AEK Athens

The Lowdown: Thursday's Europa League Visitors, AEK Athens

Leicester City conclude their 2020/21 UEFA Europa League group stage campaign with the visit of AEK Athens to Filbert Way on Thursday (8pm kick-off).
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A powerhouse of Greek football and one of the country’s most successful teams, alongside Olympiacos and Panathinaikos, AEK is a club with rich history, vast European experience and over 30 national titles to their name.

Here, takes a detailed look at the Foxes' final opponents, including their playing squad, manager, recent form and history.

The squad

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Nélson Oliveira
Nélson Oliveira

Nélson Oliveira top scored for AEK last season with 14 goals in 27 league appearances.

Striker Nélson Oliveira was the team’s top goalscorer last season as Athens finished third in Super League Greece, losing just one of their final 14 league games. A name familiar to fans of English football, many Foxes supporters will remember Oliveira from his spells with Swansea City, Nottingham Forest, Norwich City and Reading.

The experienced Portugal international is a physical frontman but has good technique and has chalked up a solid goalscoring record throughout his career. Oliviera is part of a quintet of Portuguese players also including defenders Hélder Lopes and Paulinho, vice-captain André Simões, as well as fellow midfielder David Simõa.

AEK spent transfers fees on several players over the summer including Iranian striker Karim Ansarifard – the man who scored AEK’s all-important injury-time winner against Wolfsburg in this season’s Europa League play-off.

Signed from Qatari side Al-Sailiya in August 2020, he provides added experience and a greater threat in attacking areas of the pitch. The 30-year-old spent a short period of his career with Nottingham Forest; the team he joined after three years in Super League Greece with Panionios and Olympiacos.

Impressive in the air, Karim has now represented nine different clubs whilst also playing for his country at two FIFA World Cups.

Captain Petros Mantalos is the man AEK Athens often turn to when in need of a moment of magic. Always looking to glide into pockets of space in between the defensive lines, the midfielder has an ability to pick the right pass at the right time to put his team-mates in goalscoring positions and he uses his quick feet to escape tight situations.

The Greece international is one of the longest serving players at the club, having joined from Xanthi in 2014 when Athens were in Super League Greece 2. Now in his seventh season with Athens, the experienced 29-year-old remains a key member of the team.

Croatian Marko Livaja is an all-round forward, capable of leading the line or dropping deeper into attacking midfield positions. Starting his career at Internazionale, Livaja went out on loan to Lugano and Cesena before joining Italian side Atalanta in 2013 and then moving to Rubin Kazan in Russia.

A loan with Empoli and a brief spell at Las Palmas followed, before the versatile front-man joined Athens on loan in July 2017, scoring several important goals – including the only goal of the game in a derby against PAOK – on his way to earning a permanent contract.

Last season, Marko scored a brace to lead his team to the Greek Cup Final for the fifth consecutive year and in the same month was named as Player of the Season in the Greek Super League.

The manager

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Massimo Carrera
Massimo Carrera

Massimo Carrera coached several top flight clubs in Italy and Russia before taking the managerial job at AEK Athens.

AEK Athens manager Massimo Carrera is a well-known figure in Italian football and has an illustrious CV to boast from his almost 30-year involvement in the game.

Having started his career with Pro Sesto, based in the northern Italian city of Sesto San Giovanni, Carrera moved on to Russi, Alessandria and then Pescara before joining Bari, where he enjoyed five seasons with the club and made over 150 first team appearances.

In 1991, the Italian commenced what would become without doubt the most successful period of his career with Juventus. Working under Giovanni Trapattoni, Carrera had an excellent first season with the Old Lady playing as a right-back – the same position he held at Bari – and deservedly earned a call-up to the Italy squad.

A versatile player comfortable at full-back, centre-back and as a sweeper, Carrera was a key man in Marcello Lippi’s Juventus set-up during 1994/95 and played an important role in the team’s Serie A and Coppa Italia victories that season.

Despite not starting as often the following term, the defender was still an important squad member and part of the side which claimed its second UEFA Champions League crown in 1996.

One year after hanging up his boots, Carerra started coaching with Juventus and having initially worked with the youth teams, and as an assistant under ex-team-mate Antonio Conte, was placed in the role of caretaker manager at the start of 2012/13, immediately guiding the Turin giants to a 4-2 victory over Napoli in the Supercoppa Italiana.

Working as an assistant to Conte from 2011 to 2014, Carerra continued that relationship with his countryman by joining Antonio as part of the coaching set-up of the Italian national team.

