Post Match Analysis: A Return to Normal
Pedro Martins makes us believers again! I brought up in my last blog that this game needed to be a statement to bring confidence back into the fans. The professor delivered under a period of increased pressure and scrutiny which saw fans clamoring his name. More importantly, this game was not just a victory. Hell, we would not just call it a decisive victory either. This game was an assertion of dominance. A statement of strength from the Legend itself.
With an xG of 3.16 and Apollon Smirnis’s first shot coming in the 79th minute, we saw our most dominant performance of the season since the first leg against Slovan Bratislava. Add to this a team pass accuracy of almost 90% with over 630 passes attempted which we have not seen since our demolition of Lamia in March of last season. All things that we expect as Olympiacos fans when playing a relegation tier side. The big question here is what changed between Lamia and this game?
The first thing many Greek Football fans will say is that Apollon Smirnis is worse than Lamia. There is some truth to this. Apollon currently leads the Greek Super League in goals conceded as well as expected goals conceded(xGC) while currently one of the worst teams in the league in possession. Lamia edges out Apollon in most offensive team metrics but not by large margins. Defensively they are similarly poor to each other.
What I will tell you is slightly different. Although Apollon is arguably the worst team currently in the Super League, we did some positive things which made this onslaught possible.
Positive Midfield Production
On both sides of the ball, our midfield was much improved from Lamia. Much of this had to do with Martins changing the midfield pairing with the inclusion of Kunde. Kunde’s relentless pressing and limitless endurance created constant pressure on Apollon. Even his partner, Bouchalakis, had his fair share of pressures, albeit less successful.
Despite the constant negative remarks Greek and Diaspora Twitter throw towards Bouchalakis, he always does the work Martins expects of him. As evidenced above, Bouchalakis did not shirk his duties on the defensive side of the ball. In the first graph, we see Bouchalakis applying a similar amount of pressure on the opposing players with the ball as Kunde did. The important context lies with the second graph. The second graph represents a stark contrast between this match and our match on Sunday against Lamia. 82% of our defensive pressures occurred in the middle and offensive thirds of the field. Against Lamia, barely ½ of our defensive pressures occurred in those areas. We failed to maintain possession and press well against Lamia which saw us pinned in our defensive third much more often.
Before you raise your eyebrow at my Bouchalakis comments, I am not saying he is the reason we were successful. I’m just pointing out that he did his job alongside Kunde who was all over the place. It also goes without saying that Oleg Reabciuk deserves an honorable mention. Oleg was heavily involved in the press from the outset and was an ENORMOUS complement to our midfielders in stifling possession. This harmony in the organization of our midfield and fullbacks is tantamount to not only our press, but to stifling any possession our opponents may get.
Offensively, Bouchalakis was given a lot of criticism by fans over his “slow” play which restricted our forward momentum. A lot less is said about how involved he was in maintaining our possession along with Kunde to edge our possession forward. Between Bouchalakis and Kunde, our midfield pair saw about 150 touches on the ball combined. They combined for almost 25% of the total passes attempted by the team. Bouchalakis in particular led the team in passes to cut the defensive line(smart passes), both attempted and successful. Bouchalakis’s ability to hold the ball deep and distribute along with Kunde’s explosive pace, fearlessness going forward, and kick field switches were reminiscent of the Guilherme/Bouchalakis pairing that Martins started off with in the beginning of his second season.
It goes without saying, one main reason for our competence in moving the ball through the midfield was through the performances of both Bouchalakis and Kunde.
The Emergence of the Real Tiquinho
My cohost Costa has said repeatedly that we were lucky to sign Tiquinho. Even with 8 months without first team football and his injury, this was a player of quality that the Greek Super League would not see normally. Today’s match was but a taste of what Tiquinho has to offer. Let’s talk first about shot placement. Below is an image illustrating Tiquinho’s shot placement for his 6 shots in the Apollon match.
Not only was Tiquinho constantly threatening the goal with his large number of shots, he also had solid shot placement. One of the things that made Hassan so inconsistent was his lack of intent for shot placement. Hassan’s primary focus was simply to make contact and hope for the best. Last season, this worked for him more often than not. Unfortunately, during the summer and qualification, it did not seem to work in his favor. Another great part about Tiquinho is his absurd physical strength. For his second goal, we watched in awe as he muscled off 3 Apollon players and leveled a top shelf finish. Lastly, his intense aggression which leads him to follow every shot and rebound to the keeper is something this team has sorely lacked outside of Masouras.
There were plenty of people questioning whether or not Tiquinho could play as a lone striker at Olympiacos. I think Tiquinho showed us he’s up to the task.
The Masouras Effect
We posted the stat card for Masouras on social media so I won’t spend too long on this. I think you would find very few Olympiacos fans that would disagree that he was sorely missed. We needed not look further than the first few minutes of the game on our first couple of fast breaks. Masouras was involved in each one. His first cross to Tiquinho very well could have been our first of the match. His aggressive follow up on the Baby Camara shot gave us the first goal. What has made Masouras invaluable to Martins is not just these capabilities on the offense. His relentless work ethic on the defensive side of the ball has continued to see him in the starting 11 for the last year. I cannot tell you how happy I am to see him back after his injury. He has certainly come a long way from being considered a “good squad player” or “solid depth”. It would not be a stretch to say that he has become a core part of this team.
There’s no question that this team has talent. There’s no question that this team has the capability to compete on the European stage. Apollon may not have been a big test for us, but we need to move forward with the positive lessons we have learned. Namely, let’s go back to what has worked for us for so long, the 4-2-3-1. Moreover, let’s continue to tweak the pieces within this system and bring it back to the glory it had.