Critical Weekend Awaits
(Matchday 23 Preview)
Four of the top five teams in the Greek SuperLeague play each other as Matchday 23 promises to be one of the most critical of the 2016/17 season.
The headlining act of the weekend is undoubtedly the big derby on Sunday evening between Olymapicos and PAOK in Thessaloniki. However, besides the main event, the undercard over the weekend also has its shares of big fixtures.
On Monday evening, red-hot Panionios welcome a rejuvenated AEK to Nea Smyrni with the hosts looking to capitalize on a potential slip-up by Olympiacos.
The action begins Saturday with three matches on tap. All three involve clubs in and around the relegation zone. The day’s early kick-off sees Larisa host PAS Giannina followed by Levadiakos paying a visit to Panetolikos and Veria making the trip to Athens to face off against Panathinaikos.
Besides Sunday’s derby at the Toumb Stadium, three other matches are slated. The highlight of those is probably a game with huge playoff implications when Xanthi are at home to Platanias. Elsewhere, Iraklis will try to find points away to recently improved Atromitos and Asteras Tripolis tries to bounce back from an awful slump at home against Kerkyra.
***For the full SuperLeague schedule click here or visit the Greek SuperLeague home page for more. For TV Listings of this weekend's games (and more) in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Greece visit our TV Listings's page.
GAME OF THE WEEK: PAOK - OLYMPIACOS
The AGONAsport Match of the Week can be none other than the derby between PAOK and Olympiacos. This particular derby has been perhaps the most high-profile in Greece in recent years and the matches between the two clubs have grown increasingly fierce as games have regularly tossed up controversy.
The narrative going into Sunday’s game has changed ever so slightly due to midweek performances in the Greek Cup. PAOK advanced at the expense of Xanthi on Thursday to reach the semifinals, however only just as Vladan Ivic saw his side go down 1-0 in Toumba and go through only on away goals (2-2 aggregate score). In fact, Xanthi were unlucky not to score another goal which would have put them through as PAOK produced one of their worst performances of 2017. That performance was preceded by another below par effort against Iraklis last weekend where PAOK drew 1-1.
After a fantastic run of form, there are the first murmurs now of a team slipping back to their displays in the fall, when a series of indifferent performances led to a bevy of inconsistent results. Ivic rotated his squad and rested the likes of Leo Matos and Aleksandar Prijovic in the Xanthi match. Good news for PAOK ahead of the derby comes in the form of Pedro Henrique looking set to feature after recovering from a knock last week. The jury is still out as to whether Jose Canas will make the cut, though the Spaniard’s chances are considered favorable.
Olympiacos have endured two league defeats in a row as they head to Thessaloniki in what promises to be a crucial week for the team. With Besiktas looming in the Europa League on Thursday, Paulo Bento’s team need to find some momentum ahead of that clash. They started that quest on Thursday in a comeback win over Atromitos in the Greek Cup. Down 1-0 to an early 2nd goal away from home, the Erythrolefki showed character to turn the match on its head and record a 2-1 victory seeing them through to the semifinals. A win in Thessaloniki could set the tone for the run in for a side that has a difficult March lined up both in domestic and continental competitions.
Bento will have selection headaches for Sunday’s big match. Andre Martins’ status will be determined just before the squad is announced as he races for fitness. Thanasis Androutsos and Alberto de la Bella picked up knocks against Atromitos and will also be late decisions for selection into the squad. Manuel Da Costa will definitely miss out after he was sent off in the Cup match as suspensions in that competition transfer over to the SuperLeague.
LARISSA - PAS GIANNINA
|Larissa||8:00 AM||PAS Giannina|
Larisa seek to end their seemingly endless flirtation with a relegation fight this weekend as they take on PAS Giannia. Sakis Tsiolis witnessed his side go down rather meekly last week against AEK. It was another poor display by the Vyssini who are five points clear of the bottom two, but still have work to do down the stretch. Tsiolis will be without goalkeeper Gennady Xenodochov due to injury. Also unavailable due to a two-game suspension is midfielder Andoni Fatjon.
PAS Giannina’s 2-1 defeat to Levadiakos last weekend seemed to mark the end of their attempt to snatch a playoff berth. Giannis Petrakis’ side are now five points off an incredibly competitive race for 5th place and appear to be coming to terms with the idea of missing out on Europe. A win at the AEL FC Arena could certainly help change matters as the club do need to go on a tear in the final weeks of the season if they want to get back into contention.
panetolikos - levadiakos
Levadiakos produced a vital 2-1 win over PAS Giannina last weekend and look to make it two in a row over Panetolikos on Saturday. After a 12-match winless run, Giannis Christopoulos’ team were finally able to pick a win a week ago. Now, after gaining some breathing space from the relegation zone, the focus will be on building upon that momentum. Stanislav Namasco is back after recovering from a foot problem, but Thanasis Moulopoulos and Lossemy Karaboue are both out of this match.
