Aberdeen might have displayed few signs of Jurgen Klopp’s preferred “gegenpressing” style on Sunday when falling to St Mirren but Greg Leigh is confident the Pittodrie side can take inspiration from Liverpool later this week.
Derek McInnes’ side are required to stage a two-goal comeback against Rijeka if they are to progress in Europe. The task is not quite as steep as that which faced Liverpool last season after they lost 3-0 to Barcelona in the Nou Camp, but it is still daunting. Former Manchester City player Leigh believes, like then, all is not lost.
Giving Aberdeen further hope is that Liverpool managed to win 4-0 in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final without star players Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino. The Pittodrie side are braced to be without Sam Cosgrove, who has scored eight times already this season and has been instrumental in how they play since exploding into form at the end of last year.
Aberdeen’s performance on Sunday at the Simple Digital Arena did not bode well if they are to be without Cosgrove again against the Croatians. The striker, who has a tight hamstring and his rated “touch and go” by manager Derek McInnes, was left at home for the trip to Paisley and Curtis Main stepped in. But Aberdeen were toothless for much of the match and will need to show far more attacking verve against Rijeka if they are to reach the play-off round.
“It’s disappointing whenever you drop points and to drop all three is a kick in the teeth,” said full-back Leigh, who is on loan from Dutch club NAC Breda. “You could say it was a hangover but it’s something we need to look at with the way we start games. We progressively got more aggressive but it’s something we can address, rather than it being mentality.
“It was the way they wanted to play – they came with a game-plan and executed it. Having possession is important but it’s about what you do with it.”
Leigh believes life without Cosgrove is a challenge that needs to be overcome. Indeed, it should be viewed as an opportunity for others. Main is still looking for his first goal for the club while James Wilson, who replaced him in the final few minutes on Sunday, could also come into the reckoning.
“We need to be able to play without certain players,” he said. “With people coming into the team who hadn’t had games, it maybe showed they were a bit rusty. It’s something they can improve on and we know they’re good players.
“We can’t afford a slow start – it’s something the manager has addressed after the game and the players need to be aware. We know what we have to do and we have to do it as early as possible to give us the best chance.
“Going away to Rijeka, we didn’t show them what we’re about. There were things where we’re going in not to concede, which would have been ideal, but we have to show them what we’re about at Pittodrie. We’ve done it before and we need to do it again.
“People wrote off Liverpool against Barcelona,” he added. “It’s a strong position to know what you’ve got to do going into the game. A 1-0, 2-0 scoreline is difficult – do you go for it or sit off? We know we need to score goals – at least two – and not concede. That’s a gameplan we can go with. It’s a worry but we know what we’ve got to do.”
Leigh believes Sunday’s surprise defeat, their first in the league against St Mirren since 2011, was more “annoying” than troubling. Aberdeen have the opportunity to atone this week, first against Rijeka on what’s sure to be a passionate night at Pittodrie and then at Dundee, where Aberdeen travel on Sunday to take on James McPake’s side in the Betfred Cup.
It’s a busy schedule in what’s already been a hectic start to the campaign. “Everyone who plays in these big competitions comes up against this at some point,” said Leigh. “We’re a strong group. Sunday was annoying but it’s more annoying than a real worry. It’s something we can address as early as possible and kick on for Thursday.”