The teams and players of the Greek Super League (now known as Super League One) are getting ready to hit the pitch for the 84th edition of the tournament.
This year however, things will be a little different compared to other times. One of the most obvious discrepancies is the reduction of the participating clubs from 16 down to 14. This has been done in order to reduce matches of low interest and bring fans back to the grounds.
Another change that has been added to the league is the return of the play-offs.
In a similar fashion to the A-League, at the end of the season, the teams ranked from first to sixth will compete in a mini-tournament to not only decide who will emerge as the eventual champion, but also to see who will win the lucrative positions for the European qualifiers.
The rest of the teams placed from 7th-14th will also play their own small competition in order to avoid relegation to the second division (which has now been dubbed as “Super League Two”),
As far as the clubs themselves are concerned, last season’s undefeated champions PAOK pose as the favourites to come on top for yet another year, aiming to win back-to-back titles for the first time in the club’s history.
Despite the departure of their previous manager, Razvan Lucescu for Saudi Arabia, newcomer Abel Ferreira seems to be building on his predecessor’s work, without changing many things.
The gap that was left by midfielder Sergio Oliveira’s return to FC Porto was covered by Nigerian Anderson Esiti, while the “two-headed eagle of the North” will need to make do without their leader and captain Vieirinha for the first few months of the season as he recovers from his injury.
If there’s one contender the team from Thessaloniki will need to be wary of, that’s Olympiacos. Continuing on with their impressive record from the second half of last season, Pedro Martins remains at the helm of the club, closing the gaps with players of the quality of former French international Mathieu Valbuena, former Sporting Lisbon and Villareal defender Ruben Semedo and the purchase of the highly dependable Jose Sa, among others.
However, the “red-and-whites” are dealing with a similar blow as their rivals, with main play maker and the team’s top scorer last season Kostas Fortounis suffering from a ruptured ligament that will keep him off of the pitch for the next four to five months.
Meanwhile, AEK seem to be going through a transitional phase as their new coach Miguel Cardoso tries to drill his own style into his team. The former Celta Vigo manager has brought with him a number of co-patriots (Paulinho, David Simao, Chico Geraldes and Nelson Oliveira), but they will also rely heavily on the old guard of Petros Mantalos, Dmitro Chygrinskyi and Marco Livaja. They will also be expecting a lot from new arrival Daniel Verde from AS Roma.
Atromitos on the other hand seem to have been weakened with the departure of not just their manager Damir Canadi, but also last season’s top scorer Efthymis Koulouris and arguably their best defender Dimitris Chatziisaias.
They were replaced by former Nottingham Forest forward Apostolos Vellios and Dimitris Goutas from Olympiacos, but their first appearances can hardly be called convincing.
On the contrary, Aris will appear significantly improved this season, as they made transfers that not only bolstered their line-up but also excited their fans, such as former West Bromwich Albion striker Brown Ideye and Swedish defender Daniel Sundgren.
If their appearances in their friendly matches are to be taken into consideration, then Panathinaikos should also not be underestimated this season. The “greens” may not posses as much depth in their squad as other clubs, but the team has remained mostly unchanged from last season as the youngsters continue to develop under the watchful eye of Giorgos Donis. This means that they now have a higher level of unity and could pose as a serious threat for even the top tier teams. They will continue to rely heavily on the inspirations of striker Federico Macheda and midfielder Anastasios Chatzigiovanis, while also expecting a lot from new arrival Yohan Mollo.
In regards to the rest of the clubs, not a lot has changed, with Volos participating for the first time ever in a top tier category within their short history, hoping to leave their mark.
ROUND ONE OF THE GREEK SUPER LEAGUE 1
Saturday 24 August
7.00 pm Lamia – Panathinaikos
9.00 pm Aris – OFI
9.30 pm Olympiacos – Asteras Tripoli
Sunday 25 August
7.00 pm Atromitos – AEL
7.15 pm Panionios – Volos
8.00 pm PAOK – Panetolikos
9.30 pm AEK – Xanthi
Saturday 31 August
7.00 pm Panetolikos – Xanthi
7.15 pm Volos – Aris
7.30 pm Panathinaikos – OFI
Sunday 1 September
7.00 pm PAOK – Panionios
7.15 pm AEL – Olympiacos
9.00 pm Lamia – Atromitos
9.30 pm Asteras Tripoli – AEK
* The times listed above are local time in Greece.