PREVIEW: SCHALKE - P.A.O.K.
DAVID SMITH - Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Jermaine Jones and Schalke will try to take a step towards the Champions League group stage when they host Greek runners-up PAOK on Wednesday evening.
Schalke have had a rough start to their domestic season thus far, looking frail on defense through their first two Bundesliga contests.
Their opening-weekend 3-3 draw against HSV could have been written off as an anomaly, were it not for their 4-0 shellacking at the hands of Wolfsburg this past Saturday.
While they are still considered favorites to go through to the group stage, another poor defensive showing any any away goals conceded could leave them in a dangerous position heading into next week's return leg.
The second-place team from last season's Greek Superleague looked ready to challenge for top honors in their curtain raiser last weekend, surging to a 3-0 win over Skoda Xanthi.
The Greeks can consider themselves somewhat lucky to be in this round, having already lost in the previous qualifying round to Ukrainian team Metalist Kharkiv by a 3-1 aggregate.
Despite the defeat, PAOK were reinstated for this play-off round due to Metalist's disqualification stemming from match-fixing revelations, setting up their current home-and-away series against the Germans.
The game is a homecoming for new PAOK head coach Huub Stevens, who spent the better part of seven seasons at the helm of the Gelsenkirchen team in two different spells. Having been axed in December 2012 during hist most recent spell, the Dutch coach will be out to spoil his previous employers' hopes to reach the group stage for a third time in four years.
The Königsblauen are missing several players, most importantly star forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who went down over the weekend with a knee injury.
Additionally, defenders Sead Kolasinac and Kyriakos Papadopoulos along with forward Chinedu Obase are set to miss the game with various knocks.
PAOK have a mostly full squad, but will be without defender Miguel Vitor and forward Stefanos Athanasiadis, each of whom must sit one game due to yellow card accumulation from the previous round.