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Greece: PAO vs. Olympiakos


Posted by kattis (2010-10-29 15:18 CET)

The cliché phrases are “Greek el clasico”, “ultimate derby”, “battle of all battles”. Unless a third meeting occurs in the cup competition, its usually twice a year we get to have this match up and you can bet all your money that the entire country is always looking forward to them. So here we go once again, Panathinaikos versus Olympiakos.

Starting with the hosts, Panathinaikos, I’ve personally noted again and again all the issues regarding the team and at some point this may become tiring or even annoying to some. The fact of the matter is, Panathinaikos have simply proved me right again and again and most of what I’ve pointed out we have seen being reflected crystal clear on the field in each game. The poor form of most players, the lack of quality of most players, the one and only tactical approach they have in each and every game (long balls aiming the lone striker Cisse) simply because most of the boys can‘t run, the slowest midfield perhaps in the entire Europe and of course, a coach that is proving to be of very low standards, at least when to comes to coaching at this level. That’s basically the story of Panathinaikos so far and up until today, I have no hard evidence to suggest otherwise so all the above stand. The latest proof was the game against AEK last Sunday, in which Panathinaikos suffered a 1-0 loss, incapable of answering back to the quick AEK goal. AEK scored within the first five minutes and the only thing Panathinaikos managed throughout the remaining 85+ minutes were two shots, with the second being their biggest chance to nick the equalizer, a chance blown by Zilberto Silva. Mind you, AEK were forced to field a mixed team with several bench players due to the absences of some key players, yet Panathinaikos had no response whatsoever.

This past Wednesday, Panathinaikos got somewhat of a morale boost in the cup competition, with a 5-0 win over Kozani, a mediocre side from the Greek 3rd division. Of course, this cannot be taken seriously into account as a sign that all of a sudden their form is improving but I am mentioning it firstly because it marked the return of winger Govou (he scored too) which is certainly a good thing and secondly because Panathinaikos used some of their regular players and therefore, we may have a slight fatigue issue. The reason? Olympiakos, who were also scheduled for a cup game on Wednesday, saw their game being postponed due to a water logged pitch (really heavy rain made it impossible, let alone dangerous, for a game to take place in what turned into a horrendous field).

The latest report for Panathinaikos is not really different from the last couple of weeks. Left winger Leto out, influential midfielder Ninis likewise and the only change has to do with Govou, as mentioned above with his return to action after close to three weeks. Therefore, and unless coach Nioplias really goes to the extreme with some unexpected surprise, it shall be pretty much the usual eleven, meaning the trio of Katsouranis, Karagounis and Zilberto Silva in midfield (these three combined ages sum up to over a…century), Boumsong and totally unreliable Sarriegi your two central defenders, Vyntra (one of the very few players of the team in good shape) covering the right side and mediocre Spiropoulos on the left. As for the front three, in this typical 4-3-3 formation that Panathinaikos plays, Cisse is of course your lone striker, with Govou and Luis Garcia (more likely to take that spot over Christodoulopoulos) on the wings.

On the other hand, Olympiakos are enjoying much better days at the moment and the best has yet to come, with these early performances at least looking promising and with great potential for better stuff. Coming off a horrible season and being knocked out very early from any European cup competion were two major blows for Olympiakos and that triggered a series of events, from management (new chairman Marinakis taking over Kokkalis) to the entire staff. New coach, over a dozen new players joining the team and about another dozen shown the exit doors, meaning a team being built all over again, from scratch. Coach Valverde, a fan favorite, is convinced to return for a second trial, given full authority, as he claimed it and here we are today, about two months in and his work is starting to show. All the new players are blending in and slowly adopting the coach’s ideas and at this point, you could say that Olympiakos are at about 60-65%. Still room for a lot of improvement, still waiting for some of the “newbies” to pick it up but you can see it on the field every weekend that these guys aren’t joking around during the week in training.

All this, to point out the first advantage Olympiakos have coming to this game, non other than the coach. In Olympiakos case, you can see the quick passing game, you can see the creativity both teamwork and individually, you can see Olympiakos scoring with ease and you can see coach Valverde mixing it up when necessary, showing that he has his alternative plans. In Panathinaikos case, the only thing you ever see is those long balls aiming Cisse and this of course, aside from boring and prehistoric style of play, is also ineffective and predictable, which makes you wonder exactly what kind of training coach Nioplias is doing, not now, but ever since he took over, almost a year now. No fresh ideas, no back-up plan.

Form is of course the second advantage for Olympiakos and the results, six straight wins, the standings, the stats (best offense, best defense) and TV (watching the actual games I mean) all speak for themselves while you can also add the perhaps better overall morale in comparison to Panathinaikos. And finally, even though we are still very early in the season, the current four point advantage that Olympiakos have certainly gives them the luxury to think that a draw is not a disastrous result, playing against their main opponent and rival on the road. You can imagine that if Olympiakos manage a win here, they will build a comforting seven point lead, which of course will give them a huge advantage in this marathon for the title, while a draw will simply keep the lead at four. On the other hand, Panathinaikos are more so forced to do good here, in order to narrow the gap or, at least not allow it to grow. As for team news, nothing major during the week so no changes are expected here either. Avraam with Mellberg your two central defenders, with Torosidis covering the right side and Raul Bravo the left, Dudu and Ibagaza and Fuster the midfield trio and then upfront, Riera on the left wing, the phenom Fetfatzidis on the right and Miralas the striker, in a 4-3-3 formation.

While Olympiakos do have these advantages mentioned above, these games are always unique, always big derbies and most of times you can throw everything out the window, all the pluses and minuses on each side cause when these two take the field, everything is pretty much forgotten. Take for example last season, with Olympiakos literally dead (eleven men…walking on the field) they still managed to do the double over Panathinaikos, winning both games home and away, which was the only accomplishment Olympiakos had the right to brag about. Pride is always a thing in these games, just like in any other big game between rivals on the planet.

Predictions? With all the above in mind, certainly Olympiakos go into this game with a slight advantage and they seem closest to winning rather than Panathinaikos. Realistically, with what we’ve seen so far from both sides, a 2-0 win for Olympiakos looks like a very logical outcome, however logic and football (or any sport for that matter) simply don’t co-exist. I mean, if there were logic into every game, bookies would have retired by now and all us punters would be filthy rich.

Anyway, my approach is that midfield, as in most cases, will be the key here and frankly, I just can’t see how this very slow midfield of Panathinaikos will cope against a much faster team, that loves to pump the rhythm and “run” the game, since speed is one of their main weapons overall. Panathinaikos will surely go for a slower tempo (well, its not like they have a faster tempo these days anyway), which of course suits them better but especially with the three midfielders expected to start for Panathinaikos, you can already smell the trouble ahead; laws of physics.

2,50-2,90-2,80 is the set of odds opened at OPAP, the Greek bookmaker and those are pretty much the average odds all around, which I guess make sense, giving Panathinaikos a slight edge as the host. Personally though, and having gone through all the factors above, I thing same odds the other way around would be more representative and close to reality and so, the 3,10 available for Olympiakos, in my book, speaks value. Not crazy value, but value.

Being a known Olympiakos fan, some will surely call me biased for taking the bet. There’s nothing I can do about that so let’s sum it up, forgetting for a moment the names of the two opponents: team A an in form side with six straight wins, scoring with ease, strong defense, well rested and morale overall very good priced at 3,00+ against all the above described (and not just today) for team B. Win or lose, I know I am making a correct choice at a good price, worth a medium staked punt and with that, I rest my case.
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