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Know Thine Enemigo: Atlético Madrid-RB Salzburg Q&A with Jack Brace

The Red Bull expert is back for another round of questions.

FK Austria Wien v FC Red Bull Salzburg - tipico Bundesliga Photo by Markus Tobisch/SEPA.Media /Getty Images

What were your impressions from Salzburg’s opening group game against Lokomotiv Moscow?

I felt it was a disappointing result in what could’ve been described as a “must-win” game for Salzburg. The team struggled to maintain possession for a lot of the game against a side that pressed effectively, and Lokomotiv moved the ball very well to get around Salzburg’s trademark press. Salzburg had a brief spell of dominance coming either side of half-time, but overall it was an underwhelming performance and the team should’ve done better. Dropping points to the closest competitor in the group at home could prove costly.

Many casual fans know two names from this Salzburg side. One is 20-year-old Dominik Szoboszlai. What is he like as a player, and what is his ceiling?

Szoboszlai is very much becoming a household name in Europe and there’s no wonder why; his development since football returned after lockdown has taken a sharp ascendancy.

He is a goalscoring threat from anywhere on the pitch and in any situation as he has the incredible ability and technique to generate a shot with enough power and control from distance to beat the goalkeeper – especially from a dead ball situation (as showcased most recently against Turkey in the Nations League).

He is a set-piece specialist so Atlético Madrid will need to be wary of conceding cheap free-kicks and corners. He is an agile player that’s hard to get the ball off of due to his frame and has a great eye for a pass, which is complimented by a great passing ability. Sometimes he will dip in and out of a match, but he will come in with an outstanding goal when needed most, as seen against Lokomotiv.

If his development continues on such a trajectory, he is destined to be a top player at a top club. I fully expect that he will make the next step in his career as January if Salzburg fail to progress in the Champions League.

FK Austria Wien v FC Red Bull Salzburg - tipico Bundesliga
Dominik Szoboszlai of Salzburg during the tipico Bundesliga match between FK Austria Wien and FC Red Bull Salzburg at Genarali Arena on October 24, 2020 in Vienna, Austria.
Photo by Markus Tobisch/SEPA.Media /Getty Images

The other name known to many is American coach Jesse Marsch, who oversaw a side which scored 110 goals in 32 league games last season. Did Marsch’s immediate impact surprise you?

I wouldn’t say his immediate impact was a surprise because he’s a very talented coach with excellent man-management skills. What surprised me, though, was how many records he broke as a coach in Austria and how quickly he turned the Salzburg’s fans opinion of him around.

For context, when it was rumoured that Salzburg were going to replace Marco Rose with Marsch, who was the assistant coach at RB Leipzig at the time, the core Salzburg fans unveiled a banner against Sturm Graz in April 2019 that said “Nein Zu Marsch” (“No to Marsch”) because they didn’t like the idea of receiving Leipzig’s “hand-me-downs.”

Within the space of 444 days, the fans that didn’t want Marsch at the club saw him posing with the OFB Cup and Bundesliga titles.

Do Salzburg attract the same type of criticism in Austria as RB Leipzig do in Germany?

The short answer is “no.” Club rebranding is very much accepted in Austrian football and before Red Bull, the club had been renamed twice to SV Casino Salzburg and SV Wüstenrot Salzburg before the turn of the century. There are also a lot of clubs in Austria that have sponsorship in their name — for example, Puntigamer Sturm Graz (beer), Prolactal Hartberg (dairy company), and Flyeralarm Admira Wacker (printing).

Red Bull’s takeover of Austria Salzburg in 2005 was heavily criticised at the beginning as it was a merciless approach, but given the success the club has had in recent years, being the figurehead of Austrian football in Europe and seeing a lot of players come through the club to enhance the national team, the club is seen in a positive light. However, as with everything, there will always be some with different perspectives.

Do you reckon Salzburg have a chance to pull off the upset in Madrid?

All I will say is don’t underestimate a Red Bull club. Atlético learnt that the hard way in Lisbon.

Don’t we know it.