It is finally time again in just a few days - as we go away to Altach to begin our ADMIRAL Bundesliga 2023/24 season! Our first home match of the new campaign is also nearly upon us. On Sunday 6 August at 17:00, WSG Tirol are to visit.
Our aim is clear – we want to retain our title again to book an 11th straight domestic success. The rest of the league showed once again last year that we can take nothing for granted in that regard. It is therefore the perfect time to take a look at how the other clubs have got on over the summer as they prepare to start the league.
SK Sturm Graz
Sturm were hot on our heels right to the end of the previous campaign and are expected to be contenders at the top again. Their good performances last year have earned Christian Ilzer's boys plenty of attention in the transfer market though. Emanuel Emegha recently left for Racing Strasbourg in Lingue 1, and he is being replaced by a 20-year-old Pole, Szymon Wlodarczyk.
The departure of Jusuf Gazibegovic was also expected, with 19-year-old Scot Max Johnston an exciting replacement. With the loan of goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo complete, Kjell Scherpen is due to come in between the sticks (also on loan).
It has therefore been an extremely busy summer in Graz. There is little time to settle the new-look team in as Sturm have a third UEFA Champions League qualifier against PSV Eindhoven at the start of August.
The Linz kitman has certainly had a busy summer, with plenty of new jerseys to prepare for a relatively big squad. Under new coach Thomas Sageder, who was assistant coach at FC Liefering last season, several new players have been signed (mostly free agents) with two loans from AS Roma (Ebrima Darboe) and RB Leipzig (Sanoussy Ba). Sageder was eager to take one of his former proteges in Liefering, Elias Havel, to Austria's steel city.
The most notable departure was club captain Alex Schlager, who has returned to us in Salzburg. A replacement for him in goal has come in the shape of Jörg Siebenhandl from SK Sturm. Keito Nakamura, who had more goal involvements than any other player last season, is another key player seemingly destined for the exit.
LASK are not going to dampen their ambitions in any way, however, with the Linz side certain to want to challenge for a European spot again in the champions group this season - and they are very capable of doing that.
SK Rapid Vienna
Things have been relatively quieter for the Green and Whites from the capital this summer. The core of the team around last season's league top scorer Guido Burgstaller have been kept on. Kevin Wimmer, Dejan Petrovic and Rene Kriwak have left the club for free.
Rapid arguably have not needed to be too active in terms of recruitment, but the odd signing or two are expected to come. They certainly want to perform better in UEFA Conference League qualifying than last season, with the side entering the competition in the third round in the middle of August.
The ADMIRAL Bundesliga opening match on Friday evening at LASK sees the Viennese have their first chance to make a title-race statement.
FK Austria Vienna
Austria Vienna enjoyed a good end to the last season, winning the play-off for a spot in UEFA Conference League qualifying against Austria Lustenau – whom they also acquired the services of left-back Hakim Guenouche from. There have been additional reinforcements too, such as Silva Kani, who has been recruited for the right flank following the departure of Georg Teigl. Nikola Dovedan has left for 1. FC Heidenheim, however, after their promotion to the German Bundesliga.
Michael Wimmer's team have a clash against FK Borac Banja Luka of Bosnia ahead in the Europa Conference League second qualifying round. They took a credible 1-1 draw in a recent friendly match against Galatasaray.
SK Austria Klagenfurt
Following the departure of Markus Pink, the number one priority in Klagenfurt has to be finding a new striker. Their success in that task will surely have a massive influence on whether they can make the championship group for a third consecutive season following their promotion. The main aim will definitely be ensuring safety as soon possible.
It has been a much quieter summer for transfers in Klagenfurt than last year. Florian Rieder has left for WAC, while Vesel Demaku has returned from a loan at Sturm Graz.
Peter Pacult's side were well beaten by FC Liefering in pre-season, suffering a 1-4 defeat. Things went better in the first round of the ÖFB Cup with a 3-0 win over SK Vorwärts Steyr.
We will be following the Wolves' season ahead with interest - as one of our Red Bulls is there on loan in Lukas Ibertsberger. Last season, WAC finished top of the qualification group, only to exit in the play-offs for a European qualifying spot against Austria Lustenau.
Manfred Schmid will have to rethink things in attack as in 2022/23 Maurice Malone (on loan) was a big goal threat that can no longer be used. New signings Florian Rieder (Klagenfurt) or Thomas Sabitzer (LASK) will look to take on this role. Georgian Sandro Altunashvili is another tipped to shine this season.
Getting into the championship group is the aim, in the style of Austria Klagenfurt's recent achievements.
SC Austria Lustenau
Last season's new boys soon won over neutrals and even battled for the European spots with their brave attacking football. It remains to be seen whether Markus Mader can build on such a strong first season in the top flight. Several players have left the club after loan spells while both Hakim Guenouche and Jean Hugonet have departed on free transfers, leaving just 14 outfield players in the squad for parts of the pre-season.
Help has come from their French co-operation club Clermont Foot, although Lustenau have definitely experienced a tough pre-season. Things went well in the ÖFB Cup though with an 8-0 victory over SPG Silz/Mötz.
The West Austrians are under no pressure to repeat their past campaign, however, and would be pleased to secure safety this season.
It has been fairly quiet this summer at the new home of goalie Adam Stejskal. Coach Thomas Silberberger has been fortunate enough to keep a big part of his squad from last season intact. A striker who enjoyed a good start to last season is also returning in Nik Prelec. Two of the key pillars from the spring will be missing, however, with Zan Rogelj and on-loan Thomas Sabitzer leaving the club.
Safety will be the name of the game this season, and once that is secured, the club might look to greater aims.
The loan of Mamadou Sangare at TSV Hartberg has been extended. The club have also exercised the purchase option on Ruben Providence from AS Roma. A few players have seen their contracts expire, including Matija Horvat, Lukas Fadinger and Dario Tadic.
Last season, Markus Schopp's team spent a long time in a relegation battle but were eventually able to aim for a European play-off spot. A similar season this time would go down well.
"We have to go through the pain barrier in Altach again," said new coach Joachim Standfest. Hopefully without anything untoward when we start the ADMIRAL Bundesliga season away to them on Saturday. It looked for a long time last season like relegation would be on the horizon, before they turned things around late on.
There has been a big turnover this summer in the aim of ensuring safety without any worries this time. In the first round of the UNIQA ÖFB Cup, Altach found things difficult, grinding a 2-1 win out against FCM Traiskirchen.
FC Blau-Weiß Linz
The Blues and Whites had as dramatic a promotion as possible in last season's second league. It's quite possible that they will take the euphoria into their first season in the top flight - just as Lustenau und Klagenfurt have managed recently. Most of the key performers in the promotion-winning side are going to the Bundesliga, with only Fally Mayulu and Matthias Seidl moving to SK Rapid Vienna. Among their reinforcements are our young midfield dynamo Raphael Hofer, who has gone for a year on loan to get some Bundesliga playing time.
FC BW Linz's brand-new stadium is definitely ready for the top flight, with Gerald Scheiblehner's team opening the arena against PSV Eindhoven in the summer (1-2). We will have to wait until early 2024 until we get our first chance to visit, however.