Europa League PREVIEW:
Olympiacos - Osmanlispor
UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE - ROUND OF 32 (LEG 1)
|PAOK||3:05 PM (EST)||Schalke|
Georgios Tsitsonis from AGONAsport.com brings you a full preview for PAOK’s first leg matchup against Schalke in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32.
PAOK could not enter their massive Europa League match against Schalke on Thursday in much better shape. Vladan Ivic’s team have won 13 of their last 15 matches in a remarkable run that stretches back to the end of 2016. While the Thessaloniki club have consistently produced good performances all season, their results had been anything but consistent until this past December. This was a side that was frequently playing well in the Greek SuperLeague and in Europe, however a lack of goals was turning potential wins into draws and probable draws into losses.
That has been remedied in the last month and a half and o Dikefalos tou Vorra now appear to be a team to be reckoned with. There is a mood around the club that is overwhelmingly positive and a quiet confidence is emerging about defeating Schalke over two legs.
Markus Weinzierl’s Schalke side have experienced a season just the opposite of PAOK’s. During a fantastic stretch in the fall, the Gelsenkirchen club had gone 12 matches unbeaten and were seemingly going from strength to strength. That form hasn’t been sustained however. Since the end of 2016 Schalke’s results have been patchy.
Regardless, they are still the favored side in this match-up, both because of their reputation and also due to their performances in the Group Stage of the competition. The Germans were particularly ruthless as they dominated Group I that included Krasnodar, Red Bull Salzburg, and Nice. Die Konigsblauen won their first five matches in the group, before losing their final, but ultimately meaningless, fixture.
The only real injury concern that Ivic has involves Jose Canas. The 29-year-old Spaniard is usually the first-choice defensive midfielder, however injury sees him ruled out of this match. In his place will probably be Charis Charisis.
Yevhen Shakhov looks set to make the starting eleven for Thursday’s game. The Ukrainian appears to have the advantage over Diego Biseswar. The latter is expected to perhaps come off the bench and give a spark at some point if needed.
Ivic will not be able to count on Aleksandar Prijovic and Ergys Kace. Both players are ineligible due to already having played in European competition this season with different clubs.
Weinzierl is expected to rotate his squad for this match. The former Augsburg boss has shown a desire to keep things fresh and regularly rotates his team. It would not be a surprise to see as many as four or five changes from the weekend win over Hertha Berlin. Amongst the favorites to come back into the starting eleven are Max Meyer, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Yevhen Konoplyanka, Johaness Geis, and Matija Nastasic.
On Wednesday, it was decided that on-loan Tottenham midfielder Nabil Bentaleb will miss this 1st leg tie due to a bout of gastroenteritis. That is partially off-set by the good news of Cameroon striker Eric Choupo-Moting becoming available for selection after missing the Hertha match last weekend.
PAOK: Glykos, Matos, Varela, Crespo, Leovac, Cimirot, Charisis, Shakhhov, Campos, Henrique, Athanasiadis.
Schalke: Fahrmann, Howedes, Naldo, Badstuber, Geis, Konoplyanka, Goretzka, Stambouli, Kolasinac, Meyer, Huntelaar
The Spaniard Javier Estrada has been selected to officiate this match. The 39-year-old Estrada has had his FIFA badge since 2013 and refereed in his native Spain since 2009. Estrada does have some history officiating matches with Greek sides, including PAOK. Estrada was the man in charge last July when PAOK earned a 1-1 draw away to Ajax. He also oversaw the 0-0 draw between Gabala and PAOK in September 2015. Estrada has also worked two matches in Greece before. A Europa League Group Stage match between Asteras Tripolis and Tottenham (0-0) in November 2014 and an International Friendly between Greece and Iceland last March(2-3).
- 2/12/17 Xanthi-PAOK 0-0 (Greek SuperLeague)
- 2/9/17 Xanthi-PAOK 1-2 (Greek Cup Quarterfinal 1st Leg)
- 2/5/17 PAOK-Asteras Tripolis 3-2 (Greek SuperLeague)
- 2/1/17 Larisa-PAOK 0-2 (Greek SuperLeague)
- 1/29/17 Panetolikos-PAOK 0-1 (Greek SuperLeague)
- 1/26/17 PAOK-Panetolikos 4-1 (Greek Cup Round of 16 2nd Leg)
- 2/11/17 Schalke-Hertha Berlin 2-0 (German Bundesliga)
- 2/8/17 Sandhausen-Schalke 1-4 (German DFB Pokal)
- 2/4/17 Bayern Munich-Schalke 1-1 (German Bundesliga)
- 1/27/17 Schalke-Eintracht Frankfurt 0-1 (German Bundesliga)
- 1/21/17 Schalke-Ingolstadt 1-0 (German Bundesliga)
- 12/20/16 Hamburg-Schalke 2-1 (German Bundesliga)
PAOK and Schalke have met once before in official European competition. The two teams crossed paths three and a half years ago in August 2013 for the Champions’ League playoffs. Schalke emerged victorious 4-3 on aggregate after two hard-fought matches. PAOK were able to take an away goal back home for the return match drawing the first leg 1-1 in Germany. However, in the return leg it was the Germans who progressed after a thrilling 3-2 away win that booked their passage into the Champions’ League Group Stage.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Vladan Ivic (PAOK Manager): “It’s important the game is sold out as we know the crowd will support us. That is very positive. However, it is only the first game, there is the second one in Germany too. Progression won’t be based solely on tomorrow, it will be based over two matches. We need discipline. I always ask my players to be focused. I will tell them what I want, what they must do, but as always the players have the freedom to decide their movements on the pitch.”
Ralf Fahrmann (Schalke Manager): “We dominated in the Group Stage and advanced to the knockout stage. I am expecting a very intense match in a stadium that will be boiling, but we are ready for that. We have also played in some similar derby matches. Our goal of course is to advance to the Round of 16. I cannot wait for the game. The last time we played in Greece it was very funny, like playing a ghost match as there were no fans in the stadium (PAOK was serving a stadium ban). This time however the stadium will be full.”
PAOK’s recent form must undoubtedly be respected by Schalke. The Toumba Stadium will be rocking like few others on Thursday and Weinzierl’s bunch will have their work cut out for them. Ivic’s team are riding a good-sized wave of confidence and belief and they will not fear their opponents despite their obvious quality and experience.
One wonders if PAOK’s 0-0 draw against Xanthi last weekend is anything to read into. Was that result against a good defensive team a one-off that briefly halted their momentum? Or was that a sign that some of their old issues from earlier in the season are coming back?
Supporters will certainly be hoping for the former. The key could be the ability of striker Stefanos Athanasiadis to rediscover his goalscoring form. If PAOK can continue playing well and creating opportunities they will need someone with the finishing ability and killer instinct in front of goal to make the breakthrough.
Perhaps the main concern for Ivic and company will be Schalke’s depth. This is one of the Bundesliga’s best squads and whomever Weinzierl decides to bring off the bench will certainly be a top-class player. PAOK have what it takes to record a big victory, but Schalke’s class, especially in attack, could see them notch a vital away goal.
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