Second-placed Showdown In Nea Smyrni
(Matchday 19 Preview)
A battle of two of the season’s welcome surprises highlights Matchday 19 action of the 2016/17 Greek SuperLeague. Though a major derby is missing from the scheduled matches, there are important fixtures across the board.
Two teams tied for second place face off in Nea Smyrni as Panionios welcome Xanthi to town in the AGONAsport Match of the Week. Both teams are on 32 points (along with PAOK) and have been two of the biggest stories of the season.
Leaders Olympiacos host an Iraklis side who have been mired in the relegation zone most of the season, but who have recently shown some signs of life.
Panathinaikos want to break up a series of disappointing league results when they face the tricky trip to PAS Giannina. PAOK have a tough test on their hands when an improved Asteras Tripolis come to Toumba on Sunday. AEK, looking good under Manolo Jimenez, on paper have a relatively straightforward tie against Veria.
Also this weekend, Larisa and Kerkyra meet up on Saturday at the AEL FC Arena. That same day two slumping teams, Panetolikos and Atromitos, do battle in Agrinio.
On Monday, Levadiakos look to snap a lengthy winless run when they await the arrival of Platanias.
***For the full SuperLeague schedule click here or visit the Greek SuperLeague home page for more. For TV Listings of this weekend's games (and more) in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Greece visit our TV Listings's page.
GAME OF THE WEEK: PANIONIOS - XANTHI
The AGONAsport Match of the Week has to be the showdown of the teams tied for second in the table. Panionios and Xanthi play a very important match in Nea Smyrni on Sunday. Both teams have been welcome surprises in this campaign, supplanting some of the traditional powers of Greek football near the top of the table. Quite clearly, a playoff berth is on the cards for both sides barring a capitulation in the remaining 11 matches.
Panionios fought back well to earn a point last week in Tripoli. Vladan Milojevic’s team are seemingly managing okay with life after Karim Ansarifard. Panionios have made some moves in January with the additions of Lampros Lamprou on loan from PAOK and the signing of Stefanos Mouktaris from Kallithea. The hope from all involved with the club is that Nea Smyrni will be full on Sunday for one of the club’s most important league matches in a while.
Younes Hamza looks set to make the cut giving Xanthi a big boost to their preparations for the Panionios match. The leading scorer of the Greek SuperLeague has missed the last two matches for his side due to suspension, but the Tunisian striker is set to make a return this weekend. That is contrast to Brazilian defender Wallace who is ruled out. Xanthi were quite average last weekend in a 0-0 draw against AEK. Despite for playing nearly an hour with a man advantage, Razvan Lucescu’s men didn’t appear ready to risk anything going forward. A similar strategy may be employed this weekend with Xanthi more than keen to sit back and hit teams with their strong counterattack.
LARISSA - KERKYRA
Larisa are beginning to nudge ever so closer to the drop zone and will be desperate for points against Kerkyra this weekend. The club’s home form will surely go a long way in determining their survival and this is the sort of match where the three points are an absolute must. Sakis Tsiolis is coming under increasing pressure at the AEL FC Arena with supporters disillusioned with the team’s recent performances. With nine new arrivals before the close of the January transfer window, beating relegation will also be determined by how quickly those new players can produce.
Kerkyra’s recent form has not particularly been great, but Michalis Grigoriou’s side appears to be distancing themselves from the drop zone. Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Iraklis was exactly the type of result that Kerkyra needed as the try to scramble enough points away from home to ensure safety. This will be the club’s third straight away fixture in the league in a week which began after losing to Platanias last weekend on a late penalty. This looks to be a side too good to stay down and in reality a victory in Larisa this weekend could all but clinch their survival.
PANETOLIKOS - ATROMITOS
Two teams undergoing rough patches will duel in Agrinio when Panetolikos take on Atromitos. Both clubs have only won once in their last six matches. While neither side is overly concerned about relegation at the moment, with midtable finishes looking more likely, there is some anxiety over recent form. Panetolikos have seen the departure of Giannis Mantzourakis due to their big dip and things haven’t improved as of yet with the recently appointed Makis Chavos. Tasos Tsokanis looks as though he will miss out due to injury this weekend, but new signing Dimitris Papadopoulos does look like he will at least be on the bench.
Atromitos are now winless in their last five matches after last weekend’s 1-1 home draw with PAS Giannina. That tie was a bitter pill for Giorgos Korakakis and his players to swallow as the equalizer for PAS came from a 95th minute penalty. Atromitos had been the better side on the night and probably deserved to win the match. Against Panetolikos, Atromitos will be without the recently departed Papadopoulos and also Paul Keita, who moved to Kerkyra. There is however growing excitement over the arrival of Abiola Dauda. The Nigerian-born striker scored all four goals in the club’s 4-2 aggregate Greek Cup win over Lamia.
PAS GIANNINA - PANATHINAIKOS
|PAS Giannina||12:30 PM||Panathinaikos|
Still smarting from a dramatic Greek Cup elimination, PAS Giannina will try to bounce back when they welcome Panathinaikos. After beginning the season in superb form, Giannis Petrakis has watched his side stumble in the last couple months. Once considered a solid bet for the playoffs, the club are now five points off of the fifth and final playoff place. Certainly, the midweek overtime Cup defeat to Platanias doesn’t help morale, but the silver lining could now be that all focus will turn to the league.
