Kick-off for the Greek SuperLeague…Finally
(Matchday 3 Preview)
After a two-week postponement due to infighting between Greece’s domestic football bodies, the Greek SuperLeague is set to begin play this weekend. The first week of play will actually be the third round of scheduled matches. The lead-up to the new season has been marred by disagreements between the Greek Football Federation (EPO) and the SuperLeague and many of its clubs over a long-running dispute about referees.
And this weekend’s action has been overshadowed by the news that Olympiacos owner Evangelos Marinakis may face severe charges over his role in the creation of an alleged “criminal organization” as well as match-fixing charges.
On the pitch, Olympiacos, winners of the last six league titles, remain the favorites to win the league. However, in light of their apparent off-the-pitch issues and a summer where they have also been plagued by problems on the field, this season appears to be the first in years where they will be seriously challenged for the championship. The main challengers for the title remain as the likes of PAOK, Panathinaikos, and AEK will all be aiming for domestic glory.
The hope for all supporters as every season approaches is that what happens on the pitch will attract the most attention, not what happens off it.
KERKYRA - PLATANIAS
The 2016/17 Greek SuperLeague officially will kick off on Saturday afternoon when Kerkyra play host to Platanias. SuperLeague new boys Kerkyra will have only one mission this season; remaining in the top division. The Corfu side has been a true yo-yo club in recent years. Manager Michalis Grigoriou has added experience to the side with the aim of staying up. Denis Epstein returns to the club while Giannis Zaradoukas has also come over from Xanthi.
Georgios Paraschos’ Platanias will try to open up their campaign in style as they aim to go the extra mile this season and challenge higher up the table. The Chania-based side are entering their 5th top-flight season. They have recorded three 9th place finishes and one 14th place finish in their SuperLeague history. In order to improve they will have to find a way to deal with life after Ousmane Coulibaly. The Mali defender has been a stalwart of the team in the last two seasons and recently left the club in a move to Panathinaikos.
PANIONIOS - ASTERAS TRIPOLIS
|Panionios||11:15 AM||Asteras Tripolis|
Nea Smyrni will be the site of an intriguing match-up between hosts Panionios and Asteras Tripolis on Saturday. Over the summer, Panionios lost their spot in the Europa League qualifiers after UEFA saw deficiencies in the club’s licensing folder. The problems have continued for Panionios as Marinos Ouzounidis was given the axe for reportedly being interested in the then vacant Olympiacos managerial job. His replacement is Vladan Milojevic. The Serbian played in Greece for many years during his playing career and most recently coached Omonia in Cyprus. Panionios have added some attacking punch in the off-season with former PSG and Liverpool striker David N’gog joining the team in addition to Michael Olaitan and Ben (on loan from Olympiacos).
Makis Chavos’ Asteras Tripolis have shown signs of strength in a promising preseason. There has been major movement at the club this summer with eight players leaving the club and ten joining. The new recruits are a mix of Greek and foreign talent as Asteras attempt to get back into the SuperLeague playoffs after narrowly missing out last season. One area of concern will be in central defense as Kostas Triantafyllopoulos has been ruled out for 4-6 months with a ruptured ACL.
LEVADIAKOS - PANATHINAIKOS
Panathinaikos visit Levadiakos on Sunday as the Prasinoi open up their campaign. After a disappointing performance in the playoffs last season which saw them lose out on a Champions’ League spot, Andrea Strammacioni’s men are attempting to rebound this season with a credible title challenge. Supporters of the club have been buoyed by a summer recruitment drive that has brought the likes of Cristian Ledesma, Lautaro Rinaldi, and Victor Ibarbo to Painia. The deadline day move of Christopher Samba on a free transfer could plug some gaps at the back for a side that looks considerably deeper this season.
Rastko Dostanic is the new man at the helm of Levadiakos. The well-travelled Serbian boss can count Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria, China, and Georgia amongst his places of employment. Levadiakos have not made many changes to the squad that finished 10th last season. Only three players have been brought into the side with the experienced journeyman Chumbinho amongst the new signings. Levadiakos will be hoping that the Brazilian attacker can reapply the same goalscoring touch he possessed in 2012 when he scored 9 times in 20 matches for the Livadeia side.
AEK - XANTHI
AEK and Xanthi meet at the Olympic Stadium in Athens on Saturday evening. Temur Ketsbaia is now in charge of the Kitrinomavroi. His tenure began with a European exit at the hands of Saint Etienne in the Europa League qualifiers; however the focus for AEK this season will be on a sustained title challenge. Two late signings at the end of the summer transfer window has given the club’s supporters reason for optimism. English defender Joleon Lescott and Greek international Lazaros Christodoulopoulos were snapped up adding more class and experience to the side. Earlier in the window, Hugo Almeida was been brought in from Hannover while defensive solidity is expected with the signing of Dmytro Chygrynskiy. With only domestic duties on their plate, AEK is expected to be in the title discussion.
