The "Relegation Round" Restarts! Match Day 23
When the league split after 22 matches last season, a handful of teams ended up just a few precious points or even goals away from the all important divide.
Rapid Vienna were the shock victims stuck in the bottom six back then, and their city rivals Austria have fallen foul of the same thing this season, the difference in 2020 being that the line up was a foregone conclusion months ago.
Get to know the Bundesliga Qualification Round
Austria, Altach, Admira, WSG, Mattersburg and St. Pölten will battle it out amongst themselves to avoid one relegation place, and attempt to secure one of two domestic play-off spots (thanks to Salzburg's cup win) for an unlikely shot at the UEFA Europa League and a salvaged season.
WSG Tirol (4) vs St. Pölten (6)
Last meeting: SKN 5-1 WSG
WSG Tirol have to play all their home games in the cavernous Tivoli Stadium in Innsbruck (rather than their usual Wattens home), but perhaps that lack of atmosphere will have prepared them for "behind closed doors" football.
Long-term WSG boss Thomas Silberberger will miss the game after a serious motorbike accident - we of course wish him a speedy recovery - and midfield engine Lukas Grgic will be out for the season after a timely appendix op.
Promoted WSG flat-lined with 7 straight defeats in winter, but January signings like Stefan Meierhofer rejuvenated the Tirol side, and they dragged themselves off the bottom before the lockdown.
St. Pölten are the side who inherited that final place, and with no wins in 8 (D4 L4) stretching back to that 5-1 win over WSG, the Lower Austrians are last in the form table. Husein Balic fired them to that win, but has since departed for LASK. They need loanee Cory Burke to pick up some of the scoring slack alongside reliable North Korean Kwang Ryong Pak.
Trainer Robert Ibertsberger finally gets to make his debut in the dugout after putting pen to paper just as games were called off in March.
SV Mattersburg (5) vs SCR Altach (2)
Last meeting: SVM 0-0 Altach
Mattersburg may just be the league's most infuriating side, capable of beating anyone on occasion, yet a run of 7 defeats and 1 draw left them rooted to the foot of the table for months.
Their most recent shock wins came courtesy of the talented yet injury-prone Andreas Gruber, so we hope to see him stay fit after the lockdown. Jano also returns from long-term injury to bolster the Mattersburg midfield.
Alex Pastoor's Altach started slowly this season before dizzying the heights of the league form table, and almost threatening a run at the top 6. The signing of veteran striker Sidney Sam revitalised the Vorarlberg side, and he's been involved in an impressive 10 goals since coming to Austria.
Altach will hope Sam recovers from a knock before this one, but they'll be please to see left-midfielder Marco Meilinger back from injury, and 'Gladbach loanee Julio Villalba settling in with a goal in their last friendly.
Austria Wien (1) vs Admira Wacker (3)
Last meeting: Admira 0-0 Austria
Austria are on a run of draws which is frankly staggering, with 7 of their last 8 games ending level. A few wins would have set them on course to catch the top 6, but the violets seemed destined to drop points before the long break.
Can Christian Ilzer overcome the ignominy of being stuck in the bottom half by dominating the Qualification Round week in, week out? The club is plagued with financial issues and the fans are losing patience, but young talents Fitz and Sarkaria might help to lift the mood, as well as improbable goal machine Christoph Monschein (15), who's having a standout season.
Admira are on their third coach of the campaign, and new man Zvonimir Soldo needs to keep the team on the attack if they are to avoid a relegation scrap. They struggle to create chances, but there are goals in the side, especially from Sinan Bakis (11) who has scored half of Admira's tally this season by himself!
The team from just south of the capital have a young side and a history of producing talented players, no wonder then that Salzburg loaned out midfielder Jung-min Kim to pick up some playing time.
Bundesliga - Round 22
Saturday March 7th - Sunday March 8th 2020
Mattersburg vs LASK
Last Meeting: LASK 7-2 Mattersburg
LASK don’t have the greatest record away at Mattersburg, but they’ll look to make it an amazing 11 wins in 11 away games in the regular season round here. With Michorl and Ranftl missing through suspensions, LASK will need a good showing to bounce back after their cup defeat, but some players may be tentatively protecting themselves before the UEL tie with Manchester United this week.
Mattersburg are once more without Jano and Gruber, but even after the 7-2 defeat last time, they can sense an upset here.
Red Bull Salzburg vs Sturm Graz
Last Meeting: Sturm 1-1 Salzburg
The Red Bulls are unbeaten in 8 against Sturm, but Sturm are unbeaten in 5 away games, and have only lost twice away all season. Salzburg are missing Hwang Hee-Chan after he picked up an injury midweek, but with 72 scored so far they’re still good value for goals! Sturm are once again without Kiril Despodov, but Donkor might be close to full fitness by now.
