Olympiacos 2-1 Panathinaikos: Olympiacos take commanding lead after controversial victory
A stoppage time winner from Rafik Djebbour gave Olympiacos a huge victory in a crucial derby.
The headline news from Ernesto Valverde’s teamsheet was his decision to play Francois Modesto in the holding midfield role, rather than Dudu or Moises Hurtado, who were not considered 100% fit.
Jesualdo Ferreira started Sotiris Ninis ahead of Sidney Govou on the right of midfield – the rest of the side was as expected.
As so often the case in the Derby of the Eternal Enemies, the game was scrappy early on, with the referee having to award lots of free-kicks. Consequently, the game took a while to settle down into any kind of rhythm.
Olympiacos used a 4-4-1-1 system, with Djebbour upfront alone and supported by a relatively deep playmaker, the Spaniard David Fuster. Fuster also dropped into midfield when his side lost the ball, and Modesto moved deeper to form a 4-1-4-1 shape in the defensive phase of play, whilst Ariel Ibagaza played in between those two, and was the best player in the first half. Albert Riera and Kevin Mirallas started the game on the opposite side to their usual positions, but quickly swapped back.
Panathinaikos lined up in a 4-1-2-3 formation that became 4-1-4-1 without the ball as Ninis and Sebastian Leto dropped back level with the midfield. The situation in the centre of the pitch consisted of fairly obvious contests – Modesto was up against Giorgos Karagounis, Ibagaza battled with Kostas Katsouranis, whilst Fuster was marked out of the game well by Gilberto Silva.
Ibagaza dominates game
Ibagaza was the player who found the most room to create, however, and played the role that we’ve come to expect of deep-lying, ball-playing, La Liga-based central midfielders in recent years – he stayed in central positions, always moved into a position to try and receive the ball, and then played short, quick passes into forward positions, and sometimes out to the flanks. He dictated play from that deep role, and with Panathinaikos lacking any kind of drive from the centre of midfield, the game was slow enough to allow him time on the ball and the chance to pick a pass.
With Fuster very quiet throughout, Ibagaza was the closest thing to a playmaker in the centre of midfield, and indeed he made the first goal. It was from a free-kick (no surprise, given how often the referee had to stop the game) – he slipped the ball slowly down the outside of the wall for Mirallas to run onto, and the Belgian cut it back into the far corner to open the scoring. Valverde spends a lot of time drilling his side on set-pieces in training – this was a sign the work had paid off.
Full-backs get forward
The game was exciting and open, primarily because all four full-backs looked to get forward into the opposition half, trying to overload the opposition on the flanks, and also indirectly creating opportunities for the other side on the counter-attack. Panathinaikos were working their right side very well, possibly trying to expose the weaknesses of Raul Bravo at left-back. A common move was for Ninis to move inside, draw Bravo into the middle, and then Loukas Vyntra would motor down the outside and swing a cross in. Panathinaikos got better as the half went on.
Olympiacos dominated possession but rarely created clear-cut chances. Djebbour’s movement was good, and he dragged the centre-backs out of position, but Olympiacos didn’t have the midfield runners to exploit these situations.
The second half continued in similar fashion to the first – there were no major tactical changes. Panathinaikos drew level with another goal from a free-kick – Leto crossed, but the inswinging delivery went all the way into the far corner of the net.
Then, Valverde made a substitution which nearly cost him the game. He removed Fuster, which was understandable as he’d had a poor game, but chose to bring on Dudu, a holding player who went alongside Modesto. To keep the same formation, Valverde pushed Ibagaza forward – presumably as he wanted his most creative player to work in areas closer to goal. It didn’t work, however, as Ibagaza struggled to find the room he’d enjoyed earlier in the game, and with Dudu and Modesto playing simple passes to the full-backs, Olympiacos suddenly couldn’t get the ball forward and allowed Panathinaikos to start dominating.
Frantic game late on
Both sides went for the win, which made for an exciting second half. Govou and Jaouad Zairi both provided fresh legs on the flanks, and the game seemed far from over at 1-1. In truth, Panathinaikos were probably the better side for much of the second half – they took charge of the midfield zone and created some good chances. Djibril Cisse wasn’t at his best, because Olympiacos defended deep which negated the threat of his pace onto through balls, and this prevented the away side from turning their dominance into goals. They were also hugely unfortunate that Katsouranis’ late goal was disallowed for offside.
Olimpiacos threw on Marko Pantelic for stoppage time – and though he wasn’t directly involved in the goal, he caused confusion in the Panathinaikos box that resulted in Djebbour finishing from close range after a scramble. The goal hardly came because of any great tactical decision – in fact, Valverde probably made the wrong decision in his midfield – but both sides continued to attack, and therefore there was always likely to be a third goal in the game.
The sides played similar formations but had different ways of playing. Panathinaikos worked the ball down the flanks, whereas Olimpiacos had more of a creator in midfield, Ibagaza. He enjoyed his deep-lying midfield position and was less effective when forced forward in the second half.
The main feature of the game was the attacking intent shown from both sides, particularly when the game was finely balanced at 1-1. All too often, crucial games like this are ruined because both managers are afraid of losing, but both coaches should be praised for trying to get the three points.
Olympiacos’ ten-point lead looks unassailable now, and therefore it’s fair to say that this is the first decisive result of the European season so far.