With LASK on Thursday, AZ will meet a formidable and especially blood-foolish opponent in the knock-out phase of the Europa League. A profile of the surprising leader of the Austrian Bundesliga with an impressive work ethic.
"If you thought FC Twente was fanatic, then I have news for our players: LASK is a bit more fanatic," said AZ coach Arne Slot on Saturday after the 2-0 defeat against FC Twente. "We will have to show up in a very different way."
While AZ, with the cup elimination by NAC Breda and the loss against Twente, is feeling bad about the Europa League meeting with LASK, the Austrians are currently on a pink cloud. The team of French coach Valérien Ismaël took the lead in the Austrian Bundesliga on Friday with a 2-3 win over the much more powerful Red Bull Salzburg.
LASK gave Salzburg the first home defeat since 53 games. But even more important: after six league titles in a row for Red Bull, that hegemony is now seriously shaking.
For the match in Salzburg, Ismaël already predicted a "duel that would not be bored for a minute" and the coach was right. The topper achieved a killer pace with countless opportunities back and forth.
Red Bull Salzburg is internationally known as a team that plays at a high pace and tries to put pressure on the entire field, LASK uses a similar approach. Ismaël usually lets his team play in a very offensive 3-4-3 formation and has a number of wonders who certainly do not shy away from the duels.
Disappointment at Red Bull Salzburg and happy faces at LASK after the 2-3 on Friday. (Photo: Getty Images)
In 2014, LASK played for hundreds of fans at the amateur level
Weird fact: at the time of the last home defeat of Red Bull Salzburg (November 2016), LASK (which stands for Linzer Athletik-Sport-Klub, the addition Linz was removed from the club name in 2017) still played in the second division of Austria.
Between 2012 and 2014, the team even played at amateur level after a penalty from the football association for financial mismanagement. The competitions were then visited by a few hundred spectators.
Yet LASK does have a long history. The club was founded in 1908 and is therefore the oldest club in the Oberösterreich region. In 1965, LASK became the first Dutch champion outside the capital, Vienna. That year the club also won the cup, still the only two main prizes in club history.
Wing striker Dominik Frieser screams after a goal against PSV. (Photo: Pro Shots)
Goalkeeper Schlager: "We can beat any team"
But that could just change this year. The victory over the inviolable, Salzburg, has given much confidence. Or as goalkeeper Alexander Schlager said on Friday: "With this intensity, zest for work and the large number of meters we make, we can beat any team."
PSV also experienced that earlier this season, which in Eindhoven came to a 0-0 tie against the Austrians, but got a beating 4-1 in Linz.
AZ-LASK starts on Thursday at 9 p.m. The return in Austria is a week later at 6.55 p.m.