Olympiacos 0-0 AEK: Title as good as lost, is there a way back?
November 14, 2022. The first half of the 2022-2023 season is already completed and Olympiacos have yet to win a big game.
The numbers are damning: Zero victories out of 12 European outings this season within 90 minutes or extra-time - five of which the Greek champions have lost, three of which took place at home. Zero losses out of four derbies in Greece, two of which they lost. To top it all up, the Piraeus outfit has been unable to win more than two league matches in a row throughout this turbulent campaign. Hardly the best team in Greece so far...
Sunday's goalless draw with AEK at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium - remember when that used to be a fortress? - could be the final nail in the coffin that puts an end to the defending champions' title hunt as early as November for the first time since the Petrina Chronia.
AEK dominated at the Karaiskakis like no other Greek team has ever managed to do so since 2004 when the Piraeus giants returned to their home in Neo Faliro - if anything, Matias Almeyda's men proved they could actually be the favourites to win the Superleague despite Panathinaikos' 13-match undefeated run.
But let's take it from the top... Olympiacos manager Michel went for his usual 4-2-3-1 formation with Alexandros Paschalakis in goal and Gonzalo Avila on the right as well as Oleg Reabciuk on the other side, while Andreas Ntoi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos teamed up at centre-back. Yann M'Vila and Hwang In-beom linked up in midfield with James Rodriguez at No10. Pep Biel played down the right flank with Giorgos Masouras on the other side, while Cedric Bakambu spearheaded the attack.
AEK showed their intentions from the get go with Olympiacos absolutely unable to deal with the guests' pressing in midfield as well as diamond formation, consisted of Jens Jonsson at No6, Orbelin Pineda at No10, Nordin Amrabat on the right and Mijat Gacinovic on the left.
AEK came just a whisker away from opening the scoring after just 16 minutes when Levi Garcia chipped the ball past Paschalakis but Sokratis cleared it just off the line - his second big save after his incredible Premier League-like tackle denied Panathinaikos star Andraz Sporar at Leoforos the week before.
Almeyda's men came close again just three minutes later when Gacinovic set Lazaros Rota in front of Paschalakis only for the Greece international to make his first out of many key saves of the night. M'Vila then almost cost Olympiacos with a rare mistake on 28 minutes that saw his weak back pass almost intercepted by Garcia but the hosts' goalkeeper came off his line and beat his opponent to it right in the nick of time. The two teams went back in the dressing room with a goalless draw, which was honestly too good for Olympiacos based on their first-half performance.
However, Michel's men came back with much more confidence in the second half and even scored a goal after 58 minutes when Masouras found James unmarked inside the area and the Colombia international beat Giorgos Athanasiadis with a fine shot. However, Masouras was caught just inches offside down the left in the build-up and the goal was disallowed by VAR. That is when a section of the fans lit flares and inadvertently killed their team's tempo - that small pause proved to be critical for AEK as they regained their first-half rhythm and ultimately killed their opponents' chances of victory as they didn't commit any other notable mistakes until full-time.
AEK had some more chances with Garcia being denied by Paschalakis once more from a tight corner on 67 minutes and Tom van Weert almost extended Olympiacos' curse of conceding late goals two minutes before time with a header that just missed Paschalakis' bottom right corner.
Olympiacos also had two chances, both of which were lost by an incredible Sokratis, who missed a close-range header on 74 minutes before the ex-Arsenal ace's header was denied again by Athanasiadis in the third minute of stoppage time when the two Greeks clashed.
Where does that leave Olympiacos? Reality is the Piraeus giants are FOURTH in the Superleague table with PAOK ahead of them with the same points. To make matters even trickier, Michel's men are four points behind a strong AEK side and second place as well as a whopping 12 points behind table-toppers Panathinaikos. Michel's men are now set for a much-needed break that could work as their second pre-season in Spain with the chance for all that undeniable quality within the squad to finally gel.
There's no reason to be too harsh on the club, there is no denying last summer's pre-season was a gigantic failure. Now we're dealing with an inflated roster that was put together by three different managers, two of which did it on the fly by basically putting band aids everywhere. For months the admittedly improved Greek champions have been playing catch up with their rivals, who had a strong pre-season after their humiliating eliminations from the Europa Conference League qualifiers by teams not even worthy of mentioning.
Olympiacos certainly have what it takes to make a strong and dominant comeback on December 15 when they face Atromitos at home in the Last 16 of the Greek Cup. But there is a lot of work and some difficult decisions involved especially if star signings like Sime Vrsaljko and Marcelo don't show drastic improvement. And even if Michel manages to unlock his team's full potential they will still have to hope their rivals drop a number of points in the second half of the season as well as play-offs.
But can Olympiacos, who have failed to win a single big game so far this season, emerge victorious out of every single play-off match, most of which will be derbies? And how many points are the in-form AEK as well as the consistent Panathinaikos going to drop along the way...? Only one way to find out, but it really doesn't look good and fans need to be ready for everything...
P.S: If Olympiacos played like Panathinaikos and got the same calls as well as results as their eternal rivals this season then it would be quite a sight watching the anti-Olympiacos fans being as nonchalant as they are right now...