Both West Ham and Aberdeen are in Europa League action on Thursday night, as they attempt to qualify for the group stages of Europe’s second tier competition. The Hammers have been drawn against Slovenian side Domzale, and after concerns about the readiness of the Olympic stadium, the original draw has been reversed so the Hammers play the first leg away and the return leg at home next week. The tie will be shown live on BT Sport, and West Ham will hope it is the first of many televised Thursday evening games.
Aberdeen have been handed a tough task in their quest for European football this season, as they face multiple Slovenian champions, Maribor. The Dons will play their first leg at home on Thursday evening and will be desperate to take a lead to Slovenia next week, but it will be no easy task against a side which has the hoodoo over Scottish clubs. Maribor have knocked Hibs, Rangers and Celtic out of European competition in recent seasons, and qualified for the group stages of the Champions League just two seasons ago.
Domzale v West Ham
The Hammers appeared in last year’s Europa League qualifiers, but the circumstances were markedly different to this season. Having qualified via the now defunct fair play route, West Ham started their campaign in the first qualifying round, as early as the 2nd of July. They beat minnows Lusitanos 4-0 on aggregate, before struggling through via a penalty shoot out against Maltese side Birkirkara – the team that ended Hearts European dreams just last week. That was as good as it got for West Ham, as they were beaten 4-3 on aggregate by Astra in the third qualifying round.
That’s the stage they enter the competition this year against Domzale, and a much better showing can be expected. Last season the Irons had just parted company with new England boss Sam Allardyce, and employed Slaven Bilic. With the move to the Olympic stadium this summer, not to mention the new TV deal, it was imperative that the club stayed in the top flight. That led to weakened teams being put out in the Europa qualifiers, and there was a feeling among supporters that the club didn’t particularly want the distraction in what was an important season.
It may have been the ‘blessing in disguise’ that is often referred to in respect of European competition, as Bilic went on to lead his team to a 7th placed finish which qualified them for this season’s tournament. The expectation now within the club is very different, and West Ham are fancied to take this competition much more seriously. They’ve been training in Austria since the 17th of July, and will make the trip across the border to Slovenia with a strong squad. Slaven Bilic has remarked that the squad is in great shape, with the start of the Premier League just two weeks away, and they warmed up for this with a 3-0 victory over Karlsruher SC. the only negative from that game was a serious injury to full back Aaron Cresswell, but Andy Carroll and new signings Feghouli and Fletcher were on the scoresheet.
Domzale finished third in the Slovenian league to qualify for this competition, and they’ve already made their way through two qualifying rounds. They beat the same Lusitanos side that West Ham faced last year in the first round, before beating Shakhtyor by the odd goal in the second round. They will represent tough opposition, but Bilic will want to ensure he qualifies for the group stages and will send out a team to do a job.
Aberdeen v Maribor
Remember that this is a side that beat Celtic 1-0 at Celtic Park just two years ago to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League. They surprisingly failed to qualify for European competition last season, but beat Levski Sofia on away goals in the last round to get here.
Aberdeen started their campaign on the 30th of June against Fola Esch, winning 3-1 in the home leg, then losing 1-0 away. They beat Ventspils 4-0 on aggregate in the second round, but this is a step up despite Derek McInnes stating that his side won’t be daunted by the opposition.
Maribor have lost just once in their last 16 away games, and can play a defensive game here in the knowledge that the second leg at home next week will give them a great chance of progression.
West Ham to beat Domzale
Thursday 28th July, 19:45 GMT
Maribor or Draw
Thursday 28th July, 19:45 GMT
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