Ahead of Thursday evening’s Europa League Group D tie at the San Siro, Greek football expert George Kontogeorgis provides the in-depth report on Milan’s opponents, AEK Athens.
Unfortunately, Greek teams don’t have the luxury to use the same tactics in both the domestic league and European competitions. AEK manager Manolo Jimenez used the 4-2-3-1 system in Super League, while in the Champions League and Europa League play-offs, he switched to 3-5-2, an approach that Milan may encounter at the San Siro. “When you face such a big club, you are obliged to adjust to their system,” explained Jimenez.
AEK will try to stay compact and hold the ball in order not to let the Rossoneri boss the midfield from the beginning. It’s fair to say that AEK arrive in Italy after a poor pair of results in the Greek league, while their injury list is also full of defenders as 3 of 4 center-backs are out. Ex-Empoli player Uros Cocic, former Barcelona stopper Dmytro Chygrynskiy and Vassilis Lambropoulos will miss the game at the San Siro. Next to the only fit defender, Ognjen Vranješ, we might see the Swedish international midfielder, Jakob Johansson. Defending was actually the Greek side’s best line, but after not conceding in the first four games in the League, injuries started and the portiere, Giannis Anestis, collected the ball from his net five times after 3 matches.
AEK enjoyed a stunning fight-back against their fierce rivals, and 7 times in-a-row champions, Olympiakos (3-2) with ex Bologna, Hellas Verona and Sampdoria winger Lazaros Christodoulopoulos grabbing a brace. But soon after, the results were devastating. Dikefalos Aetos lost away to Asteras Tripolis (2-0), played to a stalemate against nine-men Xanthi (1-1), and fell behind PAOK to 2nd place of the league.
The recent negative form does not affect the good mood at AEK. ”We are producing chances, goals will come. If we drop points, I prefer it this way,” said Jimenez whose team counts 93 attempts for goal in the league after 7 games – only to score 11 times. The allenatore from Sevilla will rely – yet again – on his star-player and former Inter forward Marco Livaja. As for Argentinian striker Sergio Araujo, although he has made an impact of late, it’s the Croatian who stands out so far. Milan should be wary of his ability with the ball at his feet.
Livaja can withstand the pressure, is capable of playing with his back to the goal and creates space for his partners in the attack. Luckily for the Rossoneri, he is more of a creative forward than a killer in front of the goal. Besides the Croatian, the versatile Greek international midfielder, Petros Mantalos, is always a player who can make things happen on the pitch, and would likely need to play a big role tomorrow if the visitors wish to play spoiler in Milano.
Needless to say, even if Greek side AEK Athens has an ideal plan to lockdown Milan, the possibilities are totally against them on Thursday.