When Manchester United were drawn to play against Olympiakos in the Champions League, nearly every football fan around thought that this was going to be an easy one for David Moyes’ men. After all, the Greek club is probably the easiest team to face between the possible candidates. Nevertheless, this season the Greeks are stronger than ever and more determined to aim to go as far as they can after restructuring their club in spite of all financial troubles facing Greek football.
During last summer, Lebanese-South African Pierre Issa, was appointed as the club’s sporting director, his task was to build a competitive team, not only on in Greece, but also to show strength among Europe’s big teams. He was operating on a very low budget yet he was determined to use the best of his previous short experience as a player agent and the network of relations he built with football experts and players across the world.
The club were determined to maintain the quality of the team they had the previous season, in which they only suffered a single defeat in the Greek Super League. However, the financial situation caused them to sell before they sign. Thus five quality defenders all freed up the defensive area of the team. Gaëtan Bong and Carl Medjani were signed from Valenciennes and Monaco respectively to reduce the number of defenders from 11 to eight, two for every position. Behind them, Spanish goalkeeper Roberto Jimenez joined on loan from Atletico Madrid to dethrone the duo of Roy Carrol and Balas Megyeri. Jimenez directly took the role of the starting goalkeeper at the club and he has participated in all the club’s domestic League and Champions League games.
In the midfield, the club retained a few names such as Paulo Machado, David Fuster and Ariel Ibagaza while a lot of new foreign names arrived in such as Vladimir Weiss from Pescara and others. In the opposite direction, players like Leandro Greco, Ioannis Fetfatzidis, and Ljubomir Fejsa left for substantial fees to Livorno, Genoa and Benfica respectively while four more midfielders made room as they transferred to other clubs
In the attacking department Rafik Djebbour, Juan Pablo Pino, Diogo and Panagiotis Vlachodimos left the club as Marko Pantelic retired. The club was left with only Kostas Mitroglou who had many offers but the Lebanese director insisted that he must stay at the club. Issa used his contacts to sign former Real Madrid and Barcelona striker Javier Saviola, Arsenal winger Joel Campbell (on loan) and former Valencia forward Alejandro Dominguez to complete the team.
Jose Michel was retained as the team’s head coach after a string of positive results since his arrival in February; he did not lose a single game in the league since taking over Antonis Nikopolidis and he has managed to keep the form halfway into the new season.
There was no doubt at the start of the season that Olympiakos will be leading the league halfway through the season, after all their squad value is far more expensive than their closest rivals PAOK and it is worth more than three times the worth of Panathinakos’ squad thus monopolizing the Greek league with their financial power as other teams suffered.
Even when there was little room for improvement, Michel always tried to get the best out of his players and so far this season the club have scored 53 goals (3.1 goals per game), just 11 goals short of their record in all of last season (64 goals, 2.1 goals per game) while defensively they have conceded 6 goals in 17 games this term compared to 16 in 30, thus improving from 0.53 goals conceded per game to 0.35.
The main aim was to improve in the Champions League and try to get beyond the group stages of the competition to increase their income from the competition. Last season, they landed third in a group that consisted of Arsenal, Schalke 04 and Montpellier. This time around they were drawn with PSG, Benfica and Anderlacht. The Greeks emerged as second in the group losing only to PSG (home and away). They managed to defeat Benfica and snatch the second position in the group.
Normally, they play a 4-2-3-1 formation with the striker being the club’s targetman, this helped Kostas Mitroglou score plenty of goals this season (14) before suffering an injury yet the club managed to cope with his absence as Michael Olaitan and Alejandro Dominguez performed well in his absence. The current squad is powerful at the moment and they can have a great season though their problem is the squad’s average age (over 27 years old). This can hurt the club next term if they don’t fully engage in the summer transfer widnow but for now Issa’s men may just surprise Manchester United and reach the next round.