Rapid sign off with a defeat
Just as in December last year, Rapid's final game of 2015 threw up an away fixture against RB Salzburg. Last season the Green & Whites ran out 2:1 winners following a late rally. A repeat performance this time round would see Zoran Barisic's side end 2015 in top spot in the Bundesliga. Buoyed by the midweek victory over Minsk, the Hütteldorfers travelled west in confident mood to face one what is the toughest assignment in Austrian football.
The early stages of the game belonged to the hosts with midfielder Naby Keita getting in advanced positions to cause the Rapid defence problems (10., 18.). The first 25 minutes of the match proved to be a stern test of Rapid's defence, which included youngster Max Hofmann from the start once more. The Green & Whites were struggling to get efforts in on goal, although they nearly fashioned a chance on the counter when Kainz fed the ball into Prosenik, but the striker was muscled out by sheer weight of numbers and the chance evaporated (26.). Richard Strebinger pulled off a good save to tip Valon Berisha's effort over the crossbar at the other end (31.) as Salzburg continued to threaten on a consistent basis. When they eventually took the lead it came in the form of a counter attack from a Rapid corner: Hwang found Keita, who produced a defence splitting pass to set Soriano through on Strebinger. Richard Strebinger rushed off his line to try and narrow the angle and put the Salzburg captain under pressure, but he got his angles slightly wrong, allowing Soriano to simply slip the ball past him and in at the near post - 0:1 (36.). On the stroke of half time Keita again tried his luck from the edge of the box, but Strebinger got down well low to his left to keep the deficit at just one goal (45.).
Valon Berisha registered the first shot on target for the hosts just minutes after the re-start, as they looked to maintain their firm grip on the match (48.). But just minutes later Rapid had an excellent sight of goal when a good move in the final third culminated in Steffen Hofmann feeding a clever ball into Kainz, who did brilliantly to cut inside his marker before firing his left footed shot well wide of the target from a promising position (52.). At the other end the Red Bulls ramped up the pressure once more and forced a second goal: after a fluid passing move had resulted in Keita coming out second best against Strebinger in a one-on-one situation, Rapid failed to clear their lines and Salzburg recycled possession, as Schmitz again picked out Keita who made no mistake second time round, once more exposing Strebinger at his near post - 0:2 (58.).
It looked a long way back for the Hütteldorfers after the second goal and so it proved: goal mouth action remained at a premium during the final half an hour, as Salzburg effectively managed the game, easing home to claim the win. The closest Rapid came to getting back into the match was a shot from Deni Alar which went narrowly over (80.). By the time Grahovac tried his luck in injury time the writing was on the wall (90.). The result means that the Green & Whites finish 2015 in third place in the Bundesliga, albeit only three points off top spot. With the Europa League draw yet to be made, continued involvement in the ÖFB Cup and a genuine title push unfolding, there are plenty of reasons to be excited by what 2016 might have in store!
tipico Bundesliga, 20nd round:
RB Salzburg - SK Rapid 2:0 (1:0)
RB Arena, 14.167 Attendance, Ref Harkam
Goals: 1:0 Soriano (36.), 2:0 Keita (56.);
RB Salzburg: C. Stankovic - Schwegler, Miranda, Caleta-Car, Ulmer - Schmitz, Laimer, Keita, Berisha (88./Sörensen) - Hwang (58./Minamino), Soriano (94./Oberlin);
SK Rapid: Strebinger - Pavelic, Sonnleitner, M. Hofmann, Stangl - Petsos, Schwab - Schobesberger (70./Alar), S. Hofmann (58./Grahovac), F. Kainz (85./Jelic) - Prosenik;
Yellow Cards: Schwegler; S. Hofmann, Schwab;