Pre-Season Friendlies Have Begun

Posted in AEK, AEK Athens FC, AEK Players, Friendlies, Singings with tags , , , , , on July 9, 2017 by alexaek

Its that time of year again, where we start to get a first look at how the team might line up this season. Of course, theres only so much we can gather from these games as the experimental lineups and lower pace don’t provide an accurate representation of how we’ll play when the season properly starts, but it gives us a good look at some of our recent signings and what we can expect of them.

Our first friendly was yesterday, a game against Karpaty Lviv which ended in a 1-1 draw. Giakoumakis was the goal scorer for us in this game and from most accounts it sounds like he got off to a promising start. I’m expecting pretty good things from him this season seeing as he looked quite promising this past season. We’ve seen players in his situation before, arriving at the team with high expectations only to ultimately let us down, but the talent is definitely there with Giakoumakis.

 

Our second friendly which took place earlier today was against a familiar opponent: Korona Kielce. We played them in a friendly last summer as well, a game which AEK won by a score of 2-0. Our result was less impressive today with us winning 1-0, but again there was apparently some impressive play from a lot of our players. Klonaridis scored a wonderful goal and has definitely provided us with reason to be excited for this season. He also looked good this past season and I have a feeling we could see some good play up front with Mantalos, Giakoumakis, and Klonaridis linking up well. I’m not yet sure if Klonaridis and Giakoumakis will be playing similar roles but if theres a way to have them both playing, we could definitely be in good shape offensively.

 

There have also been some singings since my last post, the three most notable being Marko Livaja, Uros Cosic, and Arnor Traustason. Agonasport have a nice writeup on the three players here. Traustason definitely sounds extremely promising, but Cosic also has some solid experience for someone on the younger side.

 

 

Transfers So Far

Posted in AEK, AEK Athens FC, AEK Players, Champions League, Jimenez with tags , , , , , , on July 1, 2017 by alexaek

With the team having recently arrived in Poland for pre-season training, there have already been moves taken with the hopes of strengthening the squad for our return to the Champions League.

In my opinion the biggest move we’ve made so far was the re-singing of Jimenez. There was some uncertainty about a month or so ago regarding whether we’d hold onto Jimenez for at least another season but the team has cleared that up after a new deal was agreed. As far as I’m concerned this is exactly what we could have hoped for. We saw how quickly he managed to turn the team around last season after he re-joined us, I can only imagine what he could do with a full pre-season as well. It has been far too long since we had a serious and experienced coach for a pre-season so having him here from the start will really see us start in the right direction if we hope to progress at all in the Champions League.

As far as players are concerned, we have made a few singings so far with the first notable singing being that of Helder Lopes. The Portuguese left-back joins us from Las Palmas, the same Las Palmas which currently owns the rights to Sergio Araujo. Haven’t personally seen much of him so I can’t really comment on what he brings to the team, but we’ve had pretty decent luck lately with Portuguese players like Barbosa and Simoes so I can only hope that trend continues with Lopes.

 

We’ve also officially completed the deal to bring over Giakoumakis from Cretan club Platanias. A deal had already been agreed with the players last season but the deal was only able to be finalized this pre-season.  Hes a very promising player who is coming off a couple strong seasons with Platanias. Considering Aravidis was released from the club not too long ago, its a nice to see us strengthen our attack with another promising young Greek.

 

Arguably the biggest singing for the club this season so far though has been the re-signing of Klonaridis. Klonaridis, who became the first player to go from AEK, to PAO, and back to AEK, was picked up for a bargain of a price at a reported 800,000 Euros. Not bad for a player who has already proven himself in this league. Don’t get me wrong, hes not the greatest Greek to wear our jersey by any means, but especially for the price, hes a great addition to the club. He genuinely seems pretty excited to be back at AEK to which I like to see and I have a feeling he could play a big part in any success we have this season.

In addition to our recent singings, we’ve seen a few players released with the most recent being Vargas and Kolovetsios. Its unfortunate to see them both leave as they both brought a lot to the club. Kolovetsios had been with us for a few years by now and had been a great member of the club, causing very few issues along the way. He was always ready to be called upon when needed and though we have solidified our depth in the centre-back position, its too bad we couldn’t find a place for him in the team. Having said that, it was pretty clear his playing time would be limited this season and he still has many years ahead of him so from his point of view this was the right thing to do. On the right club, he could easily become a key player.