Wolfsberger AC vs Rapid Vienna
Last Meeting: Rapid 1-1 Wolfsberg
Ex-Rapid player Ferdinand Feldhofer faces his old club as a manager after scoring the goal which sealed Rapid’s title triumph back in 04/05. WAC have scored 7 and conceded just 2 since he took over.
Rapid want to hang on to third place in the regular season, but they haven’t won in 7 games at the Lavanttal Arena (3D 4L). Watch out for headed goals, WAC have a league high 12, with Rapid second on 9! Also, assist-master Michael Liendl hasn’t lost in 15 games against Rapid… omens!
FK Austria Vienna vs SKN St Pölten
Last Meeting: St Pölten 2-2 Austria
Austria might be suffering a lack of motivation after their top 6 hopes were finished last weekend, but they’re unbeaten in 5 against lowly St Pölten. They’ve also recorded 5 draws in a row now, with the joint Bundesliga record of 6 up for grabs, although they won’t want it!
St Pölten have more points against Austria (15) than they have got against any other Bundesliga team, and they would love to extend that record having slipped into the relegation place last week.
Klein (FAK) and Klarer (SKN) miss out through suspension.
TSV Hartberg vs WSG Tirol
Last Meeting: WSG 0-1 Hartberg
Hartberg are unbeaten in 5 at home, and have won their last 6 against WSG in all competitions. Midfielder David Cancola misses out after being sent off against LASK, as Hartberg secured their historic top 6 berth.
WSG have picked up a reasonable 4 points since the winter break, but chance conversion remains a major issue for Thomas Silberberger’s side. Hager misses this game due to 5 accumulated yellow cards.
Admira Wacker vs SCR Altach
Last Meeting: Altach 1-4 Admira
Admira recorded probably their finest win of the season the last time they faced Altach, and they’ve scored in each of their last 9 games versus the Vorarlberg side. Altach, for their part, have scored in their last 10 away games at Admira, so surely it won’t end 0-0 (or have we cursed it?).
Altach are flying high in the form table, and Sidney Sam’s 5 goals and 5 assists mean he’s been involved in more goals than anyone else since his Bundesliga debut in October: Impact! Altach are also unbeaten in 6, whereas Admira are desperate to pick up points in the relegation scrap. Kerschbaum (ADM) is missing through suspension.
Bundesliga - Round 21
Sunday March 1st - Monday March 2nd 2020
LASK vs Hartberg
LAST MEETING: Hartberg 1-2 LASK
High from their Europa League draw against Manchester United, LASK first have to concentrate on Hartberg. Key players like Gernot Trauner are one yellow away from suspension, so with a cup semi coming up they might be a little cautious. They’ll hope for another lightning start as they managed 3 goals in the first 15 minutes last weekend.
Hartberg need only a point to secure an amazing top 6 finish. Loan forward Lema will be out for a while after picking up a knee injury in last week’s agonising 2-2 draw with Rapid.
Sturm Graz vs Austria Vienna
LAST MEETING: Austria 1-0 Sturm
Sturm search for only a 5th home win of the season, young full-back Donkor is on his way, but won’t be ready in time for this one, Despodov is still recovering in his homeland as well, so he’ll miss out too.
Nothing but a win will do for Austria, but key players Madl and Grünwald are suspended for this one. Expect them to go all out as it’s last chance saloon for a place in the all-important top 6.
Altach vs Red Bull Salzburg
LAST MEETING: RBS 6-0 Altach
A postponement to Monday might affect crowd numbers for this one, with Mergim Berisha returning to his former loan club. Altach have built a decent run of form with 11 points from their last 5 games, and they’ll hope that can continue against a struggling Salzburg.
Salzburg were dumped out of the Europa League on Friday after a delayed second leg against Eintracht, but although they played well they're routinely shipping 2 goals at the moment. Will Salzburg coach Jesse Marsch try a new formation to stop the rot and try to chase LASK at the top of the Bundesliga?
Rapid vs Mattersburg
LAST MEETING: Mattersburg 2-3 Rapid
Rapid are having their best season in years and will look to tighten their grip on 3rd place and the European spot that comes with it by defeating Mattersburg. They’ll be without Schobesberger again, but summer signing Thorsten Schick should be back on the left again after a long-term injury.
Mattersburg have to do without regular starter Jano as well as dangerman Andreas Gruber. If he’s fit, they might look to Christoph Halper and ex-Rapid player Kuen who has been involved in plenty of their recent goals.
WSG Tirol vs Admira Wacker
LAST MEETING: Admira 3-1 WSG
WSG Tirol will be desperate to build on their surprise win last weekend. Grgic returns from suspension as they face nearest rivals Admira in the first proper relegation 6-pointer of the season. Veteran Florian Mader announced his immediate retirement in the build-up.
