Olympiakos' Many Formations
It's all fair and good having players of star quality and individual brilliance in a team. But without a good system to put all of those elements together, then there is no functionality.
Formations have been a pretty big topic for fans of Olympiakos before, during, and even after pre-season in the Champions League qualifiers. With all the players at manager Pedro Martins’ disposal, there currently doesn't seem to be a system he is genuinely happy to stick with.
While I acknowledge it's good to have multiple formations, I believe there should always be a definite go-to system for any coach. So for this week's blog I'll be taking a look at all the formations Olympiakos have the ability to play, who would play where in each position and where a particular system would fit depending on the competition.
The most traditional formation seen used by Thrylos over the years, 4-2-3-1 still suits us fairly well despite some attempts to move away from using it under Pedro Martins. Despite this, the Portuguese tactician has had to call upon this system when creativity has been lacking throughout certain matches or periods in a campaign.
With its ability to press, dominate possession, and a number 10 in the middle to help with creating chances for the striker and/or wingers, this system is perfect for most teams in the Super League, the earlier stages in European qualifying, and even continental sides of a similar level.
Where it falls short will be against bigger sides in Europe, as they will be the ones wanting to boss possession and overflow the midfield, meaning Thrylos would get carved open against much better quality opposition. It also must be said from a personnel perspective that Thrylos does lack a number ten that could fit the role week in and week out with Kostas Fortounis unavailable due to a long term injury. Mathieu Valbuena is capable but cannot play 90 minutes every match at 37 years old.
With the players at Martins’ disposal, 4-3-3 feels one of the more viable options as a strategy with the players fit and ready to compete. With a plethora of central midfielders in the squad this could be what we see for the majority of the season. Rather than a more advanced number 10, the third midfielder would play deeper with Camara and M'Vila in the form of either new signing Pierre Kunde or the ever reliable Andreas Bouchalakis.
This is a formation that could work over multiple competitions, including the league in derby matches, where it has been to our strength in the past, while also acting as a stable and a balanced system for Europe. Kunde, another attack-minded central player, would be deployed to help Camara with more forward play.
The shortcomings of playing 4-3-3 in the past is that the team struggles with creativity, especially against smaller teams in Greece who have been content to sit back and let us pass the ball about all game. This could change now that Erythrolefkoihas Kunde, as has already proved he can add some much-needed dynamism on the pitch as long as he has a more defensive partner, like M'Vila, next to him.
Pedro Martins has made it clear in the past that his preferred formation is 4-4-2. During his time as manager of the Greek champions, however, we have rarely seen him start the team in this formation with the exception being in a handful of Greek Cup fixtures. The closest we have witnessed this formation being put to use is actually during the transition of a match when, in a 4-2-3-1, Mathieu Valbuena would almost act as the “little man” centre forward to the “big man” El Arabi to help with the attack.
There is some speculation that the acquisition of Tiquinho Soares was a key signing to begin playing 4-4-2 more consistently, only for the Brazilian striker to sustain an injury in pre-season which has ruled him out for an estimated three months. While Hassan could theoretically fill the role as second striker, his recent performances as a starter may deter Martins from playing the Egyptian, especially with El Arabi back in training.
Now for the big one: the system that has been debated nonstop as to whether we should either make this our go-to or even play it at all. Ever since Thrylos defeated Arsenal 0-1 away in London, the 3-4-3 has been prevalent in Olympiakos gameplans throughout the playoffs last season and during this campaign’s UCL qualifiers, and boy has it been a mixed bag.
On the one hand, it has proven at times to be a solid and flexible formation with the ability to transition from defence to attack. Examples range from the 0-1 away victory over Arsenal, the 1-5 demolition of AEK last season, the 1-3 victory over Panathinaikos to mathematically clinch the title, and most recently in our 0-1 away win against Neftchi.
On the flip side, it has at times been to the detriment of the side in crucial matches, including the Greek Cup final against PAOK and the first leg of the 3rd Qualifying Round match against Ludogorets.
Now there are some reasons as to why it has been a bit of a hit and miss. The players that best fit that system at times have been out injured, with their replacements unable to utilise the system to the best of their ability. This inevitably leads to a lack of cohesion which, as we have seen, creates gaps in the side during a game. The opponent outplays us at our own game and exploits those spaces in their own counter attack.
With all this being said, I do think that this formation is still a valuable one for Pedro Martins to use, but I will also say it is not the be all and end all. If Thrylos match up against a superior side that will take the lion’s share of possession, giving us the opportunity to counter quickly after soaking up their pressure, like against Arsenal, then it works well. Against opposition that will be looking to give most of the ball and try to catch us out on the break, it is far less useful, unless Olympiakos has the players available to make 3-4-3 work both ways.