Panathinaikos enjoy successful summer ahead of Donis’ second season
Generally speaking, you can only take so much away from the results of pre season friendlies, however, Giorgos Donis’ new and improved Panathinaikos have backed up relatively good results with strong performances.
The Greens hammered Dutch giants Feyenoord 3-0 and then swept Ajax aside 2-1 (both in the Netherlands) a few days later as they kicked off their summer preparations looking much more fluid and cohesive compared to rough patches last season. After playing a series of friendlies in the Netherlands and Belgium, the team returned to Athens to continue training and flew across to Turkey to face Galatasaray and Besiktas. While losing 2-1 to the former, the performance was encouraging and a week later the side overturned a 2-0 deficit to grab a 2-2 draw with the latter.
The financial situation has not improved and this has hurt Nikos Dabizas and Donis in landing new signings early, however, over time a series of respectable moves have been made at a relatively low cost. Dimitris Kolovos, Christian Konan, Ghayas Zahid, Joao Nunes, Yohan Mollo, and Uffe Bech will provide depth and quality in key areas to a side already boasting talents such as Federico Macheda, Dimitris Kourbelis, Giannis Bouzoukis, and Emanuel Insua. The club is also tipped to sign former wonder boy and England international Jack Rodwell, as well as Vito Wormgoor.
Donis has had over a year to work with the core of the side and it is evident that his ideas are getting across. The young core will remain and a host of players will play their second season at men’s level, but there are also other observations that can be made.
Donis has favoured the more attack-minded 4-3-3 this summer, as opposed to last summer’s variation of 4-3-2-1 or 3-4-2-1 which sought to bring stability at the time. A year later, and he is fostering a possession-based game with aggressive pressing, particularly from the wide areas. The transition from defence to attack also appears to be more aggressive and faster. Macheda remains as the focal point up front in the lone striker role, which indicates the Trifylli will not sign another starting quality forward.
Making the most of the opportunities on offer in front of goal has also been another pleasing feature of the pre season, particularly in the matches against Feyenoord and Ajax. Against Feyenoord in the opening friendly, two quickfire chances were created and finished with aplomb and a third was added later on. Goals were hard to come by at the back end of last season, so this is a pleasant sign.
Christos Donis also looks like a player transformed this summer. It will never be easy as the “coach’s son” but his form has been hard to ignore. Far from the complete player, improvements to his game have been made in a variety of areas such as offering a greater attacking threat to ease the burden of those higher up the pitch. His brace in the come-from-behind draw against Besiktas highlights this. His position come the regular season is still unknown with the likes of Zahid and Bouzoukis possibly ahead of him in the pecking order but this competition will only assist the team.
Konstantinos Kotsaris has been another standout performer this summer. The 23-year-old goalkeeper has shown his qualities in spurts, however, this season he will genuinely challenge Sokratis Dioudis (who remains the undisputed first choice between the sticks). Donis has a strong first choice goalkeeper in his ranks and now possesses an able replacement.
Out of the defenders, Achilleas Poungouras is easily the pick of the bunch. He turns 24 at the end of 2019 and is ready to enter the prime of his career in his second season at the Greens. Having endured a stop-start 2018-19 season, the former PAOK man has staked a strong claim to become a first choice centre back. Much like others at the club, it is no shock he is improving over time under Donis’ reign.
Perhaps the best performer of the pre season is the Italian forward, Macheda. He arrived in Athens late last summer without preparation yet still scored 10 League goals. Fast forward one year, he looks better than ever with a full pre season under his belt working under Donis. He was on target against Feyenoord and then backed it up with a double against Ajax. A shift in formation will aid his game as he can bring creative wingers and attackers into the game.