AEK stay in first gear
by Greg Gavalas
AGONAsport’s AEK contributor, Greg Gavalas, talks about the Kitrinomavri’s loss to PAOK in the Greek Cup Final.
The Greek Cup final between Greek Super League Champions, AEK, and runner-ups, PAOK, made plenty of headlines for so many reasons, including the court cases for incidents at PAOK's Toumba stadium, the crowd numbers expected given the tense nature of the League, how many tickets would be allocated, and even the referee, which ended up being a Spaniard, the first time a game in Greece was officiated by a non-Greek since 1975.
Leading up to the match, there were some horrific scenes of violence on the street of Athens between fans and police. Cowards in balaclavas running towards the police and throwing Molotov cocktails towards the men in the uniform... as usual, no arrests so this will continue till... well forever.
Come match day, AEK fans were excited at the thought of achieving the double for the first time since 1978 where ironically AEK won the Championship over PAOK (finished second) and went on to beat PAOK in the final 2-0 (goals by Bajevic and Mavros) to clinch the double. However, PAOK would not allow history to repeat itself as AEK would go to the final and play arguably their worst game of the season.
Despite the "Double" prospect, the 2017/18 Greek Cup would be won by the Dikefalos tou Vorra 2-0. PAOK were quick and aggressive, their passing found the mark for the most part, and they were very well structured.
AEK, on the other hand, looked lethargic and very slow. It was an unpleasant surprise for AEK fans, especially for a game at the Olympic Stadium which is AEK's home ground.
Starting from the back and the best player on the field, was Vasilis Barkas. The 23-year-old now Greek International was by far and away AEK's best player and one of the best on the pitch. The young keeper saved a penalty from PAOK's Serbian International striker Aleksandar Prijovic early in the first half and would deny the same player a couple of times in the match for what looked like sure goals.
AEK were in the game due to Barkas.
On the left-hand side, Niklas Hult did not get much going with Petros Mantalos, who started on the left wing. Mantalos is a great player but is best used centrally and not only that has only recently come back from a serious knee injury. AEK have never played well when the captain plays on the wing, yet AEK coach Manolo Jimenez decided to go for this in such a critical game. Mantalos had some nice touches but did not have the running speed to trouble PAOK a great deal.
On the right, Michalis Bakakis had his worst game of the season, chasing his opposition most of the game while his attacking game with pace and crossing was missing all throughout the match. He also gave away the penalty to PAOK with a silly tackle on Diego Biseswar.
In the center of defence, Dmytro Chygrynskiy was one of the better AEK players. He won all challenges and gave his all with some decent passing as well, sadly his partner in crime, Bosnian International, Ognjen Vranjes, looked like he celebrated the Championship too much and was not his usual self at all. He had many wayward passes and would also give away the free-kick that led to PAOK's first goal.
AEK's usual warhorse in the middle, Andre Simoes, chose this game also to forget his usual form and put up what I would call his worst performance in an AEK jersey. PAOK's midfield ran through him and Kostas Galanopoulos too easy.
Andreas Bakasetas also had a horrendous game, virtually invisible besides skiing a freekick to the AEK shop located outside the OAKA stadium. Weather he plays for Greece midweek is something to look for, however I would not play him based on the form in this game.
The other disappointment was Marko Livaja, although not as bad as some mentioned, he tried to make the difference but to no avail and as usual, tampered off as the game went on.
Sergio Araujo was one player who could lift his head up high. The Argentine striker was one of the few AEK players in attack that ran well with the ball, passed well, and was unlucky not to score an equalizer late in the game. One has to wonder if this was his last game with AEK, hopefully not, as he took on the PAOK defense alone and can lift his head up high if it was his final match with AEK.
Substitutes Rodrigo Galo and Lazaros Christodoulopoulos came on in the second half and showed in hindsight why they should have started. The two brought speed and dribbling to the team and this allowed AEK to press and pressure PAOK.
Striker Georgios Giakoumakis replaced the invisible Bakasetas in the 73rd minute, but it was more frustrations for the 23-year-old who has struggled for momentum and form at AEK.
At the end, PAOK ran away with it to make it 2-0 and end all hopes of an AEK double. They were worthy Cup winners and the black and white 11 certainly played better for it.
The Spanish Referee, David Fernandez Borbalan, stayed true to his form and branded out 11 yellow cards resulting in 3 red cards (towards the end) and whilst his second yellow on Vranjes shows the referee’s weakness, he did have a good game overall.
AEK must rebuild now for the new season as key players need to be re-signed with Araujo being a perfect example more so than Livaja. Unfortunately things are not ending well with Lazaros Christodoulopoulos as the club and player look to be having a falling out and the Greek international is rumored to a move to Olympiacos.
It's been an incredible season for AEK. Champions of Greece for the first time since 1994 and 12th time overall, a good European campaign to the last 32 of the Europa League, and Runner Ups in the Cup. Keep an eye on who is signed and who is not as this will play a role for next season.