Their domestic situations could hardly be more different, but when runaway Greek Super League leaders Olympiacos CFP play host to French Ligue 1 strugglers AS Saint-Etienne they will not be taking matters lightly.
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Their domestic situations could hardly be more different, but when runaway Greek Super League leaders Olympiacos CFP play French Ligue 1 strugglers AS Saint-Etienne in Athens on Wednesday they will not be taking matters lightly.
A 2-1 home win against Aris Thessaloniki FC on Saturday underlined Olympiacos's local supremacy. It was their 16th victory in as many matches this season at their Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium, spanning all competitions, and it left Ernesto Valverde's side 14 points clear in the table and on course for a 13th league title in 14 years. Not that Valverde is completely satisfied. "We should be able to settle matches when we are ahead and in control," said the Spaniard. "We should improve our finishing, because we risk conceding goals on the break and complicating things for ourselves."
Aside from a UEFA Champions League qualifying defeat by Anorthosis Famagusta FC in August, there has been little complicated about Olympiacos's progress this term, especially at home. Valverde's men have scored 14 goals in three UEFA Cup games in Athens, although to continue that form and earn a sizeable first-leg advantage against St Etienne they will likely have to do so without the injured Sebastian Leto. Predrag Djordjević could switch to the left wing as cover, yet holding midfielder Dudu believes the team's strength lies at the other end of the pitch. "Our defence is the basis of our success," he said. "It gives us the confidence to charge forward and explains our perfect home record this season."
In Efstathios Tavlaridis, St Etienne have a Greek central defender of their own. He was forced to sit out Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Paris Saint-Germain FC, which caused Les Verts to slip to 17th in Ligue 1, but could return alongside Sylvain Monsoreau and David Sauget. Loïc Perrin and Christophe Landrin are both ruled out. The visitors are hopeful, though, that as in the group stage, they can find inspiration in the UEFA Cup. "Our main concern is obviously the league situation," said coach Alain Perrin, "but we'll do our best to emulate what we did in the autum. We face tough opponents who are on a roll in their domestic competition – in fact, they have such a big lead in the league that they can focus on the UEFA Cup. That's what worries me."