Borussia Dortmund are looking to make the most of a turbulent season with success in the Europa League. But to reach the last eight, BVB will need to get past an Austrian side who are not popular with German fans.
Although Borussia Dortmund are just two games away from a Europa League quarterfinal, most of the focus going into Thursday's last 16 first leg against Red Bull Salzburg is on their fans.
With some BVB supporters not attending the away game as part of a boycott against "test-tube clubs", there's a certain level of intrigue surrounding what form of protest the fans will deliver in the home leg. One thing fans will be able to do will be to buy symbolic tickets for SV Austria Salzburg – the city's other team – for €10, with proceeds going to the fourth-division Austrian club.
Speaking at the press conference ahead of the game, Borussia Dortmund captain Marcel Schmelzer was asked whether it was ok to have Salzburg and Leipzig in the same competition. Schmelzer would not be drawn into an answer, delivering a response about player focus.
Protest or not, BVB still have to beat Salzburg if they want to turn a tumultuous season into a winning one. The German side may well have had the ideal preparation for this match, having played RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga just last weekend. Head coach Peter Stöger was keen to stress that, for all the similarities, the two sides play differently.
"Obviously Leipzig and Salzburg have a similar philosophy – they try to press as well and focus on winning second balls – but it's not completely the same style," Stöger said at Wednesday's press conference.
Sancho to return?
Dortmund's Austrian head coach said "our task is to be dominant" but admits "Salzburg is a team in a dangerous outsider role." Nevertheless, Dortmund are expected to progress against the 11-time Austrian champions, who are coached by Leipzig-born Marco Rose.
After Maximilian Philipp returned from injury in Leipzig, there's a chance that 17-year-old Jadon Sancho could also make his comeback. One player Dortmund hope never to see injured again is Marco Reus. The 28-year-old winger has been in top form since returning from his latest injury, scoring in all three of his latest Bundesliga games.
"We all know how important Reus is for the club," Schmelzer said. "He is a player that helps the team… It's important in modern football to make runs that create space for teammates. He's very intelligent in that regard."
As for winning it, Dortmund are on the favorites on paper – despite having never lifted the trophy before. Schmelzer wouldn't say Dortmund would win it, drawing attention to the quality left in the competition.
Leipzig look to draw on Napoli confidence
One of those teams is fellow Bundesliga side RB Leipzig, who face the 2008 winners, Zenit St. Petersburg. Ralph Hasenhüttl's side are at home for the first leg, but have seen their stock rise in the competition after beating Napoli in the previous round.
"Knocking out a team like Napoli gives us confidence," the Leipzig coach said on Wednesday. "I'm certain we're capable of getting through to the next round."
Hasenhüttl will welcome back Emil Forsberg but will be without Kevin Kampl, though the midfielder should be back by the weekend.