Olympiakos 1-1 Panathinaikos: game based around pace in wide areas

November 22, 2011

The starting line-ups

A good Athens derby ended all square, with two very similar goals.

Ernesto Valverde chose Hungarian Balazs Megyeri rather than Franco Costanzo in goal, and used David Fuster on the right of midfield, coming inside. In the centre Valverde was without creator Ariel Ibagaza, so Francois Modesto and Jean Makoun played.

Jesualdo Ferreira played his expected side, with a flexible front four that saw Quincy Owusu-Abeyie and Zeko switching for much of the game.

This was a decent game that saw the majority of the chances – including both goals – coming from pace, particularly when the wide players moved high up the pitch and got in behind the full-backs to get on the end of diagonal balls from midfield.

Formations

Olympiakos were broadly 4-3-3, with Pablo Orbaiz usually in front of the back four, plus Makoun and Modesto taking it in turns to move forward. Fuster’s drifts inside were balanced out with Kevin Mirallas staying wide and making direct runs down the left, and also by striker Rafik Djebbour’s tendency to move to the right of the pitch.

Panathinaikos were more like 4-2-3-1, with Simao the first function midfielder and Kostas Katsouranis moving ahead to the right. The wide players were very attack-minded, whilst Cleyton dropped off and was usually in competition with Orbaiz. Sebastien Leto, not naturally a lone striker – moved across to the left at times.

Similarity between sides

Despite the difference in formations, the teams were quite similar. The nature of the forwards was one factor, both based around movement and mobility rather than strength and holding the ball up, although Djebbour was more of a threat from longer balls and crosses. There was also a good effort from both sides to get the full-backs forward, which stretched the play and also left space at the back to exploit on the counter-attack, and the fact that none of the wide players are particularly good defensively meant the full-backs got time to cross – particularly the Olympiakos pairing.

Breaking quickly was a key feature of the game, and probably the two fastest players on the pitch, Quincy and Mirallas, set up both goals through sheer pace down the flanks, before crossing into the six-yard box for a tap-in. It was surprising that the two sets of defences played so high up the pitch – few of the eight defenders had the pace to cover the space in behind, although the direct nature of the attacks meant that they often didn’t have the time to drop deep.

There was a slightly odd situation, because whilst Olympiakos looked the more complete attacking force, Panathinaikos seemed more likely to score in the first half – and eventually did, through Zeca. The reason for this, maybe, was that the game was so based around pace in behind that whichever side threatened more that way would prosper – the fact that Olympiakos were better at crossing from wide positions, and also more fluid in the centre of midfield, mattered little.

Second half

Valverde made an attack-minded¬†substitution¬†at the start of the second half. Orbaiz was taken off and another of Valverde’s former Athletic Bilbao players came on, Francisco Yeste. He’s much more attacking and went to the left of a midfield three to provide energy and driving runs, meaning Modesto became the holding player. Olympiakos almost immediately drew level after great play between Makoun and Mirallas, and the latter’s cross for Djebbour.

Mirallas was the game’s most dangerous player, and the next tactical move in the game was probably aimed at containing him. Ferreira took off Cleyton, and Loukas Vyntra came on to play right-back, which meant that Stergos Marinos, on a yellow from the first half after clumsy tackle on Mirallas, moved to the right of midfield. Panathinaikos were now playing two right-backs up against Mirallas.

It didn’t work, though – probably because there was such a strong desire to play the ball in behind for Mirallas to run into, that there wasn’t time to double up on him. In fact, it almost backfired – Vyntra, with fresh legs, wanted to move slightly higher up the pitch and briefly left Mirallas free for the best chance at 1-1 – but the Belgian missed the one-on-one.

Quincy was now central which terrified Olof Mellberg, and he had a good chance for Panathinaikos when bursting through, but was unable to turn the ball in.

The final significant tactical change was Valverde’s brave move to introduce striker Marko Pantelic for Makoun, perhaps because Panathinaikos’ defence was dropping deeper. Pantelic’s touch was good but he probably slowed Olympiakos’ attacks.

Either side could have won the game in the final minutes, which unfortunately became very scrappy with lots of bookings and substitutions.

Conclusion

A very good, open game that favoured the attacking players, particularly those in wide areas. Both defences played higher up the pitch than one would expect, and whenever a midfielder found himself unmarked, a pass in behind was always on.

It was Valverde who made the more positive changes – first to bring more attacking threat from the midfield with the use of Yeste, then with Panetlic late on. The key men were Mirallas and Quincy – both got an assist, and both had good chances to snatch the winner.

Olympiakos 1-1 Panathinaikos: game based around pace in wide areas

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