Riding high after a 1-0 victory over Panathinaikos and a 5-1 thumping of Panthrakikos in the Greek Cup that saw Ismael Blanco return to form with a sharp hat-trick, all that was needed to cap a wonderful – and by extension, rare – week for AEK was a win away at Panionios.
The Greens did their bit with a victory in the Eternal Derby; we didn’t do ours. Claudio Dadomo managed to get himself sent off for petulantly kick out at an opponent and that made things unnecessarily more difficult after Sebastian Saja saved a penalty before the men from Nea Smyrni capitalized on our numerical disadvantage to take the lead after the break.
Traianos Dellas and Papa Bouba Diop both limped off to remind new manager Manolo Jimenez of the importance of adding some depth to the squad during the January transfer window, while Cristian Nasuti gave his best impression of Jean Alain Boumsong during his glory days at Newcastle United (perhaps not that bad but certainly he’s proved a disastrous signing thus far).
It’s typical of fellow Offside blogger Peter Katsiris to return from the dead during difficult times such as these, though I did bait him over Facebook and he did put on a brave space despite his Olympiakos side’s surprise defeat this weekend.
Unfortunately he doesn’t have the luxury of midweek European football to look forward to, as AEK do when they host Anderlecht in a crucial Europa League tie, where they’ll be looking to forget the fact that they missed a wonderful chance to well and truly rejoin the title race.
Early days yet but drawing Larissa in the Greek Cup hardly helps matters…
A belated review of a wonderful match (from an AEK Athens perspective) that saw revitalized Rafik Djebbour continue his sensational form with a fifth goal of the league season, courtesy of a laughable attempt at a clearance by Spanish defender Josu Sarriegi.
It’s the third chapter of what I’m dubbing – more in hope than substance – the “Manolo Jimenez Revolution”, as he made it two out of three victories as AEK’s new manager, bouncing back perfectly from a potentially disastrous midweek defeat to Anderlecht in the Europa League.
Yes, Panathinaikos were nowhere near their strongest with key personnel missing but AEK were similarly hard-hit, missing attacking lynch-pins Ignacio Scocco and Nikos Lyberopoulos among others. Jimenez though took a positive approach to the match – something that hasn’t been happening enough with this side in recent seasons when it comes to big derby matches – having his men press high up the park the entire match and never allowing Pana to settle.
For their part the Greens were absolutely abysmal and Nikos Nioplias seems to be running out of time; his men looked uninspired and essentially gave up after Djebbour’s early goal, which confirms him as the in-form striker in the Greek Super League at the moment. His opposite number Djibril Cisse cut a contrastingly dejected figure as he was starved of service, making for an easy night for Traianos Dellas and Cristian Nasuti, who produced their most assured performances of the season.
But the most impressive performer had to be Uruguay international Claudio Dadomo, who made his debut at left back and immediately solved the long-running problem the club have had in that position. Not only did he take care of his defensive duties with a minimum of fuss but also got forward and made a real nuisance of himself in attack; Djebbour should have capitalized on his inch-perfect cross at the beginning of the second half.
Australian Nathan Burns – I’m proud to say as a fellow countryman – ably covered for the absence of Scocco and whilst lacking his class, worked extremely hard and was a regular outlet. Even the much-maligned Grigoris Makos turned in an excellent display in midfield, as did Panagiotis Lagos, who reveled in a more advanced, central role.
Poland international Roger Guerreiro has meanwhile returned from the dead and showed some promising touches after earning a surprise start, epitomizing the way this team has been transformed in a very short space of time under its new Spanish head coach.
The new lease of life within the playing squad was summed up by the manner of their celebrations at the final whistle, banding together to pay tribute to the sizeable crowd as they worked their way back into the title race.
It was a joy also to see Kostas Katsouranis turn in an anonymous performance as several of what I assume to be Panathinaikos’ highly-paid stars did the same, former Arsenal man Gilberto Silva a shadow of his former English Premier League-self and Greece international Nikos Spyropoulos awful in possession and out of it. Ex-Liveprool and Atletico Madrid man Luis Garcia probably didn’t make a successful pass all evening as Panathinaikos went about producing an excellent impression of the AEK we saw earlier this season.
A midweek Cup game with Panthrakikos presents Jimenez with the perfect opportunity to keep this early momentum going.