Xanthi head to Athens hoping to start the season off with a shock result. This will be the last season in charge for current boss Razvan Lucescu who joined the club in September 2014. The Romanian boss will pursue new challenges in his coaching career at the end of the current campaign. He will want to end his reign at Xanthi on a high though by improving on last season’s disappointing 13th in the table.
PAS GIANNINA - ATROMITOS
|PAS Giannina||11:15 AM||Atromitos|
PAS Giannina and Atromitos clash on Sunday. This is certainly a match pitting two teams chasing after European spots. After a decent run in the Europa League qualifiers where Giannina advanced past Norwegian side Odd before bravely falling to AZ Alkmaar, Giannis Petrakis’ charges concentrate back on their domestic duties. O Ajax to Epirou will do well to match their 6th place finish from last year and after their forays in Europe there is a true feel-good factor surrounding the club.
For Traianos Dellas and Atromitos the goal will be to climb higher than last season’s 8th place finish. The immediate task for the club this summer was to find a replacement for winger Cosmin Matei who is off to Genclerbirligi. Wide man Martin Tonso was brought in to plug the gap as Atromitos hope the former Newell’s Old Boys and Colo Colo man can be a creative influence for the Kianolefki.
PAOK - PANETOLIKOS
In one of Sunday’s matches, last season’s playoff winners, PAOK, are looking to pick up where they left off in the previous campaign. Though they ended the regular season in fourth place, o Dikefalos tou Borra was highly impressive in the playoffs, finishing ahead of Panathinaikos, AEK, and Panionios thereby earning a spot in the Champions’ League qualifiers. Vladan Ivic’s side won admirers for the performances against Ajax in the 3rd qualifying round of the CL in August, however they ultimately succumbed 3-2 on aggregate. While the likes of Dimitar Berbatov and Robert Mak are gone, the Thessaloniki giants have added considerable quality and depth to their squad with the acquisitions of Djalma Campos, Fernando Varela, Jose Canas, and Mame Thiam amongst others.
Panaitolikos will be aiming to better their 11th place finish from last season. Head coach Giannis Mantzourakis was installed at the club last October, replacing the Portuguese Lionel Pontes, and earned the right to lead the team into the new campaign. Three of the club’s five new signings are Portuguese; all with experience in the Primeira Liga, while also notable is the purchase of Tasos Tsokanis from Asteras Tripolis.
OLYMPIACOS - VERIA
Reigning champions Olympiacos will hope the return of domestic football will ease their turbulent summer. The Erythrolefki, who open the season by hosting Veria on Sunday, have had a tumultuous start to their season. The Piraeus side are already on their third manager and have been surprisingly knocked out of the Champions’ League in the qualifying rounds. It remains to be seen whether new boss Paulo Bento can right the ship and keep the champions on course for another successful title defense. A flurry of activity toward the end of the transfer window saw the club land the likes of Oscar Cardozo and Marko Marin. Both are expected to feature on Sunday and a victory over Veria would signal a fresh start and perhaps take some pressure off of the club.
Veria boss Alekos Vosniadis has spoken about his relatively new squad ahead of the new season insisting the Vasilissa tou Vorra now has the requisite quality to compete in the SuperLeague. An incredible 17 players, more than any other side in the division, have been brought into the club with only six departures. It remains to be seen whether Veria can improve on a 14th place finish last season which saw the team win only five of their 30 league matches.
LARISSA - IRAKLIS
The Aggelos Anastasiadis era at Larisa begins as Larisa host Iraklis at the AEL FC Arena in Monday’s lone SuperLeague fixture. Anastasiadis’ appointment was not universally popular and it remains to be seen what the mood is like on Monday after an underwhelming preseason by the Vissini. Larisa come into the season as winners of last season’s Football League and the main goal this season will surely be to avoid the drop.
One club with massive concerns heading into the new season is undoubtedly Iraklis. O Giraios is undergoing serious financial problems at the moment and are even at this early stage favorites for the drop. Apostolos Vellios’ move to Nottingham Forest may have brought much-needed cash to the club; however it left a huge hole in the Thessaloniki side’s line-up. Amidst talk of unpaid wages and the reality of an extremely thin squad, the outlook for Iraklis is certainly bleak at the moment.