Anything but convincing
If you were to characterize Olympiacos’s start to the 2021-22 campaign, the only word that will not come to mind is “convincing”. A quick Champions League elimination at the hands of Bulgarian side, Ludogorets FC, was followed by an uneventful 0-0 draw to start the Greek Super League season against Atromitos Athens at Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium last week. The set was staged for disaster – if Olympiacos would be unable to defeat Royal Antwerp FC in matchday 1 of the Europa League group stages, criticism for Martins, the players and the administration would intensify. Luckily for the 46-time Greek Champions, a late 2-1 strike from an unlikely hero, left back Oleg Reabciuk, was what the doctor ordered. Or was it?
Travelling to Athanasios Diakos Stadium in Lamia, not many pundits expect anything but a lopsided Olympiacos victory. All you had to do was rewind to last December where the Erythrolefki thrashed the local side 0-6. Instead of a rout, we got an entirely different game; one that undoubtdely leaves many doubts about the squad’s form. The hosts knocked on the door early when attacking midfielder, Tyronne, drilled a header that needed a fantastic sprawling stop from Tomas Vaclik. The Czech international goalkeeper looked off this past Thursday against the Belgians, often scrambling to come out of his net and didn’t ooze much certainty. On Sunday in Lamia, he was solid.
Ruben Semedo’s future in Piraeus is a large question mark, but so is the center defensive duo of Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Pappe Abou Cisse. The two haven’t played together often and their lack of cohesiveness on the pitch is evident. To his credit, the Senegalese centerback sent a beautifully delivered Mathieu Valbuena free kick in the back of the net to open up the scoring in the 12th minute. Local sports station, CosmOTE Sports, measured of the 1.97m Cissé’s jump at an impressive 2.40m!
Though Pedro Martins’ team continued to mildly press in the first half, only Aguibou Camara and Mady Camara seemed to be sharp. The former gave a quick pass to Andreas Bouchalakis who doubled up Olympiacos’s lead in the 32nd minute. Aguibou (as he is affectionately known to all the broadcasters), not only gave Bouchalakis the pass, but he made sure to take off; sort of like a give-and-go. Though the Greek midfielder never gave him the ball back, the run from Aguibou enabled him to pull a Lamia defender, giving Bouchalakis the necessary space to place the ball exactly where he wanted.
The second half began and it almost looked like the two sides were intent on putting the measly Lamia crowd to sleep. To their credit, the hosts began to take it to the Greek Champions and cut the lead to 1 in the 72nd minute. Former Olympiacos striker, Tasos Karamanos, scored a goal that highlighted the ineptitude of Martins’ defense. Though Lamia did continue to press, they ultimately were unable to score the tying goal. The closest they came was on an awkward play that resulted in… Loukas Vyntra almost getting the equalizer.
Reabciuk, who we mentioned earlier, played his typical kind of game. The best word to use for him is the Greek word filotimo. He ran hard, like he always does, but didn’t contribute to much on the offensive side of things. The Moldovian is a player who always gives his all, but whether he has enough to be the starting left back for Olympiacos remains to be seen.
On the right side of the defensive line, Michal Karbownik was poor. He constantly looked as if he was fighting with the ball once he got possession. We can talk about it until we’re blue in the face, but this team’s lack of quality wingers was masked two years ago when Kostas Tsimikas and Omar Elabdellaoui were the left and right wing backs, respectively. Since then, the quality of the wingers has been mediocre and the wingbacks continue to be non-factors offensively.
Tiquinho Soares started up top on Sunday to give Youssef El Arabi a much needed day to rest and cater to some injuries. Though it’s still very early to tell, Tiquinho does not have that presence that the Moroccan striker has. He was selfish on a 3-on-1 that could have pretty much ended the game. Even though he is far from being a slow player, on Sunday he just seemed to be behind the play on the mental level.
Winger Henry Onyekuru had another average game. The Nigerian seems to have a lot of sizzle to his game, but hardly any steak.
It’s no secret that Pedro Martins is looking to leave Piraeus after this season. In his fourth season in Greece, the Portuguese manager is facing adversity that he hasn’t faced before. The Champions League elimination coupled with the team’s pedestrian play must have the Professor wondering what he needs to do to get this train back on track. This Olympiacos squad has many new faces - time and patience is of the essence. At Renti Training Grounds, though, it’s not only about the results but the quality of football played. And so far, that has been anything but convincing.