West Ham 1-0 Olympiacos: Thrylos react after PAOK thrashing but questions remain
Olympiacos travelled to London to face the reigning Europa Conference League champions West Ham in the Europa League group stage.
Going into the game I think we can all most certainly agree that we were all not sure what to expect and what to predict from the team after one of the most embarrassing defeats at Georgios Karaiskakis in Olympiacos' recent history against PAOK this past weekend but also after an impressive win against the Hammers when they visited us a fortnight ago.
I was lucky enough to attend the game and be with the Olympiacos faithful throughout the day from the fan meetup at one of London’s most popular squares, Piccadilly Circus, and in the away end at the London Stadium with 5000 away fans.
Throughout the day I spoke to many Olympiacos fans and when asked what they expected from the team tonight most weren’t very confident at all (including myself) after our recent horrific defensive disaster class against PAOK.
What I think most of us wanted was a reaction, something from the Erithrolefki to show that what happened last weekend wasn’t good enough and we want to do better, and that’s certainly what we got.
A reaction from last week’s disaster
When the starting line-ups were announced there were little surprises. West Ham selected a strong side after David Moyes gave opportunities to squad players when the two sides met in Athens two weeks ago which ultimately didn’t work out well for them.
Olympiacos did the same with coach Diego Martinez opting to keep the 4-3-3 which saw Francisco Ortega return at left-back and a start for Stevan Jovetic replacing Ayoub El-Kaabi. El-Kaabi being benched might have caught some people by surprise but in the grand scheme of things, it makes total sense as the striker hasn’t been too good as of recent and most importantly hasn’t scored for almost a month and a half with the last goal being against Aris in late September.
What became apparent from when the game started was that we were looking at a more balanced team than the one we saw against PAOK with players playing in their natural positions which also made the defence a lot more organised.
It was clear that Martinez wanted his players to be a lot more conservative and try to play from the back with the main focus being not to concede and try to catch them off in the counter attack.
Here is when the first problems regarding this approach arose. When trying to get the ball forward we saw our two wider players Kostas Fortunis and Daniel Podence struggle. We all know how important those two are for not only our attack but also our team with the two being the pillars of our attacks.
It was apparent early on that this wasn’t going to be their night, especially for Podence who struggled a lot. This was made worse because of the man that was up front, Jovetic. Don’t get me wrong, I think Jovetic has a lot of skill and of course experience in this team and we can see that in almost every game especially with his first touch but the job he should have done tonight was never done.
I barely remember him touching the ball and being involved with play as he failed to make a significant impact. He neither dropped back to support the attack and try to re-distribute the ball or tried to make some diagonal runs and get behind their defenders. This was made more clear when El-Kaabi came on and we saw imminent change as we could finally see a somewhat improvement in our attacks.
Personally, I don’t think it was mainly down to a poor performance from Jovetic but instead I just don’t think he is capable of playing the style of football Martinez demanded him to play. I believe that if we want to utilise Jovetic’s potential we need him to just be the central man that occasionally drops outside the box but for this to happen he needs to be supported by the wingers and the midfield a lot more than he was.
Podence struggled a lot and couldn’t seem to find his footing, the same can be said for Olympiacos’s captain Fortounis but to a lesser extent as there were a few moments where the skipper managed to produce some good passes and maintain possession.
The main highlight from Thursday’s performance had to be our defence. West Ham are a solid attacking team and to go away to their stadium and only concede one goal from a tight offside call is something the team can be proud of. Jackson Porozo and Rodinei were excellent with Panos Retsos putting up a solid performance too whilst Alexandros Paschalakis didn't put a glove wrong. A really unfortunate mistake from Ortega, which I personally can’t blame him for as he is still young as well as inexperienced, and a superb chip from James Ward-Prowse led to Lucas Paqueta's winner.
Comparing this defensive performance against the one against PAOK you would think we are talking about a different Olympiacos but the fact is that four out of five players, including the goalkeeper, started both games.
This shows us how significant having an actual left-footed left-back is and with the current rules of the Superleague, which only allows you to have five players with non-European passports, Martinez had to drop Ortega a couple of times this season only due to logistical reasons. This is obviously not ideal as we aren’t playing Ortega in big Greek games in which in my opinion he HAS to play in order to gain experience and develop as a young player.
