“Our players are the best. When they’re focused, they can perform very well and play the best football in Greece.” That was just a part of what Olympiacos owner Vangelis Marinakis said after Sunday’s controversial 1-1 draw with rivals Panathinaikos at Leoforos.
Marinakis was very right to use those words, every football club president worth his salt should have the same mentality and express it publicly. And the Greek champions are in luck, they will have the chance to prove they are the best team in Greece only a week after the Eternal Derby. It won’t be easy as they face an in-form AEK with added pressure after all the post-derby drama.
The Piraeus giants got a chance to boost morale before Sunday’s crunch clash with Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Levadiakos at Livadia Stadium. Thanasis Androutsos’ winner proved to be enough five minutes before half-time thanks to a moment of confusion and Youssef El Arabi’s second successive assist.
Michel’s men dominated 74 per cent of possession and registered 17 shots, seven of which were on target. A stunning performance by James Rodriguez - who is truly living up to his hype unlike someone else – while the likes of Androutsos, Marios Vrousai and Panos Retsos continue to give their manager a very welcome selection headache ahead of the derby.
Olympiacos have yet to win a big match this season within 90 minutes or extra time but under Michel the team has managed to win all games against non-European outfits and non-title rivals. That is actually very crucial during a championship challenge; in fact, back in 2010 Olympiacos lost the league despite winning four out of six derbies because they came up short against the minnows before crumbling in the play-offs and finishing fifth.
However, Olympiacos haven’t found themselves in such a tight corner this early into the season since the Petrina Chronia (we still need to find a cool translation for the ‘Stone Years’). The Greek giants missed a golden opportunity to reduce the deficit with table-toppers Panathinaikos, who extended their undefeated streak to 12 matches at Panetolikos. PAO remain 10 points ahead of Michel’s men, who are third with four points behind second-placed AEK.
Matias Almeyda’s men are playing wonderful football this season, boosted by their new home of Agia Sophia in Nea Filadelfeia. Olympiacos, who look set to perform in front of an at least near-capacity Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium, will have to play their best match of the season against their in-form rivals.
Michel’s men will have to be more clinical and stop wasting so many chances like they did against PAOK, Freiburg, Panathinaikos and Levadiakos. Reminding you also that last week’s derby marked the ninth match in which Olympiacos concede a crucial goal late in the game. There is only one way to avoid a 10th late heartbreak against AEK and that is by putting the game to bed as early as possible. But the signs don’t look too promising for the Piraeus outfit as they have scored an average of 1.1 goals per match across all competitions so far this season.
There is no tomorrow for Olympiacos, boys and girls – not until the game with AEK is completed. Any talk about the World Cup, the much-needed break that comes with the esteemed competition in Qatar and January transfers is absolutely redundant.
Let’s make no mistake about it, if Olympiacos don’t beat AEK then they won’t be able to call themselves “the best team in Greece” – not with zero wins out of four derbies, two of which they have already lost so far. I said it before, the Greek champions would struggle to retain the title if they drew against Panathinaikos but if they don’t beat AEK then let the rebuild commence for next season…
P.S: Congratulations to Pape Abou Cisse (Senegal), Pierre Kunde (Cameroon), Hwang In-beom (South Korea) and Hwang Ui-jo (South Korea) for making their respective World Cup squads!