Vargas was also an unfortunate loss for us. I’m not sure why exactly his playing time dropped so much under Jimenez, if it was simply a matter of him not fitting the system or if there was something else behind the scenes, I couldn’t say. What I can say though is that I’ll never forget the many moments these past two seasons where he came up big when we needed it. Afterall, how can we forget the player who scored the game winner in our home derbies against PAO, PAOK, and Olympiakos all in one season.

AEK Returns to Champions League

Posted in AEK, AEK Athens FC, AEK Players, Greek Soccer with tags , , , , , , , on May 31, 2017 by alexaek

After a ten year absence, AEK has the chance to book a place in the group stages of the Champions League next season. Of course it wont be easy as there is the potential of some big clubs standing in our way, but even just the chance to see us play in some Champions League qualifiers is an exciting prospect.

So, how did we end up here? Well it ultimately comes as a result of our win against Panionios today in Nea Smirni. The game got off to a rocky start with Panionios scoring first but it was clear AEK weren’t going to standby and gift a win to Panionios with the chances they were creating. Panionios didn’t end up holding on to their lead for long though as 13 minutes after they opened the scoring, AEK responded with a goal of their own courtesy of Mantalos.

The game got a little more interesting in the second half when Panionios had a man sent off which was followed by Lazaros getting a straight red. With ten players on each side, it was anyone’s game but it was Araujo who, in what was most likely his last game for AEK, scored the winner with a nicely taken header.

The win was a critical one since PAOK were right on our tails in the standings but Panathinaikos’ win in Toumba took off some of the pressure. With the playoffs having drawn to a close, we finished with 12 points from the six games; not perfect, but it was enough for the team to accomplish what it set out to.

Aside from clinching a place in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League, the game was also notable for quite likely being Araujo’s last with the team. I say “likely” because while I doubt we’ll see him back with the club next season, I’m still somewhat hopeful something can be worked out. Its clear he has enjoyed his time with the club (this was made even more evident today after he mentioned his love for the club and his desire to return as soon as possible) and he clearly has the potential to play a massive role in the team. His price tag is high but even if we cant outright buy him, maybe he’ll put some pressure on Las Palmas to extend his stay in Athens where he’ll have much more of an opportunity to develop as a player.

The game could also have been Jimenez’s final match in charge of the club. I certainly hope this isn’t the case as hes turned the club around significantly, but he hasn’t committed to the team yet and there have yet to be any negotiations between Jimenez and management. It would be a huge shame to see him leave after this season: hes established himself once again at AEK, he has gained the trust of the players, and he has brought some much needed stability to the club. I’m not sure what his demands will be in order for him to stick around next season, but I’m cautiously optimistic that they can be reached.

Highlights of the match:

Supporters chanting Araujo’s name after the match:

PAO 1-0 AEK

Posted in AEK, AEK Athens FC, AEK Players, Derby with tags , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2017 by alexaek

After beating our Athenian rivals with a score of 1-0 over the weekend, they returned the favour with a 1-0 win of their own courtesy of a Leto penalty. I was following along to the commentary and while we had a few chances of our own, it seemed like a very lackluster performance overall from AEK.

Chygrinskiy and Vranjes (who ultimately left the game after receiving two yellow cards) were solid for us at the back and Galanopoulos had a good game in the midfield but aside from those three, there seemed to be little ambition or creativity from any of our players. I have to say though that I’m not entirely surprised. We played alright in the game against PAOK and we managed to get a win last game but overall these playoffs feel forced from all the teams involved, rather than being something they want to be involved with. Just looking at the scores of the eight games played so far suggests that too, with not a single game seeing more than one goal scored per team.

Today’s result luckily doesn’t leave us in an awful position just yet. It isn’t perfect, but we’re still second with a two point gap to PAOK. Having said that, we still play PAOK at home and have made it past the two away derbies so on paper we should be able to get the six points from the next two games which would clinch first place for us in the playoffs. It won’t be easy though seeing as we lost to Panionios at home already and we only barely got the win over PAOK in Thessaloniki. But, its definitely realistic to expect us to win our last two games if the team plays the football we saw them play earlier in 2017. Ultimately it depends on which team decides to show up: if its the AEK squad from today or from the Cup final, then we’ll be lucky to come away with three points from the next two games. If, however, we see the AEK that we saw just after Jimenez took over, the AEK team that was scoring goals on a constant basis and barely conceding, then we can fully expect to find ourselves in a Champions League qualifying spot by the end of May.

