Friday Frappé: European Nights, ComebackSZN’s, and Trifylli Troubles
In a brand new feature on AGONAsport, Peter Katsiris takes a look at the week that was and the weekend that could be in Greek football…
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First off, let’s get the introductions out of the way. My name is Peter Katsiris, which you might recognize from the basketball coverage here on AGONAsport. Like most Greeks, I have a passion for basketball from the Ethniki though to the Greek Basket League and European competitions.
In addition to my passion for basketball, I also have space in my heart for my first love: football! In particular, I’m referring to the dramatic, chaotic, stressful — but always passionate — brand that is Greek football.
In fact, it’s that same love for Greek football that will fuel a weekly feature that speaks to the week that was and the weekend that could be in the landscape of Greek football. I look forward to enhancing the excellent coverage of the Greek game AGONAsport writers already provide: from the National Team to the wacky world of the Greek Super League. So, get yourself a frappé, sit back, and get a read of this…
“CAN WE HAVE ONE MORE WEEK?”
Although the new Super League season experienced a rocky start with the numerous delays to the draw for the 2018/2019 season, the early start to European qualifying for Greece’s clubs makes it seem like the season is in full swing already. Of course it helps that the likes of AEK, Olympiacos, and PAOK have been in great form to start their qualifying campaigns, but perhaps the brass at each club would prefer to wait one more week before kicking-off the new domestic season.
Defending champions, AEK, have already dispatched Celtic from qualifying for the UEFA Champions League and currently hold a 2-1 lead from the first leg of their playoff round tie against Hungarian outfit Vidi. The Athenians will return home to host Vidi at OAKA on Tuesday, but not before PAS Giannina visit the capital on Saturday night in the season curtain raiser for both sides. Although AEK appear in control of their tie, I’m sure the Enosi would prefer to have some extra time to prepare for Tuesday’s important fixture.
It’s a similar story in Thessaloniki with PAOK returning home from their Champions League adventure in Portugal with an aggregate lead on away goals after a 1-1 draw against Benfica against Lisbon. Hoping to reach their group stage of the competition for the first time in their history, PAOK will first need to successfully negotiate Asteras Tripolis’ visit to Toumba before hosting Benfica on Wednesday.
Unlike their domestic rivals, Olympiacos will hit the road next week when the Piraeus giants take a 3-1 aggregate lead to England for the second leg of their UEFA Europa League playoff round tie against Burnley. Although Olympiacos will host Levadiakos at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium on Sunday, the main focus from the brass down to the players will certainly be centered on Thursday’s return leg at Turf Moor.
With such crucial games lined-up for next week, it is without a doubt in my mind that the likes of AEK, Olympiacos, and PAOK would have preferred one more weekend of no domestic football – fortunately for us fans that is not the case.
ROAD TO REDEMPTION?
After early exits in the second round of qualifying for the Europa League, Atromitos and Asteras Tripolis are already in a redemption mindset. Both sides lost ties that they should have won, with both clubs shocking their fans with utter collapses despite looking rather comfortable at some point within their ties against Dinamo Brest and Hibernian respectively.
Atromitos, who surprised many last season with their surge to a fourth-place finish, will hope to follow-up their impressive campaign from last season without getting found-out by their domestic rivals. The club’s European failure will likely add as a motivational tool for manager Damir Canadi, but the bitterness that comes with the Peristeri outfit’s early dismissal from Europe could also be a morale drain.
It’s a similar story for Asteras, who start their campaign with a difficult trip to Thessaloniki to take on PAOK on Saturday. Despite disciplinary concerns in their tie against Hibernian, Asteras showed promise with their ability to create chances in the offensive end – something that the club will need to take better advantage off when the Arcadians visit one of the most hostile environments in Greek football.
It’s a different road to redemption that newly-promoted Aris and OFI find themselves on. Both clubs earned promotion from the Football League after nasty relegation sagas that saw Aris fall all the way down to the third tier of Greek football after being relegated from the Super League at the end of the 2013/2014.
OFI’s journey back to the top flight started one year later after the Cretan club were relegated after the 2014/2015, but the club managed to win back-to-back promotions in the Gamma Ethniki and the Football League in order to book their spot in this season’s Super League.
Now that both clubs are back in the top flight, neither will want to undo any of their progress from recent seasons. So, we can officially call the new season as a comeback season (#comebackSZN) for both clubs.
STARTING BEHIND THE EIGHT BALL
As if life at Panathinaikos wasn’t already difficult, the club will have to start their new campaign at a -6 points disadvantage due to points deductions the clubs were given due to various factors surrounding the club’s financial mismanagement.
With additional sanctions also handcuffing the club in the transfer market, Panathinaikos’ pursuit of reinforcements this summer after an 11th-place finish last season hasn’t been easy to say the least. Of course PAOK will also start the season with a points deduction; however, considering the Dikefale tou Vorra were only handed a -2 deduction and weren’t dealt any restrictions in the transfer market, the Thessaloniki outfit should do just fine in their chase to make-up the difference between them and the title challengers.
In fact, that’s the main difference that should – and likely does – worry Panathinaikos fans. One of Greek football’s goliaths most probably won’t be battling for the league title come the spring, rather the Trifylli are most likely going to be looking over their shoulders for most the season in a bid to preserve their status on the top flight.