Worrying signs replace summer optimism
AGONAsport’s Panathinaikos contributor, Nick Tsambouniairis, talks about how the offseason’s optimism has been quickly replaced by worrisome signs in the Green camp.
Panathinaikos enjoyed a great summer, despite the off-field situation showing no signs of improving. The Greens were patient in the transfer market as they landed their top targets on relatively “smart” and “affordable” deals. Nikos Dabizas did a great job on this front and Giorgos Donis, in his second season at the helm, oversaw friendly wins over the likes of Dutch giants Ajax and Feyenoord.
The core of the playing group was kept together, with the likes of Federico Macheda, Emanuel Insua, and Dimitris Kourbelis all staying, and it is hoped new faces in the mould of Dimitris Kolovos, Christian Konan, Bart Schenkeveld, Jose Perea, Joao Nunes, Uffe Bech, Yohan Mollo, and Ghayas Zahid, would see further upturn in the club’s fortunes. On top of this, an array of talented youngsters such as Giannis Bouzoukis and Ilias Chatzitheodoridis are now in their second season of men’s football.
The only distraction of the summer appeared to be the future of young academy graduate Tasos Chatzigiovanis, after he refused to accept a new and improved contract from Dabizas. However, he looks likely to see out the season with the Greens.
The first two games have been nothing short of a disaster for a supposedly stronger Panathinaikos side, playing without the pressure of starting on -6 as opposed to last season. Lamia have emerged as a massive bogey side for the Trifylli in recent seasons (infamously knocking them out of the Greek Cup), however, Panathinaikos offered very little going forward. Their attacking woes were compounded when OFI came to Athens, but they were also exposed defensively on numerous occasions. The Cretan outfit ran out surprise 3-1 winners last Saturday to seal their third straight win over the Greens (their third in a row since being promoted).
As a result, Panathinaikos are languishing on a solitary point after their first two games and the summer optimism has been replaced by worrisome danger signs. Of course, we are only two rounds into a long season and “it is a marathon, not a sprint” as the team found out last season after they fell apart following their blistering start. However, there is a lot of work to be done and the international break has come at a good time.
The new arrivals will have time to settle in, especially Schenkeveld and Pera, who joined in the last week of the transfer window. Donis appears to have settled on a 4-3-3 formation for this season and with five centre backs at his disposal, he quickly needs to settle on a preferred duo in the heart of defence. This is where the team saw a soft goal conceded in the first game at Lamia, where Dimitris Kolovetsios was sloppy.
Personally, Schenkeveld has to come straight into the side after the international break as he is very strong in the air, great with the ball at his feet which means he can build attacks from the back, and has pace, something that the other centre backs do not possess. Who partners him is up for debate. Achilleas Poungouras was solid in the preseason and Joao Nunes may require more time to be eased in. Kolovetsios is out of sorts for now and Mavromatis appears to be the fifth choice.
The centre of the park presents another dilemma for Donis as Kourbelis picked up a red card against OFI. This means that the inspirational captain will miss the next match (was originally two matches), which already shapes as pivotal for the Greens’ season. He will be sorely missed and Donis has already come under criticism for opting to start his son, Christos, in the first two outings. Much to the dismay of most fans, Bouzoukis is yet to start. With Kourbelis’ suspension, he would have to come in and partner Christos Donis and Zahid.
The Trifylli have also lacked a spark up front. The fact that the team has only mustered two goals against Lamia and OFI (teams they are expected to finish above) speaks volumes of their issues. To add insult to injury, both of those goals have come from Macheda penalties, meaning that the Greens are yet to score from open play this season. The wingers have been very inconsistent so far, with Mollo yet to hit the ground running. It was also a baffling decision to start Chatzitheodoridis out of position on the wing against Lamia. Bech is already injured and the summer of uncertainty may have possibly impacted Chatzigiovanis.
Macheda summed it up best by stating the team “needs to look in the mirror.” This hopefully happened over the international break as the Greens will face a desperate Aris in Thessaloniki, before hosting Eternal Rivals, Olympiacos. As previously noted, Kourbelis will be missing for the first encounter and all of a sudden, there is a real possibility Panathinaikos will remain winless after four matches. Should that happen, questions will be asked and the murmurs of discontent amongst the fan base become roars.