SLGR Review Part 2: Panathinaikos fade after positive start
In the second of a three-part series, AGONAsport reviews the 2018/2019 Super League season, with this edition focusing on teams between sixth and 12th position.
Not much was expected of a young, inexperienced Panathinaikos team, but the youthful Greens made a flying start to the season. In the end, the Athenians faltered and could only finish in eighth position, but there is no doubting the amount of talent which head coach Giorgos Donis has in his squad. Panionios improved towards the end of the season to snatch sixth place, while the disappointing Asteras Tripolis and low-scoring Xanthi almost fell through the relegation trap door.
It’s time to analyse the season for these seven clubs in more detail:
Until the closing weeks of the season, Panionios were in danger of suffering relegation, but the Panthers got their act together to climb as high as sixth. Unfortunately for Panionios, the achievement was marred by the news that they weren’t granted a Super League licence for the 2019/2020 season, meaning they can barely make any squad additions in the transfer window. They will start next season with a damaging six-point deficit as well.
Akis Mantzios, replacing the sacked Jose Anigo as manager midway through the season, prevented the campaign from falling apart and maintained Panionios’ reputation as a tough nut to crack. Fiorin Durmishaj, a new member of the Greek national team, attracted the interest of Olympiacos with six Super League goals. Taking into account the limited amount of resources available, Panionios can be proud of a sixth-placed finish.
Coached by the wily Makis Chavos, Lamia made the most of their potential, embarking on a seven-game unbeaten run before finishing the season with one point from games against PAOK, AEK and Olympiacos. A confident 3:0 drubbing of relegated Apollon Smyrnis on the final matchday ensured they finished within the top seven.
Lamia don’t play in a particularly attractive manner, but with experienced Argentinian forward Jeronimo Barrales scoring nine goals, Facundo Bertoglio playing with good technique in midfield and goalkeepers Bojan Saranov and Nikos Melissas giving solid showings, they know how to grind out results. Their run to the Greek Cup semi-finals won’t be forgotten in a hurry either.
Yes, it’s an old cliche, but it really was a season of two halves for Panathinaikos. Playing without any expectations weighing on their shoulders, Giorgos Donis’ young side was on fire during the first weeks of the campaign, but form and results fell away as the season progressed. Had Panathinaikos not been docked 11 points for various punishments, they would have finished sixth behind Europa League-bound Aris.
Giannis Bouzoukis was outstanding for the young Greens. Only 21 years of age, he bossed the midfield for Panathinaikos, popping up with four goals and competing with passion. No wonder why Benfica are eager to take him to Lisbon.
Former Manchester United flop Federico Macheda got his career back on track with 10 Super League goals. This summer, Panathinaikos have the freedom of being able to sign whoever they want without any restrictions, and it will be fascinating to see how competitive they will be in the 2019/2020 season. The foundations for success are in place.
In early 2019, Panetolikos were threatening to make an unlikely bid for fifth place, but they crumbled towards the end of the season and dropped six defeats in their last eight matches. An underwhelming finish to a positive campaign under the leadership of 2004 European champion Traianos Dellas.
In Agrinio, Panetolikos pushed PAOK all the way and even managed to beat AEK, but they lost nine games on the road. The 2019/2020 season promises to be a challenging one for Panetolikos, with Dellas leaving and the so-called ‘bigger’ clubs contemplating moves for Adrian Lucero and Franco Mazurek. Swedish striker Admir Bajrovic did well to score five goals after joining in January from Gefle.
Life is never dull in Larissa with the fiery Alexis Kougas still owning the club. At one point, Kougas even handed in the players’ Super League registration cards in protest against the refereeing, but the situation calmed itself and AEL finished in a respectable 10th position.
The composure and focus of Italian head coach Gianluca Festa was important in protecting the club’s Super League status. On matchday 29, AEL were faced with the daunting trip to AEK, but they outwitted their opponents tactically and ensured safety with a famous 1:0 victory. The highlight of their season.
On the subject of AEK, the Kitrinomavri are predicted to sign a contract with AEL winger Milos Deletic. AEL require more stability if they are to return to the top half of the standings in the 2019/2020 campaign.
Asteras had little to cheer about. The year started with so much promise, but after being knocked out by Hibernian in the Europa League, the Tripoli club contrived to make a shocking start to the Super League. Their fortunes didn’t improve after Giorgos Paraschos replaced the departed Savvas Pantelidis as head coach.
On the face of it, Asteras have a decent squad with Walter Iglesias, Juan Munafo, Jose Valiente and teenage forward Anastasios Douvikas all on their books, but they never gained any kind of positive momentum. A season to forget.
A statistic of 22 goals in 30 matches doesn’t make for great reading. However, even with their goalscoring troubles, Xanthi still managed to avoid the drop by the skin of their teeth as they boasted a better head-to-head record against 13th-placed OFI.
A summer of change now awaits Xanthi. Goalkeeper Zivko Zivkovic could be on his way to PAOK, manager Milan Rastavac has been replaced by Kiko Ramirez, and the organisation simply has to purchase a player capable of scoring on a regular basis. Otherwise, another relegation battle is on the cards.
It’s worth noting that Xanthi only won two of their last 21 matches of the Super League campaign.