All we can wish for now is for Santiago Hezze to gain his Polish passport as soon as possible so that one slot can be freed up. Lastly, our midfield was pretty average in my opinion. We have seen much better performances from Hezze and Mady Camara who were unlucky to miss that header in the final minutes of normal time that hit Lukasz Fabianski's post. Sotiris Alexandropoulos, on the other hand, didn’t have a great night either but that is to be expected by again a young inexperienced player.
People need to understand that this is a one to two-year project. If we truly want success back at Olympiacos we need to be patient and try to develop these players into experienced footballers and I know some would argue why do that in a big European game but the truth is we don’t have anyone that could do the job that is required from Alexandropoulos.
Despite that I think we can all agree that the team reacted to the PAOK defeat and they reacted well. I think there were some aspects of the game that I didn’t enjoy like the subs Martinez made and when he made them but overall I think the team can be proud and focus on Sunday’s game against Asteras Tripolis.
Player Ratings and Coach's Grade
Paschalakis: 8/10. In my opinion, my man of the match. Didn’t put a glove wrong, Made a few very good saves and came out of his line to clear long balls when needed. A good response to his poor weekend performance.
Rodinei: 7.5/10. If not for Paschalakis, Rodinei would have been my other man of the match. It is so refreshing to have a proper right-back and one that can attack too. Came close to scoring too with a shot that went over the bar. Defensively solid too.
Porozo: 7/10. The better centre-back of the two. Strong in the air and did well in getting some good blocks and tackles. Nothing compared to Sunday.
Retsos :6.5/10. Solid but not as good as Porozo. Still looks shaky at times. I think his communication needs to be better.
Ortega: 6/10. Despite playing Paqueta onside he wasn’t bad but not great. Offensively he needed to do a bit more. He needs game time and he can become a really solid player.
Camara: 6/10. Average and I might be a bit too kind with his grade. We have seen him play so much better and he wasn’t anywhere near as good as he can be today.
Hezze: 6/10. Also average. Not a lot to be said about his performance.
Alexandropoulos: 5.5/10. Not a good performance by the young Greek. At times dribbled too much and didn’t release the ball in time and struggled to drive the ball forward.
Podence: 4.5/10. Should have come off at half-time. Really poor and just simply didn’t exist apart from one chance during the first half.
Fortounis: 5/10. Not a good performance either. Lost his temper towards the end and looked completely run down after the 75th minute.
Jovetic: 4.5/10. Did almost nothing. West Ham didn’t allow him any space but he also didn’t try to make some. The fact that the wide players were having poor games really didn’t help.
El-Kaabi: 5.5/10. We looked a little better when he came on but nothing crazy. We really need a proper goalscorer.
Scarpa: 4/10. I know I am being really harsh but I don’t really care the same way as he doesn't care about playing for us. Wasted balls and set-pieces as much as Fortunis and Podence did but his whole attitude and vibe annoys me. If he doesn't want to be here he should go.
Masouras: 5.5/10. Should have been on at half-time but overall nothing too crazy.
Biel: NA. Why bring him on with three minutes left? What’s happening with him and Martinez?
Coach's grade: C+. He came wanting a reaction from his players which he ended up getting, however apart from that his substitutions and timings were really poor. Podence and Jovetic should have come off at half-time. Fortunis should have come off after the 70th minute and in my opinion he should have introduced someone like Iborra around the 60th minute when West Ham really started to attack.
Olympiacos currently sit third in their Europa League group with four points and now a second place looking somewhat unlikely but not impossible - a third place finish being more realistic.
We travel to the central Pelloponese to play Asteras Tripolis on Sunday before breaking up for the international break. I think there is still lots of work to be done but for now we just have to be patient.
Hopefully some passport issues can be resolved freeing up non-European spots and hopefully see some players given a chance this upcoming Sunday. Remember, this is a project that will take time; at least a year or even two. For now we just have to be patient, focus on the league, get minimum third place in Europe and hopefully acquire some reinforcements in the January transfer window.
Here's what Gate 7 International hosts Dimitris Kouimtsidis and Kostas Lianos made of Olympiacos' Europa League defeat at West Ham: