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Jesse Marsch, ‘superb’ Salzburg set up huge Champions League match

Jesse Marsch

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 1, 2020: FC Red Bull Salzburg’s players celebrate victory in the 2020-21 UEFA Champions League Group A Round 5 football match against FC Lokomotiv Moscow at RZD Arena. Also pictured: FC Red Bull Salzburg’s head coach Jesse Marsch (C). Sergei Fadeichev/TASS (Photo by Sergei FadeichevTASS via Getty Images)

Sergei Fadeichev/TASS

Jesse Marsch will match wits for Diego Simeone in what will be one of the highest-profile club matches managed by an American in the history of world football.

And the only thing debatable about that is whether the “one of” qualifier should be included in the statement.

Marsch’s Red Bull Salzburg did their job in Russia on Tuesday, beating Lokomotiv Moscow 3-1 to stay alive for a spot in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds ahead of a literal must-win visit from Atletico Madrid on Dec. 9.

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This will certainly be the most important match of Marsch’s young managerial career when Salzburg hosts Atleti, and it will ask a lot: Can the 47-year-old former USMNT midfielder engineer a win against a defensive mastermind who knows he can advance with a draw?

Even a draw against Atleti would be an impressive result most weeks but that would give Lokomotiv Moscow a chance to pass the Austrian side by beating already-through Bayern (at the Allianz Arena, but still).

Here’s Marsch, via Salzburg’s site:

“It was a superb game from us. The boys played really well, battled and won a lot of challenges. We were very good on and off the ball. It was one of our best matches in the Champions League. I am really pleased for Mergim. He battled really well in every training session, he got his chance and gave his all.”

Mergim is Mergim Berisha, who scored two first-half goals to give Salzburg a lead it would keep as Karim Adeyemi’s 81st-minute match-sealing goal came two minutes after the hosts pulled within one on an Anton Miranchuk penalty.

What a chance this is for Marsch and also what an ask: Beat a Diego Simeone side that already has a point.

Bob Bradley has managed Stabaek into the Europa League, Pellegrino Matarazzo managed Stuttgart into Bundesliga promotion, and David Wagner ushered Huddersfield Town into the Premier League.

But this is special stuff, on the heels of challenging Liverpool and Napoli last season en route to a domestic double. Good luck, sir.

Follow @NicholasMendola