One of the most surprising runs in Europe this season has been the one of RB Salzburg in the UEFA Europa League.
The reigning Austrian Bundesliga champions have found their feet in the European context this season and have turned heads with their play on the second biggest club tournament in the continent. They couldn’t reach the UEFA Champions League group stages, but that didn’t matter to them. They have thrived in the Europa League, to the point that they have reached the semifinals and are just two games away from reaching the final. That’s a dreamed scenario that not even the most optimistic supporter would have thought of at the start of the campaign.
But how did Salzburg get to this point? Let’s take a look at what they have done during their Europa League campaign.
Salzburg’s European overlook
After getting eliminated from the UEFA Champions League in the third qualifying round – where they lost on away goals against Rijeka – they fell tom the qualifying rounds of the Europa League, where they defeated Viitorul Constanta (agg. 7-1) to reach the group stages. Salzburg fell in Group I against Vitoria Guimaraes (Portugal), Olympique Marseille (France) and Konyaspor (Turkey). The initial expectation was that they would fight for second place with Vitoria and Konyaspor, but they performed better than expected and won their zone with 12 points after securing three wins and three draws.
No one knew what would have been their fate heading into the knockout stages, but once again they have managed to perform at a very high level consistently. After taking down Real Sociedad and Borussia Dortmund, they had to take on a Lazio side that arrived to the tie as one of the top sides in the Italian Serie A. Lazio won the first leg 4-2, but Salzburg shocked the world when they flipped the script in the second leg. A 4-1 win at home – thanks to goals from Munas Dabbur, Amadou Haidara, Hwang Hee-Chan and Stefan Lainer – gave them the tickets to play against Marseille for a berth in the final. Salzburg and Marseille already played during the group stage, and the Austrian side won 1-0 at home and drew 0-0 away.
At the very least, they will know what they will be up against. And facing Marseille is far better than playing Arsenal and Atletico Madrid, the other two semifinalists.
Which have been the team’s best players during the current season?
Salzburg’s best player is no other than Valon Berisha. The 25-year-old playmaker has risen to stardom during the current term, and the numbers back him up since he has netted nine goals (five in the UEFA Europa League and four in the Austrian Bundesliga). This will probably be Berisha’s last season with Salzburg considering he is quickly turning heads all over Europe with his performances. As such, the Austrian giants need to enjoy him as much as they can. There is talk of Premier League and Bundesliga sides interested in him.
Berisha is not the only interesting player on Salzburg’s squad, though. Munas Dabbur has 19 Bundesliga and five Europa League goals, and the tandem of Stefan Lainer and Paulo Miranda leads the defensive line. Lainer has emerged as one of the most reliable right-backs in Europe, and he is rumoured to move elsewhere next season. So as it happens when small sides have big campaigns, there is a high chance that Salzburg gets dismantled during the upcoming transfer window.
A quick look into Salzburg’s numbers this season
The numbers do not lie, and Salzburg has been absolutely impressive on both the domestic and the European stage. They have scored 19 goals in 12 Europa League matches (1.52 per game), but register six wins, five draws and just one defeat. Salzburg have proven they can go toe-to-toe with almost any team in the competition.
Their T-Mobile Bundesliga campaign has been excellent once again. Salzburg defeated Admira Moedling (6-2) the last time out, and currently sit at the top of the standings with 68 points after 30 matches. They hold an eight-point lead over second-placed Sturm Graz and six games left in the schedule, everything indicates they will win fifth straight league title. For what is worth, they have won eight leagues in the past 11 years.
But now the season is entering its crunch time, and Salzburg will have to prove they belong with the big boys. But if the rest of the season has been the proof, then they have decent chances to get into their first ever UEFA Europa League final.
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