Preview: AEK Athens vs PanathinaikosBy: Chris Paraskevas | October 24th, 2010
Preview can also be found here on the AEK Athens blog.
What is it? An Athenian derby
Who should care? Olympiakos fans wanting to figure out who’s NOT going to challenge for the title, Djibril Cisse fans (not many of you out there I suppose…), people who hate Kostas Katsouranis (AEK fans and just about anyone who knows anything about football)
Will it be a cracking match? Absolutely not – these two have produced a few snooze-fests in recent times…
One headline in Greece described this as a “Derby without stars” and given that both AEK Athens and Panathinaikos will be without key attacking players, you wouldn’t disagree with that statement.
For AEK Athens, the irrepressible Ignacio Scocco and experienced Nikos Lyberopoulos are missing through injury, as are teen prodigy Sotiris Ninis and bullish winger Sebastian Leto for Panathinaikos.
It’s hard to see which players will be missed by their respective sides more. For AEK, Argentine talent Scocco has been their go-to man in derby matches since his arrival at the club, recently scoring a stunning double away against Aris in a 4-0 win and last season memorably doing the same in a 2-1 away win against Olympiakos. Lyberopoulos meanwhile calls upon years of experience as a goal-scorer in both Greece and abroad, having returned to the club where he is adored in order to lead them through difficult times; his ability to score crucial goals and provide a link between midfield and attack is unmatched by any of his teammates.
Perennial Manchester United and Real Madrid target Sotiris Ninis – or so the Greek media would like to believe – is the bright spark in what is a slightly old squad, widely regarded as his country’s most exciting prospect. His creativity was missed in midweek as the Greens played out a drab goalless draw with Rubin Kazan in the UEFA Champions League, as was the drive of Sebastian Leto out wide. The Liverpool man has been a revelation since his fall-out with Olympiakos prompted him to make a controversial move to their hated rivals, helping to inspire them to a domestic double.
Traianos Dellas (Can’t run) vs Djibril Cisse (Can sprint)
Logic would suggest that Panathinaikos won’t be reeling quite as much given the depth of international quality in their playing roster, still able to call upon the likes of Djibril Cisse, who has already banged in five goals against the Greek Super League’s defenders this season after top-scoring last campaign. Yet their injury list extends to his fellow countryman Sidney Govou and the experienced Giourkas Seitaridis, which further dents the preparation of manager Nikos Nioplias.
AEK face a defensive reshuffle with rising star Kosta Manolas, the experienced and versatile Christos Patsatzoglou, usual right-back Sanel Jahic and club stalwart Nikos Georgeas all ruled out, leaving the ageing legs of Traianos Dellas and the uncovincing Christian Nasuti as a central defensive pairing, whom I think could be in for a disastrous evening against the aforementioned Cisse.
I’d use Panathinaikos’ unconvincing display in Europe in midweek as evidence that they’ve lost the attacking mojo that characterized their domestic and continental campaigns last season, though AEK faired hardly any better against Anderlecht in midweek. You get the sense though that Nioplias is feeling the pressure in the PAO hot-seat, having offered his resignation at least once this season, while new AEK boss Manolo Jimenez made a bright start against Aris.
The Spaniard will be no stranger to derby atmospheres after his long association with Sevilla and he handled what was a tricky opening test at the Kleanthis Vikelidis with aplomb; this though is an altogether different prospect against a team who already boasted a far stronger line-up before AEK were beset by injury problems.
In terms of key men for the home side, Rafik Djebbour has looked energetic as the resident lone man up-front all season, netting three times in the league thus far. Brazilian Leonardo can on his day do damage from just about anywhere outside the penalty area, while from the snippets of the Aris match it seemed as though Pantelis Kafes, Papa Bouba Diop and the frustrating Grigoris Makos might be forming an encouraging midfield partnership.
Though lacking the sheer intensity and hatred evoked by the Olympiakos-Panathinaikos match-up, this match is hugely important to the title race and neither team can afford to lose it.