What we have learnt from the opening weeks of the Super League season
Nick Tsambouniaris assesses the major talking points from the opening two weeks of the Super League 1 season, as the international break halts proceedings.
After a frantic two weeks into the newly rebranded Super League 1 season, there are many talking points that have emerged and several things have been learnt in the process. From Panathinaikos’ horror start, to the numerous managerial changes, to the early surprise packages, to VAR scandals, to Olympiacos’ great start, plenty of talking points have led to lots of discussion during the first international break of the 2019-20 season.
“The team is not ready yet, the international break will do us a world of good to improve on our weaknesses” - a common cliche used by managers early on in a new season. This rings true in the case of PAOK, who have a 100% winning start to their name, but in truth the Thessaloniki-based club have flattered to deceive. The reigning champions held their own against Ajax but capitulated against Slovan Bratislava, and won home games they were expected to against Panetolikos and Panionios. The new man at the helm, Abel Ferreira, has his work cut out. The team is built around Vieirinha, Mauricio and Wernbloom, Paschalakis has been rocky between the sticks, Varela is yet to get going, and Jaba appears to be elsewhere.
In stark contrast, Olympiacos have enjoyed a strong start, headlined by their qualification for the UEFA Champions League group stages. They hammered Krasnodar over two legs en route to this achievement and are beginning to set the pace early. However, domestically they have needed a pair of penalties to get on the scoresheet, and their first match against Asteras Tripolis made news for the wrong reasons.
In the first dramatic moment of the use of the VAR in Greek football, Asteras Tripolis were controversially robbed of a chance to equalise as a penalty was not awarded for what appeared to be a tug of the shirt. While there was an offside, there was also a foul…
On top of this, a photo emerged from the VAR headquarters of match officials appearing to eat souvlakia during a match taking place (in true Greek fashion).
Panathinaikos have been majorly disappointing to start the season after picking up a mere point against bogey sides Lamia and OFI. The Greens lack a cutting edge in the final third (they are yet to score from open play) and look lightweight at the back. Intriguingly, they head north to Thessaloniki to face an equally-desperate Aris side, who are also winless.
This fixture generally produces fireworks and it shapes as a must-watch game. How will Aris fare for the first time since they parted ways with Pantelidis? They entered the season with so many expectations, but have found it tough on all fronts - they were also bundled out of the UEFA Europa League in the qualifying rounds.
Pantelidis was not alone in leaving Aris. After two rounds, a whopping five coaches have been moved on. Two even failed to make it to the first matchday - Chavos at Lamia and Petric at Larissa. The demanding nature of Greek football with trigger-happy owners searching for instant success, has been a major talking point again.
The most high profile departure to date is Miguel Cardoso being sacked by Dimitris Melissanidis at AEK after overseeing just one League fixture - a shock 1-2 home loss against Xanthi. However, the Enosi’s poor showing in UEFA Europa League qualifying also played a huge role. Their home loss against Trabzonspor was a night to forget. Since his sacking, AEK have shown more heart and determination, as evidenced by their stirring win at Asteras Tripolis in the League and at Trabzonspor in the Europa League. The question remains whether or not they have the quality and depth to compete with PAOK and Olympiacos.
Akis Manztios was the fifth manager to be shown the door this season as Panionios sit in bottom place on -6 (they were docked 6 points due to financial issues). While it is still early days, the Nea Smyrni-based club need to find form quickly if they are any chance of staying up this season.
On the flip side, Xanthi and Volos have emerged as the surprise packages. The former have become mainstays in the top flight but their amazing start leaves them in good. stead for the rest of the season, considering they have beaten AEK and Panetolikos away. They are yet to host a home game at the notoriously tricky Pigadia. The latter were only formed in the summer of 2017 and have enjoyed back-to-back promotions to shoot straight up to the top flight from the third tier. Beos has been around the traps long enough in the sense of Greek football and has built a decent side, centred around a few loan players that can genuinely make a difference.