Aberdeen (probably) return to Europa League action tomorrow night in a mouthwatering tie against Sporting Lisbon over in Portugal.
The Dons may be overseas currently but whether their match in the third round of Europa League qualifying goes ahead remains to be seen. At the time of publishing, no final decision has been made as to whether the game will be played.
This is due to an outbreak of COVID-19 in the Lisbon camp, with several players and members of the coaching staff testing positive for the virus recently. Regardless, it’ll still be a very tough ask for Aberdeen, but Portuguese football writer Aaron Barton explains the problems the Verde e Brancos have faced so far this term.
“Their pre-season has been very interrupted,” the Próxima Jornada writer told NTOF. “They’ve played two or three pre-season games and their league game at the weekend has been rescheduled for a later date.
“They are yet to play in the league, they have been getting battered left, right and centre. They are now training away from Lisbon to try and eradicate the COVID cases that were spreading.
“The manager won’t be at the game which is a big boost for Aberdeen, it’ll be his assistant that goes. The squad are coming back from it now and there have been no fresh cases. It points towards the game going ahead but going into it they are a bit of a mess.
“It’s still a very strong squad. He’s been bringing the youth in from the academy and that’s his bread and butter. He’s managed to bring a few of them into the first-team, getting rid of players that weren’t benefitting the club.
“It’s not the deepest squad in Portugal but there are lots of exciting young players. They will still fancy their chances as a strong squad will travel for this game. Scottish sides have been tricky for Portuguese sides in recent times. Aberdeen were on a good run before the weekend.”
Regardless of what squad they put out, Sporting are still overwhelming favourites heading into their meeting with the Dons. After missing out on an automatic group stage spot for this season, getting there in the end is crucial for their seasonal hopes.
Thought of as the third force in Portuguese football behind Benfica and Porto currently, only a battle for third place in domestic competition awaits them this season if Aberdeen can cause an upset. It’s why progression is paramount for Sporting.
“They are wary (of Aberdeen),” said Barton. “With a country so rich in footballing history like Portugal, you can get complacent. With the one leg just now, if Aberdeen can be aggressive and Sporting don’t quite click, suddenly they are out.
“That’s obviously not want they want. The media are more focused on whether the game is going ahead. They all know that this is strong opposition and opposition who are up to speed. You can’t discount coming into this with six or seven competitive games whereas Sporting have played pre-season games.
“Sporting know Aberdeen will be no mugs, they’ll put up a really tough test. But as a fitness exercise it could be difficult as they are playing a team that will be fitter than them, one that has more players available to them.
“They’d be gutted if they went out. It’s massive for the season, for the transfers, the money they spend. It all factors in qualification in Europe. To go out before the group stages and just have the league to focus on…
“It’s a league that Sporting aren’t going to win. They finished fourth last season, they are usually third. This season is massive in terms of trying to challenge Benfica and Porto. Going out at this stage would be awful.”