Panetolikos punching above their weight in surprise European push
When the season began, Panetolikos didn’t expect to challenge for Europe, but with six rounds remaining, they do have an outside chance of qualifying for the 2019/2020 UEFA Europa League. AGONAsport investigates.
Panetolikos’ solid campaign under the guidance of 2004 European champion Traianos Dellas is certainly deserving of plaudits. Despite possessing a modest budget and a rather average squad, Panetolikos have punched above their weight, in particular playing well at home where they have won six matches, drawn four, and lost two. A dramatic 2:1 triumph over reigning champions AEK in Agrinio was among their most impressive victories.
Their ambition was never to qualify for Europe, but with 24 rounds in the books, Panetolikos occupy sixth position of the Super League table and only trail fifth-placed Aris by four points. Assuming either AEK or PAOK win the Greek Cup, the team in fifth spot of the domestic championship will earn a UEFA Europa League berth for the 2019/2020 season, and four points isn’t an insurmountable deficit to make up. Incidentally, to their advantage, Panetolikos are due to host Aris in Agrinio on the 29th matchday, a clash which could potentially decide who qualifies for Europe.
Last week, Panetolikos tore apart Panionios 5:0 in a ruthless display, and with Panathinaikos dropping points in a 0:0 tie with Athenian rivals AEK, the Agrinio club moved up to sixth place and have a one-point lead over the Greens. In the event Panathinaikos finish in fifth of the Super League, the Europa League ticket would be given to the side sitting in sixth, due to the Trifylli being banned from participating in UEFA competition for one season should they qualify.
Panetolikos fans can be forgiven for beginning to dream of Europe, but when looking at their schedule, their chances of catching high flying Aris seem rather slim. This weekend, they welcome runaway leaders PAOK to the Panetolikos Stadium, before they travel to Athens for a tough game against AEK next week. Then, immediately after those two challenging games, Panetolikos will play Olympiacos at home on the 27th matchday. Even at their best, Panetolikos will find it extremely difficult to gain any points in those particular fixtures.
While their home form has been strong, Panetolikos haven’t been great on the road. So far, they’ve only won three away matches in the Super League, claiming two draws and dropping seven defeats. Dellas doesn’t exactly have a large roster at his disposal, and to his annoyance, key attackers Vlad Morar and Alhassan Kamara are still on the sidelines with injury. It really will be some achievement if they can take at least a few points in the upcoming matches against PAOK, AEK, and Olympiacos.
Nevertheless, while the gap is only four points, Aris cannot relax and Panetolikos will continue fighting hard to stay in the European hunt. In a point worth noting, Panetolikos are one of the Super League’s most effective teams in front of goal, averaging a goal every 5.7 shots. Panetolikos defeated Aris 2:1 in Thessaloniki earlier in the season, so if they avoid defeat against them in Agrinio and the two finish level on points, they will have the head-to-head advantage.
Here are Panetolikos’ six remaining matches in the 2018/2019 Super League:
Apollon Smyrnis (A)
Current 2018/2019 Super League standings between 4th and 10th:
4. Atromitos, 43 points
5. Aris, 37 points
6. Panetolikos, 33 points
7. Panathinaikos, 32 points
8. Xanthi, 29 points
9. Lamia, 29 points
10. Asteras Tripolis, 26 points