Over the last few seasons, one of the most surprising narratives of the Champions League has been that Red Bull (RB) Salzburg have continually managed to fail to qualify for the group stage. Despite absolute domination on the domestic stage, incredibly intelligent recruitment and deep runs in the Europa League, they always seemed to stumble at the last stage. Last season, for example, saw them fall in the final qualifying round to a relatively weak Red Star Belgrade side. This season, however, saw a change in the coefficient standings for Austrian sides and RB Salzburg went straight into the group stage.

The draw for the group stage, however, was anything but kind with the Austrian champions, being drawn in the same group as Liverpool, Napoli and the Belgian champions Genk– one of the few sides in Europe who can compete with Salzburg for recruitment of young players.

With Marco Rose having moved on from the coaching role at Salzburg the first group stage match for Salzburg also marked the European debut for the American coach Jesse Marsch, making him the first American to coach in the group stages of the Champions League.

Genk promised a stiff challenge for the Austrian side having impressed on their way to the Belgian title last season. Despite losing key players in the summer, as they do every year, they had once again recruited well with the Romanian international Ianis Hagi, in particular, looking bright in the opening matches of the season.

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Artwork by @chapulana

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