Scott McKenna: Dons have experience to make Europa impact
The Pittodrie club join fellow Scottish representatives Rangers and Kilmarnock in today’s first qualifying round draw in Nyon.
Aberdeen did not join the competition until the second qualifying round last season where they were paired with English Premier League side Burnley, losing out in extra-time in the second leg at Turf Moor.
But McKenna, who made his European debut in that tie, feels Derek McInnes’ squad should have the group stage of the tournament in their sights this time.
“European football is a massive attraction for players coming to Aberdeen,” said the Scotland international defender.
“Last year we got a very tough draw against Burnley but I felt we held our own in both legs. We lost in extra-time but I don’t think we did ourselves any harm. Hopefully, we can go on a wee run this year, get through a few rounds and into those group stages.
“I don’t know what people’s thoughts of Scottish football are down south but I think the Burnley game showed it was much better than many of them expected.
“I wouldn’t have classed it as a nightmare draw. It was a difficult one but we went in believing we could win it. Burnley had done a week to 10 days less pre-season than us, so we felt we would have a real fitness going into it. Conceding that late goal at home in the first leg to draw 1-1, though, left us up against it. We performed really well over the piece, however, and Rangers and Celtic also did really well in Europe last season.
“There is a different style of play when you go from Scottish football to European or international football. These games are more about your discipline and your shape rather than going at each other hammer and tongs.
“It is just about being more organised and you don’t need to win the ball all the time. As long as we are keeping our shape and controlling where the opposition go, then that is a good thing. You don’t want to be getting a chasing and they play one-twos round you and you end up burst. I have learned a lot in the games I have played for Scotland and I am hoping that helps when we go to play Europa League football with Aberdeen.
“There are a lot of players who have been here for two or three seasons and played a lot of European football. I have only played in the two games and I am relatively inexperienced but playing a big team like Burnley definitely will give us confidence going into this year’s draw.”
McKenna believes Aberdeen’s rapid forays into the transfer market this summer will ensure they can hit the ground running in the Europa League.
“The signings have come a bit earlier this summer,” he added. “The manager has been very proactive. Big Ash Taylor is coming back and he was a great player for us first time around and will bring a real presence. Curtis Main has also been a real handful when we have played against him and both will be great additions to the team.
“The amount of time some of us have had off this summer has been cut by international games but, as professional footballers ,you want to play for your country and for your club in European competition. That is the sacrifice you have to make, but I’ll have had about 10 days off in total before Aberdeen head to Cork for pre-season.”