THE early start to European qualification is a perennial complaint of the Scottish clubs involved but Aberdeen are hoping to exploit just such a problem when they meet Real Sociedad tonight.
The first leg of the Europa League tie comes four weeks ahead of the San Sebastian-based club’s first game of the domestic season and just a fortnight after returning to training.
Just how far behind they are when it comes to preparations can be gauged from the fact they will head to England for warm-up matches against Newcastle United and Chelsea after next week’s return leg at Pittodrie.
Then there’s the disruption caused by the departure of Chile’s outstanding goalkeeper, Claudio Bravo, to Barcelona, and the France playmaker Antoine Griezmann’s move to Atletico Madrid.
Meanwhile their Switzerland international striker Haris Seferovic has been given extra time off after his exertions in Brazil this summer while last season’s top scorer, Carlos Vela, is sidelined with a heel injury.
Victory away to FC Groningen last Thursday has heightened expectation of another memorable night in the Basque country and the Dons management team know their players need to be ready to exploit any opposition weaknesses to make it happen.
“Any sort of advantage would be welcome,” admits Aberdeen’s assistant manager Tony Docherty. “They are a team in transition and that can have an effect on performances. We also have the advantage of having played four competitive European games already this season.
“By contrast Sociedad have been in Holland playing friendly matches but they are never as good as the real thing. We are well up and running now and we must look on that as a positive for us.
“It is fantastic for us to pit our wits against one of the leading clubs in Europe but we also know we will need to be focused totally on the task ahead if we are to do well.
“We have players who certainly can cause them problems but that will only happen if we apply ourselves properly.”
They certainly did that in the Netherlands last week, a match watched live by the Real Sociedad players on television and their coach, Jagoba Arraste, in person as Groningen were beaten 2-1.
Arraste admitted after that match that he would rather have faced the Dutch side given how sharp and strong Aberdeen had looked during the game he witnessed during his side’s three-game trip to Holland.
The Basque side lost against Ajax, drew with Feyenoord and defeated NEC Nijmegen during the week-long training camp and while they are not in ideal condition, the team that finished seventh in La Liga last season insist they are ready to give Aberdeen their toughest test so far.
“We are not 100 per cent ready for this tie, which makes sense given where we are in our preparations, but we are able to compete,” said Arraste.
“We are in optimal condition to start this campaign. We don’t feel under pressure to qualify but we do feel a responsibility to get through this tie.”
At least he does have summer signing Alfred Finbogason ready to make his competitive debut after the Iceland international striker’s move from Dutch club Heerenven.
Esteban Granero was also registered in time to play following a £4m move from Queens Park Rangers earlier this week and is desperate to show what he can do after a cruciate ligament injury limited him to a handful of matches during a loan spell at the club last season.
The bad news for Aberdeen is that the midfielder, who played nearly 100 games for Real Madrid, is fully fit after an intensive pre-season with the London club before the transfer went through. Granero said: “I spent a year on loan here and the way I was treated, the affection I was shown and the confidence people placed in me is something I haven’t experienced anywhere else.
“That was what convinced me to try and return here and joining the club on a permanent basis is much better. Now we have a lot of objectives we want to reach.
“Fortunately I have had a very full pre-season with Queens Park Rangers before the move went through so physically I am fine and ready to play.
“We now have a very important season ahead. We must be ambitious and I am aware that I am joining a great squad with very good players.
“The competition begins on Thursday and it’s an important match. Everyone in the team is well aware of that.