Dec 12 2011

Slovan v Salzburg Preview

When Slovan Bratislava completed their remarkable aggregate victory over AS Roma in the last round of Europa League qualifying back in August, they were no doubt dreaming of further glamour and glories to come. They probably did not give much thought to the prospect of battling away with a bunch of fellow central Europeans on a long, dark December night at Pasienky. Such is reality, however, as Slovan conclude their Group F campaign this Wednesday at home to Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg.

The tie may lack glamour but at least it isn’t devoid of interest. Salzburg, surprisingly, have an excellent chance of progressing to the knock-out stages and will do so if they win or, alternatively, equal Paris St Germain’s result against Athletic Bilbao. Slovan cannot qualify but will be keen to complete a largely creditable group stage showing on a positive note, as well as to atone for the 3-0 defeat they suffered in the reverse fixture in late September.

There is little doubt that Salzburg was the scene of Slovan’s poorest Europa League showing thus far. Having competed on even terms in the first-half, they capitulated in the second, providing a stark contrast to the resilient performances, both home and away, against Bilbao and PSG. The last game, in Bilbao’s atmospheric San Mamés stadium, definitely suggested that Slovan are learning how to play European football. They fell behind to Bilbao’s first really threatening attack of the game but responded with a performance which combined sensible defending with enough dangerous attacks to keep the Basques on the alert. The last 15 minutes of the first-half were dominated by the Slovak team. Juraj Halenár hit the bar with a superb strike from a free-kick and Filip Šebo, exploiting the space behind the home defence as they pressed a little too high up the pitch, scored a well-taken equaliser. The start of the second-half was fairly even but Bilbao’s superior skill came more and more to the fore as it went on and they just about deserved their winning goal, scored 15 minutes from the end.

It is arguable whether the bigger disappointment for Slovan in Bilbao lay in the result or in the fact that Mamadou Bagayoko and Marko Milinković picked up their third bookings of the stage and will have to miss the Salzburg match. Bagayoko has been arguably the team’s best player in Europe this season and his pace and energy up and down the right flank will be difficult to replace. Presumably, one of Ivo Taborský, Lukáš Pauschek or Kristián Kolčák, all of whom have played at left-back at various points in the tournament, will be asked to make the switch to the right, while Marián Had and Martin Dobrotka continue their (mostly) solid central defensive partnership.

Milinković is one of those players who never seems to be in a hurry but is more capable than most of opening up a defence with a touch of finesse. Erik Grendel comes closest to replicating his qualities and will probably join Halenár and Igor Žofčák in an attacking midfield trio behind lone-striker Šebo. As for the area between them and the back four, Karim Guédé failed in what appeared to be his mission to pick up a third yellow card of his own in Bilbao, and thus should take his place alongside Jiří Kladrubský.

Though it’s likely to be a cold night with little glamour or romance in the air, I have a feeling we could be in for a decent game on Wednesday. Slovan should have that end of term feeling about them which often causes teams to play with greater freedom, and their efforts in Bilbao ought to have finally convinced them that they are capable of troubling the defences of some of Europe’s better teams. Halenár, with his readiness to join Šebo in attack whenever possible, as well as his longer experience of European football, seems to be key to their best football going forward and may be thinking it’s high time he registered a goal in this competition. If Slovan do bow out of Group F with a strong performance on Wednesday, they will leave us wondering what they might do if, as they surely will, they find themselves in Europe again next season and some of the current squad stick around.

For all that, though, Salzburg are the ones with the bigger motivation. With their corporate identity and three-quarters empty ground, they might be an unloved club but at least they can’t be accused, unlike some, of disdaining the Europa League. Having got slightly the better of their two clashes with PSG, drawn in Bilbao and beaten Slovan at home, they will now be keen to finish the job and progress to the last 32. Also, their Slovak winger Dušan Švento will have an added incentive to do well, given his long-running feud with Slovan coach Vladimír Weiss. It will be a lot closer than in Austria but I think Salzburg will have just about enough to ensure their continued participation in the competition.

Prediction : Slovan 1 Salzburg 2

James Baxter

James also recently posted a Corgon Liga mid-season review over on SFUnion.

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Slovan v Salzburg Preview”

  1.   StaryJazvecon 12 Dec 2011 at 1:20 pm

    Weiss in Sport 7.12.11. I paraphrase slightly – The healthy nucleus of our team on which we need to build is Dobrotka, Bagayoko, Guede, Halenar, Sebo, Zofcak, Kladrubsky, Milinkovic and the 2 keepers.

    Also – We are having a tough battle w/ Guede vis-a-vis signing a new contract.

  2.   Jameson 12 Dec 2011 at 2:28 pm

    I guess things have changed for Karim since he got his citizenship. If he got a decent offer, I wouldn’t blame him for moving on, in fact I think that’s what he needs to do to develop as a player.

    With most of those others on board next year, there’s the potential for Slovan to do better in Europe than this year. Not sure I really want to see that, mind!

  3.   George Mon 14 Dec 2011 at 7:11 pm

    Not sure what is in this game for the Austrians , can they still qualify ???

    I actually and perhaps stupidly out my betting cash on a Slovan win …score ooooooh 3.2 !

  4.   Jameson 15 Dec 2011 at 6:51 am

    Never mind, George, Slovan’s new-found goalscoring ability killed my prediction off after 6 mins. Still, Christmas is coming, wouldn’t have liked to think of the bookies’ families going hungry….

  5.   George Mon 15 Dec 2011 at 10:19 am

    Somehow I got the KO time wrong and turn my TV set on, just in time,to see Slovans Mr Had delicately chip his own goalkeeper to make it 2.3 .

    I was stunned to see a 5 goal event had gone on, whilst I was having my dinner …mind you I saw the replay of all the goals .

    I read with interest a new National Stadium is being consider (yet again ) but will this improve the footballing standard and skill set of this nation, as after watching the comical, Sunday morning soccer defending of Slovan last night and after taking a two goal lead to Saltzburg , I do doubt it ?

    A brief word about Filip Sebo ….he was crap ………Has he got something on Weiss ( you know taking brown E`s, drug dealer, money laundering etc )? Because even thou he is the worst player on the pitch, never even looks like scoring , he never gets replaced ?

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