In his home, Jesse Marsch has a 30-year-old bag of dirt from English Premier League team Liverpool F.C.’s stadium, Anfield.
“My first professional game was at Anfield. I was 16 — we were at a schoolboys tournament,” Marsh said Monday during an appearance on SiriusXM FC’s The Football Show. “We were about to go to a game there, and after the game I snuck down by the pitch and I grabbed a handful of dirt and put it in my pocket. I still have that today in a baggy in my house.”
Before he became the first American to coach in and win a UEFA Champions League game, or managed Major League Soccer teams, or assisted at the national and collegiate levels, Marsch was a 16-year-old standing on the sidelines of one of England’s most storied stadiums.
On Wednesday, the Red Bull Salzburg head coach returns to those grounds. This time he will coach opposite Jurgen Klopp against Liverpool in the group stage of UEFA Champions League. It will be arguably his toughest test yet.
Klopp and Marsch both coach their players with high energy in an attacking style that is constantly putting pressure on the backline. Both clubs are undefeated in their respective leagues.
“We have tried to create an incredibly clear game plan and make sure we understand exactly the way we can play to our advantage and exactly the way Liverpool can punish us,” Marsch said. “If we do that, we give ourselves a better chance at actually getting the result.”
Less than four months into the job, Marsch has successfully acclimated to coaching a professional European team. His first-place Austrian team dominated its first Champions League test against K.R.C. Genk of the Belgium First Division 6-2 thanks to a hat-trick from the budding Norwegian striker Erling Braut Håland.
Last month, the city of Salzburg relished in its Champions League group stage victory for the first time in 14 years under the Red Bull ownership.
“The stadium was packed 30-45 minutes before the game and I swear that people just wanted to hear the Champions League song,” Marsch said. “When Erling scored the goal in the 93rd second it was like this release of energy and emotion and expectation and fear and everything. The place went crazy. I swear I have never felt energy like that in a stadium in my life.”
“At that point, it was like the team couldn’t be denied.”
Nineteen-year-old Håland was the third-youngest player to score a Champions League hat-trick but is a question mark going into the game against Liverpool as he is recovering from an illness this week. Marsch told SiriusXM FC that he is ready to go, but he will keep an eye on managing Håland’s minutes.
As the clear underdogs, the young Salzburg team may need the scoring abilities of Håland against Liverpool. The Premier League leaders have perfected the art of counter pressing and exploiting targeted weakness in their opponents under Klopp. Forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane each have four goals in seven Premier League games this season.
“We will always try to be aware of where those two players are to make sure they aren’t left in space and that they aren’t able to find moments in transition,” Marsch said. “It has to also be done by committee.”
Familiar with the Austrian team, Mane played for Salzburg from 2012 to 2014. Players like left back Andres Ulmer and goalkeeper Alexander Walke played alongside Mane during his time in Austria.
“They know his qualities. They know everything about him, but regardless, they also know how dangerous he is and how he can make a play in a flash,” Marsch said. “It is a team when you try to find the weak points it is almost impossible, but you just try to hedge things a little bit with a tactical plan.”
Marsch wants his team to play with joy and not a fear of mistakes in the club’s first game against Liverpool. Liverpool is 4-1-1 against Austrian teams in European play, losing in 2004-05 to Grazer AK in a Champions League qualifier. Liverpool went on to win the competition that year.
Meanwhile, Salzburg are winless in four matches across all competitions against English teams.
“In every way this will be a mission impossible, but who cares,” Marsch said. “As long as we go there and play brave and play our way, then we can walk out of there and be very proud.”
When: Wednesday, Oct. 2 at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Anfield — Liverpool, England
Streaming: BR Live