Burnley host Olympiacos in the play-off round of the Europa League tonight. They play they Greek side at Turf Moor, with the game set to kick off at 7:45pm. Olympiacos lead 3-1 from last week’s first leg.
This will undoubtedly be a tricky game for the Clarets. The Greek side are no pushovers, and would expect to be in the Europa League. They’re a team that qualify for the Champions League almost every season, but not this year because they could only manage to finish third in their league last season; behind AEK Athens and PAOK. They have played just one league game so far this season, winning 1-0 on Sunday, but have played Europa qualifiers too. They played Luzern from Switzerland in the last round and won 7-1 on aggregate. It means they’re not too far behind Burnley when it comes to preparation, because this is their fifth competitive game of the season. It’s Burnley’s ninth.
Burnley haven’t had the best start to the season, and there’s an argument from some people that they would be better off going out tonight and focusing on the Premier League. Some seem to be worried they may be relegated. I can see where these people are coming from, and I understand their position. I would like to think that after the season they had last year, they’ll be too good to be relegated anyway and will manage to stay up, regardless of being in the Europa or not. Maybe I’ll be completely wrong and they’ll go down, but I would be surprised.
What’s the point in putting so much work into last season if you’re not going to bother getting through to the Europa? Qualifying for the Europa League would be a huge deal for them, and it would be a moment a lot of people would remember for the rest of their lives. Tonight could be a special European night at Turf Moor, and those nights can’t be underestimated. It’s surely a million times more exciting than finishing mid-table in the Premier League, which should be their aim this season. I saw a few Burnley fans saying they should go out of the Europa, but I suspect their opinions will change tonight. I think they were just upset after losing to Fulham on Sunday.
Qualifying for the Europa would be huge for a club that haven’t been in Europe since 1967. That’s 51 years ago, so a lot of their fans would have never seen Burnley play in European competition. There’s a chance they may never see them in European competition again. The importance of tonight’s game can’t be played down: it is absolutely huge. Forget the Premier League for tonight, there’s plenty of time to sort your team out for that. Sean Dyche will get them organised and get them playing well. Have faith in the manager that was nominated for the Premier League manager of the season after Burnley’s terrific year.
So, forget all that stuff and focus on tonight’s game. That’s what I’m going to do now too. Let’s have a look.
I didn’t see last week’s first leg, but the away goal Burnley scored is huge. They were beaten 3-1, so they need a 2-0 win tonight. The only way we can see extra-time and penalties is if Burnley win 3-1. I’m not going through all the scenarios because I assume you know how football works. Looking at Olympiacos’ team from last week, I kinda know one or two of their names, but I can’t offer much insight into how they play or which players to look out for. Going by Burnley fans’ reactions to last week, Olympiacos are cheats. I’ve no idea how true that is, but I trust their judgement.
It’s going to be hard to turn Turf Moor into a place the Greeks don’t like coming to, because they’re well used to traveling to extremely difficult, hostile places in Greece. It can still be turned into a cauldron of noise though, and that will help the Burnley players hugely, even if Olympiacos aren’t too bothered by it. The fans need to go out and give everything they have.
The players also have to go out and give everything they have, obviously. This won’t be an easy game for them, but they’re used to playing quality sides in the Premier League every week. It’s not like Olympiacos are miles better than them. They may qualify for the Champions League most years, but this is more due to the fact that the Greek league isn’t that strong than them being amazing. They wouldn’t be anywhere near the level of the Premier League’s top six, and since Burnley finished seventh, they should be well matched.
The Clarets should be just as good as the Greeks. They just need to get their season going now. Tonight wouldn’t be a bad place to start. There is no doubt they have what it takes to get the 2-0 win they need. They showed us last season how difficult it is to travel to Turf Moor, and they need to replicate that tonight. If they can turn it into a real physical battle and test the Greeks, they have a chance. Even though they need to score twice, they still need to keep it tight at the back. There’s no need to go all-out-attack just yet.
There’s no reason Burnley can’t win this game. They need to be confident in their own abilities and give absolutely everything they have. This is a lot of their players’ only chance of ever playing in Europe too, and they need to take it. They need to go out there tonight and do themselves proud.
A positive thing for Burnley is that they have a good referee for tonight’s game. That may sound strange, because it’s not like the referee is on Burnley’s side, but there were a few decision from the referee last week that people weren’t too happy about. This referee, who is from Hungary, took charge of a World Cup semi-final in 2010 and the 2011 Champions League final. He referees European games every season, so he must be good. Let’s hope he’ll have a good game and there aren’t any talking points after the game.
Burnley can do what they need to do tonight. They are good enough to get the 2-0 win. They showed that last season. We know they can make it difficult for anyone at Turf Moor. Better sides than Olympiacos have gone there and struggled, and Burnley can take confidence from that. They will need to be at their very best, but if they are, there’s no reason they can’t win it.
Ben Gibson will miss out after being sent off last week. Nick Pope, Robbie Brady and Steven Defour are still out injured, as is Berg Gudmundsson.
I’ll hopefully be watching the game, as it’s one that I’m looking forward to. I’m right behind the Clarets tonight; hopefully they can get the job done.
That’s that from me for now. Enjoy the game if you’re going or watching. Any news doing the rounds will be on Twitter throughout the day, and I’ll be back tomorrow with more. Have a good Thursday.