Olympiacos - Climbing Up From The Abyss
by George Tsitsonis
AGONAsport’s George Tsitsonis discusses Olympiacos’ recent matches against AEK and Juventus and the optimistic re-start under Lemonis.
As expected Olympiacos lost away to Juventus in Matchday 2 of this season’s Champions’ League. There was a silver lining however, one that fans of the club were hoping to see from their team. Olympiacos’ performance in Turin was widely viewed as a good one. Even though Takis Lemonis had only been installed less than 48 hours before, the 57-year-old manager was able to put out a logical starting eleven and gameplan.
The result was an Olympiacos team that battled and made life difficult for Juve until the last quarter of the match when the Italian team’s class finally told. Overall, it was still a defeat for Olympiacos which leaves their European campaign on the ropes. That is no surprise considering the difficulty of the opposition in this group and Olympiacos’ awful start to the competition in the Matchday 1 defeat to Sporting Lisbon. The 3-2 scoreline on that day greatly flattered the Greek club as Sporting took the Erythrolefki to the cleaners, Besnik Hasi getting his tactics all wrong on the night.
That performance more than any other this season was perhaps the most worrisome of all the early-season displays. Olympiacos’ current predicament can’t all be Hasi’s fault, however his team selection and tactical decisions meant that it was only a matter of time before he was sacked. The players deserve a fair deal of criticism for throwing away a 2-0 lead against AEK last week, but certainly Hasi did not help in the least from the bench.
Players playing out of their natural positions may seem like a normal occurrence over the course of a season especially due to injuries and fixtures piling up. However, at the beginning of a campaign with a team that has yet to find its footing, putting players into spots where they don’t have as much experience or are just downright uncomfortable is a massive risk. Hasi was guilty of this constant experimentation and of seemingly making illogical choices when putting out his line-ups.
The Juventus match at least shows that Olympiacos have a side capable of doing more than they have shown in the last few weeks. Lemonis will however have to find the balance very quickly. In Europe, Olympiacos can afford to sit back en masse and try to hit on the counter. That strategy makes sense against sides that are better than you and who will have the bulk of possession.
In Greece of course it will be different. Now it is Olympiacos who must force the issue and find ways to breakdown teams who will be glad to pack it in. That takes quality, movement, and skill. It also takes confidence and belief and Lemonis will be charged to find all of that in a short period of time.
Five points behind AEK and with PAOK also threatening to be heavily involved in the title race, there is a real pressure on Olympiacos now going into these next few matches. They need to get their mojo back and fast.
Lemonis appears to be ready to take his own risks. One last night against Juve paid off. His inclusion of Dimitris Nikolaou in the starting line-up was a masterstroke. The 19-year-old’s performance was superb considering the opponent and his lack of experience at that level. It was a risk that paid off for Lemonis.
His team selection now will be closely watched. Will forgotten men such as Fortounis, Manthatis, and Androutsos be brought back into the fold? Hasi seemed to not be convinced by Fortounis overall and had not given much match time at all to the latter duo, both of whom impressed last season.
The performance against Juventus is something to build on and will offer those supporting the club the hope that another season destined for chaos can be brought back on track. Something similar happened last season after the early exit in the Champions’ League qualifiers.
Some observers suggest that AEK’s comeback win was a shifting of Greek football’s tectonic plates. The belief by some is that victory could be the beginning of the end of Olympiacos’ monopoly on the Greek Super League title. Certainly, that result was a low point for Olympiacos, as far as the last few seasons go. That was rock-bottom for the club.
The question is now whether these players can summon up the battling qualities and belief to win the league and turn this poor start into a positive campaign. Against Juventus, Olympiacos lost, but they showed they still have life in them. Now the challenge is to move forward and build on that.