Cardoso: “There is no hierarchy in our locker room”
Miguel Cardoso and Unal Karaman, the two respective head coaches, spoke to the media ahead of the first leg of the UEFA Europa League qualification playoffs between AEK and Trabzonspor.
In the third qualifying round, AEK didn’t particularly impress in their victory against Universitatea Craiova, and the Greeks know they will have to play a lot better to defeat a strong, talented Trabzonspor side. The first game will take place inside an empty Olympic Stadium as a result of fan trouble against Ajax in the 2018/2019 UEFA Champions League.
Miguel Cardoso covered plenty of topics in detail in his press-conference:
Personal message for the media: “It is important to make a couple of things clear. Maybe some of my words weren’t correctly understood. This is a message which I would like to extend for the entire season. When I arrived here, I stated that it was important for me to work with a club which has the same values which are key for me. We have an interesting group of players, but not the best players in the world. We must keep developing so we arrive at a point where we’re really strong. I am sure that the season will be tough, and it’s already been difficult for us. Only a very strong group will be able to fight to achieve the goals which we have. This was a statement which I made, not a criticism. It’s normal that after two months are work, and many changes to the squad, that the players are still finding each other. We must stick to our values on the pitch, every day. I don’t focus on the fact if my players are Greek, Serbian, Portuguese or any other nationality. Instead, I focus on performance, desire and how they play in training. There is no hierarchy in our locker room.
Factor of having no fans at the stadium in Greece but Trabzonspor having supporters in Turkey: “I know very well the atmosphere which Turkish stadiums have. Three years ago, when I was working with Shakhtar, we played two qualifying games there. One of them was against Basaksehir. Fortunately, we were successful. I understand what we have to face there. When I play games away, and I don’t feel any atmosphere from the stands, it means that we are not playing well. I expect our players to make the Trabzonspor fans whistle us in Turkey. I like it when stadiums are full, so we will enjoy the atmosphere there.
Reaction of Marko Livaja being substituted against Craiova: “Usually, I don’t speak about previous games, but I will make an exception today. In the first half against Craiova, we had two fantastic chances to end the match. It could have been 3:0 at the break. However, it wasn’t. I will now tell you what happened. We decided to put Nenad in the line-up, because it was an ideal opportunity to give him time on the pitch. We are going to play four matches in 12 days. We knew that Nenad would have to be substituted later on. I also wanted to give Nelson game time, he needed to play as much as possible to get into better shape. We have several options for the three attacking positions behind Nelson. For the match against Craiova, we are talking about Petros, Francisco, Marko and Daniele. I was sure that Petros and Francisco could finish the game. Considering that Marko was on the bench in Craiova, and how he affected the match, I started him instead of Daniele. In the second half, I had to change Nenad, because he was struggling. I also had to leave one substitution for the end of the match. Before that, I had to substitute either Marko or Nelson. Why did I substitute Marko? At that moment in the game, we were suffering. We had to run a lot, and the number nine position runs the least. That’s why I changed Marko. Francisco moved inside, while Daniele played on the right. The decision was the right one in terms of physical performance. Petros ran 11 kilometers, and so did Francisco. After the game, Daniele was very upset about not scoring, but I told him not to worry. I don’t punish players for missing chances. I need all of my players. At the start of the season, who would imagine that Stratos Svarnas would be a starting player? He is, and he is doing quite well. ”
How ready the team is to play Trabzonspor: “If we win, but play badly, I won’t be worried. Yes, I want to play well, but the result is the most important thing in these qualifying rounds. I think that we need to make a couple of considerations. We must understand who we are playing against. The opponents deserve respect, they are a strong club from a strong championship. In the 2010/2011 season, I reached the final of the Europa League as assistant Braga coach. In the UEFA Champions League qualifiers, we had beaten Celtic and Sevilla, before gaining nine points in the group stages. We defeated Poznan, Liverpool, Dynamo Kyiv and Benfica, eventually losing to Porto. I have a lot of experience in these competitions. The best team always wins these matches. If we have the right spirit in the 180 minutes, we should qualify for the next round.”
Difficulty of playing the second leg on the road: “Of course, it’s different when you play at home in the first match. We understand that this is a tough qualifying round, and we must know how to approach the game in the best way. We must stick to the game plan, limit the possibilities available to the Trabzonspor players and take advantage of our chances. We have to be at 100%, these must be two good matches for us. It won’t be easy. I expect my team to play well tactically, while competing aggressively. If we keep this balance, things can happen. Our friendly against Basaksehir? Tactically, Basaksehir and Trabzonspor are completely different.”
Unal Karaman, the head coach of Trabzonspor, doesn’t think there is a favourite in the tie:
Who is the favourite: “There isn’t a favourite in this tie. We’re only focused on our team. We want to return to Trabzon with a positive result under our belts. At this stage of the competition, we understand that there are no easy opponents, and we know AEK’s strengths. We respect AEK. We must do our best.”
Factor of playing behind closed doors in Athens: “I want every match to have fans inside the stadium. However, fans aren’t the footballers themselves. We’ll see how much it affects the result.”