What: Champions League Playoff Round
Who: Panathinaikos (0) vs Malaga (2) (first leg score in brackets)
When: Tuesday 28th August, 2012, at 19:45 UK time
Where: Olympic Stadium, Athens, Greece

Recovery Mission

Panathinaikos have to mastermind the perfect comeback should they want to seal a spot in the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League group stage. Having been gunned down at La Rosaleda last week, the Greens have all to play for when they welcome Malaga. For Jesualdo Ferreira and his side, it does not get any bigger than this.

Particularly for Ferreira, the meeting between the two sides will be a special occasion, as the coach was at the helm of Malaga for a few months back in 2010, before being sacked after a string of poor results with the Andalucian side.

Down by two goals, the task will be extra hard for Panathinaikos, but according to midfielder Vitolo, it is anything but impossible, judging by the first leg.

“We didn’t take advantage of the chances that came our way – I counted three in the second half – and you pay for that at this level. The result makes the task an uphill one from our point of view. We will try to score twice in Athens which will be hard but we will have our opportunities.”

Getting the Job Done

After winning the first leg 2-0, Malaga travel east to Greece in order to wrap-up their Champions League tie against Panathinaikos and gain a ticket to tussle with the continent’s elite clubs in the group stage. The side take a good lead into the second leg, but it is hardly unassailable, and Manuel Pellegrini’s men should approach things with caution.

Malaga have been enduring a financial crisis since the start of the summer and have seen key players such as Santiago Cazorla exit after what seemed to be like a promising project at the Andalucian club. However, the side have been doing well so far and a 1-1 draw versus Mallorca aside, Pellegrini appears ready to have both feet firmly set in the next round.

“The team is fit and ready for Tuesday [against Panathinaikos]. Now I have these players and I will let them compete”, said the ex-Real Madrid boss.

With both Ruud van Nistelrooy and Salomon Rondon gone, Malaga have lost their two best forwards of last season. However, after scoring on his debut for the club against Celta Vigo at the tender age of 16, young Cameroonian Fabrice Olinga may well shine in the Champions League too.

Recent form

Panathinaikos 3-0 Motherwell (08/08; Champions League)
Malaga 2-0 Panathinaikos (22/08; Champions League)
Levadiakos 0-1 Panathinaikos (25/08; Super League)

Celta Vigo 0-1 Malaga (18/08; La Liga)
Malaga 2-0 Panathinaikos (22/08; Champions League)
Malaga 1-1 Mallorca (25/08; La Liga)

Players to watch

Panathinaikos – Jean-Alain Boumsong: The centre-back’s importance for the Greek side has grown after being declared the team’s new vice-captain ahead of the campaign. In front of his own fans, Boumsong will need to stop Malaga’s attacking threat and prevent them from snatching a crucial away goal.

Malaga – Jeremy Toulalan: Toulalan returns after missing a hefty chunk of last season through injury. Mooted as one of the players to exit the club this summer, the former Lyon man is still at La Rosaleda. A fan-favourite and integral presence in the centre of the pitch for Malaga, Toulalan is one of his side’s key men.

Match Prediction

Panathinaikos will relish playing in front of their own fans, but a 2-0 deficit will be hard to overcome. Malaga need to grab a Champions League group spot to aid their finances and should eventually come through here. Panathinaikos 2-1 Malaga.

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