Chase for Glory in 2019
AGONAsport’s Greg Gavalas talks about the first half of the Super League season and what fans can expect as the league resumes in 2019.
For yet another Greek Super League season, drama steals the headlines instead of the football on the pitch. This time, a little earlier than usual just before the winter break, the league was postponed after Greek referee Thanasis Tzilos was bashed outside his house by two cowards who drove from Athens to Larissa with the intention of injuring the Greek referee after Olympiacos was held to a 1:1 draw at Xanthi.
The postponement of the Super League is reaching a tipping point as the credibility of the league continues to tumble with the repeated “solution” that only takes away from the real fans while the real perpetrators get away with whatever they do. Fortunately, the news report that at least one of the offenders that attacked Tzilos will soon be arrested.
On the field, when the football does restart this weekend, it will resume with round 15 and the remaining rounds will be pushed back by one week.
The race and chase for the 2019 title is on. PAOK are in the driver's seat and its theirs to lose now, sitting eight points ahead of Olympiacos. The Dikefalos tou Vorra is on track to win their first championship since 1985 and only their third ever league title. As a result, it will mean a lot to the club and its supporters, and would see them catch cross town rivals Aris on 3 titles, which means the cities bragging rights will drastically change.
Let’s take a look at the status of PAOK, Olympiacos, Atromitos, AEK, Panathinaikos, and Aris before the 2019 footballing season begins in Greece.
As mentioned above, the 2018/19 league crown is theirs to lose. PAOK have not played wonderful football, however Serbian forward Aleksandar Prijovic has proven a big difference, scoring critical goals to help with that 8-point buffer. All looks as if the PAOK star will be departing the club in January for Al-Ittihad, who have met the 10 million euro release clause in his contract and if he departs, former Panathinaikos man Marcus Berg could be a replacement option. His departure will surely provide other title contenders, Olympiacos and Atromitos (distanly AEK and Panathinaikos), a psychological boost heading into the second half of the season.
PAOK’s third title in club history will depend on what happens in February and early March as the derbies take place with all their rivals. If they get out of that tough stint still in first place, it is hard to see them drop many points after that.
Inconsistency would be the right word to describe Olympiacos this season. Some great performances have been followed by lackluster displays, however the Piraeus club finished 2018 on a strong note, beating AC Milan 3:1 and advancing to the next round of the Europa League. However, will that psychological boost help them in the quest to catch PAOK?
On the field and on their day, Olympiacos play the best football in Greece. Mid-February and March are the key times for the Reds, with important derbies and a two-legged tie with Dynamo Kyiv in Europe. The Thrylos will have to beat PAOK in Toumba to have any chance and hope to win the league title, while the Thessalonikis will also need to drop points elsewhere.
New signing Franco Soldano from Argentina is expected to help the club with their striker and scoring issues while Giorgos Masouras has already impressed in training since joining from Panionios earlier this month.
For yet another season, the club from Peristeri continues to keep up with the big boys. On 28 points, only two behind Olympiacos and four ahead of AEK, the Athenian club has held their ground once again.
They ended 2018 with mixed results as their undefeated streak was highlighted by defeating AEK at the OAKA for a second consecutive season, but they were beaten, in controversial circumstances it must be said, at home by Olympiacos. They stumbled at Apollon Smyrnis later on and bounced back to beat Aris 4:2 before losing to Panathinaikos 1:0 to end their 2018 year.
Efthymios Koulouris has been the highlight with the 22-year-old Greek International leading the league with 11 goals. It is rumored that Atromitos are after another PAOK loanie, Ioannis Mystakidis, who recently left PAS Giannina. I believe the two Greek forwards can make a great combo and help Atromitos stay at this side of the ladder.
As I have written before this season, what all AEK fans feared and expected, actually did happened in the current season. After winning the championship in 2018, key players left and were not replaced and the thin squad was unable to keep up in Greece and Europe. AEK’s on field performances compared to last season are night and day, a mixture of poor coaching by Marinos Ouzounidis and injuries in an already thin squad have compounded and compromised the reigning champions.
I do not see much happening for AEK this season that could be better than a third place finish. Scoring has become difficult and with no striker signed again this transfer period, it is hard to see things change. There could be hope if Petros Mantalos is given more time centrally and not out wide, and Ouzounidis starts playing wingers on the wing.
Giannis Gianniotas, who has only seen the field five times in the league, needs to be utilized. Watch out for new signing, Nenad Krsticic, who joined from Red Star Belgrade. He is expected to replace Andre Simoes who is yet another key player who will not be retained by the club for financial differences.
The young guns of Greek Football really had everyone stop and watch as their youthful approach caught everyone by surprise. I think Panathinaikos could go as far as third provided key players stay injury free. Sokratis Dioudis, a very talented goalkeeper, has been in exceptional form and was an underrated goalkeeper prior to the season. It is good to see him get this exposure and has done his part to save a fair few goals this season, playing a key part in Panathinaikos’ success.
Two stars in the midfield have caught the eye of European clubs, Tasos Chatzigiovanis and Ioannis Bouzoukis. Both and especially the latter, have exceeded expectations and have played leading roles in the fast temp game of the Trifylli. Italian striker Federico Macheda has been the icing on the cake with some key goals and patience in signing a striker this summer has paid off for the club.
Watch with a keen eye how Panathinaikos handle the derbies a second time around as it will play a key role in their final placement in the 2018/19 Super League standings.
Aris returned to the Super League and started well, not only winning games, but playing wonderful football under Spanish coach Paco Herrera. After a good start to the season, a 3-game losing streak was enough to see Herrera get terminated from the club. It was a decision I did not agree with as it took away much experience and footballing IQ from the club.
It is hard to say how Aris will go on to see off the season. Their form has been very hot and cold. At times, they played nice flowing attacking football under Herrera, but other times their displays were very poor. Their defense can be sub-par, especially when a counter attack is mounted against them as we saw in the shock Cup defeat to Football League side, Ergotelis, to end their year and cup aspirations.
To summarize, PAOK are set to break their league title drought, Olympiacos are their biggest rivals now and remain the only club that can ruin PAOK’s party. Can Atromitos stay where they are and can AEK bounce back after a poor end to 2018? Panathinaikos, young and wild, are on a road to getting back to the strong club they should be has started, whilst Aris are in stage of getting their image and game stronger.