PAOK-OLY preview: Hosts aim to pull away at the summit
AGONAsport’s Shaun Nicolaides previews the headline Super League showdown between PAOK and Olympiacos in Thessaloniki.
On Sunday, PAOK have a perfect opportunity to hammer the final nail in Olympiacos’ coffin. The Piraeus outfit have won the past seven consecutive Greek championships, but following a three-point deduction for the unsavoury events against AEK, the Thrylos find themselves languishing in third position and nine points behind leaders PAOK (there is an appeal against the decision ongoing). If Olympiacos are to cling on to any sort of hope in the title race, the reigning champions simply have to earn the three points at the formidable Toumba Stadium.
However, the chances of an Olympiacos victory appear desperately slim. PAOK are enjoying a record breaking campaign, winning ten successive matches in the Super League to move into pole position with only eight rounds remaining. Just to make matters worse for their opponents, PAOK have won all ten matches in Thessaloniki this season, conceding a mere two goals in the process. Backed by stand-out goalkeeper Alexandros Paschalakis, only eight goals have been scored against PAOK in the entire season, while the Dikefalos have hit the back of the net 44 times in 22 games. Key midfielder Dimitris Pelkas pulls the strings in midfield, with Serbian hitman Aleksandar Prijovic registering 13 goals.
Nevertheless, Olympiacos did inflict a rare defeat on PAOK this campaign, defeating their rivals 1:0 at the Karaiskakis Stadium with a very fortunate goal from defender Bjorn Engels.
There is a slight worry for PAOK concerning the on-fire Pelkas, as the 24-year old trained on his own and underwent physiotherapy on Friday after receiving an ankle knock. Djalma Campos was also an injury doubt, however he has made a full recovery in time for the match. Omar El Kaddouri and Dorian Leveque stay on the sidelines as they continue their rehabilitation program. Assuming Pelkas is well enough to participate, Lucescu has practically a full strength squad to choose from.
Similar to their opponents, Olympiacos have no suspensions or any particular serious injuries. Taking into account the Thrylos’ need to win this battle, Spanish boss Oscar Garcia will probably insert Marko Marin, Kevin Mirallas and Karim Ansarifard into the line-up from the start.
Paschalakis, Vierinha, Crespo, Varela, Matos, Mauricio, Canas, Biseswar, Pelkas, Mak, Prijovic.
Proto, Koutris, Cisse, Engels, Elabdellaoui, Romao, Tachtsidis, Odjidja, Marin, Mirallas, Ansarifard.
17/02/2018, Lamia - PAOK - 0:2 (Super League)
12/02/2018, PAOK - AEL - 3:0 (Super League)
08/02/2018, Atromitos - PAOK - 1:3 (Greek Cup)
04/02/2018, PAS Giannina - PAOK - 1:3 (Super League)
28/01/2018, Panetolikos - PAOK - 0:1 (Super League)
18/02/2018, Olympiacos - Panionios - 1:0 (Super League)
11/02/2018, Atromitos - Olympiacos - 2:2 (Super League)
07/02/2018, AEK - Olympiacos - 2:1 (Greek Cup)
04/02/2018, Olympiacos - AEK - 1:2 (Super League)
28/01/2018, Asteras Tripolis - Olympiacos - 1:1 (Super League)
Playing in front of a completely sold out Toumba Stadium which will be rocking, PAOK are sure to take the initiative and press a struggling Olympiacos side. The Thrylos’ defensive frailties are there for all to see this season, and if the likes of Pelkas, Biseswar and Prijovic are in the mood, Olympiacos goalkeeper Silvio Proto could have a busy night ahead of him.
Tactically, Oscar Garcia has to get this right for Olympiacos. The visitors require a victory, but if they go all out, they run the risk of getting ripped apart at the back. Olympiacos are determined to give PAOK’s title credentials a real test.