With the Europa League second qualifying round pairing Aberdeen with Burnley, the Dons have been handed an especially difficult start to this season’s European campaign.
The English Premier League side finished an impressive seventh last season and have proven under manager Sean Dyche to be extremely difficult to beat. Nonetheless, Derek McInnes will harbour a quiet confidence that his team can upset the odds. Below, we look at Aberdeen’s chances.
Burnley’s squad is formidable, but they lack a true superstar
In 2011, Hearts were swept away in the Europa League qualifiers by a Tottenham team which included Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart, while a year later Luis Suarez proved to be the difference for Liverpool in a tight contest.
Fortunately for Aberdeen, the Burnley side who travel to Pittodrie will be short of the type of exceptional talent which downed the Jambos in consecutive seasons. They will still be packed with top class players — from England internationalists, Nick Pope and James Tarkowski, to Wales’ Sam Vokes and Belgium’s Stefan Defour — but they perhaps lack the x-factor that separates them from the top six clubs in the Premier League.
If the Dons can keep things tight, Burnley may not have the nous to break them down.
Goals will be at a premium
Sean Dyche has forged his reputation at Burnley on being difficult to beat. They’re one of the better drilled sides in the Premier League and everyone from Manchester City to Liverpool have struggled to create chances against them, especially at Turf Moor.
They generally play a version of a 4-2-3-1 formation, with two wingers and an advanced midfielder in behind a physical, high-energy striker. Ireland international Jeff Hendrick was often preferred as the man to play in-behind the striker, while Dyche alternated last season between Sam Vokes, Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood in the lone forward role.
Aberdeen may struggle to struggle to fashion chances against such a doughy team but, on the other hand, they may fancy their chances of keeping clean sheets. After all, Dyche’s team are not built to score many goals and only netted 36 in the league last campaign.
English sides can be caught cold by the early start
English teams do not have an especially good record when it comes to the preliminary rounds of the Europa League. Over the last couple of years Everton and West Ham have made heavy weather of qualification to the group stages, while Southampton crashed out to Danish side Midtjylland in 2015.
Hull’s first adventure into Europe finished abruptly the season before, when they went out on away goals to KSC Lokeren of Belgium.
With the English Premier League season not starting until almost mid-August, sides entering the Europa League in July are usually still within the early stages of their preparations and can be caught cold as a result.
While the league season won’t have started for Aberdeen either, they are at least used to early competitive fixtures having played early Europa League ties in each of the last four seasons.
Aberdeen can take inspiration from Hearts
No Hearts fan inside Anfield on 30 August, 2012, will forget David Templeton’s goal that evening. Having held a Liverpool side containing Steven Gerrard, Suarez and Jamie Carragher for 84 minutes — and chasing an goal to level the tie on aggregate — the young winger cut inside at the edge of the box and saw his shot spilled by Pepe Reina into the home side’s net.
While Suarez levelled soon after — to put Liverpool back ahead in the tie — Hearts proved they were capable of matching their more illustrious opponents over 180 minutes of European football.
If Aberdeen can stop the Clarets from scoring in the first leg then they’ll look to channel that famous Hearts performance and snatch a shock result in the return fixture.