Panathinaikos Eyeing Late Season Surge
As the old saying goes, ‘where there is hope there is life’. That is certainly what Marinos Ouzounidis and Panathinaikos players alike will be hoping for as a disappointing season comes to a close. Thanks to Robin Lod’s first half goal at Larissa on Monday night, the Greens were able to win their first away game of the season and get the monkey off their backs.
Panathinaikos now finds itself in 9th place but only 4 points off 5th placed Panionios who currently occupy the final European spot. Contrary to previous seasons, the playoffs will not take place at the end of the regular season. This means only the top 4 teams gain entry into European competitions next season, but if AEK or PAOK win the Greek Cup, 5th place in the SuperLeague will grab the final European spot for Greece in the Qualifying Rounds of the Europa League.
It must also be noted, the club was stripped of 2 points before a ball was kicked this season as part of the punishments from last season’s home playoff game against PAOK. Had that deduction not been in place, Panathinaikos would have been on 29 points, only 2 off Panionios.
Furthermore, as previously reported, the club also has an impending punishment from UEFA hanging over its head until the 1st of March, 2018 in relation to the outstanding debts that have not been paid. UEFA decided on this penalty some time ago and a failure to pay these debts will result in a ban from all respective European competitions for the first time the club qualifies for Europe in the next 3 seasons. In this case, if the Greens were to finish 5th and qualify for Europe but copped that UEFA ban, the 6th placed Greek team will take the final spot.
Solely focusing on on-field matters (where Ouzounidis and the players control things), the run home is far from easy but not impossible. In the final 8 games the Trifylli will play rivals for 5th spot in the form of Panionios (away), Asteras Tripolis (home) and Xanthi (home). Each of these teams sit slightly above Panathinaikos on the ladder so wins will be absolutely crucial. Out of the 3, the away game at Nea Smyrni against Panionios shapes up as the hardest based on the Greens’ away form. Xanthi at home is on the final matchday of the season, so by then we will have a better indication of what there is to play for.
Things do not get easier, however, as Panathinaikos also travels to OAKA and Karaiskaki to face rivals AEK and Olympiakos (behind closed doors). Both games will be massive as the opposition will have a lot to play for. There is also an away game against a strong Atromitos team to be played. On top of this, PAOK visits Leoforos in the second last matchday of the season so as it can be observed, the Greens will have a part to play in settling the title race.
The upcoming home clash against Lamia looks to be the easiest of the remaining fixtures as this will be the only team in Panathinaikos’ run home that will be below them on the ladder.
How Ouzounidis approaches this from a tactical perspective will be intriguing, as the Greens have looked to attack opposing teams by playing on the front foot, however, this has left space at the back to be exploited. Not having a clinical out and out striker to put away all those chances created has hurt immensely. Against the stronger teams of the League Ouzounidis may opt to play a more defensive game and hit on the counter, especially in the away games. This may help the Trifylli.
One thing is certain, if Panathinaikos carries its home form into the remaining away games then anything is possible.