After hosting relatively unknown Turk side İstanbul Başakşehir in their opening Group J Europa League match, the Giallorossi will face another relatively unknown side on Thursday. This time around Roma will travel to Austria to face Wolfsberger AC. Much like Başakşehir, Wolfsberger has only recently arrived to its nation’s top flight and has almost no European history to speak of.
The Wolfsberg, Austria based club achieved its first promotion to the Austrian Bundesliga back in 2012 and only once before has qualified for Europe. That appearance came back in the 2015/16 edition of the Europa League. During its European debut, Wolfsberger defeated Shakhtyor Soligorsk of Belarus 1-0 away and 2-0 at home, before being hammered by Borussia Dortmund 6-0 on aggregate in the third qualifying round.
This time around, Wolfsberger qualified directly for its first group stage of a competition by achieving a third place in the Austrian Bundesliga in 2018/19; the highest ever finish for the club. And Wolfsberger has picked up right where it left off to open this season, as it again sits in third place in the league through nine matches.
Wolfsberger AC vs. Roma: October 3rd. 6:55 CET/12:55 EDT. Stadion Liebenau, Graz, Austria
The two clubs with wolf adorned crests enter this match joint-top of Group J, after running out to identical 4-0 victories on match day one. While Roma’s victory over Başakşehir wasn’t too much of a surprise, Wolfsberger’s demolition of Borussia Mönchengladbach in Germany certainly was a shocker. With that in mind, what looked like a fairly straightforward encounter for the Giallorossi when the calendar was released, likely won’t be.
The Giallorossi have limited experience against Austrian sides. However, their most recent trip to Austria was during the club’s last Europa League experience back in 2016/17, when Roma defeated Austria Wien 4-1, behind a double from Edin Dzeko. Roma will hope that the sizzling hot Dzeko will once again feast on an Austrian defense.
For its part, Wolfsberger has never faced an Italian side. Nevertheless, it won’t have fond memories of the one current Roma player that it has faced: Henrikh Mhkitaryan. The Armenia scorched the Austrian side for a hat trick while with Borussia Dortmund during the 15/16 qualifying round tie. Luckily for the Austrians he was recently ruled out with a muscular injury.
Roma enter this one on a bit of a downswing with two lackluster performances in Serie A since it’s last Europa League match. The Giallorossi are in the midst of a busy three week stretch and the line-up will again likely see some turnover to avoid wearing guys out ahead of a visit from Cagliari on the weekend. Nevertheless, options will be limited with the injury list growing. On Monday, the club received the sobering news that Lorenzo Pellegrini will be out for an extended spell. However, don’t expect a complete line-up make over as the Giallorossi will be keen to take three points away from this one and sit atop Group J all alone.
If Roma comes out and plays like it did against Başakşehir on match day one, then its superior talent should win out, but that may not be enough if Roma performs like they have in their last couple league matches. Wolfsberger has already shown they aren't afraid of bigger, more storied clubs, and this time the Austrians should be even more emboldened by the home fans.
Fonseca spoke of taking the Europa League seriously and the players will have to if they expect to leave Austria as leaders of the Group J pack after the battle of the wolves.