One We Will All Forget
No matter where the two teams are sitting in the standings, the Derby of the Eternal Rivals is unmatched in Greece. Nothing is quite as exciting as when Olympiakos visit Panathinaikos (or vice-versa). The drama, tension, anticipation and heart-palpitations that occur during these games are unrivaled. This past Sunday, there was none of that at Leoforos Alexandras.
To put it mildly, Olympiakos was non-existent on Matchday 18. If a foreigner who had never heard about Greek football was channel-flipping and landed on this game, he would have thought these two teams are relegation-bound.
Pedro Martins seemed all-too happy with the draw and it clearly showed. For the first time since this past summer’s Ludogorets debable, the Erythrolefki started with a 3-4-3 formation. Kostas Manolas made his first start with the Reds since 2014 and along with him, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Oyssenou Ba were relied upon to keep the Greens at bay.
The Greens enjoyed much of the possession and took 6 corners (Olympiakos didn’t have a single one). The anti-Olympiakos media might have you believe that the Tryfilli should have won this one but their scoring chances were nothing to write home about. Panathinaikos bench-boss, Ivan Jovanovic, admitted that the Piraeus side was structured but lacked any offensive threat. Truer words were never told.
To his defense, Martins’s team is in shambles off the pitch. Aguibou Camara – arguably the team’s MVP this season along with four others are at the Copa Africa – a tournament that has haunted Olympiakos since the good old days when Peter Ofori-Quaye used to leave for the competition and seemed like he would forget to come back. Injuries and Covid-19 issues are also coming up.
As much as this might annoy some people, Andreas Bouchalakis was also missed today. No one from the away side was able to feed the ball up front and link the midfield to our forwards. Bouchalakis has his faults but he is more than capable of opening up the game with his elite passing.
Rony Lopes’s 44th minute blast from outside the box likely hit a bird but that’s as good of a scoring chance as you will find for Olympiakos.
Everyone around the club is pressing on the panic button, and they’re doing so quite hard. We have to remember that it’s not all tragic though. “We need a win to get us, mentally, back on track”, coach Martins said after the game.
The 46-time Greek champions are currently sitting 9 points ahead of PAOK and are about a month away from the crucial Europa League Round of 32 clash with Atalanta. The Copa Africa has historically dented Olympiakos’ mid-season plans, but most players will be back in early February.
The team’s performances on the pitch have been less than convincing. In this 3-4-3 system, the wingbacks, Kenny Lala and Oleg Reabciuk, are expected to be significant offensive contributors with their overlaps and crosses. Unfortunately on Sunday, we didn’t see any of that. The lack of creativity in the midfield is apparent, and even if Kostas Fortounis is going to be returning soon, there is no telling in what kind of shape the attacking midfielder from Trikala will be in.
Since his arrival in the Summer of 2018, Martins has constantly faced adversity at some point during every season. Last year, it was in this very stadium where Olympiakos (having played significantly better than the rival hosts) lost a 2-1 heartbreaker, thus ending the “undefeated” Superleague season. This year, it’s a string of poor performances that are piling up but Martins has time to right this ship. If he doesn’t, many are calling for his head – and whether that is the right move for the club remains to be seen.