Close to a year ago a journey began that proved to be an extremely special one. The 2022/23 season was dramatic, challenging, varied, emotional and, above all else, legendary! After our exit from the UNIQA ÖFB Cup, there were many people around Austria hoping that this might be the year we let the title slip - but we were absolutely determined for that not to be the case, and we battled to secure the trophy for a tenth year in a row!
Our boys gave as good as they've got against the very biggest names in the game again in Europe this season. Now it's time to take a last look back on the season …
A start with highs and lows
How was the start of the season? Sensational! A superb 3-0 win in the first round of the cup was followed by the same result in our opening Austrian Bundesliga match against Austria Vienna. The chances came by the minute as Fernando & Co left us all eager for more with sensational goals (and incredible celebrations). A little while later the next highlight came as we got in the mood for the Champions League with a friendly match against Liverpool.
We were able to beat Jurgen Klopp's side in front of 30,000 fans at a sold-out Red Bull Arena. It was just a "f***ing friendly match" [to borrow Jesse Marsch's famous phrase from our Champions League encounter with Liverpool in 2019] but it was incredibly enjoyable, nonetheless!
The euphoria surrounding the start of the season was let up on slightly on the second Bundesliga matchday. It was clear away at SK Sturm Graz that we would have some serious rivals for the title this season. The 1-2 defeat at Christian Ilzer's side would have been easier to take if we knew then it would be our only defeat of the entire Austrian Bundesliga season!
Shoulder to shoulder with the stars of Europe
Our boys worked back step by step to winning ways and went into the UEFA Champions League group stage with six successive wins! The European adventure started at home to AC Milan, the reigning Italian champions. A dream Noah Okafor goal heralded the start of our European season, and we took a 1-1 draw that we can be proud of.
We can also be proud of our fans. The second matchday of the Champions League took us to London to face Chelsea. The English capital was deep in grieving at the time following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Our supporters still did everything to help us as much as possible in the big away match.
The 1-1 draw gave us another precious point and earned us the respect of European football for the dignity with which you approached the tie.
Things kept on coming thick and fast in a packed calendar. By 2 November we were already contesting the final group stage match of the Champions League (whereas in 2021/22 the sixth group stage match took place on 8 December).
Everything was possible when we took to the legendary San Siro - we had the chance to make the Champions League last 16, or our European journey could have ended if we finished bottom of the group. Rafael Leao & Co were too hot to handle on the night (despite almost 4,000 Salzburg fans travelling to support us), but we held onto third place ahead of Dinamo Zagreb despite the 0-4 defeat to continue our journey in the UEFA Europa League.
We had to wait for that with the World Cup in November and December resulting in Austria's longest winter break in 23 years. Asides from a short training camp in Malta, our team could mostly enjoy a rare well-earned holiday. Not the four Red Bulls in action in Qatar though - with Luka Sucic, Noah Okafor, Philipp Köhn and Strahinja Pavlovic on the world's biggest stage. Pavlovic in particularly was able to steal the limelight for Serbia with some stunning performances!
New year starts with blow and ends with party
Our first competitive match of 2023 was a really tough test - SK Sturm Graz visited us in the Cup quarter-finals. A long three months without a competitive match had an impact, with a lack of fluency on display. Sturm ultimately edged us out on a penalty shootout – and went on to win the competition in Klagenfurt.
The UEFA Europa League Play-off paired us with exciting but challenging opponents in AS Roma. At the first leg in the Red Bull Arena, Nicolas Capaldo headed us to a win shortly before the break against Jose Mourinho's side, but the Italian side would be more clinical in the second leg, and our European adventure was over.
That did not take anything away from what was shaping up to be a dramatic domestic league campaign. A record points' total left us on top, but Sturm Graz were consistently strong and were right at our heels, especially after the points were halved at the end of the regular season.
Our direct meetings with Sturm Graz in the champions' group would prove to be decisive. We took a 2-0 win at the Merkur Arena before sealing things on the third from last matchday. The decisive second goal in a 2-1 win in the final minutes came from one of the youngest players in our ranks - Karim Konate - a perfect indication that we stand for the Football of Tomorrow!
Our final home match against Austria Klagenfurt therefore became a big party - with a Family Day, championship plate presentation and title party in front of the stadium ensuring for a perfect end to the season. Our tenth Austrian Bundesliga title in a row is making us look ahead to the challenges to come.
Focus on what’s NE✘T, is the name of the game, to make sure next season is just as successful. We will have a different squad, of course. Two of our boys - Nici Seiwald and Benji Sesko - are taking the next big step in their career, while Alex Walke has hung his goalkeeping gloves up. The next generation of young guns is waiting in the wings ready to create their own history – and we cannot wait!
Dear fans, we wish you a wonderful summer break and look forward to seeing you at the next festival of football at the Red Bull Arena! Our season highlight clip has the best goals, outtakes and a few other delights for you:
Goals, goals and more goals – we had so many memorable strikes this season. We have picked out the 12 best and asked you to vote for your favourites. The entire ranking is here for your enjoyment:
It would not be a season without a few blunders along the way! Our best outtakes of 2022/23 can be seen here: