Olympiacos draw with Panathinaikos – Good news and bad news
Olympiacos came a whisker away from a huge derby win over rivals Panathinaikos at Leoforos but the Superleague table-toppers managed to snatch a controversial 1-1 draw. I wrote last week that the Greek champions’ title hopes would already be dead on arrival if they had lost to their foes – I also said that a draw would practically rule them out of contention with Ivan Jovanovic’s men still 10 points ahead.
Well, I was half right as the derby in Athens came with some good news and some bad news. But let’s take it from the top: Olympiacos manager Michel approached the game wisely, albeit predictably, once more with a 4-2-3-1 formation. Alexandros Paschalakis started in goal with Gonzalo Avila at right-back and Oleg Reabciuk on the other side, while Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Andreas Ntoi linked up at centre-back. Hwang In-beom and Yann M’Vila teamed up in midfield with James Rodriguez at No10. Giorgos Masouras covered the right flank with Pep Biel on the other side and Cedric Bakambu leading the attack.
Panathinaikos dominated 52 per cent of possession but the visitors managed to absorb their pressure brilliantly and thus created the better chances with 15 shots, seven of which were on target – compared to the hosts’ six shots, two of which were on target. Olympiacos started strong by registering their first opportunity after 12 minutes when Masouras found Biel from the right in the penalty area, but the Spaniard got a heavy touch, and his shot was blocked by Facundo Sanchez. Panathinaikos goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli then gave the ball away – an uncharacteristic error. Hwang picked it up and Masouras found Bakambu in the area from where the Congolese striker set James up for a shot that was blocked by Brignoli on 24 minutes. That was Brignoli’s first save out of a total of six as he put on a clinic at the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium.
Panathinaikos thought they had the lead just a minute before the half-hour mark when Sebastian Palacios beat Paschalakis but the forward was caught offside. Masouras then tried to get his first goal in almost two months, but his long-range shot was denied by a stunning acrobatic save from Brignoli in the 32nd minute. M’Vila tried an effort of his own from distance on 43 minutes but was totally off target.
Olympiacos started strong in the second half with Bakambu setting Biel up with a wonderful back-heel, but the Spaniard’s shot was blocked by Brignoli on 49 minutes. The Italian then denied a header by Masouras with another acrobatic save after 61 minutes. James came close to a stunner just two minutes later, but the PAO shot-stopper lunged to his right to deny it even though he was caught off guard by Hordur Magnusson’s failure to clear it with a header.
Panathinaikos had another goal correctly ruled out on 76 minutes when Bernard found Andraz Sporar, who was offside before beating Paschalakis. Sporar almost made up for his error only three minutes later when Reabciuk gave the ball away on the back but a stunning Premier League-like tackle by Papastathopoulos blocked the striker’s shot from close range.
Paschalakis made his biggest save of the match in the 80th minute when he palmed away a long-range shot by Ruben Perez with a lunge to his right just when Panathinaikos were building momentum. But Olympiacos finally hit the target on 84 minutes when a cross from the right by Avila found Youssef El Arabi in the far post from where he set Biel up with a stunning back pass and the Spaniard finally beat Brignoli with a clinical shot.
The Piraeus outfit were very close to a deserved win but then controversy ensued as referee Jakob Kehlet awarded Panathinaikos a penalty in the seventh minute of stoppage time – a minute after the game was supposed to end – after Avila appeared to have elbowed Fotis Ioannidis. After checking with the VAR monitor, Kehler insisted on his decision and Sporar became the first player to beat Paschalakis in the Superleague this season in the 13th minute of added time.
So good news and bad news, let’s get the latter out of the way: Olympiacos still haven’t won a big match after a horrid European campaign as well as two derby losses to Aris and PAOK. Furthermore, this is the ninth game this season in which Michel’s men concede a crucial goal late in the match. I’m starting to fear about the players’ fitness as well as mentality – there seems to be a defeatist state of mind as if something is always destined to go wrong…
What Avila did in the dying seconds was berserk, yes he was trying to mark Ioannidis but the elbow was too high and he went hard on his opponent inside the area after a poor cross that was obviously going out for an Olympiacos free-throw.
That takes me to the referees, I have seen a lot more obvious penalties not being awarded, and softer spot-kicks being awarded. I have also watched matches that were obviously rigged and never have I witnessed a referee cancelling out two goals by the team he was favouring – Palacios’ opener wasn’t an obvious offside. Olympiacos’ opponents have repeatedly winged about the referees and threatened to walk out from the league in recent years – a mentality that scarcely pays off on the pitch or record books. If Olympiacos are truly the best team in Greece, then they’re in luck cause they can prove it this Sunday against AEK at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium.
Now to the good news, Olympiacos are finally showing some unity as well as structure on and off the pitch. Michel has two stunningly reliable goalkeepers at his disposal in Paschalakis and Tomas Vaclik, a centre-back duo consisted of Papastathopoulos and Ntoi, a midfield pair of Hwang and M’Vila as well as a talismanic trio of Biel, James and Bakambu up front.
The team hasn’t won any big matches but has been consistent against the minnows and the quality on the pitch has drastically increased. Panathinaikos were lucky to escape with a point and Jovanovic admitted this is a satisfactory result based on their performance. PAO’s winning streak came to an end, and their performance hasn’t convinced anyone that they will remain undefeated for long.
Olympiacos have two important games at Levadiakos on Wednesday and AEK in the weekend. Winning those two games is of paramount importance before the World Cup break which could work as their second pre-season and could help the team return to the league with a newfound confidence and strength. Ten points is a lot of ground to cover, but if Olympiacos manage to find their spark in the upcoming break, finally create some consistency, beat AEK and keep their mind off the refs as well as awful EPO then another fiesta in May is not totally out of the question.
P.S.: Marcelo desperately needs to take advantage of the World Cup break and regain his fitness as well as professionalism or else he is in great danger of becoming Olympiacos’ biggest ever transfer flop
Views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not represent Gate 7 International as a whole.
For more from the PAO derby, check out our post match LIVE show from last Sunday (below)