Mac TA braces for clash with Salzburg

Amid coronavirus complications, Austrian champ presents dangerous obstacle for yellow-and-blue.

MACCABI TEL AVIV is coming off an impressive victory over Dinamo Brest in Champions League qualification, but the upcoming two-legged duel with Red Bull Salzburg presents a much more difficult challenge, with a trip to group stage on the line. (photo credit: REUTERS)
MACCABI TEL AVIV is coming off an impressive victory over Dinamo Brest in Champions League qualification, but the upcoming two-legged duel with Red Bull Salzburg presents a much more difficult challenge, with a trip to group stage on the line.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Maccabi Tel Aviv is slated to play FC Red Bull Salzburg in UEFA Champions League playoff first-leg action on Tuesday night at Bloomfield Stadium.
However, the yellow-and-blue will be shorthanded for the two-game series as a number of players and professional staff have contracted coronavirus, throwing the entire tie in doubt.
Last week, Giorgos Donis’s squad qualified for the Europa League group stages after defeating Dinamo Brest 1-0 on a Dan Bitton penalty. The victory also set up the club up for an opportunity to advance to Champions League, however, the uncertainty surrounding Maccabi’s situation has given the Austrian powerhouse a leg up even before kickoff.
Salzburg has been a mainstay in European soccer, having participated in the group stages of the Champions League last season while also featuring in the Europa League group stages eight of the nine previous years.
The Jerusalem Post spoke to Austrian soccer experts from The Other Bundesliga podcast and Jack Brace of Red Bull Hub website to help understand what type of challenge Maccabi Tel Aviv will be up against over the next two weeks.
Last season, rising star Erling Haaland was the darling of the continent as he graced the pitch for Salzburg before moving to Germany and Borussia Dortmund this past winter, leaving some large shoes to fill. However, the club’s American head coach Jesse Marsch has another pair of youngsters who have stepped up in a big way in 21-year-old Patson Daka and Dominik Szoboszlai, who is just 19.
“Daka has stepped up and hasn’t looked back,” said Brace. “He was the league’s second-highest goal-scorer last season and has begun this season with six goals in three matches, including four in 45 minutes against SC Bregenz in the cup. Szoboszlai is another player who has become a standout figure on the team and has looked a completely different player post lockdown as he managed to contribute to 19 goals in 11 matches.
“Maccabi will find him difficult to contend with as he is a very good technician on the ball and has an incredible ability to score from distance, as well as being a set-piece specialist.
The Other Bundesliga agreed.
“Daka’s come out of the shadow of Haaland and has definitely become more clinical in front of goal. With more game time he’s grown in confidence from the almost shy character that he was when Haaland was around.”
“Daka has become the figurehead in Salzburg’s attack,” said Brace. “He has a great understanding of the game; where he needs to be at the right time and what sort of movement is required to evade the opposition’s defenders. Given his speed and improvement in link-up play, if Maccabi allows him too much space, they will be punished.”
“As for Szoboszlai,” continued Brace, “He’s always been a standout talent, but at the start of last season at times he would overthink things and not play with the freedom he usually does. During the suspension of the season, he put a lot of work in behind the scenes and it shows on the pitch.”
The Other Bundesliga concurred with that assessment.
“Szoboszlai had a great end of the season last time, and won Bundesliga player of the season based on those last 10 games in which he got a load of goals and assists. He’s got an amazing right foot and he’s desperate to prove himself in the Champions League after not playing so well in the competition last season.”
The two will cause numerous issues for Maccabi, but there is also another up-and-coming player to keep an eye on.
“Szoboszlai on set-pieces and Daka as a deadly goal poacher are threats, but for an outside bet Sekou Koïta is on hot form right now too, carrying the ball forward dangerously,” noted The Other Bundesliga.
Salzburg also has a veteran experience on its squad in Zlatko Junuzovic, who starred for many years in Germany, and the club’s captain Andreas Ulmer who has been with the outfit since 2009.
Brace expanded on what the pair means to Salzburg.
“The duo provides much needed experience to a relatively inexperienced team. Despite their ages, they’re two of the most consistent performers on the pitch. Junuzovic always seems to be in the right position to break up an opposition’s attack and instigate a counterattack. Ulmer, on the other hand, is an incredible athlete for a 34-year-old and still is constantly bombing up and down the wing, breaking up play and showing his very good passing range to put the forwards in a goalscoring position. Not many players get past him in a one-on-one situation either.”
Marsch took over at the club at the beginning of last season after being an assistant coach at Red Bull Leipzig and the head coach of New York Red Bull. The 46-year-old bench boss has received much credit for a job well done after his first campaign in charge.
“Firstly, Jesse Marsch has done a magnificent job not only on the pitch and behind-the-scene, but he has done very well to change the public perception of him as there were initial protests about his possible appointment as a lot of fans aren’t keen on their ‘connection’ with RB Leipzig,” explained Brace.
Interestingly, Salzburg has never won a Champions League playoff tie and actually lost in back-to-back years to Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv in 2010 and 2011 as the Israeli clubs headed to the continent’s top tournament.
However, the Austrian team had a very successful run last year in the Champions League after automatically qualifying for the group stages.
“Fans probably feel that the great Champions League campaign last year has shown that they are worthy of a place in the competition once again,” explained The Other Bundesliga. “They’re definitely wary after losing so many times at the playoff stage and there’s also the fact that they don’t really want to travel to Israel in lockdown, so they’re kind of scratching their heads at the UEFA decision. But overall, I think they have confidence in themselves, but they’re not taking anything for granted.”
Brace reflected the same views.
“From what I am aware of there’s a sense of confidence from the fans that the team should win, given the fact that the team has largely remained the same, except from the sale of forward Hwang Hee-chan. But they are cautious given Salzburg’s unfortunate record in Champions League qualifiers. As you would expect, Jesse Marsch is sitting on the fence and sees Maccabi as a tough opponent.”