PAOK-AEK preview: Title showdown at the Toumba
AGONAsport’s Shaun Nicolaides previews the vital Super League clash between PAOK and AEK at the Toumba Stadium in Thessaloniki.
It all comes down to this. With just six rounds in the 2017/2018 Super League remaining, the two main title contenders meet at the Toumba Stadium. AEK did lead by five points, but after PAOK's appeal against a three-point deduction proved successful, the Athenian club's advantage has been cut to a slender two points. If PAOK manage to earn a victory, the Thessaloniki club will go top of the standings.
In February, it seemed that PAOK were on their way to championship glory, but their campaign suddenly came off the rails. The Thessaloniki outfit were handed a 0:3 home defeat to Olympiacos when Thrylos head coach Oscar Garcia was struck by a flying object from the Toumba crowd, before PAOK surprisingly dropped a 2:3 loss to Asteras in Tripoli. Already behind in second place with 52 points, PAOK simply have to win if they are to become favourites in the race to lift the Super League trophy. A draw or a defeat simply won’t do.
On the other hand, AEK sit in the box seat. Boasting a two point lead in first position, the capital giants can see the finishing line approaching if they avoid defeat on Sunday. A draw would be a positive result, but a victory could end PAOK’s and Olympiacos’ hopes. Looking at AEK’s final five fixtures, it’s hard to see where the club will lose five points.
27-year old Moroccan midfielder Omar El-Kaddouri is back from injury, so head coach Razvan Lucescu has a full-strength squad to choose from with no suspensions. Record-breaking goalkeeper Alexandros Paschalakis conceded three goals against Asteras Tripolis, but it’s unlikely he will lose his place in the team. Talismanic Serbian forward Aleksandar Prijovic is looking to improve on his impressive tally of 14 goals in the Super League season.
Unfortunately for Manolo Jimenez, Ukrainian defender Dmytro Chygrynskiy is ruled out because of injury. Nevertheless, Jimenez is happy to welcome Niklas Hult and Andre Simoes back into the squad after their health problems. It will be interesting to see whether AEK opt for an aggressive approach in this game.
Paschalakis, Vieirinha, Varela, Crespo, Matos, Mauricio, Canas, Mak, Pelkas, Biseswar, Prijovic.
Tsintotas, Galo, Vranjes, Lampropoulos, Lopes, Simoes, Galanopoulos, Christodoulopoulos, Bakasetas, Livaja, Araujo.
04/03/2018, Asteras Tripolis - PAOK - 3:2 (Super League)
28/02/2018, Panionios - PAOK - 1:3 (Greek Cup)
25/02/2018, PAOK - Olympiacos - 0:3* (Super League) *-Match did not start because of crowd trouble, Olympiacos awarded 3:0 victory pending appeal
17/02/2018, Lamia - PAOK - 0:3 (Super League)
12/02/2018, PAOK - AEL - 3:0 (Super League)
04/03/2018, AEK - Panionios - 1:0 (Super League)
01/03/2018, AEL - AEK - 2:1 (Greek Cup)
26/02/2018, Atromitos - AEK - 1:1 (Super League)
22/02/2018, Dynamo Kyiv - AEK - 0:0 (Europa League)
18/02/2018, AEK - Xanthi - 4:0 (Super League)
Backed by the support of their passionate fans, PAOK have no other option than to do everything in their power to defeat AEK. In his pre-match briefing with Nova Sports, Lucescu revealed his disappointment and anger with recent events surrounding PAOK, but he also said that his players have become even more motivated as a direct result of the Olympiacos scandal.
In order to keep the pressure off their shoulders, visitors AEK cannot afford to lose in Thessaloniki. A fascinating, thrilling battle of Greece’s two stand-out clubs this season awaits.