Dimitris Kyriakidis’ heroics in goal saved a point last week for Panetolikos. Returning back home there will be a desire to begin a good closing stretch of the season. Safe from the drop, but nowhere near the playoffs, Panetolikos have no real immediate motivation left this season except trying to finish as high as possible in the league. After Marcos Paulo was declared fit this week, Makis Chavos has a full squad from which to choose for the match versus Levadiakos.
panathinaikos - veria
A 1-0 defeat to Xanthi stopped the momentum Panathinaikos had been building for quite a few games last week. Now, Marinos Ouzounidis’ men start back at square one as they face off against last-paced Veria. After an attack that was exploding with goals in recent weeks, the Panathinaikos offense ran into the brick wall of Xanthi last weekend. Ouzounidis made several changes to the line-up in a midweek Greek Cup win over Asteras Tripolis. That included the debut of Swedish attacker Guillermo Molins.
Veria suffered another setback last week in the home loss to Atromitos. It was a particularly stinging defeat as the winner for the opposition came just a minute from full time. That result coupled with Levadiakos winning their match saw Veria slip to four points from safety. The danger is now that the team begin losing touch as they have been playing better, but scoring goals is still a major problem.
atromitos - iraklis
Iraklis’ survival hopes could receive a timely boost with a victory away to Atromitos on Sunday. However, that will be a tall task judging by Atromitos’ recent form. The appointment of Ricardo Sa Pinto looks like a stroke of genius a month into his second spell with the club. From slumping no-hopes, Sa Pinto has his side in with an outside chance at the playoffs in quite the turnaround.
Iraklis picked up a deserved point last week in a Thessaloniki derby versus PAOK. Though they went down to an early goal, Savvas Pantelidis’ team were brilliant in their fighting quality yet again and managed an equalizer. That result was still not enough to bring the team out of the relegation places. While Iraklis have won plaudits in their brave fight to avoid the drop, they must manage to keep picking up points if they are to achieve what would be a massive accomplishment, due to the financial problems the club has had.
asteras tripolis - kerkyra
|Asteras Tripolis||10:15 AM||Kerkyra|
Asteras Tripolis will try to find a way to stop their freefall when they play against Kerkyra this weekend. The match at the Theodoros Kolokotronis is an important one for Apostolos Charalambides’ new team. Because Asteras have now lost five of their last six, relegation is not a distant nightmare, but a distinct possibility should they fail to regain some semblance of form. Their quest for the three points this week is even more difficult as they must do without the likes of Igor Carioca, Rachid Hamdani, Giannis Kotsiras, Kostas Triantafyllopoulos, and Manolis Bertos.
Kerkyra played well in last week’s 0-0 draw with Panetolikos. The question is whether they can put a run together to finish off a positive campaign. Michalis Grigoriou’s team have never really been in major danger of a relegation fight, establishing a good buffer from the bottom two for some time. The Faiakes would do well to pick up the three points in Tripoli, which would be only their second away win of the campaign.
xanthi - platanias
After a painful Greek Cup exit this week at the hands of PAOK, Xanthi must refocus on the SuperLeague as a tough match-up with Platanias awaits on Sunday. Razvan Lucescu’s men picked up a 1-0 2nd Leg win over PAOK at Toumba on Thursday, however they failed to reach the semifinals of the Greek Cup, even on aggregate 2-2, but eliminating on away goals. The club still have plenty to play for in the league as they are currently tied on points with AEK for the final playoff spot (AEK ahead on goal difference). The win in Thessaloniki came on the back of a fine 1-0 home triumph over Panathinaikos in Matchday 22 action. Lucescu will have to make do without the suspended Karim Soltani for this fixture.
Platanias also crashed out of the Greek Cup this week, going down 3-0 to AEK. Giorgos Paraschos felt his side were on the end of a bad refereeing decision that ended up with a penalty that AEK scored and Yaya Banana sent off after 13 minutes. Thus, the match became somewhat of a formality as Platanias were unable to cope with 10 men. Platanias too, have to divert their attention back to the league and like Xanthi they are fighting for the playoffs as well. Last week saw Paraschos’ men easily dispose of Asteras Tripolis 3-0. They will have to battle Xanthi in this playoff fight without Giorgos Giakoumakis. The red-hot scorer has accumulated yellow cards and will serve his suspension in this match.
If not for the derby between PAOK and Olympiacos, then Monday night’s match between Panionios and AEK would surely be taking center stage this weekend. Panionios’ defeat of Olympiacos last week had some talking about a ‘Leicester’ happening in Greek football as Vladan Milojevic’s team pulled to within seven points of the leaders. While that seems unlikely, it was another example of Panionios’ superb play this season into what is turning into a memorable and potentially historic campaign.
The unity and organization of this team are perhaps their best traits as they are seemingly going from strength to strength as the season wears on. One side in the league that are close in form however are Panionios’ weekend opponents, AEK. Manolo Jimenez has overseen a remarkable change in the club’s fortunes since taking over in late January. In their last six league matches, AEK have won four, drawn twice and scored 14 goals in the process whilst conceding only twice.
Considering this form, AEK, now back amongst the playoff places, won’t be phased by the trip to Nea Smyrni. Jimenez will have to deal with the absence of an influential trio of players. A arm injury suffered last week versus Larisa has ruled out Dmytro Chygrynskiy for the next two months, effectively ending his season. Rodrigo Galo and Patito Rodrigues are also missing for AEK ahead of this important encounter.