Greek champions Olympiacos will seek to make the most of home advantage on Thursday evening, as they host Atalanta BC in the decisive second leg of their Europa League playoff round tie.
The teams reconvene at Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis after an unlikely double from defender Berat Djimsiti earned the Italian club a 2-1 victory in Bergamo, where an out-of-sorts La Dea fought back from behind.
In the ascendancy after Tiquinho fired past home goalkeeper Juan Musso early on in last week’s first leg, Olympiacos ultimately came away with a one-goal deficit from their visit to Lombardy when – just after the hour mark – they conceded a couple of quickfire Atalanta goals.
The Greek giants have won just one of the 22 European ties in which they lost the first leg away from home, so therefore have it all to do in order to progress.
Making a joint-record ninth appearance in the Europa League’s knockout phase, they are aiming to reach the last 16 for a fifth time – and for a third successive season. Despite dominating domestically, though, Olympiacos have never made it beyond that stage.
While the Erythrolefki qualified as Group D runners-up late last year, they have now lost four of their last five European games, but some scintillating form in the Super League should instil them with confidence ahead of Atalanta’s arrival.
Crowned champions of Greece for a 46th time in last spring – finishing 26 points clear – Olympiacos are one of five reigning national title-holders involved in the playoff round, and under head coach Pedro Martins the Piraeus club are very much on course for their 47th title.
Sitting nine points clear of PAOK after Sunday’s 1-0 win at Volos – though they had to wait until the 81st-minute for Mathieu Valbuena’s matchwinning strike – they are heading towards completing the regular season unbeaten. However, on Thursday evening they will experience another step up in class.
Atalanta’s Berat Djimsiti celebrates scoring their second goal on February 17, 2022© Reuters
Though well-placed to reach the next round in Europe – a stage on which they have performed so well in recent years – Atalanta’s 1-0 defeat to Fiorentina last weekend allowed Juventus to strengthen their grip on fourth spot in Serie A despite failing to win Friday’s Derby della Mole.
Still sitting fifth in the standings, La Dea now lead Fiorentina only by two points – with the Rome clubs also not far behind – which will be a cause of concern for combustible coach Gian Piero Gasperini, who was sent off again at Stadio Artemio Franchi.
Certainly, the Nerazzurri face a dogfight to secure a fourth consecutive Champions League campaign for next season by way of a top-four finish, and a record of three draws and three losses from their last seven outings indicates they are struggling to cope without the presence of top scorer Duvan Zapata.
Eliminated from the Champions League group stage with six points from as many matches, the Bergamaschi are without an away win in four European road trips – despite scoring eight times in the process. Furthermore, they last tasted victory domestically in mid-January, during a barren spell including a Coppa Italia exit.
The club’s previous Europa League appearance, back in 2018, ended in the last 32 with elimination by Borussia Dortmund, and current circumstances suggest they will have a tough time surpassing such a run some four years later.