AEK 1-0 PAOK
After three attempts this season we’ve finally managed to win a derby, and an important one too. It was a scrappy game, one where we certainly could have done a lot of things better, but the three points against PAOK could not have come at a better time.
The win puts us at 39 points, 4 points ahead of PAO and 6 ahead of PAOK. Considering both those teams have been shaky at best lately and we seem to have found some good form since the start of the year, we have now put ourselves in a great position to make sure we get the best start we can to the playoffs… assuming we can continue to get the results like we have been lately.
The game was our sixth win in a row for 2016 (including cup games) and while it has given us a lot to celebrate, including yet another game without conceeding and the first time this season that we managed to get a win against a team in the top five, it also showed we still have a lot to worry about. Normally I have a hard time narrowing down where exactly I should start when bringing up the negatives, but for yesterday’s game, the biggest concern was clear: Arzo.
I remember I wasn’t the only one who wondered why Dellas never really gave him much of a chance, but people were always suggesting that Dellas of all people would know whether a center back was good enough to play or not. While I admit Dellas may have not been perfect, it seems he was certainly right about Arzo: I wanted him to be given a chance, but yesterday’s game proved he just isn’t good enough. One website even sarcastically, though fairly accurately, said that he was PAOK’s best player. It seems as though he just can’t think fast enough when the pressure is on him, leading him to either take too long to make a decision or, when he does decide to act quick enough, leading to sloppy plays which more often than not result in lose balls which PAOK attackers were able to latch onto all too quickly. With some teams, his poor decision making is less apparent as the players are simply not good enough to latch onto the errors he makes. Against PAOK however, that simply wasn’t the case. Rodriguez, easily PAOK’s most dangerous player offensively, was quick and aggressive in attack and was able to pressure Arzo throughout the game forcing mistakes or sloppy clearances. Bottom line is as a center back, someone playing in a role where you need to be solid and sure of what you’re doing as the last line of defense, he simply was not anywhere near good enough yesterday. It does not help that all other center back options we have are relatively young and unexperienced.
We were also pretty sloppy in attack unfortunately, and it made for a rather dull game with few solid chances. Sure we managed to move the ball forward often enough, and we certainly showed enough attacking intent, but in the final third we couldn’t get anything to work. Chance after chance near or in the box was ruined due to a poor pass or a poor finish, something which I can’t help but feel must be related to a psychological issue that seems to be affecting the team as a whole. I’m hoping yesterday’s win will help with our derby performances in the upcoming games, but it still seems as though whenever we have a big game, our concentration and nerve take a big hit.
Simoes got the man of the match award, and he certainly deserved it. Time after time he came back and provided the much needed cover for our defenders, making some critical tackles and constantly covering our half of the pitch. Without him, I’m not convinced we would have come out of the game without conceding from PAOK’s attacking surge towards the last twenty minutes of the game. Anestis was also phenomenal and has proven yet again to Poyet and the fans that he deserves to be considered for the starting lineup, even when Baroja returns from injury. He was solid during one on one situations, handled the far shots well and, most importantly, was able to keep calm during corners and free kicks.
Overall not the best game but I’m certainly relieved we got the points. I’m really hoping this win will give us the confidence we need to face the next two derbies (Olympiakos three weeks from now and PAO at the end of February) since I genuinely see no reason we can’t win against PAO and at least get a draw against Olympiakos.
Highlights as usual for our league games can be found on the Novasports page for AEK.