European football is back at Poljud! Hajduk Split are set to host Portuguese side Vitoria S.C. in European Conference League qualifiers on Thursday at 3 P.M. ET. The winner of the two legs will face Spanish side Villarreal in the next round of qualification – an extremely unlucky draw.
Hajduk insider Pave Alebić spoke with CroatianSports ahead of the club’s massive matchup with Vitoria. He stated, “In Split, the opposition will always have a tough match, even if you’re Real Madrid. Torcida will be louder than they’ve been the past 20 years due to the hype around this current squad”.
It’s true. Poljud is a fortress, and it will be Hajduk’s mission to defend it in front of over 30,000 rambunctious supporters on Thursday evening. The talents of Marko Livaja, Filip Krovinović, and Lovre Kalinić have sparked a hope in Split that just cannot be put out. The city is hungry for success.
Alebić also noted, “Hajduk’s defense has allowed zero goals in two matches this season, despite facing 20+ shots from Varaždin. Unfortunately, center-back Toni Borevković will be on the sideline for Thursday’s match due to a red card suspension he picked up with Vitoria (his former club, believe it or not) last season. Hajduk’s newest signing, Nigerian international Chidozie Awaziem, will likely step into his place regardless of the fact that he’s only trained with the squad a few times. However, you don’t sign a player worth 4M Euros in the HNL to bench him in games of this stature”.
As for the middle third of the pitch, Alebić believes, “The outcome of these next two matches will depend entirely on the midfielders, especially Grgić and Krovinović. Krovinović needs to absolutely control the game while Grgić plays the anchor role by putting in hard tackles and getting in the other side’s heads. Grgić is the heart and energy of this team, and definitely the toughest”.
Alebić is also counting on star forward Marko Livaja to raise the roof on Thursday night. He says, “the entire attack will flow through Livaja. 62 goal contributions in 60 matches for the club, I mean, when is the last time there’s been this much hype around an HNL player? I’d say Kranjčar. Livaja pours his heart and soul into the club, and you can only expect him to turn up for the squad when the Poljud lights are shining brightest. After signing his five-year contract extension, he showed the city that he’s bought into Hajduk’s project. Now, it’s time to execute and succeed”.
Three more players to watch out for vs. Vitoria:
Stipe Biuk – “It’s time for him to shine”, Alebić says. “Less than 10 G+A for a ‘wonderkid’, those numbers are not worthy of that title. He turns, 20 years-old this year, it’s a make or break season, and it starts with solid performances in European competition”.
Emir Sahiti – Alebić calls him, “the most underrated player at Hajduk. He turned down German club HSV and later stated, ‘Hajduk je moj klub’. If you look at who covers the most ground every match, his name will be at the top of the list 9 times out of 10. He will be flying around the pitch on Thursday”.
Dario Melnjak – “HNL’s best left-back, coming off a two-goal showing in the Croatian cup final and an assist against Istra. The lad is on fire. He will be fun to watch against Vitoria”, Alebić claims.
Alebić’s projected lineup vs. Vitoria: Kalinić – Mikanović, Elez, Awaziem, Melnjak – Grgić, Vuković – Sahiti, Krovinović, Biuk – Livaja
“It will be a tight match, but I see Hajduk taking the first leg 2-1, followed by a 0-0 draw in Portugal for the return leg”.