Mendilibar effect dims at Olympiacos: 4th in league, Europe exit looms

Former Sevilla coach enjoyed strong start with Greek giants, but after six straight wins hopes for domestic and continental glory have been dashed

Jose Luis Mendilibar, left, greets Panathinaikos coach Fatih Terim before Sunday's Greek Super League playoff match.
Jose Luis Mendilibar, left, greets Panathinaikos coach Fatih Terim before Sunday's Greek Super League playoff match. / Anadolu/GettyImages

José Luis Mendilibar's outstanding performance at Sevilla FC had guaranteed him work as soon as he decided to end his much-needed sabbatical.

Although short-lived, in just six months, he pulled Sevilla out of the relegation battle in LaLiga, clinched the seventh Europa League title by defeating teams like Manchester United, Juventus, or Roma, and as an added reward, secured a spot in the Champions League and reached the UEFA Super Cup final, where they pushed the mighty Manchester City to penalties before succumbing.

After being sacked in October, on Feb. 11, a European football giant like Olympiacos entrusted him with a project aimed at reshaping their title ambitions in Greece while also dreaming of the Europa Conference League. The start couldn't have been more promising, but after a month of brilliance, the 'Mendilibar effect' began to dissipate following a week to forget.

AEK Athens, managed by Argentine Matías Almeyda, now leads the Greek League group after a 4-0 thrashing of Lamia, while Mendilibar's Olympiacos suffered a painful defeat at home in the Athens derby against Panathinaikos (1-3). Currently, AEK holds a 2-point lead over PAOK, who lost the Thessaloniki derby against Aris (0-1) with a goal from former Real Betis player Loren Morón, while Panathinaikos sits third, 3 points behind. Meanwhile, Olympiacos drops to fourth place, trailing by 5 points.

Initially, things seemed promising at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium as Daniel Podence put Olympiacos ahead in the 24th minute. However, in the final 4 minutes of the first half, Panathinaikos dealt two decisive blows, with goals from Anastasios Bakasetas and Fotis Ioannidis, who repeated his feat half an hour before the final whistle, sealing the victory for the green side in their bitter rival's field. It's been a bleak week for Olympiacos, suffering two heavy defeats at home, conceding seven goals, scoring only two, significantly denting their league and continental aspirations.

Mendilibar's effect wanes at Olympiacos

Just three days prior, on Thursday night, Mendilibar experienced his first defeat as Olympiacos coach in an unfortunate scenario, facing the first leg of the UEFA Conference League Round of 16 as favorites but were stunned by a 4-1 defeat to Maccabi Tel Aviv, practically sealing their fate before the return leg in Israel next Thursday.

A brace from veteran Eran Zahavi and goals from teammates Ido Shahar and Dor Peretz, against El Kaabi's solitary goal, handed Mendilibar his first defeat. Until then, he had a triumphant start with six consecutive victories. In the Greek league, he debuted with a 4-1 win against PAOK in Thessaloniki, followed by narrow victories against Asteras Tripolis (2-1) and Panetolikos (1-2), as well as a 3-0 win against Volos. In between, his official debut was in the Europa Conference League playoff against Ferencvaros (0-1), winning again in the return leg against the Hungarians (1-0).


All this happens amid reports suggesting Mendilibar has already renewed his contract with Olympiacos until the end of the 2024-2025 season, a move that still seems logical despite recent setbacks. Mendilibar, regardless, boasts 6 victories and 2 defeats in 8 games at his helm.