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Sean Wallace: Is European group stage football going to be a poisoned chalice for an Aberdeen side struggling domestically?

Turning round a dismal start in the Premiership is only going to get harder for Barry Robson and his squad once the Euro campaign gets under way proper at Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday night.

Aberdeen manager Barry Robson
Aberdeen manager Barry Robson during the defeat to Hearts at Tynecastle on Saturday. Image: SNS.

Aberdeen’s long-targeted return to European group stage football could turn into a poisoned chalice.

The Dons are mired in a dismal run of domestic form and, from Thursday, will have to balance those domestic commitments with Europa Conference League group stage action until mid-December.

Hauling the team out of their current slump will be complicated by the Euro schedule.

With the Thursday Euro games and then Sunday Premiership matches, a squad who are already badly underperforming will be stretched even further.

Manager Barry Robson will have little time on the training pitch to get across his message to the players as they enter a game-rest-game cycle.

Last season Hearts struggled to cope with the Conference League group stage as they were hit with a spate of injuries and their domestic form was affected.

Aberdeen securing group stage football is a major achievement, and one Robson and his squad should be proud of.

It is a stage Dons fans will rightly relish seeing their team perform on – particularly after a long absence since the 2007-08 Uefa Cup.

However, you need to be ready for the challenge of balancing challenging European games with domestic concerns.

We will discover just how ready – or not – Aberdeen are when they take to field at the 58,0000-seater Deutsche Bank Park on Thursday night.

Ominously for Aberdeen, their opponents Eintracht Frankfurt view the Conference League as a competition they can win.

They have already tasted continental glory by lifting the Europa League title in 2022, beating Rangers in the final.

Eintracht Frankfurt celebrate beating Rangers in the 2021/22 Europa League final
Eintracht Frankfurt celebrate beating Rangers in the 2021/22 Europa League final. Image: Shutterstock.

Reds boss Robson substantially overhauled the squad during the summer transfer window with 13 new signings.

There was a feeling that, if he could lead a struggling Dons side up the table to finish third, the sky would be the limit with a squad Robson built himself.

So far this has not been the case as Aberdeen have been disjointed in a dismal opening to a campaign which promised so much.

Of course, it is still very early days, and it is far too premature to press any panic button.

However, the summer transfer window was open for three months and the Dons knew European group stage action was looming.

They should have been ready for the Conference League groups.

After watching them succumb to Hibs and Hearts in their last two Premiership games, the fear is that they are far from ready for a challenging Conference League group G.

Hearts' Yutaro Oda in action against Aberdeen
Hearts’ Yutaro Oda scores to make it 1-0 against Aberdeen at Tynecastle. Image: SNS

The euphoria surrounding Aberdeen securing guaranteed European group stage action in May feels like a long time ago now.

Aberdeen have secured just two points from a possible 15 in the Premiership this season, which is patently not good enough.

The fans let the players and manager know that when booing at full-time in the 2-0 loss to Hearts at the weekend.

Aberdeen fans look unhappy during the Aberdeen v Hearts match
Aberdeen fans during the cinch Premiership match between Hearts and the Dons at Tynecastle. Image: SNS.

It is horrific preparation for an away clash against a Bundesliga club with genuine aspirations of winning the Conference League.

Aberdeen can expect an intimidating atmosphere at the impressive stadium here in Frankfurt.

Whether they rise to the occasion or fold against a top side remains to be seen.

The Dons need to turn around their form quickly and there is no better platform for the new-look squad to deliver a message than by getting a positive result in Germany.

However, it would be very optimistic outlook to expect them to take anything from the game.

If Aberdeen play like they did against Hearts and Hibs, the realistic outlook is that it could be a long, painful night for the Dons in Germany.

Breathtaking stadium in Frankfurt – hopefully there’s no video nasty for Dons on giant screens

Later today I will travel to Eintracht Frankfurt’s 58,000-capacity Deutsche Bank Park for the pre-match press conferences.

Aberdeen have opted not to train on the pitch, but will walk around to get a feel for the stadium and the surface.

As a journalist I have been fortunate to report on games from many German stadiums.

The 5-1 loss to Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena in 2008 was a highlight – despite the score.

There was also the 1-0 loss to Hertha Berlin at the Olympiastadion in 2002 which was being rebuilt for the World Cup finals.

I have reported on games against Bochum, Borussia Monchengladbach, Kaiserslautern, St Pauli and Werder Breman during my career.

However, there is something extra special about Eintracht Frankfurt’s stadium.

Deutsche Bank Park, home of Eintracht Frankfurt
Deutsche Bank Park, home of Eintracht Frankfurt. Image: Shutterstock.

This is the platform Aberdeen were desperate to get back to and spent 16 years trying to achieve that.

Now they are back in the Euro groups, it is fitting they should get to start their Europa Conference League campaign proper at one of the best stadiums in Germany, if not Europe.

It has a fully retractable roof and the world’s largest steel-cord inner-roof membrane.

Hanging high above the pitch is a massive 30-tonne video cube boasting four screens measuring more than 31 square metres.

Hopefully the Aberdeen fans will be able to watch reruns of a Dons goal on those big screens… And ideally not a video nasty of Frankfurt goals.

German clubs on the West Highland Way

I recently completed the West Highland Way, 96 miles from Milgavie to Fort William.

During that walk across the wilds of Scotland, I was intrigued to notice stickers from many German clubs posted at various points on the route, and there were numerous stickers posted by Eintracht Frankfurt supporters.

Miles of wilderness and mountains, punctuated by football stickers – now those are dedicated supporters!