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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 8 October 2016
28 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 8 OCTOBER 2016 SPORT Greek derby days How the first major match of the Superleague season saved Paulo Bento from an early exit DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM ISSN 1321-1676 9 771321 167062 PHOTO: ARGIRIS MAKRIS/IN TIME VIA PEGASUS. GERARD PAPASIMAKOPOULOS The first big match of the season always provides the Superleague tongues with a great opportunity to lash and whip and wag. Even more so this time around, when things are looking as if they’re heading for some major changes at the top. The start of the season has been an exciting one by Greek standards. Olympiakos, which usually has the league tied up well in time for Christmas, looked shaky and unsure, crashing out of the Champions League and diving headfirst into a managerial merry-go-round that has seen the team change chop and change its coaches THREE times by the end of September. Marco Silva left at the beginning of the summer, Victor Sanchez came in and was out before he really knew what was up and Marinos Ouzounidis never even had a chance to get an official photograph done as the coach of the Piraeus side. While an agreement had been made with the ex-Panionios man, head honcho Vaggelis Marinakis had a change of heart after hearing the angry cries and groans of the Olympiakos fans, who were none too keen to see a man who had once played for hated rivals Panathinaikos take over the managerial duties of their beloved team. After much rushing and panicking, the Piraeus side finally settled on Paulo Bento, who decided that Olympiakos was the ideal choice to re-ignite a career that seemed to have stalled after a unsuccessful stay at Brazilian side Cruzeiro. The fun, however, never stops at the house of the Greek champions and after just a handful of games, the knives were already coming out for the Portuguese coach, who was accused of not playing “the Olympiakos way” and breaking down the confidence of Kostas Fortounis, last season’s top scorer and the team’s star man. It was hardly an ideal atmosphere for Olympiakos, and going into the first major clash of the season with AEK Athens, the whispers around the Karaiskakis ground were growing in volume: losing the match would cost Bento his job. AEK Athens saw this as a grand opportunity to strike at the heart of the champions – in their own home no less – even though things were hardly rosy for them either. After a disastrous summer that presented a show of such managerial and organisational ineptitude that you would think team director Dusan Bajevic and his crew were trying out for the Keystone Cops, AEK was left with glaring holes in its squad and a manager who seemed as unsure of both himself and his clearly unbalanced team. Even so, the tremors in the AEK camp had boiled down to an ominous yet manageable rumble by the time the visit to the Karaiskakis stadium came round, and that gave Timuri Ketsbaia’s side hope. Meanwhile, across town, Olympiakos were on full alert. Player and fan unrest, another manager heading for the door and a side missing its shape, its rhythm and its winning mentality. And then, the match kickedoff. And everything changed. The AEK players appeared tired, lethargic and nervous, with little energy in their tanks and looked as if all they wanted was to bolt down the storm shutters, survive the Olympiakos onslaught and hope for the best. Bento’s men, on the other hand, seemed possessed. Gone was the Olympiakos of his first handful of matches, the uneven and creaking side that let goals in for fun. This looked more like the Olympiakos from last season, pressing with intent, controlling the game and bullying its opponents until they rolled over and surrendered. It was almost inexplicable. That is until you moved past the rumours, the news stories and the drama and focused on the football. Because if you just stayed on that, things were much clearer. Ketsbaia once again experimented with central defender Vasilis Labropoulos in the holding midfielder role, a position that the limited Labropoulos knows very little about and is unlikely to learn anytime soon. He was exposed time and time again, getting dragged out of position and leaving Jacob Johansson to gather up the pieces, and the same was true of the visitor’s central defensive pairing. Joleon Lescott appeared glaringly off the pace of the game, always dropping back and backpedalling, unwilling to go into the tackle and that left Dmitro Chigrinsky – who was arguably AEK’s best player of the night and the standout per- former of their season so far – the unenviable task of marshalling the defence as well as going into highly physical battles with the bruising form of Brown Ideye. It was a chance for Bento to show his calibre as a coach and he took it. Granted, Ketsbaia’s glaring errors provided him with a chance to do so without breaking a sweat, but even so, he has to be commended for his reading of the encounter and his deployment choices. The onesided affair ended at 3-0 for the champions, but it could – and probably should − have been perhaps double that. At the heart of it all for Olympiakos was Andre Martins, the first signing that Bento nailed down and possibly his most understated, let alone most important. Against AEK, Martins was magnificent, popping up everywhere, clicking and threading passes into space and place, metronomically keeping Olympiakos going, and eventually stepping forward out of his midfield parapet and grabbing a goal for himself. His probing and intelligent play allowed the team to operate better as a whole, the conductor Olympiakos has so desperately missed since the start of the season. With him in the side, the defence seemed more relaxed and the attacking trio operating behind the rejuvenated Brown Ideye seemed more fluid, with Fortounis especially benefitting from the sharing of the playmaking burden and putting in his best performance of the campaign. The result of the match leaves Bento with some much needed breathing space as we enter the international break, a chance to mould the team even further into something he feels comfortable with. For Olympiakos as a whole it was yet another statement of intent. A challenger swiped aside. For Ketsbaia and AEK, a very different picture. After a meeting with director Dusan Bajevic and club president Dimitris Melissanidis, it was decided that the Georgian would be staying on. For now. Frankly, there seems to be no way back for him, with no plan in place, no tactical direction and a team that appears to have little to no trust in the man. By the looks of things, AEK will have a new coach before November gets comfortable in its shoes.
1 October 2016
15 October 2016