Red Bull Salzburg vs GenkUEFA Champions League, KO: 20:00 Sep 17, 2019, Red Bull Arena
RED BULL SALZBURG can finally scratch their Champions League itch after the misery of missing out in the qualifying rounds for seven successive seasons.
And after some stellar showings in the Europa League, including a run to the semi-finals two seasons ago, they will be desperate to show they belong at the top table.
It's 25 years since Salzburg last graced the group stage and their return is down to the boost their Europa League exploits have given to Austria's co-efficient, securing an automatic place in the groups for their champions.
Progressing from a group that contains Liverpool and Napoli will be tricky but the Austrians couldn't have asked for a better opening fixture as they welcome Genk to the Red Bull Arena.
The Belgians may have more Champions League experience than Salzburg, featuring in the group stage for the third time, but their recent European pedigree isn't great.
It's eight years since they last reached the groups and Genk still haven't won a game with the big boys, drawing seven of their matches and losing the other five.
Last season they topped a Europa League group that included Malmo, Besiktas and Sarpsborg only to crash out in the last 32 as they lost 4-1 on aggregate to Slavia Prague.
Salzburg are undefeated at home in 18 European games, winning 14 of them, so I fancy them to come out on top in this one. Unfortunately, so do the bookies and the Austrians are a best 18/25 with Marathonbet. To get more value, double a home win with both teams to score, which is 2/1 with BetVictor.
Genk are as big as 4/1 with the same firm and some punters might fancy a punt on that given Salzburg lost several star players in the summer.
The most notable departure was deadly striker Munas Dabbur, who joined Sevilla, while Xaver Schlager, Stefan Leiner and Hannes Wolf all moved to the Bundesliga.
That has left a pretty big hole in the squad and the only major signings came in defence with Max Wober arriving from Sevilla and Rasmus Kristensen from Ajax.
The loss of those key players hasn't made much difference domestically with Salzburg coasting to victory in their first seven league games.
They smashed home seven goals on Saturday to crush Hartberg 7-2, with Erling Braut Haland scoring a hat-trick, but the acid test will come in Europe.
Genk also lost some top performers to clubs in bigger leagues this summer, with Brighton signing winger Leandro Trossard, midfielder Ruslan Malinovskyi moving to Atalanta and defender Joseph Aidoo joining Celta Vigo.
But they have invested more than Salzburg, signing seven players for fees of over £3m. The most expensive was Zulte Waregem winger Theo Bongonda at £6m but the biggest name was Ianis Hagi, son of Romanian legend Gheorge.
If he's anything like his old man then the £3m paid out to Vitorul will prove to be a bargain but after scoring on his debut the 20-year-old has fallen out of favour, starting the last four games on the bench.
It has been a poor start to the season for Genk, winning just three of their first seven games in the Belgian league after losing 2-1 at Charleroi on Friday night.
Mbwana Aly Samatta has been the one bright spark, netting five times, but missed the Charleori defeat after picking up a knee injury on international duty with Tanzania. If he's out again for the Champions League opener then it's a huge blow for the Belgians.
Genk have only drawn a blank once this season and the goals have been flying in for Salzburg so both teams to score looks a distinct possibility. Sadly, it's a best 11/18 with SportNation so you need to look elsewhere for more value.
Over 3.5 goals is 16/11 with the same firm and that could come up as six of Salzburg's seven games this term have seen at least five strikes go in.
Plenty of those goals have gone to Norwegian hitman Haland, son of former Leeds stopper Alf-Inge. His weekend hat-trick took his tally to 11 in just seven games for Salzburg this season, so it's no surprise to hear that Manchester United are scouting him.
Haland is 6/5 with Paddy Power in the anytime scorer market and that looks good value while he's a tempting 6/1 with the same firm to score two or more.
There have been four penalties in games involving the Austrian champions so far this season and that suggests another could be awarded here, which is 9/5 with Boylesports.
This UEFA Champions League match between Red Bull Salzburg and Genk will be played on Sep 17, 2019 and kick off at 20:00