Fener Post Match Analysis: Tactical Masterclass in Turkey
I don’t know about you, but I could not sleep Thursday night. Every second I lay in bed I worried that I would wake up and this would all have been a dream. Then I woke up Friday morning, made my Frappe, sang my son his favorite Lefteris Pantazis song(Kati Magiko), and went on to enjoy the sunny and wonderful day.
This, of course, was due in no small part to Olympiacos and our emphatic victory against Fenerbahce IN TURKEY. This is truly one of the most important wins of the Martins era. A victory that we will not be forgetting any time soon with a performance befitting of the name “Thrylos” or “Legend”.
The craziest thing about this is that this success was quite different from previous success stories of Martins for Olympiacos in Europe. As G7I blogger Kostas Lianos mentioned on the podcast with Peter, this performance did not feature Olympiacos dominance on the ball. It was the off the ball actions and the opportunities from those actions that led Olympiacos to victory.
Looking at the data above, we see some stark contrasts between what made this team successful in this game and Martins’s previous Olympiacos teams. In the past, even against teams like Tottenham, Bayern Munich, Marseille, Porto, Manchester City(1st leg) we were on the ball A LOT. Maintaining possession was a core tenet of the team philosophy and no matter the calibre of team we played against, we sought to maintain it. Against Fenerbahce, it was a slightly different story. Until the 60th minute, we hardly had possession and barely managed an average of 4 passes per possession. Even our first goal came against the run of play from a Baby Camara interception which spurred a counter. Moreover, as noted by Kostas Lianos, our possession was poor for large spells of this game. It was not until around the 60th minute where we really began to maintain some kind of possession. So it should not surprise anyone that during the interval where we had the most possession and consistent pass accuracy, we generated the largest goal threat.
Against Fenerbahce, Olympiacos mustered only 13 attacks in open play, 5 of which resulted in shots. This is the fewest number of attacks in open play since our 2nd leg match against Manchester City last year. This then bears an important question. If our possession style and ball playing ability was not the reason for success, what propelled us to beat Fenerbahce?
Olympiacos Off the Ball Success
Prior to kickoff, our G7I group chat was lively. Things really got animated when we saw the starting lineup. Amidst the growing worry, there was a thin silver lining I shared with the group. Fenerbahce had not yet played a team that could press like we could. This was not to say we expected a constant press from the first whistle or even a high press. The hope was when we would implement the press, that it could catch them off guard.
The graph above depicts our PPDA throughout the match along with our win rate as a % compared to the total number of duels by both sides during the game. In the first half we were content to soak the pressure but we were winning the battle off the ball. Whether it was challenging balls in the air, winning loose balls, closing down players, etc. it was our defensive work rate that excelled and provided our opportunities.
The aforementioned PPDA plays a role when you look at the 61-75’ interval. During this period our press was the highest. We allowed the least number of passes by Fenerbahce before attempting a defensive action. Not coincidentally, we also saw the highest duel win rate incidence in this interval. The end result was a multitude of chances and 2 goals spawning from mistakes by our opponents. The press put Fenerbahce in disarray and all but guaranteed our victory.
A Tactical Masterclass
It is important that we take a step back here. Focusing on actions such as possession, PPDA, etc. is all well and good, but we MUST recognize the man behind the curtain. The one and only Professor Pedro Martins. None of the aforementioned actions amount to much without an underlying strategy. You can possess, press, and fight for the ball but without coordinated tactics you are left with a bunch of headless chickens on the pitch. Martins knew exactly what he was doing with the formation and defensive positioning.
Starting with the formation, when the lineup was announced we all thought 3-4-3. Once the game began, what unfolded was something quite different. Effectively, we played a 4-1-4-1. Bouchalakis operated as the loan DM, playing the ball in transition out of the back, mopping up loose balls, closing down passing lanes, and launching counters. The two Camaras were linked up in the midfield ahead of Bouchalakis flanked by Onyekuru and Masouras. On paper, this seems like a formation made for high press. In reality, this was designed for a midfield press. With over half of our defensive actions occurring in the middle of the field, it became apparent that the plan was to crowd out the midfield This forced Fenerbahce to play using the width.
As we can see above, Fenerbahce really hammered down the left side of the field. Martins’s initial strategy was to play Ousseynou Ba to help limit the potential damage that physical and fast players like Rossi and Valencia could inflict on us. Unfortunately, it did not work too well in the first half but a halftime replacement in Kenny Lala completely flipped the script.
What would prove to be the “checkmate” is the Kunde sub. In the past we have discussed the “Kunde effect”. What his energy brings to the press and our ball movement. Kunde came on just after the first Masouras goal and his relentless off the ball work applied the pressure that set us up for the 3rd goal. It is no coincidence that our press increased in the time period Kunde was on the field.
Great tactics and important victories do not have to be on the back of a dominant performance in possession. This team may not possess like Olympiacos teams of the past, but there is a winning formula in there.
I’m not here to dispute the man of the match or repeat the stat cards that have been posted. I simply wanted to shine a light on some unsung heroes.
A player many love to hate. Bouchalakis was a warrior again on Thursday. He had a misplaced pass here and there but he stepped in where it mattered. Bouchalakis was the team leader in overall linkup play connecting with more players than any other Olympiacos player. He may not be Yann M’vila, but he sure channeled that same energy. Bouchalakis also led Olympiacos in both ball recoveries AND interceptions. It is not easy to play as a lone DM especially against European sides. Bouchalakis rose to the challenge and once again did the dirty work necessary for the team.
Kosta and Peter gave an honorable mention to Kenny Lala on the podcast, but I thought he deserved a bit more. Kenny Lala did more in one half of play than we have seen from him all summer. He did not shy away from 1 on 1 opportunities and was dynamic especially in creating counters for us. Not to mention, his introduction steadied the defense against Fenerbahce’s onslaught of our right side. I don’t want to jinx anything, but I really hope this is a turning point for him.
Moldovan lightning struck again and took no prisoners. In case you are too lazy to look back at Fenerbahce’s chart of open play attacks, they had a whopping less than .1 xG on Oleg’s side. Oleg was relentless on defense. He succeeded with all but one defensive action in our defensive third while adding on 7 interceptions and 8 ball recoveries. What a player he is turning out to be.
We’ve said it before on the podcast and I’ll say it again. This team has talent. The more games under our belt, the better we will become. Fenerbahce was a huge test for us and we passed with flying colors. Another big test awaits us on Sunday. Our eternal enemies, whose form has been up and down so far to start the season, are not to be taken lightly. Things are trending in the right direction for us and we MUST capitalize on the lessons learned to continue our streak.