Sunday saw Olympiakos re-find their scoring touch with a 4-0 thumping of Atromitos. A fine result this may well have been, but it has done nothing to appease the fans. The hurt and disappointment is still raw from Thursday’s Brussels encounter. The Superleague is almost an irrelevance at the moment; the Reds’ season hinges on tonight’s second leg.
Marco Silva shuffled his pack on Sunday, and it worked, the team he sent out found the goal on four occasions. Questions must now be asked regarding the selections made for the first leg against Anderlecht.
Luka Milivojevic has been a regular in the side for the last two seasons, so his inclusion cannot be questioned, Luka rightly deserves his place. While on their day Kasami and Cambiasso offer more to the team, Mili is by far the team’s most consistent player in the middle. Sasa Zdjelar’s inclusion, however, raises the biggest question. The youngster clearly looks a promising prospect, but starting him away in such a big game, away in European competition, having only made his Superleague debut in January looks at best a massive gamble from Silva. Esteban Cambiasso and Pajtim Kasami started the game on the bench, Cambiasso didn’t leave the bench the whole night.
Kasami can often be accused of being too adventurous at times, and as a result wasting the occasional long range shot at goal when often a pass to a team mate would be the better option. Nonetheless, Kasami has more experience than his younger counterpart; now a seasoned international with Switzerland and played at the top level across the continent in his relatively short career. The big occasion doesn’t scare the Swiss international, quite the contrary – Pajtim Kasami thrives on the big game pressure.
Having Esteban Cambiasso on the bench for the full 90 minutes in Brussels to then play him for a full 90 minutes against Atromitos makes you wonder just what is going on with Marco Silva and his team selection. A goal and an assist was Cambiasso’s return against Atromitos. His efforts and experience would have been far better utilised in our Europa League outing. Many will be hoping that playing a full game on Sunday wouldn’t have taken too much out of the Argentine veteran, and he will be given the opportunity to play a part in this evening’s encounter. Anderlecht are a good side, but they are a young side; Esteban has been there and done it on the biggest stage with some of the biggest clubs in world football. His presence alone would instill fear into some of the Anderlecht players, and that is taking nothing away from his actual footballing ability – which he has an abundance of. Cambiasso must start tonight – it is for games like this that he was brought to the club, not for Superleague outings in a season when we have already all but won the title.
Brown Ideye has been run into the ground this season, barely given a game’s rest. Alfred Finnbogason was barely given a look in in the first half of the season, and quite rightly wanted to move in January. This has left Silva with no option other than to keep flogging Ideye or use another untested weapon in Alan Pulido. Pulido, in fairness, did find the net on the weekend, but he, unlike Finnbogason needs to be given the opportunity to play. He needs to be given the chance to re-find the form he showed in Mexico before moving to Europe, and at the same time affording Ideye some much needed rest. But tonight is not that game, Ideye must start tonight. Simply because we need to win (by two clear goals – unless 1-0 to force extra time and/or penalties), and a goal in the Superleague and a couple of showing in the cup or from the bench don’t warrant Pulido a starting berth in what is the season’s most important match.
Last week’s game was a bitter pill to swallow. Both sides attacked well, but crucially our attacks came to nothing. Thrylos dominated with 61% of the possession, away from home against a side like Anderlecht, this is a tremendous stat. It counted for nothing though, all our attacks came to nothing. Ideye will be rueing his fine chance in the 9th minute which saw his effort ricochet off the upright, a goal so early on would have changed the whole complexion of the tie. It seems harsh to hold hitting the woodwork against any player, however, Roberto’s error for the goal cannot be excused. Roberto owes his team mates and the fans a big performance tonight. Punching the ball away as a goalkeeper is always a risky move, but it is a risk that ‘keepers always seem willing to take. If you must punch the ball, punch it away, not up. It’s a matter of goalkeeping basics. It was a ball he could have quite easily caught. Even if he dropped the ball while attempting the catch, there would be a good chance that the referee could have deemed it as a foul on the ‘keeper and Roberto would have had the simple task of sending a freekick up the pitch instead of picking the ball out of the net with the score at 1-0. Players are entitled to make mistakes, and they always will, it is just unfortunate when a goalkeeper makes a mistake it is usually costly to the team. Roberto is one of the Reds’ top stars, so no long lasting grudge will be held if the side do exit the competition this evening, however, let’s hope last week’s error will spur him on in front of his own fans tonight.
Kostas Fortounis, magnificent all season, was somewhat off colour last week. Usually clinical with the dead ball, last week his set pieces were poor. More often than not corners were not finding his team mates, many being cleared by the first defender. Tonight Kostas needs to return to his usual ways. We need him to be at his best.
The kick off is less than two hours away and the line-up is due to be announced imminently, there will be hope that Kasami and Cambiasso will feature. Hernani was included in the matchday squad, and if fit enough to play hopefully he can be the difference in attack. This is Hernani’s chance to make a name for himself at the club, as Pardo did against Zagreb.
Whoever Silva selects this evening, they all know what is required – a win. They need to find a way to do to Anderlecht what they did to us exactly a week ago – prevent an away goal. The success of the 2015/16 season pivots on tonight’s result. The league can be won this weekend with the right result, and even if not this weekend, the title is already all but a given. A result tonight will show true progression of this current side. European knockout football has been a fixture at the Karaiskakis for the last few seasons, but for just a single round. Anderlecht are a good side, but there was nothing on display last week that suggests Thrylos cannot, and should not, feature in at least a second round of knockout football. As the marketing campaign has suggested, the fans will be the 12th player on the pitch tonight. The fans will be in fine voice, as ever, because this is not mission impossible. This is possible, and Piraeus expects. The time is now.