Our Man In Thessaloniki Sets The Scene
Time now for VMCers to get the low down on the club named after Ares the god of war. Aris FC, City's opponents in the Europa League Round of 32 on Tuesday night...
As 1,000 City fans head for Ringway departures, VMC caught up with our man in Greece, Lando who holds the distinction of being a die hard Blue as well as professionally working closely with Aris FC of Thessaloniki.
1. There is no better way for City to get over derby heartbreak than playing football again quickly and Aris offer that to The Citizens. Before we go further, what's the weather like down there for our travelling Blues. Do we need to take snoods?!
'You can say that again lads as THAT goal ruined more than every Blue's weekend. The weather here is quite good at the minute with clear skies and temperatures of around +13 degrees C and maybe a chance of light showers.'
2. We need some background history on Aris. There are stories across t'internet of their invincibility at home, particulalry in European competition. If you were to transpose Aris into an English Premier League club and it's set up, what equivalent standing and resources are we about to face?
'Well, Aris was formed after it's liberation in 1914 and was set up to promote athletics in general with football only one of the sports. Volleyball, athletics and basketball are among the sports that a hardcore of their fans go to see week in, week out. It is their basketball team who have had more success and are one of the most successful Greek basketball clubs of all times, tallying 10 Greek Championships, 8 Greek cups, and 3 European titles. Anyway, I digress, the point is that fans go to see all of their teams sports here in Greece and they are both knowledgeable and fanatical about sport in general.
'Aris FC has won silverware, but their strength lies in their 12th man, the Kleanthis Vikelidis crowd which is an awesome brotherhood creating atmosphere's not seen in the UK. For it's capacity of around 22,000 you could swear you were in one of the larger stadiums in Latin America.
'Look at the Aris v Boca Juniors You Tube footage above and you'll realise why Aris has been nicknamed 'Le Bombanera' of Europe after their Argentinian friends with whom they still have links with. That was only a friendly too!
'An interesting story would be the match in the 1920's between Aris and their viciously bitter rivalry (away fans are still banned from each other's derbies) with PAOK. The newly formed PAOK wanted to play in the Orthodox colours of yellow and black (like AEK Athens) and so a match was played to determine who would keep the colours.
'Much to the delight of the Aris fans their team won a historic victory that they still savour today and PAOK play in black and white as a punishment!
'If I could relate it to a Premier League club in style I would have to say they are a footballing side like Wigan as opposed to a Stoke or Bolton. In terms of resources in the present climate there is no comparison between a Premier League clubs and a Greek team at present.
'They also have strong scouting in Latin countries like Wigan. Unearthing Columbians, Brazilians and Argentinians almost every year.'
3. Tell us about the team. Who are the danger men we should watch out for and what's the form and general mood amongst the players and fans right now?
'Well the form has been patchy of late with the losing of some winnable home games leading to the resignation of world reknowned coach Hector Cuper. Ex-player and legend Yiannis Mihalitsios, the ex-chief scout has taken over so he knows how to do his homework on teams.
'League form aside, Aris has proved that they are up for the big games by beating Europa League Champions Atletico Madrid home and away in spectacular fashion, as well as dominating Bayern Leverkusen in both games and coming out on top of Rosenberg in a difficult group.
'Players are constantly coming in and out of Aris and this transfer window was no different with Carlos Ruiz, Tony Calvo, Nafti and star winger Javito making way for striker Bobadilla (Bojinov on steroids!), Portillia, Sakata, Danilo Pereira and a certain Nery Castillo.'
4. In search of Greek Balti Pies and a pint. Where are the best places for Blues to meet and greet during this week's oddysey?
'That will probably be up to the police plan, but a good place to meet would be Aristotle Square in the centre and the bar front next to it along the scenic port with the famous White Tower.'
5. Do you believe that City will be flying into Dublin this May?
'With the loss to the Rags, I certainly do believe and hope so, although there are some serious teams in this competion from Porto, Besiktas and Zenith to CSKA.
'The fans here are knowledgeable about football and are not too blinkered to believe they are favourites by any means. Yet the 42 year unbeaten record speaks for itself and any complacency or arrogance by City fans and players alike will be punished.
'Leaving the tie with their record still intact for me is the best Aris can manage with the players and resources they have.'
6. How do you think the two rival managers will approach Tuesday night's game? Can we expect fireworks?
'Difficult to say really as Mihalitsios is just finding his best eleven, although a similar team to this weekend's with Greek international keeper Sifakis (their Joe Hart) returning and the powerful Bobadilla starting up front with the silky Sergio Koke.
'With City you would expect Mancini to give Tevez a rest and put Dzeko and Balotelli on from the start if fit. If not, I'd imagine he will adopt a defensive counterattacking approach with Jo, Milner, Wright Phillips and Lescott all getting some playing time.
'I don't want to see Vieira ever play at the top level for us again and would prefer us to take this challenge seriously so we can go to Dublin.
"- This is my preferred City team:
Zabaleta Kompany Toure K. Kolarov
Barry De Jong
Silva Balotelli Dzeko
"- Of the fans, If you thought 'The Poznan' was good wait until you see their ultras called 'Super 3' (see video above) and another craze no doubt will be born!
'Can we expect fireworks?...before, during and after the game..! Enjoy the atmosphere though and wish that someday we can get one back at Eastlands!'
7. And so to your prediction for the result of the first leg clash...
'1-1 as Aris still have the record to fight over. If we go with our full team and don't underestimate them, then I believe a win is on the cards.'
- Very many thanks and respect to Lando for this excellent and invaluable pre-match insight!
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