Through their time working together, Conte had a major impact on Carerra’s view of the game, with the latter once saying: “Everything I do is down to him. My way of coaching, motivating my players and providing inspiration is all connected to Conte’s methods.”

Following that spell with Italy, Massimo joined Spartak Moscow and soon developed an outstanding reputation in his own right, inspiring Spartak to an historic season in 2016/17.

With CSKA Moscow, Lokomotiv Moscow and Zenit Saint Petersburg all struggling to hit their usual heights, Spartak took their opportunity and stormed their way to a first Russian Premier League title since 2001, winning 22 out of their 30 games to finish seven points ahead of CSKA in second place.

The Italian was named Russian Premier League Coach of the Year in recognition for his side’s outstanding campaign but a number of poor performances followed the season afterwards and Carerra was relieved of his duties in late 2018; a decision not entirely popular with the fans at Spartak.

After a period without a club, the 56-year-old was unveiled as the new manager of AEK Athens in December 2019.

Form guide

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Karim Ansarifard
Karim Ansarifard

Karim Ansarifard celebrates one of his five goals in all competitions for AEK this term.

AEK head into Thursday's clash with the Foxes on the back of a 2-1 defeat by Panathinaikos in the Greek Super League on Sunday evening, leaving them fourth in the league table.

Since their last encounter with Leicester, Athens have won four of their seven matches in all competitions, with successes over OFI, Zorya Luhansk, Larissa and Asteras Tripolis.

With three points from five games to their name in the Europa League, qualification from Group G is beyond AEK, while they are currently six points adrift of Olympiacos in Greece.

Previous encounters

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Hamza Choudhury
Hamza Choudhury

Leicester made it two wins from two in Group G in Athens earlier this season.

Leicester's only clash with AEK Athens came earlier this season, as goals from Jamie Vardy and Hamza Choudhury registered a 2-1 success for the Foxes in the Greek capital. 

Sweden international Muamer Tanković got a goal back for the home side in the second half, but City were able to hold on for their second group-stage victory on 29 October.

Trophy cabinet

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Tim Cahill
Tim Cahill

AEK Athens last came up against English opposition in the UEFA Europa League group stage in 2009.

AEK Athens have a rich history behind them on a domestic front, winning the Greek Super League 12 times, and the Super League 2 once, in addition to 15 Greek Cups, three Greek Super Cups and one Greek League Cup.

However, the side known as Énosis, meaning Union, have been unable to replicate that success on the European stage and are yet to pick up silverware in a UEFA competition.

There are notable highlights, however, including a journey to the Champions League quarter-finals (formally known as the European Cup) in 1968/69, when they faced Spartak Trnava in the last eight and fell short over two legs, drawing 1-1 in Athens but losing 2-1 in Trnava.

Meanwhile, the Greek side’s most successful effort in the Europa League (then the UEFA Cup) came when they reached the semi-finals in 1976/77, with a heavy defeat to Juventus over two legs blocking their path to the final.

In recent history, Athens reached the last 32 of the Europa League in 2006/07, 2007/08 and 2017/18, while their most recent appearance in the last 16 of the competition came in 2002/03 under manager Dušan Bajević, when they were eliminated by Spanish side Málaga.

The Greek club faced English opponents on plenty of occasions during the 1970s, including Liverpool, Derby County, Queens Park Rangers and Nottingham Forest, but didn’t again until 2009, when they met Everton in the Europa League group stages and lost on both occasions.

The stadium

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Athens Olympic Stadium
Athens Olympic Stadium

Athens Olympic Stadium is the stunning home of AEK Athens.

The 69,618-capacity home of AEK Athens, which also hosts Panathinaikos’ home fixtures, held the Mediterranean Games in 1991, the World Athletics Championships in 1997 and the Olympic Games in 2004, as well as the 1994 and 2007 UEFA Champions League finals. 

Nikos Goumas Stadium previously served as AEK's home ground from 1930 until being demolished in 2003. Construction on a purpose built, 30,000-capacity stadium began in 2017 on the site of the old stadium.

Upcoming fixtures

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AEK Athens
AEK Athens

The Foxes will welcome AEK Athens to Leicester City Stadium on 10 December for matchday six of the UEFA Europa League group stage.

Following Thursday's trip to England, AEK travel to Georgios Kamaras Stadium on Sunday, where they will tackle Apollon Smyrni in the Greek Super League (3:15pm kick-off).

A home encounter with league leaders Olympiacos then follows for AEK on Wednesday (5:30pm kick-off), before Volos (H), Olympiacos again (A) and Panetolikos (H). 

All times GMT.

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