What is it? An Athenian derby
Who should care? Olympiakos fans wanting to figure out who’s NOT going to challenge for the title, Djibril Cisse fans (not many of you out there I suppose…), people who hate Kostas Katsouranis (AEK fans and just about anyone who knows anything about football)
Will it be a cracking match? Absolutely not – these two have produced a few snooze-fests in recent times…
One headline in Greece described this as a “Derby without stars” and given that both AEK Athens and Panathinaikos will be without key attacking players, you wouldn’t disagree with that statement.
For AEK Athens, the irrepressible Ignacio Scocco and experienced Nikos Lyberopoulos are missing through injury, as are teen prodigy Sotiris Ninis and bullish winger Sebastian Leto for Panathinaikos.
It’s hard to see which players will be missed by their respective sides more. For AEK, Argentine talent Scocco has been their go-to man in derby matches since his arrival at the club, recently scoring a stunning double away against Aris in a 4-0 win and last season memorably doing the same in a 2-1 away win against Olympiakos. Lyberopoulos meanwhile calls upon years of experience as a goal-scorer in both Greece and abroad, having returned to the club where he is adored in order to lead them through difficult times; his ability to score crucial goals and provide a link between midfield and attack is unmatched by any of his teammates.
Perennial Manchester United and Real Madrid target Sotiris Ninis – or so the Greek media would like to believe – is the bright spark in what is a slightly old squad, widely regarded as his country’s most exciting prospect. His creativity was missed in midweek as the Greens played out a drab goalless draw with Rubin Kazan in the UEFA Champions League, as was the drive of Sebastian Leto out wide. The Liverpool man has been a revelation since his fall-out with Olympiakos prompted him to make a controversial move to their hated rivals, helping to inspire them to a domestic double.
Traianos Dellas (Can’t run) vs Djibril Cisse (Can sprint)
Logic would suggest that Panathinaikos won’t be reeling quite as much given the depth of international quality in their playing roster, still able to call upon the likes of Djibril Cisse, who has already banged in five goals against the Greek Super League’s defenders this season after top-scoring last campaign. Yet their injury list extends to his fellow countryman Sidney Govou and the experienced Giourkas Seitaridis, which further dents the preparation of manager Nikos Nioplias.
AEK face a defensive reshuffle with rising star Kosta Manolas, the experienced and versatile Christos Patsatzoglou, usual right-back Sanel Jahic and club stalwart Nikos Georgeas all ruled out, leaving the ageing legs of Traianos Dellas and the uncovincing Christian Nasuti as a central defensive pairing, whom I think could be in for a disastrous evening against the aforementioned Cisse.
I’d use Panathinaikos’ unconvincing display in Europe in midweek as evidence that they’ve lost the attacking mojo that characterized their domestic and continental campaigns last season, though AEK faired hardly any better against Anderlecht in midweek. You get the sense though that Nioplias is feeling the pressure in the PAO hot-seat, having offered his resignation at least once this season, while new AEK boss Manolo Jimenez made a bright start against Aris.
The Spaniard will be no stranger to derby atmospheres after his long association with Sevilla and he handled what was a tricky opening test at the Kleanthis Vikelidis with aplomb; this though is an altogether different prospect against a team who already boasted a far stronger line-up before AEK were beset by injury problems.
In terms of key men for the home side, Rafik Djebbour has looked energetic as the resident lone man up-front all season, netting three times in the league thus far. Brazilian Leonardo can on his day do damage from just about anywhere outside the penalty area, while from the snippets of the Aris match it seemed as though Pantelis Kafes, Papa Bouba Diop and the frustrating Grigoris Makos might be forming an encouraging midfield partnership.
Though lacking the sheer intensity and hatred evoked by the Olympiakos-Panathinaikos match-up, this match is hugely important to the title race and neither team can afford to lose it.
“3-0: Back to reality.”
The predictable Facebook wall-post of The Offside’s other Greek blogger Peter Katsiris, who is in permanent hibernation and tends to gravitate back to his Olympiakos blog whenever they win a match.
My response to his cheap-shot at AEK’s latest defeat in Europe to an Anderlecht side who, from what I saw of the match, were a far better team: “How did you guys go in Europe this week?”
If only Jimenez’s tactics were as sharp as my comeback. Aside from the fact that the 3-0 defeat makes it difficult to get out of the Europa League group stages, what’s worse is that Ignacio Scocco limped off with a hamstring injury and is out of the crunch derby match at home against Panathinaikos at the weekend.
