OLYMPIACOS LOSE TO PAOK, NOW WHAT???
It’s that rare time of year when many – if not everyone – in Greece wonder, can Olympiacos actually win the title?
I‘ve said it many times on the pod, owner Vangelis Marinakis has inadvertently created a spoiled generation of fans who are used to seeing the team practically sealing the championship by Christmas and almost walking to the Last 16 of a major European competition every year. If that doesn’t happen, then disaster ensues… Gone are the days when Olympiacos and Panathinaikos/AEK went toe to toe for the top spot and we all thought it was the most natural thing in the world.
But every team in the world goes through a rough patch at least once every blue moon – look at Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, Liverpool in the Premier League and Barcelona in the Champions League this season. What makes us think Olympiacos would be immune to that?
There is logic behind this chaos, the Greek champions failed to see the writing on the wall: Although Pedro Martins is indeed a club legend, the team was on a downward spiral with him in the dugout. Instead of making the tough call of denying him a contract extension and allowing him to leave as a winner, they instead placed faith in the Portuguese tactician and here we are.
Costas, Aris, Lambros, Martial and yours truly repeatedly warned you at the latter stages of last season that under Martins something terrible could be in the works, starting with the Champions League qualifiers.
And we were unfortunately proven right as a disastrous elimination by Maccabi Haifa brought in a project manager with extreme delay and although he got what the ownership wanted from the qualifiers he still failed. And now there’s a team created by THREE different managers, way too many cooks in the kitchen – how can we be surprised that the broth is absolutely spoiled?
The fact that Olympiacos managed to get in the Europa League group stages at this state could easily be described as a miracle, the same will be said if Michel’s side actually manages to finish third and qualify for the Europa Conference League.
This is a team that can never be considered favourites, under any circumstance. Gone are the days of the Georgios Karaiskakis fortitude – at least for this season – and the PAOK game proved that.
The derby kicked off with an absolute bombshell, manager Michel left Pep Biel – one of his best players – off the team. An absolutely baffling decision that has yet to be answered, and it doesn’t seem like fitness had anything to do with it.
PAOK picked up the lead just nine minutes after kick-off with one of the most freak own goals the Karaiskakis has ever seen as Sokratis Papastathopoulos headed a corner-kick like a world class centre-forward – only problem is he found the wrong net.
Olympiacos managed to snap out of it and started pressing, that led to a beautiful equaliser by James Rodriguez, who appeared to roll back the years to 2014, on 37 minutes. Oleg Reabciuk’s crisp cross from the left found James who jumped higher than everyone else and beat Dominik Kotarski with a thunderous header.
The hosts appeared to be on a roll until half-time, but PAOK had a better start in the second half and that allowed Khaled Narey to beat Kostas Tzolakis with a powerful shot in the 56th minute. Things could have turned worse after Tzolakis and Ousseynou Ba sandwiched Nelson Oliveira and the referee overruled the penalty he awarded after checking the VAR monitor.
Olympiacos tried to respond and missed some major chances with Garry Rodrigues, Cedric Bakambu and Youssef El Arabi but the equaliser never arrived.
And here we are, the Greek champions are fifth in the Superleague table with 10 points separating them from high-flyers Panathinaikos.
Can this team bounce back and rival their local foes for the title? Well, the current group certainly can’t. But it is an undeniable fact that there is immense quality in this team, amazingly talented players that simply can’t gel. I’m just another sofa manager, but one good start would be to start building the team around specific players that can certainly help you turn this around. Who are they? Hwang In-beom, Biel, James and Bakambu are certainly the best choices to build the team around.
The 2022 World Cup could also play a major factor as it will give Michel practically a much-needed pre-season in November. Olympiacos are likely to only be without four players during that time with Senegalese Pape Abou Cisse, Cameroonian Pierre Kunde as well as South Koreans In-beom and Hwang Ui-jo the likeliest contenders to get on that plane to Qatar.
So Michel will have almost the entire team to work with and finally decide who is in and who is out of that bloated squad. The January transfer window should see another centre-back coming in and many, MANY players leaving – especially the shambolic loan arrivals.
Like I said so many times in the pod, it’s so much better to have more options than less options. If Reabciuk gets injured then Michel basically has three other players to choose from, if it was the other way around then he would be out of left-backs. Olympiacos can turn this around, if not this season then certainly next term – the tools are already there, the club just need to learn how to use them.
FOR MORE POST-MATCH ANALYSIS CHECK OUT OUR POSTMATCH PODCAST (BELOW)