Admira have also lost a player, Dominik Starkl will miss the rest of the season with a ligament injury. Young midfield dynamo Hjulmand is suspended for this one, and it should be a scrappy and tense battle out there to welcome new coach Zvonimir Soldo.
SKN St. Pölten vs Wolfsberger AC
LAST MEETING: WAC 4-0 SKN
St. Pölten could find themselves bottom of the table by Monday if Admira and WSG draw, but if they themselves can get a point against WAC then they’ll avoid that fate.
Wolfsberg have won their last 4 games against St. Pölten, but need to bounce back after their slip-up last weekend to apply some pressure at the top end of the table. Defender Rnic is serving the last game of his ban for a bizarre winter-friendly elbow incident.
Bundesliga - Round 20
Sunday February 23rd 2020
Austria Vienna vs Red Bull Salzburg
LAST MEETING: Salzburg 4-1 Austria
Austria may be on the brink of missing out on the top-six, but they’ve quietly built a 6 game unbeaten stretch, albeit with only 2 wins in there. They really must pull off an unlikely win if they want a chance of scraping into 6th place. Christoph Monschein’s red hot form could hold the key.
Jesse Marsch and Red Bull Salzburg find themselves in their first tough spot in ages. A loss to LASK and then a hammering from Frankfurt have put them on the back foot, and it’ll be great to see how the team respond. Daka has struggled to lead the line in 2020, and now it might be turn for Adeyemi and Koita to have a go. Players like Farkas and Onguene will have bruised egos after Thursday, and will be looking to bounce back in style.
LASK vs St Pölten
LAST MEETING: St Pölten 0-3 LASK
How will LASK cope with the unusual pressure of being league leaders? After a tough run-out on Thursday vs Alkmaar, they will need fresh legs to beat a St. Pölten side who have been on a general upturn of late. At the back, Wiesinger is suspended, but Ramsebner has done a decent job when he’s come in. If Raguz and Klauss can be clinical in front of goal, they might improve an oddly average home record this season. (They’ve won all 10 away games!)
New loan signing Cory Burke looks set to miss out for St. Pölten with injury, but Pak has caused damage up-front since his comeback. Dominik Hofbauer had a great game last weekend, and will hope for a place in the starting line-up, and watch out for both teams at set-pieces. They are among the highest scoring sides in the league from dead ball situations.
Hartberg vs SK Rapid
LAST MEETING: Rapid 3-3 Hartberg
Hartberg have a strong home record, winning 3 and drawing 1 of their last 4. A win here would likely be enough to secure a sensational top-six spot.
Rapid won 7 of their first 9 away games, and matches between these two sides have averaged more than 5 goals per game, so this should be a thriller! Schobesberger is the main man missing for Rapid, but they get a lot of early goals, and Taxi Fountas has been scoring regularly this season.
Saturday February 22nd 2020
Admira Wacker vs Sturm Graz
LAST MEETING: Sturm 4-1 Admira
Admira have been regularly picking up points lately, but they have an awful record against Sturm in recent seasons, losing the last 6 meetings. Sinan Bakis is of course their key man, scoring 11 goals this season, more than half of the team's total! Kolja Pusch tends to link up with him well, so Admira fans should be happy that he returns.
Sturm are without arguably their best player, Kiril Despodov, but they welcome back a mighty FOUR starters who missed last week's defeat through suspension (Dominguez, Kiteishvili, Ljubic and Hierländer). CEO Kreissl has announced his plans to step down at the end of the season, but will that destabilise a Sturm side who still need points to seal a top-six place?
Mattersburg vs Altach
LAST MEETING: Altach 0-2 Mattersburg
Mattersburg have a great winning record off the back of the winter break, and this year was no exception. Their top scorer Andreas Gruber netted two lovely goals on his return from injury, but then went off with another knee issue and will most likely miss this match. That could be a costly loss for the Burgenlanders.
Altach have found a decent run of form lately, and despite throwing away a 2 goal lead last weekend, the veteran Sidney Sam is on fire. Only Shon Weissman (9) has been involved in more goals than Sam (8) since the German came to Austria.
WSG Tirol vs Wolfsberger AC
LAST MEETING: Wolfsberg 2-2 WSG
WSG are looking to avoid an 8th straight league defeat. Luckily for the basement side, new signing Maierhofer never loses against WAC! Will his 4 game winning run against the Carinthians last though? Midfielder Grgic is suspended but keeper Oswald could return after the "bumscratchgate" scandal.
Wolfsberger AC have never won both of their first two matches after a winter break, but with league top-scorer Weissman (19) and top-assist provider Liendl (13) they should manage it this time.