Europa League Group B: Rapid Vienna v Dundalk, Weststadion, Thursday, 5.55 – Live Virgin Media Two and BT Sport ESPN
The manner of Rapid Vienna's defeat last week in Molde may have helped to clarify the pecking order in Dundalk's Europa League group and identified the games against the Austrians as offering the best chance of a points return but manager Filippo Giovagnoli insists that he still rates Thursday night's opponents as being somewhere closer to Arsenal. That might be overstating things a little but the visitors seem set for another tough night.
The problem for the Italian, he admits, is that with his side having failed to wrap up their place in Europe for next season last Sunday, they must go into this game with with one eye on next Monday night when a point against Sligo will be required to guaranteed third place in the table. It is not ideal for a side already needing to punch above their weight in order to get a European result.
The hosts, though, are in a somewhat similar position with a home game against league leaders RB Salzburg just a few days off. They have started the league season with five wins and a draw from six and have been scoring quite a few goals courtesy of Taxiarchis Fountas and Koya Kitagawa, Greek and Japanese internationals respectively, as well as Ercan Kara. But they still trail their rivals by two points and so winning would be of importance.
Pat Hoban says he believes the team possesses more attacking threats than Molde, although they have found goals and victories much tougher to come by in this competition. They created little against the Norwegians and the only time they have scored, a close-range strike by Fountas in the 2-1 defeat by Arsenal, was largely down to a spectacular error by goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
Still, that league form is fairly ominous and Giovagnoli insists that: “This is a really strong team. I don’t see weakness. They have really talented players, physical players, they play a good style of soccer, a European style, they are not afraid to play; they move up well, they are really aggressive.
“Like I said before, they are favourite to go ahead. After Arsenal, for me, Rapid is the best team and we are going to need to perform to a really high level if we’re going to challenge them.”
He declined to reveal whether he will change the tactics employed in London, where his side competed well for a while and then kept things very respectable against a team that was clearly much better.
When criticism of his approach and the performance by his predecessor, Vinny Perth, was put to him here, he suggested that any game at this level "could be an embarrassment if you are not well organised."
His opposite number, Didi Kühbauer, acknowledged, meanwhile, that he and his players, “have to accept that we’re favourites in this game and we need to take three points with us so that we remain in this competition.”
Giovagnoli says he will make a call on Seán Murray’s fitness before settling on his team but the visitors will be without Pat McEleney for a game which is being played in the shadow of the terrorist attack in the city on Monday night in which four people were killed and 23 injured.