Manuel Veth –
Salzburg vs Napoli – Thursday, March 14, 17:55GMT/18:55CET – Stadion Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria
Is the Europa League dream over for Salzburg? Destroyed after a crushing 3-0 defeat to Napoli? Napoli’s first ever UEFA fixture against Austrian opponents proved a memorable one as they dominated Salzburg at the Stadio San Paolo, Arkadiusz Milik and Fabián Ruiz scoring inside the first 18 minutes before a second-half own goal from Salzburg defender Jérôme Onguéné completed a handsome 3-0 win.
For the Mozartstädter the result means that the European season is all but over. Or is it? After all, Salzburg are a force at home. The Red Bulls managed to defeat Brugge 4-0 to overcome a 2-1 deficit in the round of 32. Furthermore, last season Salzburg marched all the way to the Europa League semifinals where they were narrowly eliminated by Olympique Marseille.
That Europa League campaign, in particular, included some memorable upsets and comebacks. The Mozartstädter eliminated Borussia Dortmund after a 2-1 victory at the Westfalenstadion and also overturned a 4-2 away defeat with a 4-1 home victory against Lazio. But 3-0 is a much more difficult, perhaps even impossible result, to overcome than last season’s 4-2 defeat against Lazio.
“The result was bitter. I feel we could have done better,” head Marco Rose said after the game. “We could have lost by more but could have also scored three times. Now in our full stadium, we will see if we can challenge Napoli somehow,” Rose concluded.
Napoli head coach Carlo Ancelotti agreed with Rose’s assessment. “It was not an easy game. In the end, Salzburg pushed hard and could have scored a goal. We were a bit lucky,” Napoli’s head coach admitted. Furthermore, Ancelotti refused to suggest that the leg was won. “It was only the first half; we still have a return leg. A 3-0 is not enough; we will have to give everything.”
Ancelotti will certainly be warned by Salzburg’s record from last season. But although Salzburg are dominating in the Austrian Bundesliga and have once again a talented side but the absence of Amadou Haidara in midfield — he joined RB Leipzig in the winter — is a significant loss for the Mozartstädter.
Furthermore, Napoli’s recent defeat to Juventus in Serie A means there is now an 18 point gap to first place in Italy. The Europa League would, therefore, be a great consolation prize for a Napoli fan base waiting for a major title. Hence, with this in mind, it is hard to imagine Salzburg coming back from this 3-0 defeat.
Salzburg vs Napoli – Players to look out for:
Munas Dabbur #9 – FC Salzburg
This might be the last ever European night for Munas Dabbur at the Stadion Salzburg. The Israeli striker will join FC Sevilla at the end of the season. It is the long-expected next step in the career of the 26-year-old striker, who has been one of the most prolific forwards in Austrian football in recent years. Since joining Salzburg in 2016 Dabbur has scored 59 goals and 22 assists in 116 games. This season he has scored seven times in nine Europa League games, and it will be up to the 26-year-old to preserve the small hope that the Mozartstädter might still harbour in this tie.
Dries Mertens #14 – Napoli
Belgian striker Dries Mertens is the congenial partner to Polish forward Arakdiusz Milik. Just 169cm tall Mertens almost plays around Milik using the space created by his more physically imposing partner. Furthermore, Mertens likes to set up his teammates and in 25 Serie A games has scored eight goals and seven assists. Against Salzburg, it will be once again up to Mertens to ensure that Milik and Co. find the space to finish of the Mozartstädter.
Salzburg vs Napoli – Match Stats
- The first leg was the first time Napoli encountered an Austrian opponent in a UEFA competition.
- Salzburg have won only four of their 15 European encounters with Italian clubs but, following last season’s quarter-final success against Lazio (2-4 away, 4-1 home), their home and away records are now identical (W2 D1 L3).
- Salzburg are undefeated in 17 European home games, winning 13. They have not conceded more than one goal in any of their last 16 UEFA Europa League home fixtures, playoffs included, keeping clean sheets in ten of those matches and winning the last six.
- The Austrian side claimed maximum points in this season’s UEFA Europa League group stage, becoming the first club to achieve the feat three times (after 2009/10 and 2013/14).
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Salzburg vs Napoli – 2-1
Salzburg vs Napoli – Lineups
Walke – Ulmer, Ramalho, Onguéné, Lainer – Junuzović, Samassékou, Schlager – Wolf – Gulbrandsen, Dabbur
Head Coach: Marco Rose
Meret – Hysaj, Koulibaly, Maksimović, Malcuit – Allan, Ruiz – Zielinski, Callejón – Mertens, Milik
Head Coach: Carlo Ancelotti
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others contributes to Forbes.com and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.