Preview: Panathinaikos vs. Marseille 

Preview: Panathinaikos vs. Marseille 

Ligue 1 powerhouses Marseille begin their quest for a place in the Champions League group stages when they meet Panathinaikos in Wednesday’s qualifying third-round first leg.

Meanwhile, their Greek hosts have already eliminated Ukraine’s Dnipro-1 5-3 on aggregate ahead of the visit of the French giants to Athens’ Leoforos Alexandras Stadium.

As the Russian invasion continues to cause untold devastation for the Ukrainian people, teams from the nation competing in Europe have been forced to play their designated ‘home’ games on neutral territory, and Panathinaikos took full advantage of the situation during their second-round affair with Dnipro-1.

Ivan Jovanovic’s side were the ‘visitors’ to Slovakia in the first leg, where they established a healthy 3-1 advantage before welcoming Dnipro to their Athens base for the second leg, where all that was required to advance was avoiding a calamitous three-goal capitulation.

Dnipro did threaten a miraculous turnaround through Artem Dovbyk and Eduard Sarapiy, but Andraz Sporar’s second goal of the night drew Panathinaikos level at 2-2, and a red card to Dnipro substitute Volodymyr Tanchyk just six minutes after his introduction laid any doubts to rest.

While it was a far from vintage display from Panathinaikos in the second leg last Tuesday, the Shamrock are potentially just four games away from a first Champions League group-stage appearance since the 2010-11 campaign, but the third-round curse has bedevilled them in recent years.

Indeed, Panathinaikos’ last two attempts to reach the promised land in 2014-15 and 2015-16 qualifying ended in the third round, and the 1971 finalists made it as far as the playoff round in 2012-13 before coming unstuck against Malaga.

Preview: Panathinaikos vs. Marseille – prediction, team news, lineups

The less said about Marseille’s most recent foray into the Champions League group stages the better, as Les Olympiens finished fourth in their 2022-23 season behind Tottenham Hotspur, Sporting Lisbon and Eintracht Frankfurt, marking the third time in a row that they have failed to reach the knockout stages.

However, Les Olympiens may get another bite at the cherry in the upcoming campaign, as Igor Tudor led the 1993 Champions League winners to a third-placed finish in the 2022-23 Ligue 1 campaign, although a miserable set of end-of-season results saw them lose their grip on second place to Lens.

Whispers of a possible title charge slowly grew quieter as the season entered its dying embers, as Marseille lost four of their final five games to miss out on automatic group-stage qualification, and Marcelino is the man tasked with leading his side through the latter portions of qualifying after Tudor’s resignation.

The former Villarreal, Valencia, Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao boss oversaw a pre-season campaign that was nothing to write home about, as Les Olympiens got the better of Nimes and RKC Waalwijk but were bested by Eupen and Bayer Leverkusen, losing 2-1 to the latter last week.

Marseille have only ever been forced to go through Champions League qualifying twice before in the 2003-04 and 2008-09 seasons, and the French powerhouses progressed to the tournament proper on both occasions, but Wednesday’s game will mark their first-ever competitive showdown with Panathinaikos.

Panathinaikos Champions League form:

Marseille friendly form:

We say: Panathinaikos 1-2 Marseille
Marseille have undergone a significant attacking transition this summer, and Marcelino’s new forwards may take some time to gel with one another, offering Panathinaikos hope of a positive result on home soil.

The Greek giants can be expected to breach the Olympiens’ backline at least once, but Marseille still boast a host of players with plenty of continental nous, and the visitors should take a first-leg lead back to base.

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