10 reasons why AEK became Greek champions
In a quite incredible season, AEK Athens have taken Greece by storm, claiming first place in the Super League table to win the club’s maiden championship in 24 years. AGONAsport takes a look at how the Kitrinomavri emerged on top.
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With two rounds remaining in the 2017/2018 Super League season, the Enosis already have the title in the bag, beating Levadiakos 2:0 last Sunday to seal the crown. Throughout the season AEK have stood out with their stability, not falling foul of scandals and winning the biggest games of the year. In a featured article, we analyse the ten reasons why AEK are once again at the top of the Greek pile.
How many scandals have AEK got involved in this season? Asides the controversial match in Thessaloniki, when PAOK president Ivan Savvidis came charging onto the pitch with a gun, AEK have escaped any trouble and were the only major club in Greece to avoid major issues. Olympiacos lost three points for fan trouble in Piraeus, PAOK twice received 0:3 defeats by the courts for incidents at the Toumba Stadium, and Panathinaikos have endured miserable times in a terrible financial state. If Olympiacos and PAOK hadn’t created so many problems for themselves, the table could look very different indeed.
In his second spell as AEK boss, Manolo Jimenez has etched his name into the history books, steering the team to an historic 12th Greek title. By creating a true family atmosphere within the team, Jimenez has managed to get the best out of his players, with Marko Livaja a perfect example. Livaja signed for AEK with a bad-boy reputation, but Jimenez found the right approach and the Croat has excelled.
Despite influential midfielders Petros Mantalos and Jakob Johansson receiving serious injuries in quick succession, Jimenez never panicked, even making AEK competitive on all fronts. Alongside winning the Super League, AEK are in the Greek Cup final and bowed out at the Last 32 stage of the UEFA Europa League without losing a single game in the competition.
For the first time since the 2004/2005 season, AEK will complete the Super League season without losing to either Panathinaikos or Olympiacos. The Enosis drew 1:1 with Panathinaikos away before thrashing the struggling Greens 3:0 at the Olympic Stadium, while AEK defeated Olympiacos 3:2 and 2:1 in dramatic circumstances. The two wins over Olympiacos were vital to the championship triumph, with many signalling Giorgos Giakoumakis’ last-gasp goal in Piraeus as the turning point.
AEK picked up a tight win over second placed PAOK 1:0 in the Greek capital, but the less said about the match in Thessaloniki the better.
LAS PALMAS DUO DO THEIR THING
Diminutive Argentine striker Sergio Araujo won the hearts of AEK’s faithful support when playing for the Athenians last season, so it was no surprise to see the 26-year old return on a second loan deal from Las Palmas in late August. In comparison to the 2016/2017 season when Araujo netted five goals, this time the forward has doubled his tally with 10 markers in 21 appearances.
Araujo and Marko Livaja have formed a deadly partnership. The gifted 24-year old Croat joined on loan from Las Palmas in the summer, travelling to Athens in desperate need for his career to be rejuvenated. It took time for Livaja to get going, but after he gained confidence, AEK’s number 10 has turned into a fans’ favourite with his wonderful performances and superb technical ability. In 24 Super League matches, Livaja boasts an impressive return of eight goals and four assists.
UNBEATABLE AT THE OAKA
One of AEK’s major advantages is the club’s excellent record at the OAKA. This season, AEK have won 13 of 15 home games, drawing once against minnows Apollon Smyrnis and dropping the one defeat against Atromitos. Incidentally, that loss to Atromitos took place in front of an empty stadium. Olympiacos came close to earning a win at the OAKA in the season’s stand-out match in September, but the Thrylos blew a 2:0 lead to eventually lose 2:3.
ABILITY TO RECOVER FROM INJURIES
When Petros Mantalos and Jakob Johansson received terrible anterior cruciate ligament injuries in late 2017, it appeared as though AEK’s promising start to the season wasn’t going to materialise into success. The Kitrinomavri proved everybody wrong though, even becoming stronger without their key midfielders. Andre Simoes has turned into a perfect captain for AEK in midfield, displaying brilliant leadership skills and attracting the interest of foreign clubs. Centre-back Uros Cosic is also on the sidelines long term, but Ognjen Vranjes, Dmytro Chygrynskiy and Vasilis Lampropoulos are rock solid at the back for the Enosis.
No one can argue with AEK’s passion. Taking into account the average age of the roster and the fact plenty of these players have lots to prove at the top level, AEK have given every last ounce of energy to the cause, fighting hard and never knowing when they are beaten. AEK have rescued several matches from potentially fatal situations in the campaign, wearing their opponents down with intense, aggressive football. The title celebrations at a packed OAKA on Sunday proved how much the Enosis wanted the Super League trophy, a desire which previous champions Olympiacos lacked. Thrylos owner Evangelos Marinakis picked up on this issue, expressing his anger at the Olympiacos players for their passive attitude.
Unlike many other teams in Greece, AEK possess three strong, talented goalkeepers in their roster. The imposing Giannis Anestis was in fantastic form during the opening stages of the season, but he was frozen out of the squad following his refusal to sign a new AEK contract.
Nevertheless, AEK haven’t missed him. Panagiotis Tsintotas and Vasilis Barkas are equally solid goalkeepers, both pulling off huge saves for the Kitrinomavri over the course of the season. Barkas recently made his debut for the Greek national team in a friendly against Egypt.
In any given situation, AEK have shown they can adapt and find a winning formula. For many, the Enosis are at their best when piling the pressure on the opponents, but the team can also defend stoutly when required. Jimenez has rotated the squad to good effect, shaping his tactics depending on the opponents’ strengths. The Spanish manager prefers a 4-2-3-1 formation, but if needed, he can change his ideas during matches with successful results.
Incredibly, Lazaros Christodoulopoulos’ AEK contract is about to expire, something which is astounding given how the 31-year old has played this season. Offering real threat, trickery and invention on the wing, Lazaros has saved AEK’s bacon on many occasions, popping up with important goals and inspired pieces of trickery. His pace often catches the opposing defence flat footed and Jimenez has used him cleverly. Looking ahead to the summer, AEK simply cannot afford to lose their talismanic midfielder.