Two EuroLeague giants will clash on Thursday evening in the Megasport Arena in Moscow, where CSKA Moscow will host Panathinaikos Athens. While these might be the two most successful EuroLeague teams in the last 20 years, both have had a difficult season so far.
CSKA are currently 9th in the standings, which is far from the standards of the team that in the last 5 years (since the change of the EuroLeague format) always finished the regular season in the top 4. However, things might not be as bad as they seem. The ”Army team” has the same record as the 6th placed Unics Kazan and Dimitris Itoudis’s team won 3 of the last 4 games, losing only in Barcelona, where they blew a 10 point advantage in the last quarter. The wins were by a narrow margin too, but CSKA slowly starts to look again like a team that has (at least) Final Four aspirations.
The visitors from Athens have totally different goals this season. Panathinaikos used to be a team that everyone feared, but right now they just don’t have the budget and quality to compete for a playoff spot. On the bright side, they are coming off two important wins. First, they beat their arch-rivals Olympiacos in the Greek derby, a win that counts as much as a trophy in the eyes of their fans. Three days after the derby win, the Greens beat Zenit at the OAKA, the team of their former coach Xavi Pascual. The hero of both games was Serbian guard Nemanja Nedovic, who showed that he is one of the most talented guards in Europe.
Nedovic and his teammates will try to keep their momentum and beat another Russian team, but in my opinion, it’s an impossible task. Like every year, CSKA is one of the best teams at home in Europe. In all competitions so far this season, CSKA won 8 games at home and lost just once, against Fenerbahce. Also, Shengelia and co. have a clear objective to climb in the standings and they cannot afford any more mistakes, so I believe the Russian team will win comfortably.