After making easy work of Faroese opponents Runavik, next up for Hibs in the Europa League qualifiers is Greek side Asteras Tripolis. What can Hibs expect?
Who are Asteras Tripolis?
The ‘Star of Tripoli’, as their name translates, do not have a long history of playing at the top level in Greece, reaching the Greek Super League for the first time in 2007. Since then, however, they have been ever present. They have never finished lower than 13th, regularly challenging for the European qualification.
Based in the city of Tripoli, a 150km drive south-west of the capital Athens, they have played under different names, including Neos Asteras. Yet, it was in 2001, as Asteras, when they began to make great strides. A five-year unbeaten home record aided their rise towards the top-flight.
Nicknamed the Yellow-Blue, their kits over the years have resembled those of the Ukraine national team, Italian side Hellas Verona and even Greenock Morton.
The club play at the Theodoros Kolokotronis Stadium which holds less than 8,000 fans. It is very rarely full with their league attendances only getting above 2,000 when the big clubs from Athens visit. Their average attendance was 1,842, with one home fixture attracting less than 1,000 fans.
Their Europa League home ties have attracted bigger crowds but rarely selling out the stadium.
How did they qualify for Europe?
Asteras pipped Xanthi to fifth spot in the Greek Super League thanks to a run of five wins in the last seven games with the teams finishing level on points. Hibs’ opponents, however, had a superior goal difference.
They were then aided by the fact both Greek Cup finalists had already qualified for Europe. So, like Hibs, a Europa League place was given to best-placed team in the league, which was Asteras.
What is their European record like?
Asteras have achieved something no Scottish team, other than Celtic, have done since the rebranding to the Europa League, they have qualified for the group stages. Twice.
Their first foray into continental competition saw them knocked out of the Europa League qualifying stages in the third round. However, it was the first of four consecutive European campaigns.
They came through three rounds of qualifying in the 2014/2105 season, including defeating Bundesliga side Mainz, to reach the group stages where they faced Tottenham Hotspur, Besiktas and Partizan Belgrade, picking up six points to finish third in the group.
A third place finish in the league saw them qualify directly for the Europa League the following season. But they could only take four points from a group consisting of German giants Schalke, Cypriots Apoel and Sparta Prague.
Hibs is their first European tie since the 2015/2016 season.
Players to watch
The first player who stands out is striker Michalis Manias. It only takes a quick look at the highlights of his goals to see why he will likely feature high in Neil Lennon’s scouting report on the Greeks. The 28-year-old top scored with 12 goals, making him the league’s fourth top scorer.
He is a player who comes alive in and around the box. In doing so he has a selfish streak, looking to get the ball out of his feet quickly and shoot with team-mates barely an after-thought. Once the ball goes wide Hibs defenders will have to be wary of his movements in space. He is capable of scoring a range of goals with an array of finishes.
Manias was in the top three for shots, offsides and touches in the box in the league last season.
Asteras have a number of Argentine players, including veteran captain Walter Iglesias who came through the youth system at Atletico Madrid. But the perhaps the most influential player is midfielder Juan Munafo. He is the lynchpin of the midfield, playing a crucial role in construction, as well as destruction.
No one in the league was involved in more defensive duels, while he made the fifth most interceptions. In possession he made the highest number of passes by more than 100. But it wasn’t possession for possession sake, rating highly for passes into the final third and through passes.
If Hibs can shut him down they will be able to disrupt Asteras’ gameplan.
Hibs will also have to be wary of a trio of in-demand home-grown players. Centre-back Triantafyllos Pasalidis saw a deal to Olympiacos collapse, while 18-year-old attacker Anastasios Douvikas has been the subject of interest frm around Europe. Goalkeeper Georgios Athanasiadis is more experienced but had overtures from bigger clubs in Greece.
Main in charge
Savvas Pantelidis has had a varied career. Aged 53, Asteras are the 13th club he has managed. A former centre-back, Pantelidis took over the club in September 2017 from Staikos Vergetis who left after three games of the league season.
The club were managed in 2008 by Portguese manager Carlos Carvalhal, former Sheffield Wednesday and Swansea City boss.
What can Hibs expect?
Lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Asteras have players who can pass the ball well and keep it they don’t try to dominate possession, averaging 48.1 per cent in the league last season.
They try to be positive with the ball, moving it into the final third frequently. But it can lead to giving up possession. They were fourth in the league for ball losses which could play into Hibs’ hands and their ability to counter-attack swiftly.
Out of possession they are an aggressive unit. They work hard trying to make the game difficult for opponents. They were in the top five for defensive duels (1st), interceptions, aerial duels and fouls (2nd). They were the third youngest team last season so despite the presence of experienced Argentine players they have plenty of mobility.
Asteras count former Hearts striker Juanma Delgado and Scottish midfielder Mark Kerr as former alumni.
While the Yellow-Blue were thumped 5-1 by Tottenham Hotpsur in the group stages in 2014, the consolation was fumbled in by Harry Kane who had taken over goalkeeping duties after Hugo Lloris was sent off.
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