AEK edge closer to league title
AGONAsport’s AEK contributor, Greg Gavalas, gives his input on how AEK are closer than ever to winning their first league title since 1994.
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It has been 24 years since AEK last lifted the Championship in Greece. There was a close call in 2008 when it looked like AEK would do so again, until an appeal from Olympiacos against Apollon Kalamarias fielding an illegal player on their squad, handed the Reds a default win on paper, which was enough to give them first place and claim another title at AEK's expense.
Ten years later and we have had a season that will be remembered for so many reasons, good and bad. Of course, people generally only remember the bad but we have had so many obstacles to overcome in Greece, it is sadly part of the culture which I have written about a few times now.
This season has been the most competitive in many years, and even decades, with four teams edging away from the rest in AEK, PAOK, Olympiacos, and Atromitos. As time went on, it would become a three-horse race between this season's big 3.
We saw multiple changes in the leaderboard between AEK, PAOK, and Olympiacos in this year’s jam-packed Superleague. At first, AEK led, then Takis Lemonis put Olympiacos in first, before PAOK went on an amazing run of form which took them into first. In that time, AEK got the better of Olympiacos in the League and the Cup but as the talk about the league battle got exciting and full of suspense, the Greek Soap Opera started with the incidents at PAOK's Toumba stadium.
Incidents during the Olympiacos and AEK matches have cost PAOK dearly, a pair of 3-0 losses, firstly to Olympiacos in a game that never started and secondly to AEK, in a game that never ended. In my previous blogs, I have spoken about behaviors being above the line and behaviours being below the line.
Sadly, PAOK's approach to the whole saga has been below the line as they have portrayed themselves as the victims and have blamed others for what has happened (including the consequences). I believe that PAOK need to take some above the line ownership and understand they started this president with Vladan Ivic in the game with Panathinaikos during last season’s playoffs.
No doubt, the system in Greece needs an overhaul to get past these incidents and behaviors, and we are getting some type of momentum in that now FIFA are rightfully questioning EPO – The Greek Football Federation and their handling of these saga's and investigations. I do hope this leads to more sense and leadership in Greek Football and we don't have to focus on violence from objects thrown onto people or people storming the fields to get their teams off the pitch.
As a result of all this, however, the winner has been AEK. Their leader, Dimitris Melissanidis, has been quiet through all of this instead of making silly and accusational statements to the press unlike other teams’ officials. The Kitrinomavri have gotten the job done on the field while tasting defeat only once since late October 2017 in a fantastic run of form in the SuperLeague, Greek Cup, and Europa League.
The players have done a great job on the field and all this has been done without AEK's two best players, Petros Mantalos and Jakob Johansson, who both suffered season ending knee injuries in late October and early November. This again highlights how good AEK’s run has been since last fall.
Loanies, Marko Livaja and Sergio Araujo, have both played a pivotal role in attack for AEK and seem to take the key role in a vise versa order with Araujo the star in AEK's 3-0 win over Panathinaikos at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday. His stunning opener was a mirror image of the goal he scored against Olympiakos earlier in the season, with a stunning left footed half volley, his trademark of this season.
This is something Melissanidis needs to look into during the off season as both of these players are owned by Spanish club Las Palmas.
In addition, AEK have had good consistency in defense and midfield and every player has played their part in this successful season. There was talk that Mantalos may make a game or two before the season ends, which would be very fitting for the "Captain" as he is called.
AEK's remaining games are as follows: Platanias (away), Levadiakos (home), Kerkyra (away), Apollon Smirnis (Away)
The games look easy on paper but ask any AEK fan and you can never be too safe with away fixtures. In the past, AEK have lost some close games when it mattered most, but given the drama, hardship, and spitefulness of this season, one feels AEK won't let this one slip.
The last two matches will be hard as Kerkyra and Apollon are in a battle for Super League survival. AEK's record in Kerkyra is poor, just 2 wins in the last 13 years.
So what is important to win the Greek Super League Championship?
If AEK can win both games with Platanias and Levadiakos - the 6 points mean they mathematically win the League, provided of course PAOK's points stay as is (they are appealing their point deduction - with FIFA involved I don't see that happening). Four points will even do it for AEK, so things look hopeful for the Kitrinomavri.
We have the Easter break coming up, so time to enjoy the festivities before we watch what could be two historic games in Crete and Athens. We may see and feel something many have never felt and others have not seen since way back in 1994.