Mendilibar's impact at Olympiacos: Three games, three wins, Europa Conference League success

Under the Basque coach, the Piraeus side has experienced nothing but success

José Luis Mendilibar was hired by Olympiacos on Feb. 8 and the Greek team has won all three games since.
José Luis Mendilibar was hired by Olympiacos on Feb. 8 and the Greek team has won all three games since. / Horvath Tamas/GettyImages

José Luis Mendilibar has not experienced defeat in European competitions for 19 years. That came in his debut with Athletic Club, in the second round of the Intertoto Cup against Romania's CFR Cluj.

Since then, only penalties have stood in the way of an almost flawless journey, reaching its peak on May 31, 2023, with Sevilla's conquest of the Europa League. A year later, he is in pursuit of another title, this time in the Conference League, where he is already in the Round of 16.

His addition to Olympiacos this February presents a new opportunity to conquer another continental trophy. Interestingly, fate has made his new home a city that will host the final of the competition in which he is participating. However, it will not be at Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium, but at the OPAP Arena, the stadium of the team's crosstown rivals AEK Athens.

And his first European away trip brought him to the city where he triumphed almost a year ago: Budapest, albeit not in the same stadium.

The allure of playing in a continental competition, among other factors, led the Zaldívar-born coach to Piraeus. Moreover, for Olympiacos, it could be an interesting card to repeat their European presence next season, as they currently sit in fourth place in the Greek Super League (5 points behind AEK).

Thus, beyond what may happen in the domestic league through the end of the season, which features a reduced second phase of six teams, Olympiacos seems determined not to miss the opportunity provided by the Conference League.

Mendilibar show continues at Olympiacos

The playoff draw pitted them against Ferencváros without a home advantage, as the Greek team dropped from the Europa League. A 1-0 victory in the first leg with a late goal by Ayoub El Kaabi, was followed by a 0-1 win in the second leg with another goal from El Kaabi, this time from a penalty just before halftime.

Moreover, they hardly conceded any goal-scoring opportunities to a Hungarian team, coached by Dejan Stanković, that had to throw everything forward to seek a comeback.

The truth is, they did not struggle to advance, and Mendilibar's squad even managed to control the game through possession. To do so, they rely on players with good footwork, such as the Portuguese duo of Chiquinho and André Horta, or the Argentine Santiago Hezze, all of whom started in the second leg.

However, the Basque coach did not field any of his compatriots. Vicente Iborra and Quini were substitutes, but only the latter participated in the final stages. Fran Navarro completes the Spanish contingent, although the forward could not be registered for the Conference League, as UEFA only allows three new registrations for the second half of the season.

Next. Dominant Olympiacos eliminates Ferencváros, advances in UECL. Dominant Olympiacos eliminates Ferencváros, advances in UECL. dark

Therefore, Olympiacos is already among the 16 best teams in the third continental competition. Their next opponent could be Unai Emery's Aston Villa, perhaps the favorite to succeed West Ham in the trophy cabinet. However, they could also face less powerful teams, such as Lille, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Viktoria Plzeň, Club Brugge, Fiorentina, or Fenerbahçe. Their fate will be revealed on Friday.