The Argentine is the man for the derbies and he is irreplaceable. Having said that, the Greens haven’t exactly been in fine form of late and played out an insipid goalless draw with Rubin Kazan in the UEFA Champions League a couple of days ago.
On the weekend Jimenez marked his debut in the AEK dugout with a 4-0 victory over Aris at the Kleanthis Vikelidis Stadium, no mean feat considering the fine work Hector Cuper has done with the Thessaloniki club (their own scoreless draw with Bayer Leverkusen yesterday testament to that fact).
As if to emphasize his importance in matches of such magnitude, Scocco hit a wonderful double in that match as the former Sevilla manager made the perfect start to life in Greece.
In truth, not too many tears will be shed with an early European exit; fans will be more concerned with happenings in the Greek Super League, where that victory over Aris has lifted expectations and puts an embattled club firmly back in the race for the title and a UEFA Champions League spot this season.
Scocco’s absence is an early test for Jimenez and it’ll be interesting to see how he overcomes it and whether he can rally his troops after what was, in more ways than one, a disastrous trip to Beglium.
Former Sevilla manager Manolo Jimenez has touched down in Athens and has been announced as the new manager of AEK officially, putting pen to paper on a two-year contract.
He was mobbed by over 100 supporters after landing and brings along a some key staff members with him; he’ll be tasked with rebuilding a squad that seemed to lose all motivation under former coach Dusan Bajevic.
“I’ve got a great desire to work,” Jimenez said upon arrival. “I want to thank the crowd for the reception. What is happening is quite incredible. I hope I don’t disappoint the fans. I’ll do everything for these fans and for the team.”
In truth, it’s not so much that I’m happy to have seen Dusan Bajevic replaced with a clearly capable manager who was well-liked by fans of his former club despite his exit this season but that the chosen candidate is not Paul Le Guen.
To be frank the Frenchman is a bit of an… eccentric… and apparently was in the running alongside former Spain international and Sevilla manager Jimenez for the job.
Jimenez has done some pretty nifty work in La Liga, guiding Sevilla to respectable finishes in the league after the departure of Juande Ramos, though on the brink of UEFA Champions League group stage football this season his tenure was undone.
Sevilla made a miserable start to their domestic and European campaign under ‘Manolo’ and promptly sacked him, though their loss will hopefully be our gain as the club look to salvage what’s left of the Greek Super League season.
Hopefully he’ll be able to bring the best out of the resident Spanish-speakers in Sebastian Saja, Ignacio Scocco and Ismael Blanco, who have been under-performing for quite some time now (though they aren’t the only guilty parties).
Another reason to be upbeat about the appointment of Jimenez is that Spanish managers have enjoyed notable success on the Greek domestic scene recently, with Ernesto Valverde a hit at Olympiakos and Lorenzo Serra Ferrer a firm favourite of mine after his outstanding work with AEK from 2006-2008.*
AEK have never really reached the aesthetic heights that they did under Ferrer, where they played a fluid and attacking brand of football; hopefully Jimenez will bring go some way towards rectifying that having come from a club that has built its recent success on an extremely watchable style of football.
If nothing else, it’d be nice to actually enjoy watching this team play good football, with results unlikely to be immediately forthcoming given the comparative lack of quality in their playing roster to the likes of Olympiakos and Panathinaikos.
Money in Manolo’s bank:
Contract length: Two years
Annual Salary: 750,000 euros
Winning the league (bonus): 500,000 euros
Reaching the UEFA Champions League group stages (bonus): 500,000 euros
Winning the Greek Cup (bonus): 100,000 euros
Reaching knock-out stages of Europa League (bonus): 75,000 euros
*Ferrer is now the owner of financial basket-case Mallorca.
As I watched the capitulation at the Panthessaliko Stadium immediately after watching something that wasn’t quite as painful but every bit as frustrating as my other beloved (Newcastle United) suffered their own league catastrophe against the kings of continental, cavalier football Stoke City, I began to think up clever titles for this latest blog entry.
The thing is, the ideal headlines for bloggers and internet writers generally should contain as many key words as possible to maximize a thing called search engine optimization, so as much as it’s tempting to lead with clever puns it means you probably won’t be as visible on the internet.
