This week sees the next set of Champions League 2nd round matches take place and one of the matches to keep an eye on is Olympiacos vs Manchester United. It is a match of contrasting fortunes as the high flying Greeks take on the fallen giants of the English Premier League. Whilst most have spoken about how United have lost 10 games this season, in all competitions, it should not go unnoticed that the last time Olympiacos were beaten in the Greek Super League was at the beginning of February 2013 and in fact only Celtic can match their unbeaten run. Naturally the argument that is posed to both Olympiacos and Celtic is that their respective leagues are amongst the weaker leagues in European football.
This argument is further strengthened by the fact that the only games that Olympiacos have lost this season have been in the Champions League whilst Celtic actually lost 5 of their 6 games. Interestingly, Manchester United, for all their problems this season, were unbeaten in the group stages, comfortably winning their group.
With this information at hand, we compared Olympiacos’ performances in the Super League with their performances in the Champions League group stage. From the outset we saw that Olympiacos not only won their games in the Super League but they absolutely dominated. They did, however, find it a little more difficult in the Champions League where they actually had less live ball possession than that of their opponents. While taking into consideration that they did qualify from their group, their average possession was quite low.
As we have stated in previous posts, it is not just about having possession and launching many attacks (Melbourne Heart in the Australian A-League is an example of this) but it is about getting shots on goal and converting those shots into goals. In the Super League, Olympiacos took 3 times as many shots as their opponents and they also made good use of them, particularly the high risk shots.
In line with their loss of possession and few attacks, Olympiacos managed fewer shots on goal in the Champions League than in the Super League. This being said, they still got off an impressive number of shots with a similar conversion ratio to that of their shots in the Super League (17.9% in the Super League vs 14.2% in the Champions League.
Of course, the caliber of teams in the Super League is nowhere near that of those playing in the Champions League and it is unsurprising that Olympiacos struggled during the group stage. So given that Olympiacos did not have it all their own way, we wanted to see how, if at all, they altered their tactics. Instead of playing their normal passing game, it seems that they were forced to rely on the counter attack far more than usual as well as making much more use of the long ball than they had done when playing in the Super League.
In line with the above information, Olympiacos crossed the ball far less in the Champions League than in the Super League. As can be seen, the number of crosses that they managed from open play was almost half of the number that they managed in their Super League games.
So whilst they may be setting the Super League alight, Olympiacos found it somewhat more difficult when playing in the Champions League. Since the group stages ended, they have also sold one of their best players, Konstantinos Mitroglou, to Fulham. Add this to United’s well documented issues this season and we see that this tie is perfectly poised and is a lot harder to call than perhaps it would have been in the past.
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