So, our excellent form in the second half of the championship continued with only one loss since the December break. Shame we couldn’t have had this form from the start of the season but oh well, maybe next year.
Anyways, a great win away in a stadium which has only seen one loss (for the home side) before yesterday’s game this entire season. Blanco, who has scored in the past four AEK matches in Toumba, scored the only goal in the match.
By the way, before I go on to the match, I would like to point out that of the four teams currently in the playoffs (AEK, PAOK, Aris, and Olympiakos) AEK has won the most points between the four. After two wins against PAOK, a win and a draw against Aris, and a win against Olympiakos we got 13 points. Olympiakos, on the other hand, only have six points (after beating AEK and PAOK away but loosing at home to AEK and PAOK and loosing to Aris away) though they still play Aris at home. A favorable stat for us since the playoffs are just around the corner.
So, back to the game. But before that, some highlights:
So, to win in Toumba is always something big, especially with this year arguably being PAOK’s best season in recent memory. As I said before, only Oly managed to do that this season, and that was with some controversy from the referee.
I’ll give the lineup and in brackets my rating of the player. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments section if you have a different opinion. Saja (9), Araujo (7), Manolas (8), Majstorovic (7), Georgeas (was subbed off early), Jahic (6), Kafes (8), Leonardo (7), Scocco (6), Djebbour (8), Blanco (8).
Our substitutes were Karabelas (8) who came on early for Georgeas who got injured, Gentzoglou (8) who came on for Jahic (who received a yellow and will now have to miss two of our final three games), Manduca (8) who came on for Leonardo.
Firstly, Sebastien Saja. The Argentinian, though he had some poor games earlier in the season, made some critical saves to keep us in the game. He was solid on the ball, clearly not the case with Chalkias, and confident, managing to collect most corners with ease.
Araujo held his ground well in my opinion. I don’t think many people will doubt it but this guy is a solid defender. Not much more to say for him.
Manolas played once again and once again did not fail to impress. His headers and clearances were exactly what we needed. He never fooled around, didn’t play any games, simply got the ball out and away from our box any way he could. He also defended well in the box and rarely let his men past him.
Majstorovic was always there when we needed him yesterday and defended well for the most part but I feel his marking was not as good as it should be. Often PAOK players were free to run into the box, runs which should have been halted by Majstorovic. I have a feeling the partnership between Manolas and Majstorovic may need a few more games to be completely solid. After-all, this was the first game they played together.
Georgeas came off early after leg or foot injury (I thought it was a cramp but whatever it was he couldn’t continue playing). He was replaced by Karabelas (the former Aris player was not warmly welcomed by the PAOK fans) who played a good game throughout, one of his best in a while in my opinion.
Our midfield in general was weak at first. Kafes was trying hard, and so was Jahic, but it was not until Gentzoglou and Manduca were introduced that we finally saw some control around the half line. However, when those two came on the difference was a noticeable one. Kafes was given some more freedom since Gentzoglou was covering his position well, so he was able to attack further up and gave some fantastic through balls for Blanco and Djebbour.
Scocco, aside from one left footed shot, contributed nothing to the match. He seemed absolutely uninterested in the match and rarely ran for the ball. I really believe Dusan should sit him out for a match or two until his attitude changes. I realise he wants to leave in the summer. Fine, bring in a good enough offer and your gone. Until then there his little he can do so he better start showing up 100% (even 50% would be better!) at our matches or he might as well not play at all. We would have been much better off starting with Manduca rather than Scocco.
Leonardo had a decent game. The kid is definately showing progress, hopefully he will continue this way.
Blanco and Djebbour really seemed to be into the match yesterday, unlike Scocco. They were both attacking whenever they could and clearly wanted nothing less than a win. Blanco had some great chances, and his finishing his looking better than earlier in the season.
Djebbour absolutely ripped open PAOK’s defense, the best in the league and one of the best in Europe, on a number of occasions. It was good to see him go all out in terms of effort. His attitude has really changed since last season, now all that’s left for him is to turn into a bit more of a team player. He gets the ball, makes space and room for himself, but always tries getting to the net the hard way rather than laying a simple pass to an open man in front of goal.
Our second half performance generally was far better than the first. For a few minutes at a time we had total control of the ball and were laying some nice one touch passes to each other. As was made evident at the Aris match (Aris 2-0 PAOK), PAOK’s defense is useless in these types of situations. I must say they were really nothing special in general. They played a simple game which was certainly effective at times, but their midfield lacked any creativity at all. Their finishing was also extremely poor as they had a number of chances early on to score. However, they were by no means an easy opponent and were probably one of the toughest teams we’ve played all season.