AEK-RIJ PREVIEW: AEK look to inch closer to Europa League knockouts
UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE - GROUP D (MATCHDAY 5)
|AEK||3:05 PM (EST)||Rijeka|
AGONAsport's Pete Katsiris brings you a full preview for AEK's UEFA Europa League Matchday 5 fixture against Rijeka. A win in Greece and some fortune in Milan could see AEK clinch a spot in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 on Thursday night…
After an emotional derby clash with Panathinaikos at the weekend, AEK shift their focus back to the Europa League group stage when Adriatic rivals Rijeka visit OAKA on Thursday night as part of Matchday 5 action across the continent.
The Enosi are on the cusp of reaching knockout round football in European competition for the first time in 10 years, and a win against their Croatian adversaries will go a long way in ending that drought.
Rijeka, meanwhile, are also eyeing a spot in the knockout round. Despite sitting at the foot of the table in Group D heading into Matchday 5, the Croatian titleholders still have a real shot at progressing further in the competition proper; however, anything besides victory in Athens would put a premature end to Rijeka’s run.
AEK’s list of injuries continues to grow after Jakub Johansson returned from the recent international break with a knock. The Swede joins Petro Mantalos as another starter who has been sidelined by injury. Manager Manolo Jimenez was able to patch those gaps at the weekend against Panathinaikos, and should have the cover needed via AEK’s depth in the squad.
Rijeka will be without midfielder Josip Misic following his red card in the home fixture against Austria Wien on Matchday 4. With Rijeka still in the hunt for a spot in the knockout round, Rijeka manager Matjaz Kek will need to be careful with his squad selection as Josip Elez and Filip Bradaric are a caution away from picking up a suspension.
AEK: Anestis, Galo, Giannoutsos, Vranjes, Bakakis, Lopes, Galanopoulos, Simoes, Bakasetas, Christodoulopoulos, Livaja
Rijeka: Prskalo, Vesovic, Puncec, Elez, Zhuta, Pavicic, Kvrzic, Bradaric, Gorgon, Heber, Acosty
19/11/17 Panathinaikos-AEK 1-1 (Greek Super League)
5/11/17 AEK-PAOK 1-0 (Greek Super League)
2/11/17 AEK-AC Milan 0-0 (UEFA Europa League)
10/29/17 Panionios-AEK 0-1 (Greek Super League)
10/26/17 Apollon Larissa-AEK 0-7 (Greek Cup)
18/11/17 Rijeka-Inter Zapresic 0-0 (Croatian First Football League)
14/11/17 HNK Gorica-Rijeka (Croatian Football Cup)
5/11/17 NK Lokomotiva-Rijeka 1-0 (Croatian First Football League)
2/11/17 Rijeka-Austria Wien 1-4 (UEFA Europa League)
10/28/17 Dinamo Zagreb-Rijeka 3-1 (Croatian First Football League)
The only previous meeting between the two sides came on Matchday 1 as AEK mustered a 2-1 in Croatia. The win moved AEK to 6-0-1 against Croatian sides, the only setback being a 3-0 defeat at Dinamo Zagreb (then representing Yugoslavia) in a 1964/65 European Cup Winners' Cup preliminary round game.
Thursday will mark the second time this season Rijeka have travelled to Greece with their previous encounter coming against Olympiacos in the UEFA Champions League play-off round. Despite leading in Piraeus, Rijeka would eventually lose to Olympiacos 2-1 before dropping the home leg in Rijeka 1-0.
AEK continue to overcome adversity this season as the injuries to Mantalos and, most recently, Johansson have not derailed the Enosi’s bid for domestic silverware.
It’s no secret, however, that the club is desperate to end a streak that has seen the black-and-yellow side of Athens deprived of knockout football on the continental for nearly 10 years.
A strong start to their campaign through four matchdays sees AEK deadlocked in second spot in the group standings following back-to-back scoreless stalemates with section leaders AC Milan.
While a win alone might not guarantee AEK’s passage to the knockout round, the right combination of results in Athens and across the Adriatic Sea in Milan could see AEK clinch a berth in the knockout round with a matchday to spare.
Struggles on the domestic scene sees Rijeka way off from their perch as Croatian Champions from just last year. A 14-point gap has opened between Rijeka and current title favourites Dinamo Zagreb, meaning any success in the Europa League would come as a welcomed distraction.
Rijeka will be keen to put up a fight after a string of tough results since narrowly pulling out a win against Milan at the San Siro on Matchday 2. If the encounter between the two sides on Matchday 1 is any indication, Thursday should prove to be a scrappy affair.
Rijeka will need to press for a win as anything outside of three points will see the Croatian Champions have just pride to play for on the final matchday; a reality that could play into AEK’s favour especially on the counter-attack.