals of the Europa League. They were not supposed to put up this much of a fight. They were not supposed to jeopardise our prospects of European glory. They were not supposed to win. They caused the upset of the competition so far and will undoubtedly fancy their chances tonight in Austria.
Who could blame them? They caused Peter Stoeger’s boys a mass of problems this time last week. They put us under immense pressure throughout the game and warranted their 2-1 win. The star performer that night was Norwegian winger Valon Berisha, who scored both his sides goals during their historic victory. His incisive finished and supporting runs from the wing caused us endless issues and we will have to be wary of him tonight. Diadie Samassekou was another player who was problematic for us last week. The Malian midfielder was a doubt for the game but put in a strong performance as a physical presence in the centre of the park.
The fight in midfield and out complacency was ultimately what cost us. We were not alert and we were not up for the fight. Red Bull Salzburg caught us off guard and we were punished. Tonight we have a second chance and need to put it right. The pressure is on Dortmund. On the opposite side of the coin though, Salzburg boss Marco Rose feels his side is also under some pressure. “Of course we put ourselves in a good position with our good performance in Dortmund. I won’t tire of pointing out though that we are facing a top-class team with great quality, who are sure to put everything into the second leg. We therefore still have a lot of hard work ahead, which we need to be just as concentrated for as we were in Dortmund.” It’s clear he fancies his side’s chances of progression.
His side will have to achieve this goal without Zambian forward Patson Daka though, who misses out through a leg injury. Although that is the only notable absence for Rose and his boys, it is not the only negative they have going into this game. Despite holding a substantial lead atop the Austrian Bundesliga, they were only able to draw 2-2 with Mattersburg at weekend after going down to ten men. Some of that fight will need to be evident again tonight if they are to go through at our expense.
Compare this with our own performance on Sunday. Our 3-2 win over Eintracht Frankfurt at home was a rollercoaster ride. We showed all the good and bad that has been angled at us this season. We put Frankfurt under immense pressure for the first half but that subsided after the break. We conceded goals deservedly due to defensive deficiencies but showed grit and determination to come back. Our attacking movement and build was very good, and, of course, we had a super hero come off the bench to save us. Holy lifesaver, Batman!
Our tactic of pressurising the opposition midfield and making sure Christian Pulisic saw as much of the ball as possible at the weekend worked very well. It’s obvious that Stoeger has realised the weapon he has at his disposal in the shape of the young American and used him to his full, devastating effect. Frankfurt couldn’t handle Pulisic at all on Sunday. It paid the ultimate dividends for us on more than one occasion.
Pulisic may miss out in this game due to his involvement at the weekend and with important Bundesliga games on the horizon. Rotation is the reason for his potential absence, however there are other players who will not play for more sinister reasons. Sebastien Rode has just returned from injury but will not be available until next season due to groin surgery. Jadon Sancho, Andriy Yarmolenko, Shinji Kagawa and Erik Durm are all back in training but are still not fit enough to play here, while Manuel Akanji is ineligible having played in the Champions League for Basel.
Our record against Austrian teams is good, having never been beaten in a competitive fixture against our Alpine neighbours. That being said, Salzburg are now unbeaten in eighteen European fixtures and have never lost a tie in the nine previous occasions that they have taken the lead from the first leg. They are rightly confident and the pressure is on us without question. There are still questions looming over Peter Stoeger. Being able to progress to the quarter-finals of the Europa League from this position will go a long way to answering a lot of them.