Greek Super League set for the battle of the Gods
Background image: TodorBozhinov, CC BY-SA 3.0
Greek mythology lessons at school rarely expanded to football. Most curriculums don’t cover the Zeus-like hold Olympiakos have on the league with their 44 title wins being a record. A brazen challenger knocked off the old god, stirring a reaction, as PAOK won the 18/19 season going unbeaten throughout the entire 30 game-term. Now, the two meet for the first time this year. But who is best equipped to win the title?
It’s rare that first and second in a league come up against each other with such similar records. 11 games played. Eight wins, three draws and zero losses. The teams are separated by the virtue that is goal difference. Olympiakos conceded fewer, PAOK scored more. There’s nothing in the slender +4 goal difference to say definitively who’s the best side.
Pedro Martins is under contract to the club until the summer, given his 65.7% win percentage, across all 70 games as a manager would normally trigger an extension. The normality ends that this Thrylos, Greek for Legend. Legends don’t finish second. Olympiakos expect silverware come summer. His tenure saw no league title nor cup win. Tuesday’s result in north London emphasised the urgency to win domestic competitions, as even the top Greek teams aren’t ready for Europe’s elite. The pressure is on the Portuguese manager to deliver a trophy.
So far, so good even with that slender lead Olympiakos are atop. This year’s successes have been built on defensive astuteness. A water-tight rearguard kept seven clean sheets from 11 games. Martins sought a better defence this year and now reaping the rewards for it.
Olympiakos are a lot less likely to concede this season compared to last. Martins sets up with a back four usually featuring Ruben Semedo as well as Yassine Meriah, working in tandem with less fixed players in the starting eleven in order to keep competition and quality high at the back.
While their ability wasn’t enough to keep Tottenham from a four-goal scoring rote ousting them from a two-goal lead to a deficit, they’ve still got the ability at the domestic level. It’s this prowess that will keep Olympiakos in the title race.
While the Olympians in Athens defend themselves to the top, Abel Ferreira has built on the work of his predecessor, Razvan Lucescu, in making PAOK an offensive team. A tough task given last year the team were unbeaten throughout the campaign.
The team average two goals per 90 this year, with Karol Swiderski leading the division with seven strikes. He’s backed up by an impressive starting XI who are all making direct goal contributions, emphasising this team’s dedication to attacking football. Dimitris Limnios, Josip Misic and Vieirinha all ensure the Polish international gets the support he needs to lead the frontline.
Abel installed an initiative to control the ball. The team enjoy healthy possession, generally over 55% in each game. This gives the respective architects in black-and-white shirts proofing wherewithal to construct their game. 22,446 home supporters in Thessaloniki observed PAOK comeback after twice giving Panathinaikos the lead. Vieirinha embodied the group composure on the day, as he took the 101st-minute penalty, to draw the team level as well as remain unbeaten in the league.
Compared to their title adversaries, PAOK couldn’t keep a clean sheet at all at first this season, not doing so until mid-October. Yet Ferrerira identified this issue, clearly starting remedial work on the matter. Swapping Alexandros Paschalakis for Zivko Zivkovic in net as well as Sverrir Ingason in place of Fernando Varela, have been changes made to starting eleven across the season so far. Defensively, it’s worked wonders as the team conceded two goals in the last 450 minutes (0.4 per game, over the last five). A stark improvement on a title-defending team who conceded in every game from August to late October.
Sunday evening’s game will shape the season’s remainder, as both teams are top in their respective tactics. Yet with PAOK now showing that they are as good at defending too, without European competition this year may be able to outstand Olympiakos. The latter are hosting the game, yet experienced the arduous trek to London then back, with psychological damage having gone from winning to losing in emphatic fashion. The timing the Champions League loss in England, then PAOK’s defensive resurgence may be enough to tip the game as well as the title back to Thessaloniki for another year. A victorious team here would surely be favourites for the rest of the season, whereas a draw would hypothesise that the two teams could go unbeaten with no real opposition presenting itself - as third-placed AEK Athens are already 9 points off the pace.