One-way AEK with no return
AGONAsport’s AEK contributor, Greg Gavalas, talks about AEK’s struggling season as the club sit 20 points behind leaders PAOK and are fighting with Atromitos to finish third in the league standings.
The 2018/19 season for AEK has been anything but what the reigning champions thought it would be after the historic season that was, which saw AEK crowned champions of Greece for the first time in 24 years.
The writing was on the wall from the word “go” as the core of the team disintegrated and president Dimitris Melissanidis implemented his well known “careful” spending tactics over the summer. However, to watch the team go from the heights of crowning champions to winless in every derby this season, whilst playing some dire football, is hard to take.
There were plenty of critics on former coach Marinos Ouzounidis. The points-less Champions League campaign was another hard hit to take but again, given the squad that AEK management allowed and limited, everyone knew it would be a tough task to balance both domestic and European football.
This equated to an expected, difficult campaign in Greece and the reality is, an AEK squad that was nowhere near the Championship team of 2017/18. It was always going to be hard to compete with PAOK and Olympiacos for the Super League crown and as it stands now, the team is fighting with Atromitos for third place, 20 points adrift leaders PAOK.
What’s been troubling for me to watch, though, is the constant game plan that is not working. The game plan, which new coach from last season’s winning team Manolo Jimenez, has persisted with since taking over. This game plan has come with poorer results and footballing displays than with Ouzounidis in charge.
Since the Spaniards return, and yes it has only been five league games in, AEK have a scoring record of 4-7 with two wins, two losses, and one draw. This includes two lackluster defeats to Olympiacos (4-1) and Aris (2-0), and a dull 0-0 draw with Panathinaikos, who are coming off a poor run themselves with losses to PAOK, Panionios, and PAS Giannena.
The biggest concern with AEK is the complete lack of wide presence, clearly seen in the domestic game and in the Champions League. The starting elevens consist of many central players while lacking the impact of classic wing players.
The wide combination of Petros Mantalos and Tasos Bakasetas has failed at club and national team level – yet something in the water – or maybe the frappe in Greece, keeps these two central midfield players forced wide and out of position with the same, negative results.
Watching the game with Panathinaikos, it was easy for their defense to home in on Marko Livaja and Argentine striker Ezequiel Ponce as they were fed passes with two defenders on them. Occasionally, the one winger that was played in Lucas Boye, got some crosses in, but they never made mark nor did AEK get any meaningful movement going on either flank. Truth be told, Boye has not lived up to expectations after a promising start to the season.
I can never understand why AEK have left Giannis Gianniotas become a complete non-factor when they struggle to create chances and have now become easy to defend against. Gianniotas was picking up form in late December and early January, but has not been seen when AEK need a player with his characteristics out wide. Wing backs like Michalis Bakakis and Rodrigo Galo can help, but not long term.
Christos Almpanis is another player that has not been utilized despite an MVP performance against OFI a month ago. He had lots of promise after signing from Apollon last summer, but has not been given the chance to shine with the Enosis.
One can only hope for some changes to the current AEK we are seeing. The team and coach cannot continue with the same weak game plan that does not challenge defenses. Ponce is a great striker for AEK and with Mantalos and Liviaja behind him, he can be a force to reckon with if he remains with the club.
AEK as a whole can be a force once again, but all the tools in the shed must be used, try them out, experiment a little, as the current setup is just not working for the defending champions.