Burnley vs Olympiacos Preview: Clarets’ European dream hangs in the balance

Burnley vs Olympiacos Preview: Clarets’ European dream hangs in the balance

The Greek side take a 3-1 lead into the second leg at Turf Moor.

Chris Lincoln

Burnley need to formulate a result they have not achieved since November 2017 and win at home by at least a two-goal margin if they are going to progress into the Europa League proper. Ironically, Olympiacos have not lost away in Europe by the same amount since the identical month.

The Clarets were put to the sword in Athens as Olympiacos, inspired by captain and Greek international Kostas Fortounis, opened up a 3-1 advantage.

Leaky defence face a rampant attack

Burnley go into the contest on the back of conceding at least three goals in three successive matches for the first time since October – November 2014. The seven strikes conceded domestically have seen them drop into the Premier League relegation zone for the first time since they returned to the top-flight two season ago.

In contrast, the side that have won all but three Greek titles in the last 22 years have scored 11 goals in four competitive matches this season, although they only stumbled to a 1-0 victory in their league opener against Levadiakos at the weekend.

Burnley expected to be busy on the left

The first leg saw Olympiacos dominate in a hostile environment as they manufactured 17 shots to Burnley’s three with Fortounis netting twice.

In a contest where Pedro Martins’ squad controlled 68% possession, they dominated on the right side of the pitch through Lazaros Christodoulopoulos and Omar Elabdellaoui who contributed 62% of attacks during the 90 minutes. Such a problem could tempt Sean Dyche into selecting both Charlie Taylor and Stephen Ward to protect that side of the pitch, particularly after left midfielder Johann Berg Gudmundsson limped off against Fulham after just 19 minutes on Sunday.

Aerial battles could be key

Burnley will also be looking to formulate a more disciplined display after conceding 18 fouls against a team they know will be looking to slow the tempo of the contest. Dyche was infuriated when Ben Gibson was sent off in the first leg, leaving the manager with just three options in central defence – James Tarkowski and Ben Mee shipped four goals in their last outing so Kevin Long could be selected in place of one of them.

Seven of 17 shots, including one goal, came from set-pieces for the Athens-based side so the defence will be expecting an aerial onslaught and will be looking for a dominant figure in goal. Tom Heaton could replace Joe Hart who has conceded seven goals in his last two, with three of the those coming from crosses.

Very rarely do opponents get the edge over Burnley in the air but Olympiacos won 20 out of 31 aerial duals last week. Dyche could select Sam Vokes in attack to offer more of a physical threat but none of his strikers are in great form in front of goal, although Chris Wood did score at the weekend.

A good performance is important

For the first time in a substantial period of time, some sections of Clarets’ fans have started to discuss the possiblel fear of relegation. Even if they cannot overturn the deficit against Olympiacos on Thursday evening, they will be hoping for a performance that inspires confidence.

Three of their next five Premier League fixtures are against sides that have been promoted in the last two seasons and could prove a vital period in Burnley’s 2018-19 campaign.