AUS-AEK preview: AEK aiming for Europa League Knockout Round in Austria
UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE - GROUP D (MATCHDAY 6)
|Austria Wien||1:00 PM (EST)||AEK|
AEK visit Vienna on Thursday night needing a result (draw or win) in the Austrian capital in order to clinch a berth in the UEFA Europa League knockout round.
Having failed to take care of business last time out, it's now or never for AEK as the Athenian club visits Austria Wien in a showdown for second place in Group D on Matchday 6 in the Europa League.
Needing just a draw to clinch a spot in Monday’s draw for the Round of 32, AEK will need a focused effort at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion as Austria Wien could steal second spot with a win.
After a Matchday 1 defeat of Rijeka, AEK have secured four consecutive draws in their matches since – one more for Manolo Jimenez’s men will see AEK reach the knockout round for the first time since the 2007/2008 campaign in the then-named UEFA Cup.
A handful of injuries have plagued Austria all season, with the likes of starting ‘keeper Robert Almer, veteran center-back Heiko Westermann, and Alexander Grunwald among the more notable names currently sidelined. With a handful of players set to return to action in 2018, Austria will be hoping their Europa League campaign will stretch into the new year for them to partake.
Injuries continue to hamper roster decisions for Jimenez as the Spaniard will most notably be without the likes of Jakub Johansson and Petro Mantalos. While Jimenez has been able to successfully patch those gaps in recent weeks, the Spanish tactician will need to use his remaining resources wisely depending on the status of the night.
AUSTRIA WIEN: Pentz, Borkovic, Mohammed, De Paula, Salamon, Holzhauser, Serbest, Prokop, Pires, Monschein, Alhassan
AEK: Anestis, Galo, Giannoutsos, Vranjes, Bakakis, Lopes, Galanopoulos, Simoes, Bakasetas, Christodoulopoulos, Livaja
03/12/17 Austria Wien-Red Bull Salzburg 1-1 (Austrian Bundesliga)
29/11/17 St. Polten-Austria Wien 1-0 (Austrian Bundesliga)
26/11/17 Wolfsberger AC-Austria Wien 1-2 (Austrian Bundesliga)
23/11/17 AC Milan-Austria Wien 5-1 (UEFA Europa League)
18/11/17 Austria Wien-Admira 2-3 (Austrian Bundesliga)
03/12/17 Levadiakos-AEK 0-2 (Greek Super League)
30/11/17 Kallithea-AEK 2-3 (Greek Cup)
27/11/17 AEK-Platanias 3-0 (Greek Super League)
23/11/17 AEK-Rijeka 2-2 (UEFA Europa League)
19/11/17 Panathinaikos-AEK 1-1 (Greek Super League)
Thursday will mark just the second meeting between the two clubs, but both sides have history with opposition from their opponent’s homeland.
AEK have encountered Austrian opposition on eight previous occasions, most recently in the group stage of the Europa League in 2011/2012 when the Athenians were paired with SK Sturm Graz. AEK enjoyed their only win of that campaign against Sturm Graz in Athens; however, AEK’s overall record against Austrian clubs is a little more balanced for a record of W3 D2 L4 (W2 D1 L2 at home).
Meanwhile, Austria Wien have not faced Greek opposition since a Europa League play-off tie against Aris – the Austrian side were bounced from the tournament after a 2-1 aggregate loss. Sporting a W1 D2 L3 overall against Greek clubs.
With AC Milan already confirmed as group winners after a 5-1 demolition of Austria Wien, focus has shifted to second spot in the group as AEK and Austria Wien remain the two sides standing in the section.
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 the first five matchdays sees AEK deadlocked in second spot in the group standings after four consecutive draws. A poor start against Rijeka last time out needed a massive second half comeback, a scenario AEK must avoid in Austria on Thursday night.