Five key players in AEK’s Super League title triumph
After AEK Athens sealed the club’s maiden Greek title in 24 years last Sunday against Levadiakos at the Olympic Stadium, AGONAsport takes a look at who were the five key players in the championship winning season.
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In what has been a simply unforgettable season for the Kitrinomavri, the Enosis capitalized on scandals involving PAOK and Olympiacos to run away with the Super League, claiming all of the spoils two rounds before the campaign’s completion. AEK impressed in the cup competitions too, qualifying for the Greek Cup final in dramatic fashion and making the Last 32 of the UEFA Europa League without losing a single match.
With the season approaching its conclusion, let’s analyse who were the five key players for AEK in the Super League title triumph.
Despite already 31 years of age, the talented midfielder has enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career, turning into a crucial player for AEK with his trickery, brilliant shooting ability and flair. Able to outpace defenders on the wings, Lazaros causes plenty of problems for the opposition, often making the difference in tight matches.
Lazaros has contributed with seven goals in the Super League, none better than his stunning free-kick against Olympiacos in September. He also saved AEK’s bacon in the Greek Cup semi-final, breaking AEL hearts with an acrobatic strike in the dying seconds.
It’s hard to imagine this AEK side without Lazaros, but the midfielder’s contract runs out at the end of the season and no new deal has yet been signed. If AEK somehow let Lazaros go, it will surely come back to haunt the Enosis.
The surprise of the season. While no-one ever doubted the Croat’s raw talent, Livaja previously gained an unwanted bad-boy reputation by failing to keep his discipline and displaying poor commitment to the task. However, the 24-year old forward has flourished under AEK boss Manolo Jimenez, playing sensational football and becoming one of the biggest reasons why AEK have been so successful this year.
Jimenez has gifted Livaja freedom on the park, allowing the Croatian forward to show what he’s capable of. Livaja’s technical skills are there for all to see, but alongside his attacking talents, Livaja is also willing to track back in defence and bail the team out. AEK are expected to purchase Livaja on a permanent basis from Spanish club Las Palmas.
The diminutive Argentine had already transformed into an AEK hero in the 2016/2017 season, firing the Kitrinomavri into the UEFA Champions League with an historic goal against Panionios. Nevertheless, Araujo has improved even further during his second loan spell from Las Palmas, scoring ten Super League goals compared to five in the previous campaign.
Always playing with infectious passion, Araujo is an irreplaceable cog of the AEK machine. Recently, rumours suggested that AEK had an initial bid for the striker turned down by Las Palmas, but the Enosis will keep trying until a transfer fee is agreed upon between the two clubs. Having formed a deadly partnership with Livaja, the 26-year old is a nightmare for opponents to handle, constantly making a nuisance of himself and possessing the ability to score wonderful goals. Araujo netted two practically identical long-range efforts against Olympiacos and Panathinaikos in 2018.
When influential midfielders Petros Mantalos and Jakob Johansson received serious knee injuries in late 2017, it appeared as though AEK’s title bid would come off the rails. Fate seemed to be against AEK, but the Enosis remarkably continued winning without their leading lights, finding a new captain in Andre Simoes along the way.
Portuguese midfielder Simoes, who is competing in his third season with AEK, has emerged as a cool, calm and collected figure in the midfield. Simoes makes AEK tick, cleverly spreading the play with pinpoint passing and providing the transition from defence to attack. A natural born leader.
Bakakis has come into his own this season, bombing up and down both wings intelligently. Right-back Rodrigo Galo has been effective for AEK too, but if needed, Bakakis can adopt a more central role in defence. Currently 27, Bakakis is visibly growing into one of Greece’s best defenders on the flanks, recently earning a call-up to the Greek national team with head coach Michael Skibbe.
His decisive error against Dynamo Kyiv in the Europa League proved that Bakakis still has work to do, but the Greek is learning fast and his lightning runs are tough for opposing teams to read. Another who has realised their potential with Jimenez.
In a recent vote on Sport24.gr, fans voted Vasilis Barkas, Ognjen Vranjes, Lazaros Christodoulopoulos and Sergio Araujo the best AEK players for each position on the field.