AEK 1-0 Panathinaikos

Posted in AEK, AEK Athens FC, AEK Players, Basketball with tags , , , , , , , on May 22, 2017 by alexaek

We managed to come away with the three points at the last minute yesterday against PAO, courtesy of a late goal from Lazaros against his former club. The win follows our disappointing home 0-1 home loss to Panionios, a performance which saw us create very few noteworthy chances.

Luckily we got the better result yesterday against PAO, a result which puts us in first place in the playoffs courtesy of PAOK’s 1-0 win against Panionios. It wasn’t a great performance by any means, especially considering we were playing against a depleted PAO squad, but it definitely puts us in a good spot going into the fourth round.

Thankfully we managed to create some chances this game with Mantalos coming close on a header. Arguably the biggest chance though came when Almeida was faced with a rather routine tap into a practically empty net. Unfortunately though he came up short and ended up sending the ball over the cross bar, missing a chance that no professional forward should ever realistically miss.

The game seemed to be heading to a 0-0 draw before Lazaros took a shot from distance that managed to sneak its way into the net. It was the kind of goal that we’ve come to expect from him, a shot from distance with enough power that it manages one way or another to find its way into the net, and I must say that its nice to see him go for it. I’ve always felt that it doesn’t hurt to take shots if you know you have a good foot: maybe it goes in, maybe it goes out for a corner, or maybe you get a helpful rebound, either way a lot of good can come of it.

It wasn’t all good news this weekend though as AEK’s basketball team faced PAO for game four of the Basket league playoffs. After winning a historic match against PAO two games earlier, we ended up falling short last week in game three. All was not lost though as game four was to be played in front of our supporters again and I felt like we had a chance to even the series for a second time. It was not meant to be however as not only did we lose, but we lost in a huge way with a final score of 67-105 showing just how big the difference was between the two sides. Our defense was awful and practically non-existent at times and our offense looked extremely uninspired. It was too bad considering the team gave us so much hope with that win last weekend.

Its the end of the season again for us, but I think this past season really does set us up well for the next one. We had a great run in Europe and we looked good a lot of the times against PAO and Olympiakos. We clearly aren’t where we want to be yet to challenge for a European final or the Championship, but the foundations are there. Unfortunately though, a lot of work still needs to be done and money still needs to be spent. Its promising though and if management is keen on building upon what they have, as they seem to be, we have reason to optimistic about what lies ahead.

A Return to Better Days

Posted in AEK, AEK Athens FC, AEK Players, Basketball, Greek Cup, Greek Football with tags , , , , , , , on May 14, 2017 by alexaek

If you’re reading this, you probably noticed that I never wrote anything about our 2-1 loss to PAOK in the Cup final. Really it came down to not wanting to write anything since that game was a disaster from before kickoff. It started with the terrible organization, with the game almost being cancelled since the seats didn’t have numbers on them. Then came the fighting between “supporters” within the stadium as well as outside of it. Of course we had the game itself, which was a disappointment on every level thanks to our awful performance and the offside game winner for PAOK.

Overall, not the kind of final I was hoping for. Certainly not the kind of final that will be remembered fondly throughout Greece by fans of the sport aside aside from the PAOK fans.

Thankfully, we were able to somewhat put all that behind us with not one great result, but two. It started with our basketball team managing, after nine years, to finally beat PAO. Even better, the win tied up our semi-final series with them at one game apiece. It was a tight game until the end, as many of our derbies have been this season, but a huge win regardless which gives us enormous momentum heading into the third game. The win only ties the series and we still have plenty of work to do, but to finally get past this hurtle and win a game against our cross town rivals shows that its definitely possible. Will it be enough to get us to the finals? Well I hate to say that PAO are still favourites but at this point nothing is guaranteed anymore.

