Salzburg v Hartberg
With a key game at the San Siro coming up next week – the Red Bulls must beat AC Milan to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages at the Italian club’s expense – Salzburg have a season-defining week ahead. But before heading south to Italy, Matthias Jaissle’s charges must first take on bottom side Hartberg, whom they likely need to beat to hold onto pole position at the top of the Austrian Bundesliga.
While Salzburg did not pick up any fresh injuries in their midweek defeat at home to Chelsea, they will be without an additional key player at the weekend: centre-back Strahinja Pavlovic was sent off for simulation against Sturm Graz and must serve a one-game suspension. His regular centre-back partner Oumar Solet is still injured with a thigh problem, and midfielder Nicolás Capaldo has not yet recovered from his knee issue. Hartberg, meanwhile, are only missing left-back Christian Klem for the trip to the Red Bull Arena.
Salzburg have not lost a Bundesliga home game since December 2020 and have won all five previous top-flight meetings with Hartberg in front of their own supporters – twice hitting the Styrian minnows for seven. Big defeats have recently been a theme for Klauss Schmidt’s men, who have conceded five goals in each of their last two games and are now two points adrift at the foot of the table. Few Austrian Bundesliga games appear as clear-cut as this: we expect Salzburg to win and win big in this meeting between first and last.
Austria Klagenfurt v WSG Tirol
If pundits and fans of the Austrian Bundesliga were asked to pick out the biggest overachiever of the season to date, most of them would probably choose Austria Klagenfurt or WSG Tirol: the Carinthians, who sit in fourth position with 20 points, are on course for a second consecutive top-half finish following their promotion to the Bundesliga in the summer of 2021, while their Tyrolean opponents are sixth with 17 points and have pulled off some unexpected big wins recently.
Two of their biggest recent victories – 4-1 against LASK and 5-1 against Hartberg – have come away from home, which bodes well for their trip to face a Klagenfurt side who have also been really strong on the road but have been less consistent on home turf (one win in their last four Bundesliga home games). However, confidence will be high for Peter Pacult’s men too, who beat record champions Rapid Vienna 1-0 on their last league outing.
With both teams largely injury-free and little to separate them in terms of overall recent form, picking out a winner is a near-impossible task. A much more obvious choice would be to bet on both teams to find the back of the net, regardless of the outcome: Austria Klagenfurt have scored in each of their last five Bundesliga matches, while WSG Tirol have netted in four of their last five and, in forward Tim Prica, have the division’s joint second-highest scorer behind LASK’s Marin Ljubicic (five goals).
LASK v Wolfsberg
LASK in third go up against ninth-placed Wolfsberg at the Raiffeisen Arena on Sunday. The hosts have bounced back from a five-game winless spell with four points from their last two matches, whereas WAC have added three straight defeats to their previous run of three straight wins as they’ve slipped down the table.
The Linzers have gone four games without a win at home, as they eagerly anticipate the completion of their new stadium, but they put in a good performance against Austria Vienna in a 2-2 home draw on Sunday, and they had an xG figure five times higher than their guests on the day. LASK are ranked third in the league on goals scored per game (1.9) but they’ve managed just one clean sheet this season. The combined firepower of Keito Nakamura on the break, plus fox in the box Marin Ljubicic should see them in the goals on Sunday.
WAC are struggling badly for form, but they’ve been on the score sheet in every league game this season, scoring twice and still losing in their last two games. Tai Baribo is in fine form in front of goal having scored seven this season for a team which is still averaging a hefty two goals per match up-front. The main issues for WAC lie in the under-performing defence, so even with LASK’s so-so home record, we’d expect both sides to be trading goals on Sunday.
Sturm Graz v Ried
If Sturm Graz want to stay hot on the heels of perennial champions Salzburg, with whom they drew at the Red Bull Arena last weekend, they will need to get into the habit of consistently beating the teams below them – especially the ones in the bottom half of the table. But Ried are not as straightforward an opponent as they might look on paper: the Innviertel club, who go into the game second-bottom, are currently unbeaten in four games across all competitions – and have won two away matches during that run.
However, the injury situation certainly favours Christian Ilzer’s team, who picked up a dramatic late win against Feyenoord in midweek. Defensive midfielder Vesel Demaku will be the only injury absentee for the Grazers, while Ried boss Christian Heinle will be without three players: midfielder Nikola Stosic has been out with a cruciate ligament injury since the summer, while fellow midfield man Marcel Ziegl and right-back Josef Weberbauer have also sustained injuries in the opening months of the campaign.
The last two league meetings between the teams, which both took place this calendar year, ended in draws – but Sturm Graz won the six clashes before that and have the best home record in the division this season (16 points from seven games). They are also unbeaten in nine games in all competitions – all of which makes them heavy favourites to take the points this weekend in our opinion. We’re backing them to beat Ried and keep the pressure on Salzburg in the run-up to the mammoth three-month winter break.
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