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Real deal is next up if Pawlett and Aberdeen avoid a kicking

ANTOINE Griezmann scored 20 times for his club last season and was France's replacement for the injured Franck Ribery at the World Cup.

Peter Pawlett was identified by Groningen as a player to keep an eye on when they played against Aberdeen.Picture: SNS
Peter Pawlett was identified by Groningen as a player to keep an eye on when they played against Aberdeen.Picture: SNS

His team-mate, the Mexico internationalist Carlos Vela, scored even more, 21, and finished above Lionel Messi in Spanish football's table for assists. There could not have been a more daunting club for Aberdeen to draw in Europe yesterday than Real Sociedad.

The Spaniards finished seventh in La Liga and were the highest-ranked and most famous of the group of 10 clubs Aberdeen could have been paired with when the Europa League third qualifying round draw was made at lunchtime yesterday. Aberdeen are far from certain to be play Real at all - they must deal with Groningen in the Netherlands on Thursday after a goalless first leg - but that did not stop a combination of anticipation, excitement and dread taking hold around the north-east.

Last season Real eliminated Lyon in the Champions League play-off round to qualify for the group stage. They lost five of their six matches against Manchester United, Bayer Leverkusen and Shakter Donetsk, taking only a single point at home to United. But if they do come to Pittodrie on August 7 - the first leg would be in the 32,000-seater Anoeta stadium in San Sebastian on July 31 - they will be the strongest side to have played there since Bayern Munich in 2008.

While others contemplated taking on the likes of Griezmann and Vela yesterday, Peter Pawlett could have been forgiven if his first thought was to check the Real squad to identify its bruisers. On the evidence of the three European ties Aberdeen have played so far this season, their quick, dynamic midfielder is a marked man, so much so that he has been fit enough to play in only two of them.

Against a crude Daugava Riga team he survived for only 50 minutes before having to limp off with an ankle injury. He was not able to play the return game in Latvia. The sight of Pawlett lying still on the ground, clutching his leg or ankle, was disturbing again when Aberdeen played out the tight home draw with Groningen which makes next week's second leg look very difficult.

When the Dutch side's manager, Erwin van der Looi, was asked about Pawlett after the game he replied "Who?". He was not trying to be cheeky, he had not heard the question properly. When the player's name was repeated he spoke knowledgably and respectfully about Pawlett's talent and menace. Yes, he said, they had known all about him in advance.

Last season felt like Pawlett's breakthrough campaign. The fervent hope now is that this will not be a breakdown year. He was booted by Daugava and although Groningen were less brutal there were one or two robust tackles to bring him down. They resorted to that because his direct running and change of pace caused all sorts of problems to right-back Hans Hateboer and was the genesis of Aberdeen's best attacks.

"Peter will be learning," said Barry Robson, the Aberdeen midfielder. "It is a great feeling getting kicked and brought down when you go past someone. Don't get me wrong, it can be frustrating when you are going in on goal but take it as a compliment when someone brings you down. Unless you are in on goals then, yes, you can jump up and down and be raging.

"I used to love it when you go by them and they take you down. It is a feeling that you know you are getting the better of people. Peter knows that as well and even though he would roll about for about five minutes, he has been warned to get up and stop going off the pitch. You can see now he jumps up and gets on with it.

"Peter is definitely ready to kick on because he is a terrific talent and is a good kid as well. I for one hope he can go on to the next level and I will help him as much as I can. But the manager and coaching staff are very good with him and he has blossomed under their guidance."

Robson and Russell Anderson are the team's elder statesmen, both 35. Their advice is invaluable to a 23-year-old like Pawlett and Robson offered constructive criticism. "Peter has that turn of pace but often at this level as well it is about that old experience of dinking the ball over the back four, that clever pass like Andrea Pirlo can do which create the chances which are going to win you the games.

"He needs to keep working away and I always say he needs to keep playing well on the wing because they will want him to play on the wing and the hole. He can do both. He can play at a higher level."

A higher level will be all too evident if Real Sociedad do come to town. That tie would be highly lucrative but Groningen are a high hurdle to clear first. Aberdeen cannot yet count their Spanish gate receipts, or their chickens.

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