But then there are moments where you defy logic and what’s in the best interests of a website’s traffic and simply give up altogether: much like I did as I witnessed the shambles in Volou and much like Dusan Bajevic’s team did as they allowed themselves to be embarrassed for the second consecutive week.
I thought up a few headlines along the lines of:
- ‘This blog is now a stress ball’
- ‘Sack them all, sack them all, sack them all’
- ‘Newcastle United and AEK Athens should just get it over with and merge’
Something about the one that I used seems to bring home the message far more poignantly. Perhaps it’s the sheer simplicity of it – I mean, it really tells you everything you need to know about the current state of this club, doesn’t it? (Not that throwing chairs is anything new, nor particularly shocking considering supporters have thrown yogurt in the not too distant past)
Dusan Bajevic finally did the sensible thing and resigned; he’s received virtually no financial backing from the club in the transfer market, been subject to the usual deplorable behaviour of hooligans and had one of his key figures pulled from under him on the eve of a new season. It’s a testament to his managerial ability that he took a limited team to within a whisker of a Greek Cup victory.
He leaves with his reputation very much in-tact but the same can’t be said for a number of individuals who call themselves AEK players: Traianos Dellas, once a colossal figure and in his prime one of the best defenders in the world, has embarrassed himself upon his return to the club. The site of him with his hands on his knees, puffing his cheeks out and generally looking as though he could use an oxygen mask is a pitiful one. It’s hard to see any logic in having brought him back considering his age and conspicuous lack of fitness.
I’m not too sure what’s more comical: the fact that Dellas is actually a starter at one of Greece’s biggest clubs or the fact that national team boss Fernando Santos is even considering calling him up to the international stage again.
A few months ago I would have said Argentine stars Ignacio Scocco and Ismael Blanco have to remain at the club considering their undoubted talent but their recent performances or lack thereof means my mind has changed: I say get rid of them and their no doubt inflated wages. Scocco in particular simply seems to be going through the motions, while Djebbour’s early-season form and energy has made made Blanco obsolete.
I read in a piece on Sport24.gr that mentioned young defender Kosta Manolas was forced to do twice the running because of central defender Dellas’ impersonation of Ἀφροδίτη τῆς Μήλου, which isn’t an exaggeration at all.
Perhaps the performances of a number of these supposed ’stars’ and the general lack of interest of the playing squad as a whole is what convinced Bajevic to make his decision, as much as his treatment at the hands of the fans was.
In any case, he’s gone and it seems the season is over before it already began.
Perhaps the above headline is a tad over-dramatic seeing as how the first half performance in the 2-2 draw at home with Asteras Tripolis was probably deserving of a one or two-goal lead.
It was the second half showing though that really had me irked: a silly goal conceded courtesy of a goalkeeping error on the stroke of half-time never has a fan in the best of moods and that frustration grew immediately after the restart when it became apparent that none of the 11 players out on the pitch seemed to have any desire to win the game.
What makes it even worse is that the team produced three superb performances in a pre-season tournament in Australia, a testament to the sort of stuff they are capable of against opposition far better than the one that turned up in Athens on Sunday.
Nonetheless, credit must go to the visitors who looked to play positive football whenever they had the ball at their feet and crucially retained an attacking threat rather than sitting back for the entire match and attempting to soak up pressure.
In truth it’s quite incredible that we managed to walk away with a 2-2 draw after conceding a second goal late in the game but Rafik Djebbour’s header and the constantly frustrating Nacho Scocco’s swerving strike from range rescued a point that was hardly deserved given the manner of the second half display.
It took 45 minutes for me to have some idea of how France fans must have felt watching their team throw away their World Cup campaign in South Africa.
Upon reflection, there were a few occasions where I too called for the entire squad to be sacked against Asteras.
Hardly sober analysis but fellow fans can understand my frustration. A more considered reflection on the match and one realizes that defensively Dusan Bajevic’s side is and will be a shambles for the season to come despite the prodigious talents of Kosta Manolas, with new recruit Cristian Nasuti having a rather difficult debut and certainly not commanding the same presence as the departed Daniel Majstorovic.
Up front, Ismael Blanco was at his anonymous best and given the comparative energy and technical ability of Rafik Djebbour, maybe it’s time for the Argentine striker to move on, even if it is with Nacho Scocco – I don’t think I can suffer another of the latter’s sub-par displays against sub-par opposition.
