Jesse Marsch’s Red Bull Salzburg saw their dreams of advancing in the UEFA Champions League end Tuesday with a tough defeat to defending champions Liverpool. It may have been a defeat, but the team walked away with its heads held high as they went toe-to-toe with one of Europe’s best teams.
Salzburg held their own in a 2-0 loss at home, pushing the Premier League leaders for 90 minutes. Naby Keita and Mohamed Salah scored a minute apart in the second-half to send the Reds into the Round of 16 as group winners. Salzburg now enters the Europa League knockout stage after finishing third in the group, but received huge credit from Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp for their performance in the competition.
“I couldn’t have more respect for what Salzburg are doing here, the way they play football. … Salzburg were unbelievably strong, especially in the first half but we were too. We should have scored more goals. I have massive respect for Jesse and what they did,” Klopp said postmatch.
Unlike the back-and-forth affair at Anfield back on Matchday 3, this match could’ve went either way after the opening 45+ minutes. Salzburg finished the match with seven shots on goal, while dealing with the likes of Sadio Mane, Salah, and Roberto Firmino for most of the night.
In their six group stage matches, Marsch’s team picked up seven points and scored in every match but Tuesday’s. 19-year-old Erling Haland continued his terrific season, putting his name on the map as one of the top, young forwards in Europe. It was a credible showing by Salzburg who fought up until Matchday 6 for a berth in the knockout stage.
“We said we needed our best performance… I think this game would have been different if we had scored first,” Marsch said. “But in the end the quality of the opponent is clear and Salah’s goal was immense. It felt like a heavyweight fight. We can’t play better than that, but after the Genk game we set the bar higher and we did that again tonight.”
Dropping into the Europa League, Salzburg will now try to hold their own against numerous other third place finishers from the Champions League. Joining Salzburg just from Tuesday’s results are last season’s semifinalists Ajax, Serie A side Inter Milan, and Portuguese giants Benfica. Four additional teams will drop in following the conclusion of Wednesday’s slate of matches.
Marsch has done a fabulous job with Salzburg this campaign, who is yet to suffer a domestic loss in either the Austrian Bundesliga or Austrian Cup. They are the only Bundesliga side to have over 50 goals scored this season, while holding a current +48 goal differential in league play. The dream of lifting the Champions League trophy may be over, but Marsch isn’t short of confidence heading into the Europa League next round.
“Normally the best players are the attackers in front of the goal,” Marsch said. “It is good that we have the Europa League because it will provide us with some good opponents in the spring. I am proud of the boys, I love this team.”
“For us it is a big step in the Champions League, but I think we can win the Europa League. We have the quality to do it.”