Panathinaikos may have trounced Kissamikos 4-0 away in Greek Cup action this week, however the problems surrounding the club won’t be going away because of that result. Another poor showing in a 0-0 home draw with Levadiakos left the team behind Panionios, Xanthi, and PAOK in the top 5 of the standings. With a resurgent AEK beginning to show consistent form, there is a worry forming that Panathinaikos could lose out on Europe if their recent displays are anything to go by. While that might be panic thinking, the truth is that this side seems tired and lacking in creativity. Whether Marinos Ouzounidis can reshuffle things and motivate his team to improve remains to be seen.
AEK - VERIA
It has all the makings of a mismatch when AEK host Veria in Sunday’s early kick-off. The return of Manolo Jimenez has given AEK new life in the SuperLeague as well as the Greek Cup. The Spanish manager’s second stint at the club has begun with three wins and a draw. More importantly for AEK supporters is that the side looks refreshed and enjoying their football again. The Kitrinomavri are coming off a 6-0 thrashing of Levadiakos in Cup action on Wednesday. The big news besides the massive scoreline was new loan signing Sergio Araujo. The Las Palmas striker opened up his account with Greece with a brace against Levadiakos and showed he is ready to contribute from the start.
Veria’s recent form has been subpar, which means that the side are now bottom of the SuperLeague on goal difference. There is a real fear for relegation as Apostolos Terzis, the current interim boss, looks set to take on the full-time role until the end of the season. Veria did well to stay in the match against Olympiacos last weekend, but ultimately were unable to get any points. The upcoming schedule is not kind for the Vasilissa tou Vorra. The club played last week against Olympiacos, this weekend against AEK, and have matches in the coming weeks against Panionios, PAOK, and Panathinaikos amongst others. Much of their survival hopes could hinge on whether they can stay within striking distance of safety after this difficult stretch.
PAOK - ASTERAS TRIPOLIS
|PAOK||10:15 AM||Asteras Tripolis|
PAOK look to continue their good form when hosting Asteras Tripolis on Matchday 19. The Dikefalos tou Vorra have been bouncing from win to win in the SuperLeague as of late, their latest a midweek make-up game where they won away at Larisa 2-0. Since the New Year, Vladan Ivic has side playing some good football and they are the form team in the league at the moment. Some solid recruiting in January appears to have make a good side even better. Second place in the league must be the target if the team can maintain this form.
Asteras Tripolis are coming off a 1-1 home draw with Panionios. Dimitris Elefteropoulos has overseen a real uptick in his side’s form since taking over during the early part of the season. Now the question is whether this side can push higher up the league table. A playoff berth would be a greatly far-fetched proposition at this point, but a top 8 finish is definitely there for the taking. Manolis Bertos took a knock in training on Thursday and will be a last-minute decision. Nikos Kaltsas will definitely be absent with his recovery time looking to take the better part of three weeks.
OLYMPIACOS - IRAKLIS
Olympiacos eased past Aris on Thursday 2-0 in the Greek Cup as they prepare for a league fixture against Iraklis on Sunday. The Erythrolefki have been accused of not producing the best quality in their performances this season, but that hasn’t stopped Paulo Bento’s men from opening up a 13-point lead at the top of the table. Last week’s 2-1 win over Veria was a perfect example. It was a relatively subdued effort from Olympiacos, but in the end they picked up another three points as they march toward another title. They will be the unquestionable favorites against bottom side Iraklis.
Iraklis will know full well this is an Olympiacos side that simply doesn’t give much away at home. The league leaders have lost points just once this season at the Karaiskakis Stadium, a single draw from nine matches. Savvas Pantelidis’ side would surely take a point from this match as they struggle to climb out of the relegation zone. There is increasing hope for Iraklis however even though they have been in the bottom two virtually the entire season. A recent ruling saw their three points’ deduction from earlier this season be rescinded. Now, the Thessaloniki club are only a point from safety and can look ahead to the final stretch with some optimism.
Levadiakos - Platanias
There is no team aching for a victory in the SuperLeague than Levadiakos. As they prepare for a Monday night match against Platanias, there is a real need to somehow find the three points to turn their season around. Back in the fall, Levadiakos were comfortably in a midtable position at one point. However, a disastrous stretch that sees them now winless in their last 11 matches has them just a point above the bottom two. Progress appeared to be made last week with a valuable point gained at Panathinaikos and a display that was very solid. That however was followed up with a 6-0 defeat against AEK in the Cup. Surely, Giannis Christopoulos is prioritizing the league, but heavy defeats like that cannot help restore confidence.
Platanias were also involved in Greek Cup action this week. Giorgos Paraschos’ side played their role in perhaps the most dramatic match of the competition yet as they overcame PAS Giannina 2-1 away in overtime to secure a 3-1 aggregate victory. It was heartening for supporters to see their side do the business away as Platanias have struggled in their travels this season. Now the team will attempt to take that momentum and put it toward their league matches. Juan Munafo will not feature on Monday as he serves a suspension for an accumulation of yellow cards. Mikalay Singnevich received a knock on his nose in the Giannina match, but is expected to be available come Monday.