The day only got better from that point on as we headed north to take on PAOK for the first round of the playoffs. We clearly came out seeking to make a statement after the loss to PAOK in the cup and for the majority of the first half we were easily the stronger team. As the commentator on the radio put it at one point, AEK seemed like the home team as we outplayed PAOK throughout the pitch. The breakthrough came early on as Didac, who had a great game along with most of our defense, latched on to a perfect ball from Mantalos and neatly tucked in the finish. His goal would prove to the deciding factor as neither side would find a way to score from then on, but there were certainly chances.

The game was a great way to put everything from the cup behind us as not only does it get us a huge three points away in Toumba, but it puts us first in the playoff table after Panionios and PAO tied earlier in the day (though Panionios were unfortunate not to come away with the win). Its still early but to already find ourselves in first after starting with fewer points than PAOK and PAO is the best outcome we could have hoped for after the first round of playoffs. Our next match is at home against Panionios, a game I feel like we should comfortably take, while PAO host PAOK in Athens. I could personally see that game going either way as PAO will be seeking to get some revenge of their own after being knocked out of the cup while PAOK will be looking to recover lost ground after losing, not to mention they’ll also be out to prove that they were legitimately the better team against PAO in the cup semi-finals.

 

AEK 0-1 Olympiakos

Posted in AEK, AEK Athens FC, AEK Players, Derby, Greek Cup with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 26, 2017 by alexaek

The other day, Fourtounis made a comment claiming that on Wednesday (today), Olympiakos would “show which team is the best”. Now I’m kind of confused about this because surely, “the best” team would be the team that made it to the Cup Final? But in this case, Olympiakos didn’t in fact make it to the Final, so how can they be the best? Maybe Fourtounis was stuck in a little day dream where he imagined himself in a black and yellow jersey, celebrating in front of 50,000 supporters as he and his team booked their place in the finals:

All kidding aside, it has to be said that today’s performance wasn’t the greatest. We definitely created some chances but we left a lot to be desired and its really only thanks to Olympiakos’ inability to create anything worthwhile that we got away with the result we were looking for. Its unfortunate really since I was really expecting a win. Maybe not a blowout, but I was anticipating a 1-0 game for us, just something to really seal the deal without causing too much trouble.

But hey, why focus on the negatives you might ask? I don’t really plan on it, we just booked our ticket to the 23rd Cup final in AEK’s history so I really don’t have much to complain about. Having said that, we’ll definitely need to look better in the Final regardless of whether we play Panathinaikos or PAOK. At the end of the day though, its a Cup final and just being a part of it will give our players the energy and drive to give the best that they have to offer.

There were some interesting points to take from the match that deserve some attention, the first of which regards Vranjes. I love the guy and his passion, he clearly relishes the opportunity to play for AEK and even more so when a big game comes around. Having said that, he’ll have to be careful when the final comes around. He was close to getting sent off today and it took the intervention of his own teammates to make sure he didn’t go off the rails.

Its also worth noting the Anestis, who actually had a pretty solid game, got sent off in extra time. To be honest, he was quite clearly wasting time so I feel like the ref wasn’t left with much choice. What was particularly amusing about this situation was the fact that we had no remaining substitutions at that point which resulted in Almeida playing goal for the remaining few minutes. Luckily, he wasn’t really tested.

As is typical with games involving Olympiakos (particularly games in which the result doesn’t go Olympiakos’ way), a number of the higher profile members of the organization had some comments to make about what took place. In classic Savvas fashion, he came out with some very valid points about the officiating today, claiming that it was 80-20 in favour of AEK. I think he has a point, after all how can this reckless tackle on Ansarifard not be called as a penalty for Olympiakos:

Part of me wishes that Savvas never opens his mouth again but then the other part of me will miss his weekly comedy routine. 80-20 in favour of AEK, while giving five minutes of extra time and then another five minutes on top of that, and a red card to AEK’s keeper… I’ve doubted it for a while but now I really can’t believe that Savvas and his crew over at Olympiakos are actually serious.

Enough about them though, how about our supporters and the atmosphere they created in OAKA this evening? The scenes from the game earlier today really make me miss Athens… Definitely my favourite banner this season:

The photos below come from AEK365 and can be seen here as well:

Beautiful scenes as always. And now, the final! At the moment its scheduled for May 6th, but we won’t know until tomorrow whether we will face Panathinaikos or PAOK. To be honest, I don’t see PAOK turning around their two goal deficit to Panathinaikos, but it can definitely happen.