SLGR Review Part 1: PAOK storm to title while Aris return to Europe
In the first of a three-part series, AGONAsport reviews the 2018/2019 Super League season for all participating teams, starting off with clubs in the top five positions of the standings.
Avoiding defeat in all 30 matches, PAOK stormed to their maiden Greek championship in 34 years, finishing five points ahead of Olympiacos. For their part, the much-improved Erythrolefki earned a return to the UEFA Champions League following a one-year hiatus, while stuttering AEK will be joined in the UEFA Europa League by high flying Atromitos and Aris.
Let’s take a closer look at how the top five performed in the Super League:
Flawless. A fitting word to describe an historic season. In tallying 26 wins and four draws in the 30 matches, PAOK became the second team in Greek history to complete a full campaign without defeat, matching Panathinaikos’ long-standing record from the 1963/1964 season. This is only PAOK’s third title.
Their superb record in the crucial matches was the deciding factor. In six matches against AEK, Olympiacos and Panathinaikos the Dikefalos tou Vorra achieved five victories, with the two wins over the Erythrolefki absolutely vital. If we compare PAOK to their main challengers, they were the most consistent over the course of the season, avoiding any unwanted scandals and finding a way to win even when they weren’t at their best.
Alexandros Paschalakis rarely made a mistake in goal, while the rock solid pairing of Fernando Varela and Jose Angel Crespo helped PAOK tally the best defensive record in the league with only 14 conceded goals. In January, many thought PAOK’s charge would falter after the loss of top scorer Aleksandar Prijovic, but fellow forwards Chuba Akpom and Karol Swiderski stepped up to the mark. Completing the double with the Greek Cup triumph put the icing on the cake.
Head coach Razvan Lucescu was reduced to tears of joy when the season reached its completion, and the 50-year-old deserves huge credit for his excellent game management skills. His next goal is taking PAOK to the coveted UEFA Champions League group stages this summer.
A major improvement if we look back at the 2017/2018 season. This time around, Olympiacos had just the one coach for the entire campaign, and Pedro Martins managed to create a united, committed team with the talented players at his disposal.
On one hand, another season without a trophy is a disappointment, but on the other, UEFA Champions League football is coming back to the Karaiskakis Stadium. Olympiacos will begin their European campaign in the second qualifying round having finished a large 18 (!) points ahead of third-placed AEK.
With Kostas Fortounis (12 goals, nine assists) back at his best, Olympiacos played some of the most entertaining football seen in Greece, registering 69 goals (excluding the three from the 3:0 technical win against Panathinaikos and including Miguel Angel Guerrero’s goal in the same game) to finish the season as the Super League’s top scorers. Alongside the reborn Fortounis, gifted Portuguese winger Daniel Podence lit up the league with wonderful skill, Giorgos Masouras was a great signing from Panionios and Egyptian forward Ahmed Hassan clicked into gear in the second half of the season. Full-backs Leonardo Koutris and Omar Elabdellaoui played the best football of their careers.
Olympiacos’ main problem was their profligacy in front of goal. When hosting PAOK in Piraeus in September, Olympiacos dominated proceedings, however their dreadful finishing and a woeful own-goal from Jagos Vukovic resulted in the visitors snatching a precious 1:0 win. The Erythrolefki also missed glorious chances in frustrating draws against AEK and Panathinaikos.
To put it lightly, the title defence didn’t go to plan. Hindered by unnecessary scandals and a poor transfer campaign, AEK endured a thoroughly forgettable Super League season, trailing winners PAOK by 23 points. A statistic which is verging on embarrassing for a club of such stature.
Key players Ognjen Vranjes, Lazaros Christodoulopoulos and Sergio Araujo all left last summer, but the club failed to sign adequate replacements. The one positive was 22-year-old Argentinian striker, Ezequiel Ponce. On loan from AS Roma, Ponce proved to be the prolific goalscorer AEK have long been craving, netting 16 goals in the Super League to finish second in the scoring charts behind Atromitos’ Efthymis Koulouris. What a shame for the Kitrinomavri that he’s set to leave AEK and continue his career elsewhere.
The obvious lack of depth took its toll with AEK struggling to deal with the demands of the Champions League, and the decision to ostracize Vasilis Lampropoulos, Andre Simoes and Tasos Bakasetas at an important time in November wasn’t among the wisest to be made by club owner Dimitris Melissanidis.
In February, Manolo Jimenez was drafted in to replace Marinos Ouzounidis as head coach, and the Spaniard managed to steer AEK to third place which grants the Athenians a berth in the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round. The third successive loss to PAOK in the Greek Cup final was a bitter pill to swallow.
Damir Canadi worked his miracles again. For the second consecutive year, Atromitos claimed fourth spot and a berth in the Europa League, with Canadi squeezing the best out of his players and giving them a platform on which to display their talents. Sadly for Atromitos, Canadi announced his departure upon the completion of the season.
A PAOK loanee once again made the difference. In the 2017/2018 season, Egyptian midfielder Amr Warda stole the headlines, and this time it was Efthymis Koulouris who stepped up to the plate. A fantastic haul of 19 goals allowed Koulouris to become both the Super League top scorer and the highest scoring Greek striker among domestic clubs for 17 years!
Atromitos’ determination, defensive organisation and tactical knowhow earned plenty of plaudits, and the Peristeri outfit gave PAOK, Olympiacos and AEK a real challenge in their meetings. The only exception was a 0:3 defeat in Thessaloniki. Their strong home form (nine wins, three draws, three defeats) played a big role in their charge towards continental football.
Welcome back to the big time. Aris gained lots of admirers with their exciting brand of football, and with PAOK winning the Greek Cup, they have been granted a place in the 2019/2020 UEFA Europa League qualifying rounds. You can bet there will be an unforgettable atmosphere inside the packed Kleanthis Vikelidis Stadium when foreign teams soon visit.
After a promising start to the season, Aris suddenly conceded four defeats in a row against Panionios, PAOK, AEK and Olympiacos which cost Paco Herrera his job, and the incoming Savvas Pantelidis initially had problems settling in. Nevertheless, the players soon got into their groove again, often playing free-flowing football with the likes of Mateo Garcia, Javier Matilla, Daniel Larsson, Hamza Younes and Nicolas Diguiny standing out. More consistency could have resulted in a higher ranking in the classification.