Georgia vs. Greece Post Match: The Result We Needed, But a Regression in Performance
For those of you that listened to me on the show or on Spaces with Super Greek pre-match, I was nervous. Despite our positive ending to the last winter break with the shock victory against Sweden, I just had a bad feeling about this game. As Demo mentioned in his piece a few days ago this team shows up for the games against bigger nations, but drops its level against smaller countries. Today was another one of those days. Fortunately, we were rescued by VAR in the dying embers of the game along with a cute chip of the goalkeeper by Pelkas to seal it.
I’m not going to spend much time complaining about the ref because in the end he did save us with VAR. Call it justice for not giving us the goal from Tzavellas’s header when the ball and the Georgian keeper were CLEARLY behind the line. Add onto that the lack of red card for the absurdly dangerous two footed, studs up tackle on Bakasetas. Regardless, we never should have needed help to beat this Georgia team.
Anyway, on to the analysis shall we?
After the game I saw what I usually see. The over positive claiming we should have had 3 goals and the super negative saying we should have lost or drawn. Neither are correct. Wyscout’s xG was 2.08-.35. If we remove the penalty, Greece is sitting at 1.35-.35 in open play. It’s fair to say Greece deserved the win. It’s frustrating that it took a penalty in the dying embers of the game to get it, but not every game can be pretty. It would be nice though if just one of them could be.
The possession chart is not surprising. The 1st half was a tighter contest than we expected but we dominated possession for the majority of the second half. The consensus was that this game would follow the same game script as it has in the past with smaller nations. Greece would dominate possession, make a decent number of chances(only a couple with quality), and finish one. In a weird way, the game did follow that script. What is even crazier about this ordeal is that our goals came against the run of play. Towards the end of the match it seemed like nothing was going right for us and Georgia was constantly getting onto the ball. Then, by divine intervention, VAR came in to save our sanity and our World Cup Qualifying Campaign.
The graph above highlights exactly what has frustrated Ethniki Omada fans during the entirety of JVS’s tenure. Overall possession is not the problem, it’s what we do with it. The team consistently attacks in open play but we can’t seem to muster much in terms of end product. A lot of that invariably gets blamed on our strikers. How many times do we hear that our strikers cannot finish and that is our national team’s problem? Make no mistake, that certainly is a problem. However, we cannot understate the fact that we do not make quality chances very often. When your average shot distance is close to 20m, it is difficult to get the consistent goals and results your team desires. For those that are unfamiliar with the context, we brought up on the show that Olympiacos has only lost 4 matches under Martins when their opponents average shot distance is over 20m+. Our national team cannot hope to achieve a modicum of sustainability if we cannot consistently make quality chances within the 18 yard box.
Where is the New Look Ethniki’s Press?
Another thing we have continued to hear about JVS’s new-look system is that it involves higher intensity press than previous regimes. To this day, I still have failed to see it. Our press is inconsistent at best. It’s unfortunate to say this because when we do press we are quite efficient at it. In the chart above, we see that Greece’s national team allowed more passes per defensive action at almost every interval of the game besides the 16th-30th minute point. This is a game where we should have been going for the throat and suffocating Georgia during their possession. If we cannot press Georgia, what hope do we have of implementing one against a team like Sweden?
Poor Game Management
JVS may not be the worst game manager we have seen for the Ethniki, but he is certainly up there. First, we went with a back 3 against Georgia. Chatzidiakos had the least amount of actions amongst the 3 in a game where Georgia never really threatened us in front of goal. They had moments where they looked a bit scary on the counter, but their first real goal threat did not come until the 80th minute. At halftime, we saw Pelkas getting ready to be subbed on. Most of us expected that one of the 3 center backs would come off. Much to our surprise, Pavlidis comes off instead. Now, I’m not the biggest Pavlidis fan nor do I believe he is the striker this national team needs. It took him a while to get into this game, but he did grow into it eventually. When he finally starts to play well he gets subbed? When he is our only available striker with Douvikas sick? That made no sense. As was evidenced above, the resulting change may have seen us command more possession, but our open play efficiency greatly suffered.
The more egregious thing was that he waited 80 minutes before subbing on Tzolis. Tzolis is one of our best offensive creators on a per 90 minute basis when he plays. I understand saving him for a super sub, but waiting until the 80th minute to bring him on? Had we not been awarded a penalty, this game ends in a draw and we crucify JVS for this decision. One more thing, it was Tzolis’s press that created Pelkas’s opportunity for the 2nd goal.
In JVS’s post match presser, he stated that we were the better team and deserved this win. When confronted with the fact that we were saved by VAR, he commented that there was not much difference in quality between the two sides. This is not only disrespectful to the players we have on the national team, it is another instance of JVS trying to lower the bar of expectation. How can you say that there is not much difference in quality when the most competitive league played in by the opposing players is Russia. Just own up to it JVS. It is ok for you to say that the product on the field was poor but we will take the result.
The dire thing that still harangues this team is its lack of identity. We have no identity in the possession game moving forward. We can barely create chances of quality and it leads to our inconsistent results. At the same time, we continue to brand this as a “new look” Greece team when we are in fact embracing the defensive DNA of our country. If this is the plan, just jump all into it. Fernando Santos had us play some boring and ugly football, but we sure as hell got results. I’d rather embrace our defensive game and know the games will be ugly than buy into a system we cannot pull off.
P.S. Many of you were surprised to hear me say Bakasetas was the man of the match. Bakasetas is not a bad player nor do I hate him. I just do not believe he is the #10 that this team can play through for consistency. Bakasetas can shoot, but he does not have the creativity to unlock defenses like the other 10s available to us.