Panathinaikos 0-2 Copenhagen: Gilberto v N’Doye battle decides the outcome
Dame N’Doye scored the first, created the second, and Gilberto Silva received two yellow cards for fouling him twice.
Nikos Nioplias selected his usual 4-2-3-1 formation. Gilberto Silva dropped into a centre-back position alongside Josu Sarriegi, leaving Kostas Katsouranis playing just ahead of Simao in the centre of midfield. Luis Garcia started in a central playmaker position.
Copenhagen coach Stale Solbakken started with his 4-4-1-1, with Jesper Gronkjaer making lateral runs across the pitch, just behind lone striker Dame N’Doye, a man Panathinaikos fans needed no introduction to having spent 2007/08 in Athens. Behind the two front, they set up with two banks of four.
The game started at a very low tempo, with the home side building up play gradually, and Copenhagen sitting back, happy to let Panathinaikos play in front of them. When the Danes did get the ball, they kept possession in non-threatening areas, passing the ball around the defence and rarely looking to find the forward two players. Their only real goalscoring threat at the start of the game came from the long throws of Claudemir.
Panathinaikos’ main threat early on seemed to be from Sebastian Leto down the left-hand side. He constantly got the ball and was able to drive directly at Zdenek Pospech, with Copenhagen not looking to double up on him. Leto was guilty of releasing the ball too soon, however – rather than getting to the byline and pulling the ball back, he hit early crosses into the box, where Djibril Cisse was generally up against two centre-backs and unable to win the ball, whilst the ball in came so quickly that neither Garcia nor Sotoris Ninis had time to get into the box to provide a goalscoring threat themselves.
Neither Panathinaikos full-back was able to get forward too much, since they were being tracked solidly by the Copenhagen wide players. Stergos Marinos got down the right to some effect, but on the left, Loukas Vyntra still seems uncomfortable when on the ball at left-back, always wanting to come inside into the congested centre of the pitch, rather than get down the line and look to cross the ball. In the midfield, the battle was fairly even – both sides were fielding two defensive-minded players in that zone, and Katsouranis and Simao won a few tackles early on.
Panathinaikos’ problems started when N’Doye started to drop into deeper positions, and become involved in build-up play. This gave the centre-backs a problem – if they didn’t follow him, he would be able to receive the ball uncontested in a dangerous position. If they did follow him, however, they would leave space in behind and risk N’Doye turning and using his raw speed to outpace the two centre-backs to the ball.
Of course, N’Doye’s pace was directly responsible for creating the first goal. Simao lost the ball in the midfield and Gronkjaer took charge, immediately hitting a ball over the top into the right-hand channel. Alexandros Tzorvas made an inexplicable decision to come out of his goal and attempt to get to the ball first, but he was well beaten, and N’Doye had the simple task of passing the ball past him into the goal. A goalkeeping mistake, certainly, but it was a goal that looked likely to come because of the fact Gilberto and Sarriegi simply couldn’t compete with him in terms of pace. Long, straight balls towards N’Doye was always going to cause problems.
N’Doye also created the second goal, when he dropped deep, received the ball and immediately drove straight at Gilberto Silva, who brought him down with a clumsy tackle, and was booked. Martin Vingaard stepped up and drove the free-kick into the net – again, Tzorvas’ positioning was suspect, and he was beaten far too easily.
Nioplias made two half-time substitutes, withdrawing Luis Garcia and Kostas Katsouranis, and introducing both Nikos Spiropoulous and Giorgios Karagounis. This necessitated a complete reshape of the side – Vyntra went to his preferred position of right-back, Marinos went forward into midfield alongside Karagounis, whilst Spiropoulous came in at left-back. Overall, the move didn’t seem to make Panathinaikos any more attacking in theory – Karagounis played deeper than Garcia, although there was more chance of overlapping runs from full-back.
However, it was difficult to judge the effectiveness of the changes, since the N’Doye v Gilberto battle settled the game with a red card for Gilberto. N’Doye again dropped deep, Gilberto stuck tight to him, to prevent being outpaced over the top, but was then penalized for handball. The second yellow card for this incident was harsh but Panathinaikos had to switch things around almost immediately – Vyntra played centre-back, his third position of the night, and Marinos returned to right-back.
10 v 11
Two goals down and one man down, it was always going to be a struggle for Panathinaikos to get back into the game. Copenhagen were content to pass the ball calmly across their defence and their midfield area, and had no real inclination to get men or the ball forward. Panathinaikos weren’t sure how to try and win the ball back – press high, or sit back? In the end, they did neither effectively, and Nioplias’ frustration at not winning the ball was probably behind his decision to take off Ninis for Damien Plessis.
Predictably, this removed some of the attacking threat Ninis provided, with Karagounis having the responsibility to provide right-sided width. Therefore, the main threat in the second half came down the left from Leto, but Panathinaikos struggled to create many goalscoring chances. Copenhagen switched to an even more defensive system by withdrawing a winger, Christian Bolanos, for a holding midfielder in Hjalte Norrgaard. In the end, the Danes were comfortable.
Essentially, the Gilberto v N’Doye battle decided the game – N’Doye outpaced the Panathinaikos defence to score the first goal, dropped deep and drew a foul from Gilberto for the second, and then got Gilberto sent-off in the second half to effectively bring a premature end to the game. Gilberto can do a job at centre-back in terms of tackling and winning the ball in the air, but in terms of pace, his best years are behind him. That, combined with Panathinaikos’ high defensive line, played directly into Copenhagen’s hands and was the sole factor in the away side’s victory.
Elsewhere, Panathinaikos simply settled from a lack of creativity. Luis Garcia found space but did little of note, whilst Leto’s final ball continues to be frustrating. Nioplias’ substitutions must also be questioned – he didn’t seek to address the clear problem at centre-back with Gilberto, and used two of his changes at half-time, leaving him little room to change things further in the second half. When he did, the introduction of Plessis for Ninis simply meant even less chance of creativity, and Copenhagen goalkeeper Johan Willand had a fairly quiet night.
(This piece was originally written for Sport24.gr, hence the focus on the home side)Panathinaikos 0-2 Copenhagen: Gilberto v N’Doye battle decides the outcome