MOL Vidi – Champions League Play-Off Preview

Just like the seemingly never-ending scorching Hungarian summer, MOL Vidi’s European adventure is showing no signs of stopping anytime soon.  Just two games and 180 minutes of football against AEK Athens of Greece stand between Vidi and an historic first appearance in the Champions League Group Stage.  Even if the men from Székesfehérvár should falter at the final hurdle, a first appearance in the Europa League Group Stage since 2012/13 will be a most welcome consolation prize for a side given little hope of making a major impact in Europe this season.

AEK Athens: Conquerors of Celtic

Standing in the way of Vidi and a date with the Champions League is AEK Athens, conquerors of Celtic in the previous round (much to my eternal dismay).

Unlike Videoton, who have had to traverse three qualifiers to get to this stage, Athens only entered at the Third Qualifying Round due to Greece’s far superior co-efficient ranking in comparison to that of Hungary.  In the current UEFA club rankings, Athens is ranked 94th whereas Videoton comes in at a lowly 141st.   On paper, this looks like the end of the road for Vidi, but thankfully football is not played on paper – something that Athens themselves can be thankful for having dispatched of a Celtic side ranked 47 places above them in the current listings last time out.

But can Videoton really do it?  Can they reach the promised land of gold and riches that is the Champions League?  Can they succeed where Celtic failed and find AEK’s Achilles Heel and defeat the Greeks?

Quite simply, Yes!  It won’t be easy, then again Hungarian’s don’t like the easy option, but Videoton most certainly has it within them to create an upset.

Sitting Back and Upsetting the Odds

Having watched both legs against Celtic it is clear that Athens strength lies in their defensive organisation and compactness.  For the best part of both games they quite happily allowed Celtic to dominate possession, passing left and right, backward and forwards, but very rarely penetrating through the Athens defence.  That Celtic mustered 35 shots at goal over the two games tells one side of the story, the other is that very few of these shots came from clear goal scoring opportunities.

What Athens did extremely well, especially at Parkhead, was to stifle Celtic’s attacking threat and force the Hoops to play at a slower, more laborious tempo than they would have liked.  While a lot of Celtic’s threat comes from the wide areas, the middle of the pitch was so congested with Athens players that there were precious few paths to goal for Celtic.  And when they did break through they generally met with stubborn resistance in Vasilis Barkas in the Athens goal.

So far, not so promising for Vidi.

However, as strange as it may seem, Celtic were probably the ideal opposition for AEK.  Celtic play a possession-based game, they like to attack and stretch their opponents, but they also lack real creative dynamism when things are not going their way and therefore tend to be rather predictable at times.  All of which played into the hands of an AEK Athens side who are happiest when sitting back and hitting on the counter.

Despite scoring three goals, Athens did not cause Celtic too many problems going forward and looked devoid of creativity themselves for the most part.  Instead, they played on Celtic’s weakness in the right back and centre half departments, and made Celtic pay for their deficiencies.  On the whole, they were not a side that made you sit up and take notice of their attacking play.  They simply executed a game plan perfectly; which is exactly what Vidi will need to do if they are to progress.

While Celtic and their style may have been ideally suited to AEK Athens, Videoton and their more pragmatic approach in European competition provide an altogether different proposition for the Greeks.  And being favourites for the tie will add an extra dimension of pressure and expectation.

Defence is Key

Videoton will approach the game as underdogs and Nikolics will more than likely ask his men to contain the Greeks in a war of attrition.  The Serb is wise enough not to risk committing too many men to attacking situations in the first-leg, despite being the home side, and I would fully expect Vidi to turn the tables on Athens and encourage the visitors to bring the game to them, while looking to hit on the counter.

Given the scares of the previous rounds, sitting back and relying on the defence to get them through may seem like a disaster waiting to happen, but Athens attacking threat against Celtic was pin-pointed against the Hoops frailties, not their own abilities.  If the Vidi defence can return to its normal reliable, well-organised self, then they have a real chance of nullifying Athens and getting a positive result.

As we are all aware, Lazovic and the Scepovic brothers are all capable of goals at this level.  The biggest issue for Vidi is finding the key to unlock the AEK defence, however, if the Greeks are tempted into a more offensive approach there may well be gaps to take advantage of.

On Monday evening Budapest came to standstill as 250,000 revelers crowded the Rakaprt to celebrate the birth-day of the nation.  The finale of the evening was an exhilarating green, white, and red fireworks display; Vidi will be hoping that they can provide Hungarian football with some much-needed fireworks starting tomorrow night as they look to take the final steps to European glory.