Luckily for us Olympiacos, Panathinaikos and PAOK have hardly been more convincing, similarly dropping points early on in the campaign. Of the first two I can almost certainly say that they’ll eventually find their rhythm, though I’m not so confident about AEK doing the same…
Greek football, at its worst, is near unwatchable. Tedious officiating and slow ball movement are a horrific combination, the effects of which tend to be multiplied to an infinite degree when watched after midnight.
So much so that a first win of the season doesn’t bring a great deal of pleasure to a fan of a club where pleasures are simple given the relative lack of success in recent times.
Nonetheless, we’ll take it. A lethargic performance would have been punished by a team of higher quality or interest so fortunately for Bajevic’s men Panserraikos were as awful as their hosts, who won the game by virtue of one moment of quality from Rafik Djebbour, who led the line admirably and hopefully will get the most out of his undoubted talent this season.
You get the sense that this group of players will lift when the occasion requires it but surely it would make sense to operate at full capacity more consistently for the sake of making sure of victories in matches where potential banana skins could be just around the corner.
In terms of those who impressed, the aforementioned Djebbour took his chance well while Nathan Burns for the opening exchanges was sprightly down the right flank.
Nikos Lyberopoulos showed flashes of class, including the delicate chip that set Djebbour up for his side’s opener, though no-one came close to Panagiotis Lagos for sheer effort at left-back.
After all his injury concerns over the past few seasons it is genuinely nice to see him returning to some sort of form, though it was rather painful to watch an out-of-sorts Christos Patsatzoglou make his debut as a substitute; we’ll wait till he improves on his fitness and sharpness before we pass judgment, though.
Pantelis Kafes took his goal sharply, courtesy of some enterprising work by the characteristically frustrating Nacho Scocco combined with the some comical Panserraikos defending and while the visitors didn’t test Giannis Arabatzis there were a couple of unconvincing moments at the back from Dellas and co. to suggest that it could be a real weak-spot this season.
Next up: a midweek Europa League opener at home to Hajduk Split.
PS. An interesting piece here about the AEK players calling for the Georgios Kamaras Stadium at Rizoupoli to be used as the team’s home ground for the rest of the season. It echoes my exact thoughts after watching a match where a stadium was more than half-full of AEK fans, a welcome sight indeed and no doubt an improvement on the atmosphere of a sparsely populated OAKA Spiros Louis. My only concern would be the state of the pitch but with a bit of effort that could surely be rectified.
From the above picture it’s obvious of the benefits of playing in front of your own fans when they are jammed packed into something of a cauldron, even if it isn’t a four or five-star UEFA venue (the Olympic Stadium would be used of course for European ties and major derbies).
Note: as if things aren’t bad enough already, the admin system famous among The Offside bloggers for being a spawn of Satan deleted my original post that I exerted so much of my precious energy on.
So picking up where I left off, there aren’t many writers who would start a preview of a match by describing the make-up of the phlegm they’ve been routinely coughing out over the past few days.
And whilst I’ll refrain from being graphic on this occasion, something tells me that the contents of my inflamed throat are far more aesthetically pleasing and interesting than the opening 2-1 defeat away against Kerkyra suffered by an AEK outfit whose season highlight probably will end up being a very enjoyable friendly tournament in Australia.
It’s a disastrous start to a season that was given the worst possible start when defensive pillar Daniel Majstorovic was lost to Celtic on…wait for it…a FREE TRANSFER.
In their infinite wisdom the AEK Athens management decided to reduce the wage bill via one of the club’s most consistent recent performers behind the back of manager Dusan Bajevic; just why the tactically astute coach, undoubtedly the best manager in Greece, sticks with such a basket-case excuse for an organization is beyond me.
The solution to this void in the back-line? Christos Patsatozlou.
Yes, that’s the same perennial member of the national team set-up who never contributes anything meaningful, the same man who is well past his prime and the same man who spent most of his time last season in Cyprus on the bench, ravaged by injury.
Another transfer coup to add to a long list.
What makes it more insulting is that Hungarian prodigy Krisztián Németh decided to ship off to Olympiacos this season after being the AEK’s bright spark last campaign.
So Panserraikos up next at home, with a mid-week start to the Europa League campaign after being drawn in a tough group alongside Hajduk Split, Anderlecht and Zenit St. Petersburg.
I can’t wait…(please note sarcasm)