After a 0-0 draw last Thursday night, St. Etienne fate in this season UEFA Europa League hangs in the balance as they travel to Greece to face AEK Athens. That being said, a 0-0 draw is still a good result for Les Verts, who know that if they can grab an away goal, the tie is in their favour.
After a tense 0-0 last week the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Christophe Galtier and his side will be hoping that they can break down the resilient and frustrating AEK defence, lead by former Barcelona defender Dmytro Chygrynskiy. If St. Etienne can break down the defence and sneak an away goal, they will be very much in the driving seat of the tie, and with a relatively strong defence, they will feel they have enough to make it through.
It looks as if Les Verts will have virtually the same side available to them as they did in the previous leg, with Kevin Monnet-Paquet pushing for a starting place for St. Etienne.
With St. Etienne having no one returning late from any international tournaments, the team is in a good place in terms of team fitness, despite the 0-0 draw last week.
Christophe Galtier may stick with the 4-3-3 formation that was implemented last week, but if they go one goal up early on, I suspect that Galtier would revert to a 4-5-1 formation, to try and control the game and stop AEK’s midfield from creating any chances.
AEK are in a similar position to St. Etienne in that their first XI from last week’s tie are almost certain to remain the same, as they go in search of a goal to send them through.
A 4-4-2 may be the way forward for Athens, as that gives stability in the midfield and two targets to aim at, but also a striker could drop deep and crowd the midfield, provided they go a goal ahead.
Athens do go into this game as the form team, winning 5 games in a row prior to the draw last week, whilst St. Etienne lost all but one of the pre-season friendly warm ups.
Romain Hamouma (St. Etienne) – The tricky winger could prove to be a vital weapon if Les Verts decide to play this game on the counter attack. His creativity means he is capable of doing anything going forward, and could be the game-changer for the French side.
That being said, he could be marked out of the game if the AEK defence decided to go tight on him, and don’t allow him any time to turn and run in behind. If they nullify the threat of Hamouma, they will weaken St. Etienne significantly.
Tomas Pekhart (AEK Athens) – The former Tottenham Hotspur striker is a striker that can bury a chance at any given moment, something that will be vital in this game that is hanging so delicately in the balance.
If Athens can give Pekhart some good service going forward and create some good chances, then the striker could be the man to win the tie for the Greek side. That being said, he needs to stay on his toes for 90 minutes (potentially longer) and not be allowed to drift out of the game if things aren’t going his way.
Depending on the Monaco result against Fenerbache in the UEFA Champions League qualifying rounds, this game could be massive in terms of France’s ranking in the UEFA Co-Efficient ranking system. If both teams crash out at such an early stage, it could prove to have huge implications on the French sides in the future.
Despite being a huge game for both France and St. Etienne as a club, they could potentially be the favourites in this game. If AEK fail to score early on, their fans could become restless, and force the Greek side into mistakes, which goes straight into the hands of Christophe Galtier and his side.
I can see the tie swinging both ways, but I just feel that if Galtier gets his tactics spot on and plays the counter attack and with pace, St. Etienne will just have too much pace for AEK’s backline to deal with.
Result: AEK Athens 0-1 St. Etienne