After defeating Olympiacos 1-2 in the Karaiskaki Stadium yesterday, PAOK is finally showing signs of being this season’s championship’s strongest contender. Just beneath them lies Panathinaikos who managed to grab an important 0-1 win in Agrinio to Panaitolikos. It’s been ages since either of them were capable of knocking the reds off their throne. This could be their year.
With Anastasiadis on the sidelines, PAOK is showing solidity and consistency. Ever since the Fernando Santos era, has PAOK stepped on the field knowing precisely what they want from each game and how to achieve it. The issue back then was their ineffectiveness to score. Fernando Santos has always been a master of defense. Being Portugal’s head coach and having the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani on his roster, he still concentrates on keeping a clean sheet. Hence his Greek nickname “Mr 1-0”.
However, PAOK’s current coach emphasizes on both sides of the field, producing a team that not only possesses the best defense (second to Kalloni who has conceded 4 – Europe’s best defensive team) but also the top-scoring one with 27. With Stefanos Athanasiadis leading the chart with seven goals in eight games and Facundo Pereyra and Roberto Mac with five, PAOK has finally found the leaders he’s been looking for to guide him to its first championship in over 30 years.
Just yesterday, the first two scored to beat their rivals and leave them five points behind in the race for the trophy. Stefanos Athanasiadis with an easy touch, after two ridiculous one after another mistakes by Olympiacos’ defenders, scored the first (0-1) and then Facundo Pereyra with an excellent volley regained the lead (1-2) shortly after Fuster had equalized for the home team after an equally stupendous volley (1-1) from outside the box. This win stigmatized the status of PAOK’s fans in the Northern City of Thessaloniki, one which shows their preparedness to become the next champions.
Just two wins below PAOK and a draw from Olympiacos, we meet Panathinaikos, who are eyeing the trophy for the first time in three years. Ever since trading its leaders in search of money to pay back years of debt, the Athenian side has been unable to put together a team strong enough to fight till the end of the rally. We’re still early in the season, but the Greens have already beat PAOK in Toumpa, were close to doing the same in Piraeus and then today escaped with the three points from the hard-to-fall stadium of Panaitolikos. With a late goal from Mladen Petric, Panathinaikos grabbed the three points and subsequently sent messages to its rivals, that they are also this year’s championship contenders.