AEK-Olympiacos Preview: The difficult journey begins at the Olympic Stadium
After a short break for the international games that saw Greece lose all hope for World Cup qualification, it's time to pick up where we left off with club football.
Olympiacos, sitting at the top of the ladder in the Greek Super League, will travel to the Olympic Stadium where they will play against AEK, who are just three points below them in second place.
Although it's still too early for this game to really decide anything in regards to how the two teams will finish the season, derbies such as these are always significant for a number of other reasons.
How the two rivals line up
Pedro Martins doesn't really have many problems with the squad, apart maybe from the injured Kunde Malong who wasn't able to recover in time for the derby.
Michal Karbownik will also be absent as will captains Avraam Papadopoulos and Kostas Fortounis. The many issues in defense forced the Portuguese manager to give a place to Serbian youth Svetozar Markovic in the line-up for the crucial game ahead.
On the opposite end, AEK will be without their international defender Giorgos Tzavellas, who suffered an injury during his international duties and their Swedish midfielder Muamer Tankovic, who is also injured.
The manager of the club Argyris Giannikis is strongly considering giving a position in the starting lineup to defenders Ognjen Vranjes and Michalis Bakakis, while maintaing the striking force of Sergio Araujo alongside Swiss international Steven Zuber.
This game is expected to take place in front of a large crowd, with AEK having almost sold out the over-40,000 tickets that were made available for the derby. So Martins and his players can surely expect a hostile environment, to say the least.
Hard road ahead for Olympiacos and Martins
Whatever the case may be, this will be just the first in a long series of matches which will end close to Christmas. These games could determine many things in regards to the future of the 'erythrolefki'.
Pedro Martins has made a large numbers of changes and additions to the squad, many of which have not gone the way he would've wished for, leaving the team vulnerable in the back and without many options to score out front.
This has placed the Portuguese manager in a difficult position, having lost faith among the Olympiacos critics who are usually quick to point out any issues with their team.
After AEK, Olympiacos will welcome Fenerbahce at home, in a game that will prove fundamental in regards to their future in Europe.
Then they have a home game against Volos before a number of consecutive away games for three different competitions (Levadiakos, OFI and Antwerp for the Cup, the League and the Europa League respectively).
After that, they will host Aris, travel to Atromitos, and go to Lamia (all for the Super League), while their year ends with the home game against Levadiakos for the Cup.
If the team (and Martins) can make it through the next couple of games - against AEK and Fenerbahce - unscathed, then that may well give them the necessary boost to make it through to the end of the year without any heavy losses.
The gap in the Super League will open up to at least four points to the second placed team (PAOK is third with 19), while a win at home against the Turks will mean instant qualification to the round of 32 (or even the round of 16, if they're lucky!)
Any potential losses to OFI, Aris or Atromitos can easily be rectified - not that they should happen, just that they won't cause too much damage. The team will be able to focus on the Cup and on improving its overall image inside the pitch.
But on the off chance that things don't go the way they want, well, that might turn an already difficult situation for Martins into an unsalvageable one.
As mentioned earlier, there's already a lot of doubt among the more critical Olympiacos fans in regards to the Portuguese's abilities and overall attitude towards the job.
Two poor results in the upcoming games could spread that air of doubt towards the rest of the fans like a plague. Because yes, Martins has given fans a lot to celebrate throughout the years, but what's going on right now isn't what they want to see from their team.
The plan for AEK
In regards to the game against AEK, the 51-year-old has already decided on most of the players that will be in the starting eleven, but seems to be considering the formation of his team.
If he is to play a more offensive 4-2-3-1, then he will begin the game with Vaclik under the goalpost, from left to right in defense will be Reabciuk, Papastathopoulos, Cisse and Lala, in midfield will be M' Vila, M. Camara, further up front will be Masouras, A. Camara and Onyekuru, while the striker position will likely be given to El Arabi, with Tiquinho also having a fair chance.
If Martins chooses to watch his back and hold the lines with a 4-3-3, then A. Camara will play on the right hand side of midfield, while Onyekuru's place will be given to Bouchalakis.
Whatever the case, tonight's game promises to be intriguing, if not for the chance to see thousands of disheartened AEK fans once again walk away in disappointement as they have done so many times in the past against Olympiacos.
But it should be pointed out that this is not the same team that Martins and his men beat 1-5 a few months ago. AEK have grown stronger and they continue to do so game by game.
If they're up to Olympiacos' level, well, that remains to be seen.
Prediction: Olympiacos walk away with a 0-2 win as AEK crumble under the pressure of expectation created by their own fans.