One not-so-insignificant fact was lost among all the Nicolo Zaniolo drama and the inconsistent results this month: Roma is alive and well in the Europa League. With a potential €30 million windfall for winning it all, the Giallorossi have ample motivation to put their best foot forward tomorrow evening in Austria when they face Red Bull Salzburg in the first leg of the Europa League Knockout Round Playoffs. The winner of this home-and-home series will advance to the Round of 16.
With 30 matches already in the rearview mirror, Roma fans are well aware of where the club flourishes and where they falter, so rather than rehashing who will play, what's wrong with the midfield, and wondering if we'll see anyone other than Paulo Dybala score, we're going to keep the focus on Salzburg, a club Roma has never faced before.
Salzburg vs. Roma: February 16th. 18:45 CET/12:45 EST. Red Bull Arena, Salzburg.
Read along as we learn more about Roma's Austrian adversaries.
A Healthy Lead in The League
After 17 rounds of play in the Austrian Bundesliga, Die Roten Bullen has compiled a 13-3-1 (W-D-L) record and boasts a six-point lead over second-place Sturm Graz. As their record suggests, Salzburg has run roughshod over their competition, scoring 37 goals while conceding only nine. As you would have guessed, that +28 goal differential tops the league by a healthy margin.
Despite that impressive record, Salzburg may be a tad rusty heading into this match, as the Austrian Bundesliga only resumed play after the World Cup break earlier this month. Nevertheless, Die Roten Bullen has been practically unstoppable this season.
Except in Europe...
How Did They Get Here?
After claiming the 2021-2022 league title, Salzburg was cast into a Champions League group that featured Chelsea, AC Milan, and Dinamo Zagreb. While that wasn't exactly the proverbial group of death, Salzburg faced long odds against Chelsea and Milan, two clubs with a far greater European pedigree.
Undaunted by these odds, Salzburg got off to a roaring start in Group D, holding Milan and Chelsea to 1-1 draws, the latter occurring on the road at Stamford Bridge. And they followed that up with a clean 1-0 win over Zagreb and home before drawing the return leg in Croatia.
Six points through their first four matches made it look good for Salzburg. However, Salzburg's European dream was over after laying an egg against Chelsea (a 2-1 defeat at home) and a shellacking from Milan (4-0 at the San Siro).
As a result, Salzburg parachuted down to the Europa League, where they were drawn against Mourinho's men. But who exactly should The Special One keep an eye on?
Depth By Design
Salzburg manager Matthias Jaissle's diamond-shaped 4-4-2 has accommodated his club's lack of star power. With five players contributing six or more goal-contributing actions (goals + assists) and three more averaging more than five shots per game, Jaissle's tactics have ensured that opponents aren't able to focus on any single threat.
That's not to say that Salzburg is bereft of talent; far from it. Swiss forward Noah Okafor leads the charge for RB Salzburg, whose 10 goals in all competitions lead the club. Not far behind Okafor are Austria forward Chikwubuike Adam (eight goals, two assists), Brazilian forward Fernando (six goals, four assists), and Slovenian forward Benjamin Sesko (five goals, two assists).
This talent wasn't enough to keep Salzburg's Champions League dreams alive, but it's surely enough to scare the Giallorossi.