Aberdeen’s third-round Europa League curse looks to have continued into 2019 after they lost last week’s first leg against Rijeka 2-0 in Croatia. It’s not going to be easy for them to turn that around on Thursday night at Pittodrie, and an away goal from the visitors would surely kill any hope left. Apollon Limassol, NK Maribor, Kairat and Real Sociedad have all got the better of Aberdeen at this stage over the past ten years, and come Friday night it’s likely that Rijeka will have added their name to that list.
One of the quirks of European football at this level is how much of a season-defining effect early qualifiers like this can have on the morale and general feeling about a team’s season. With Aberdeen unlikely to challenge an all-conquering Celtic and resurgent Rangers at the top of the Scottish league, a run in Europe could have made all the difference. Derek McInnes will put his best team out on Thursday in order to try salvage something from this tie, but having also suffered a shock defeat to St. Mirren on the weekend, the team don’t appear in great form. The visitors also suffered a surprising defeat on Sunday, losing 2-0 to Gorica, but they won their first three before that and have shown their big game credentials by beating the Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb in last season’s Croatian cup final.
One major problem for Aberdeen is what they do if star striker Sam Cosgrove is misfiring. The team haven’t been able to come up with a goal as the striker drew a blank in last Thursday’s first leg and was subsequently sidelined against St. Mirren on Saturday. It’s reportedly touch and go for the striker whether he’ll be back for this second leg, which would be a huge miss considering he scored nine goals in his last seven appearances. Expect McInnes to go with an otherwise unchanged team.
Rijeka did the job last week and are likely to line-up in a similar fashion at Pittodrie, although going there and protecting a lead could lead to a little more conservatism and tactical tweaks. They didn’t miss Simon Sluga – now at Luton – between the sticks, but last season’s top scorer Antonio Čolak remained and showed how vital he is by scoring the opener last week from the penalty spot. His regular strike partner Robert Muric added the second late on after appearing from the bench and could be back to the starting line-up here.
Aberdeen will fancy their chances of putting up a fight at Pittodrie, but will find it especially difficult if Cosgrove doesn’t make it back. It’s unlikely they’ll do enough to make it through, but it’s worth considering them at 2.30 with Bet365 to win on the night. Given Cosgrove’s recent record in front of goal, 2.60 for the striker to score anytime is a generous price, although it’s worth waiting to see if he starts. Expect a tight, frustrating game with the visitors coming to protect their lead – under 2.5 goals can be backed at 1.85.