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  • Writer's pictureKonstantinos Lianos

Olympiacos have to wash the Europa League disgrace off against Panathinaikos

It’s official boys and girls, Olympiacos’ most disgraceful European campaign has mercifully come to an end.

Let’s count’em down, shall we? If we include this summer’s qualifiers we got 12 games, ZERO wins within 90 minutes or extra time, six losses, three consecutive home defeats, eight goals scored and 21 conceded. The team that came a whisker away from the Europa League quarter-finals in 2020 after eliminating Arsenal at the Emirates is now without a win in Europe after 15 matches!

And it all came down like a ton of bricks on Thursday when Nantes visited the Georgios Karaiskakis in what was a formality as the Greek champions had already been eliminated from Europe before Christmas for the first time in almost five years.

Manager Michel approached the game wisely as he rested all his key players (that he could field in Europe) ahead of Sunday’s crunch derby at Panathinaikos. I’d love to believe the Spanish tactician reads my articles – let’s face it, he obviously doesn’t – but he also agreed not to risk Hwang In-beom and probably would have done the same if Pep Biel was fit.

The Real Madrid legend went for a mixture of 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 with an intense academy presence. Kostas Tzolakis started in goal with Thanasis Androutsos at right-back and Marios Vrousai on the other side, while Alexis Kalogeropoulos and Panos Retsos linked up at centre-back. Captain Andreas Bouchalakis and Pierre-Kounde teamed up in midfield with Josh Bowler on the right and Aboubakar Kamara on the other side, while Youssef El Arabi played behind and/or alongside Hwang Ui-jo.

A good first half that saw Michel’s immensely rotated side being well-up for it and players that weren’t even supposed to be there trying to prove themselves and give their manager a last-minute selection headache ahead of the Eternal Derby. Some nice link-up between Androutsos and Bowler down the right, sensational runs and movement by Vrousai on the left, 18-year-old Kalogeropoulos playing like he’s much more experienced and El Arabi rolling back the years. The Piraeus outfit could have opened the scoring but Ui-jo failed to take his chances and Kamara couldn’t produce from the left.

Special praise goes to Bowler who made a very strong case to start against Panathinaikos – as my co-host Costas Levoyannis said, Olympiacos probably don’t have a better winger than him. Androutsos offered quality we have yet to see from the experienced Sime Vrsaljko down the right and Vrousai outperformed everyone’s not -so favourite left-back Oleg Reabciuk.

Michel had his hands tied as he wanted all his key players to be fit, which is why he took El Arabi and Vrousai off for Tasos Sapountzis and Vrsaljko respectively at half-time. However, that took away all the first-half magic as the hosts couldn’t produce anything up front with their star striker out; and so Nantes took control.

Antoine Kombouare’s men opened the scoring on 79 minutes with Mostafa Mohamed and sealed the three points 11 minutes later with Ludovic Blas, who came on as a second-half substitute and sent his team to the Europa League play-offs. Another case of Olympiacos crumbling in the final minutes…

As said above, Nantes was a formality and Michel was very right to save his big guns for Leoforos – we all expected a defeat and certainly not an impressive performance in either half. But let’s be clear, this season’s European campaign has been absolutely unacceptable, disgraceful and appalling – everyone should be ashamed. I can’t remember a more horrific performance in Europe since the Petrina Chronia (which we have yet to translate with a cool term). Besnik Hasi’s team was terrible in the 2017-2018 season but still breezed through the Champions League qualifiers before crashing out in the group stages to notable opposition consisting of Barcelona, Juventus and Sporting Lisbon. The 2009-2010 team that finished FIFTH in Greece made it to the Champions League Last 16!

Olympiacos have shown improvement in recent outings but let’s make no mistake about it, none of it will mean anything if they don’t win on Sunday. Panathinaikos are making their first serious claim for the title since 2011 and a loss would see the Greek champs practically handing over their crown in November as they will be 13 points behind. A draw would also practically end any hopes of a fourth consecutive fiesta in May.

But it’s more than just getting back on track in the title hunt as Olympiacos still lack a win in a big-match situation this season after flopping in Europe and losing both of their first two derbies against Aris and PAOK. The Piraeus giants need those three points to finally boost their fragile morale, which has taken many hits after three prosperous years. A victory could unlock some much-needed confidence and would deal their rivals with a very rough landing after winning all their first 10 matches, including four derbies.

This chaotic season allows us to take one step at a time, but no matter how this term ends Olympiacos owe the fans something in Europe next season – doesn’t matter where they finish on the table. Even if they miss out on the top two then the aspiration should be at least to make it to the Europa Conference League quarter-finals next term. This is a team that made it out of the group stages in 13 out of 14 attempts before this year’s clown show. It’s time they start acting like it real soon…



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