A season of frustration for AEK continues
AGONAsport’s AEK contributor, Shaun Nicolaides, takes a look at the Enosis’ frustrating season to date after their disappointing 1:1 draw against 10-man PAOK on Sunday.
The defence of the title always promised to be difficult, but did many think it would be this tough? Well, I didn’t. Ok, I perfectly understood it would be challenging, but being resigned to third place with 11 matches remaining isn’t exactly the result I hoped for.
PAOK were the favourites for the season before a ball was kicked. Since the dramatic, scandalous end to the 2017/2018 season, the Dikefalos tou Vorra have continued growing in strength, largely keeping their squad together while making excellent additions such as Leo Jaba and Chuba Akpom. In Piraeus, Olympiacos made plenty of smart deals on the market with effective signings, but it was a completely different story for AEK. Lazaros Christodoulopoulos left for Olympiacos, Sergio Araujo returned to Las Palmas, Manolo Jimenez didn’t renew...the omens didn’t bode well.
Qualifying for the UEFA Champions League group stage was an achievement which deserved plaudits. Sadly, the team then contrived to lose all six matches in the competition, but that didn’t tell the entire story. In early October, I attended the match against Benfica in Athens, and I’m still wondering how AEK actually managed to lose that game...
A dreadful run of results in late 2018 meant that AEK have long had no chance whatsoever of successfully defending the Super League trophy. Trailing PAOK by a huge 14 points ahead of the matchday 19 clash at the Olympic Stadium, Sunday’s derby wasn’t ever going to allow AEK to get back into the title race, but there was still hope of making the Champions League. And, of course, the small matter of pride was at stake.
Marinos Ouzounidis’ 3-5-2 formation had been working well in 2019, so considering that he went for the same system against PAOK, I was reasonably confident of getting the right result. However, if you’re going to concede such ridiculously cheap goals like the one Mauricio scored within 10 minutes, you have no right to win major matches. How on earth is an opposition player alone inside the six-yard box?
Such static, amateurish defending brought back memories of the 2017/2018 Champions League qualifying tie against CSKA Moscow, when AEK conceded three similar goals from corner kicks in the two matches:
It’s beyond me how in this day and age, with all the sophisticated technology available and the hours the players put in at the training ground, these childish mistakes still occur so regularly.
Ezequiel Ponce is rightly receiving credit for his superb goalscoring form in 2019, but he lazily allowed Mauricio to escape his attentions for the opening marker. At least he redeemed himself with an equaliser.
With PAOK down to 10 men after Leo Jaba’s red card, AEK did equalise late in the second half thanks to Ponce, but the Kitrinomavri are now eight points behind second-placed Olympiacos as Champions League dreams rapidly fade. Can AEK realistically overtake Olympiacos to steal second? No. Call me a pessimist, but I just cannot see that happening at all. Maybe I’ll think differently on the evening of February 17 if Jimenez can work his magic.
SAME OLD COMEBACK STORY REPEATING ITSELF
AEK displayed character to once again save a point in a tricky game, however this is nothing new. Unfortunately, the Enosis only wake up after conceding, and this has been a problem over the last couple of seasons. Here are some examples: AEK - Olympiacos (3:2, 2017), AEK - Rijeka (2:2, 2017), AEK - Dynamo Kyiv (1:1, 2018), AEK - Benfica (2:3, 2018), AEK - Olympiacos (1:1, 2018)...it’s an issue which is still continuing, and in my opinion, this is something which HAS to be fixed right now. Launching a thrilling comeback in nearly every important game isn’t always going to work. It’ll catch up with you in the end.
Personally, I don’t believe Ouzounidis was the main reason why it’s turned out to be an underwhelming season for AEK, but the return of Manolo Jimenez has raised hopes of a bright future. As players stated after the PAOK game, the Greek Cup is now AEK’s priority, and a piece of silverware would go some way to making up for a disappointing campaign.