AGONAsport’s Olympiacos contributor, Theo Bouras, talks about the heart and passion of this Olympiacos team after their fighting victory over Atromitos on Sunday and ahead of the Erythrolefki’s tough match in Spain later today.
What makes me proudest of this past Sunday’s victory over Atromitos isn’t that Olympiacos handed the team from Peristeri their first loss of the season. It isn’t even the fact that Olympiacos were down 1-0 at the half and shower resiliency in the second half by coming all the way back to win the match. What makes me proudest is the team’s reaction after that goal. Players on the field or the bench, coaching staff, medical attendants; they were all ecstatic. One celebration stands out above all. A celebration that every time you re-watch it, still raises the hair on your arms.
A Real Soldier
Jagos Vukovic is a 30-year old Serbian center back. He joined Olympiacos in the summer of 2017 after a successful three-year stint in Turkish side, Konyaspor. Then-manager Besnik Hasi wanted Vukovic to become the leader of his backline. Unfortunately for Vukovic, injuries early in the 2017-18 season and a lack of faith by both Hasi and Takis Lemonis led to his loan in January to Hellas Verona.
Now picture this, the Serbian International was doing all he can to crack the 2018 World Cup squad. Benching him between October and January, followed by loaning him to Hellas Verona (a side that was already practically relegated in January) all but assured he would not be travelling to Russia.
This past summer, many radical changes in Piraeus led to his return. While others would have still held a grudge against the team for last season, Vukovic has shown nothing but professionalism. His celebration this past Sunday showcased the close-knit squad that is this year.
The Case for the Missing Striker
As fun as it has been to watch Olympiacos fight until the very end this season, you have to believe that a lot of these games would have been won by the Erythrolefki much earlier if the club had a proper striker. Miguel Angel Guerrero, Ahmed Hassan, and Dimitrios Manos have had either injuries or lack of quality hold them back. There is no question that Olympiacos is looking for an upgrade for this position once the January transfer window hits.
Even if the team does acquire a Kostas Mitroglou or a Marcus Berg (two names that have been thrown around these past two weeks), a major issue remains the wingers’ lack of finishing. Daniel Podence is a work-horse but his finishing leaves a lot to be desired. The same can be said with Nahuel and Giannis Fetfatzidis. When the opposing defensive line knows your wingers won’t put the ball in the net, they’ll have more coverage on the striker; making his job even harder.
Europa League on My Mind
After Sunday, the Erythrolefki still are at arm’s length away from PAOK. The team’s focus now switches to the Europa League. Historically, Spain has not been kind to Olympiacos. Real Betis wants to secure first place with a victory today and the Estadio Benito Villamarin will be rocking. Theoretically speaking, Real Betis and AC Milan will secure an additional three points against Dudelange. If Olympiacos lose today, they’ll need to beat Milan 2-0 on Matchday 6 to qualify. If they can manage a tie in Spain, a result that I’m sure Pedro Martins would love, then all that would be left is to simply beat Milan at the Karaiskakis in December. The more recent reports have Kostas Fortounis possibly playing a “False 9” role to start the game.
Watching the game with my father this past Sunday, we couldn’t believe the chances that Olympiacos missed in the first half. At half-time, he turned to me and asked “Do you really think any of these guys would have cracked the Starting XI about 5 or 10 years ago?” I thought about that question and nodded my head. He was right, this team lacks talent. What it doesn’t lack, however, is passion and fight. After scoring late goals against Asteras Tripolis, Panionios, Panathinaikos, and Apollon Smyrnis, the Reds won their biggest game of the campaign in the 93rd minute against Atromitos. Call me crazy, but there’s something that has me romantic about this year’s team.