Stalemate in Styria extends Rapid’s unbeaten streak
Rapid's game in Graz against Sturm provided fans with the stand-out fixture from the latest round of Bundesliga matches. Over 15,000 fans packed into Sturm's Merkur Arena to watch the table-topping Styrians host the in-form Hütteldorfers. Head Coach Goran Djuricin opted to make just one solitary change to the team that beat Admira in Vienna last time out, with Philipp Schobesberger returning to the starting line-up following his derby heroics at the expense of Veton Berisha.
The opening exchanges of the match gave a hint at what was to follow throughout the afternoon: both sides were committed; both sides engaged one another via a high press, and ultimately the game spent a lot of time being played in the middle third of the field. A long-range effort from Sturm's Lykogiannis represented the best attacking effort from either side in the opening phase of the match, but was dealt with securely by Richard Strebinger (4.). Arguably, Graz were winning more challenges and getting to the second balls quicker, but it wasn't until the half hour mark that the hosts' slight upper hand manifested in concrete chances: firstly, Richard Strebinger was at his superb best to deny ex-Rapid man Deni Alar one-on-one (30.), before Potzmannn rifled a dangerous shot narrowly wide of the post.
At the other end of the pitch, Rapid were stunned as referee Muckenhammer failed to spot a handball that prevented Giorgi Kvilitaia's perfectly weighted pass finding Louis Schaub and putting him through on goal. The final noteworthy moment of the half arrived in the form of an impressive milestone for Strebinger, who passed the 400-minute mark since last conceding a goal.
Neither side made any half time changes, and the pattern of the game also changed little at the start of the second half. The first shot of the second period didn't arrive until the 54th minute, then it was an off-target attempt from range by the hosts. Rapid registered their first shot of the match via the boot of Stephan Auer on the hour mark, but Auer's shot also sailed over the crossbar.
Having already brought on Joelinton for Kvilitaia, Djuricin made a second change, introducing Berisha in place of Schaub as the Rapid bench sought more attacking thrust. Still, it was the Black & Whites who continued to carry intermittent threat: sloppy play from Galvao resulted in a turn over, which eventually led to a close-range headed chance for Alar, who was again thwarted by Strebinger (67.). Stefan Schwab made way for Petsos in Djuricin's final change of the afternoon, but still Rapid failed to really get going as an attacking force. Sturm did the majority of the probing and pressing as they sought an opening, but they were consistently held at bay by a sterling performance from the Rapid defence. In injury time the Hütteldorfers did manage to force two late corners, but these were dealt with comfortably by the home side and no late winner was forthcoming for either team.
tipico Bundesliga, 14th round:
SK Sturm Graz - SK Rapid 0:0
Merkur Arena, 15.500 Attendance (sold out), Ref Muckenhammer
SK Sturm: Siebenhandl; Lykogiannis, Maresic, Koch; Potzmann, Zulj, Jeggo, Hierländer; Röcher, Alar (78. Zulechner), Huspek (92. Filip)
SK Rapid: Strebinger; Auer, M. Hofmann, Galvao, Bolingoli; Ljubicic, Schwab (72. Petsos); Schaub (63. Berisha), Murg, Schobesberger; Kvilitaia (56. Joelinton)
Yellow Cards: Jeggo (55.); M. Hofmann (36.);