Ahead of the first home game in the UEFA Europa League (Thursday, 21:00 CEST), the anticipation at SC Freiburg is something bigger than tension.
Lots of things are different at the Europa-Park Stadion these days. The Europa League banner is already dangling in the stadium, representatives of UEFA are taking a close look at the site conditions and you can hear more English than Baden being spoken in the corridors.
At the press conference before the match against Azerbaijani side, FK Qarabag, the differences to a Bundesliga match were also obvious from first glance. In addition, Christian Streich and a player, in this instance Vincenzo Grifo, took a seat on the podium, as is required by UEFA regulations.
The desire for his first European appearance in the Freiburg kit was clear to see from the Italian midfielder, who has just been nominated as a candidate for Bundesliga Player of the Month by video game manufacturer EA Sports. “We’re looking forward to the game and are heading into it with respect, but also lots of confidence,” said Grifo. “It is a highlight since this is the first game and it is finally about to get under way. I’m sure that the fans will support us with everything that they’ve got.”
The word “full throttle” was mentioned more than once this lunchtime. This is exactly how the team wants to perform both in the Europa League as well as the Bundesliga, just like head coach Christian Streich emphasised. “We’re thinking a lot about who is going to play – sometimes even with the second XI, like Daniel-Kofi Kyereh or Lukas Kübler at the weekend for example.”
Streich wants his team to “go on own path”
Streich and his coaching staff place a lot of value on communication, both internal and external. “We have to moderate this well. If someone does not play for a while, and then has to suddenly play lots of games at once, how can we expect them to produce top performances?”
Streich went on to mention that any potential rotation should not indicate that his side see any competition as more important as another. “We are going on our path a team and have good, young players who are going to get their chance. We don’t have 11 players in the squad, but 20 – and they’ve all earned it.”
Sallai missing against Qarabagh
A confirmed absence to the squad is Roland Sallai, who had to be treated cautiously after suffering an injury near the eyes against Leverkusen. His status should be confirmed by the start of next week. A late decision will be made by the coaching staff on Manuel Gulde, who suffered an injury to his left kneecap in the 3-2 victory.
Daniel-Kofi Kyereh will certainly be in the squad this Thursday, after having recorded 80 minutes for the U23s as they defeated FC Ingolstadt on Saturday. “Kofi has been trying to shake off a back problem since he joined us. The game against Ingolstadt was good for him and for us. His back was good, he did well and he’ll be in the squad tomorrow,” Streich commented.
Freiburg’s first international game in nine years will be played in front of a sold-out home section. Christian Streich still has clear memories of that 2013/14 Europa League campaign, commenting: “That was perhaps the most difficult and intense season that I ever experienced as Freiburg coach.” However, he doesn’t just see a change in squad depth since then, adding: “We did not have 12 points after five matchdays then either” – the spirit of Freiburg has certainly grown in the last nine years.