Lofty Expectations, Poor Results (Part 1)
Nick Tsambouniaris takes a look at Panathinaikos' season in his first of a two part piece.
The beginning of the 2016-17 season brought with it renewed hope and lofty expectations however, Panathinaikos fans were left with an eerily similar feeling of being let down once again. Manager Andrea Stramaccioni was backed by Giannis Alafouzos and along with the assistance of former player Gilberto Silva assembled a squad largely made up of foreign and experienced players. Stramaccioni brought the likes of Mubarak Wakaso, Cristian Ledesma, Chris Samba, Ivan Ivanov, Lautaro Rinaldi, Niklas Hult, Ousmane Coulibaly, Paul-Jose M’Poku, Victor Ibarbo and Nuno Reis to Athens in search of the clubs’ goal, the championship.
The team showed early signs of promise with two comfortable wins over Levadiakos and PAS Giannina in the league and had already qualified for the UEFA Europa League after easily accounting for AIK of Sweden and Brondby of Denmark. By this stage of the season the team looked fitter but lacked a cutting edge in front of goal, missing many guilt edged chances, but it was worried whether or not they could sustain these high levels of performance.
It was at this point of the season where the tides began to turn on Stramaccioni, as the team lost form and injuries began to hit a squad that had been criticised in the past for lacking depth to put together a sustainable title challenge. Consequently, the Prasini drew 0-0 away to Panetolikos in late September. This would act as the catalyst for a downturn in form and led to the eventual sacking of the Italian manager Stramaccioni.
Injuries and lack of depth hurt the club and this was evident in the Trifili’s UEFA Europa League form. Panathinaikos went 1-0 up at home to Ajax (who would go on to make the final of the competition) and lost 2-1, as several momentary lapses in concentration proved costly. Then dominated Celta Vigo (who made the semi-finals of the competition) in Spain for 80 minutes missing numerous guilt edged chances through Ibarbo and Swedish ace, Marcus Berg, when taking the game to the home side. This however resulted in a 2-0 loss as Stramaccioni’s options off the bench were limited and the starting players simply ran out of puff.
Things were not looking much better domestically as the club slumped to poor home loss to bogey side Xanthi and conceded a late goal away to rock bottom Veria to draw 1-1. In between these games the Trifili raced out to a 2-0 lead away to Standard Liege in the UEFA Europa League via two beautifully taken goals from the erratic Colombian Ibarbo. However again an inability to play for 90 minutes proved costly as the home side pulled two goals back to force a 2-2 draw and effectively end any hopes the club had of reaching the knockout stages of the competition.
By now a fan base starved of success began to question the tactics and formations employed by Stramaccioni as the team looked uncomfortable when attempting to break down stubborn defences that are a common theme in Greece. This culminated in an embarrassing 3-0 loss to eternal rivals Olympiakos. Not only did the team show little fight, the contest was over by halftime and Ibarbo earned the ire of fans when posing for a photo with countryman Felipe Pardo and appearing to smile after the heavy defeat.
The writing was now on the wall for the Italian manager with most fans left disillusioned and it took a late goal from the tricky Lucas Villafanez to salvage a 1-1 draw away to Panionios. Fan outrage peaked after yet another embarrassing loss, this time in the Greek Cup to Football League side OFI 2-1 in Heraklion. Progress to the next phase of the Cup was also now in doubt, Alafouzos was left with no other option but to part ways with Stramaccioni and once again the club went back to square one on the lookout for a new manager to reinvigorate a highly disappointing squad.