Panathinaikos vs Spurs
We got our Europa League campaign off to a good start with a draw against a tough Lazio side, but the performance was better than the result. Match day two sees us face a tricky trip to Greece for Panathinaikos vs Spurs.
The Greek side are in the competition after falling at the last hurdle of Champions League qualifying. They knocked Motherwell out of that competition to set up a group stages qualification tie with Malaga. However, the Spanish side beat them at home and drew in Athens to go through and put Panathinaikos in to the Europa League.
Spurs will have a difficult task on their hands, as the Olympic Stadium in Athens is a difficult place to go for any side. Fanatical support and also the heat will both be factors that Tottenham will have to contend with.
So, here are my 5 keys for Panathinaikos vs Spurs.
1. Panathinaikos lack of goals
A season on from finishing second in the Greek Super League, Panathinaikos have struggled out of the gate this term.
They’ve scored just three goals in five league matches and have drawn three of them. What’s more, two of their three goals have come from defenders and the other from a penalty.
In their first match of the Europa League Group Stage, they shipped three away to Maribor and had just 7 shots in the match, with only 3 on target. The Slovenians on the other hand, took 18 shots as they torched the Panathinaikos defence all evening.
The Greeks have had trouble getting shots at goal all season. If we look at the locations of their efforts against Maribor, we can see that all bar two were from outside the box.
Lazaros Christodoulopoulos, who played as the centre forward that night managed to get two shots away, hitting the target with one of them. The main threat came from deeper in the form of attacking midfielder Ze Carlos Gomes, also known as Zeca. He is a threat to get up the field and profit from the wide forwards Quincy Owusu-Abeyie and Ibrahim Sissoko.
2. Stop Owusu-Abeyie and Sissoko
Panathinaikos play in a 4-3-3 formation and like to utilise the speed and dribbling ability of their wide forwards to go at defenders and create chances. The two wide men like to play narrow and allow for the full backs to overlap.
If we look at the Panathinaikos average positions from their match with Maribor, we can see how Owusu-Abeyie (61) and Sissoko (3) were playing narrowly in support of Christodoulopoulos (10). This allows full backs Lukas Vintra (24) and Nikos Spyropolous (31) to overlap.
Both wide forwards are good with the ball at their feet, with Sissoko completing six dribbles against Maribor and Owusu-Abeyie three.
Spurs must be wary of their threat, but also of the overlapping full backs.
3. Panathinaikos’ overlapping full backs
With Panathinaikos playing their 4-3-3 system, it allows them to utilise their full backs to get forward and provide crosses.
Despite the Greeks failing to get on the scoreboard against Maribor, Lukas Vintra and Nikos Spyropolous were able to create crosses. The pair generated 6 between them from their full back positions. Panathinaikos used Spyropolous’ left flank to launch 39% of their attacks, compared to just 28% down Vintra’s right side according to WhoScored.com.
With the Greeks winning almost 70% of the aerial duels in that match, Spurs need to be aware of the full back threat and also their aerial power.
4. Don’t let Vitolo dictate the tempo
Victor Vitolo is the man who makes Panathinaikos tick and he likes to get on the ball and move it around, especially spraying passes over distance.
Vitolo was operating with Greek International Konstantinos Katsouranis in front of the defence. However, Katsouranis had his contract terminated by the club this week, so Stergos Marinos will probably start in his place. The two players in this role usually operate in front of the defence, with Vitolo lying deeper and having the majority of touches in matches. He is the team’s most accurate passer and usually has the lion’s share of possession.
Both Vitolo and Katsouranis were playing the ball over distances and were responsible for a third of Panathinaikos’ 60 long passes against Maribor. It will be interesting to see if his replacement also looks long, or if he leaves it to Vitolo.
Whatever happens, Spurs cannot let Vitolo get on the ball and dominate possession and dictate the tempo of the match.
5. AVB’s side selection
The trip to Greece is a long one and in the warm weather, some players may be feeling the heat after their exertions at Old Trafford on the weekend. The Olympic Stadium is not for the feint hearted and with a match against Aston Villa on Sunday, Andre Villas-Boas should consider rotating some of the side.
Our last match against Lazio was at home, so there wasn’t the problem of travelling any great distance, or playing in any kind of heat. The temperature in Athens for Panathinaikos vs Spurs is predicted to be 25 degrees celsius at kick off, so we will have to contend with this as well as the travel.
After the Lazio game, Spurs struggled on the weekend against QPR in the first half. This was down mainly to team selection, which Andre Villas-Boas admitted he got wrong to start the game. However, the side also looked sluggish which could have been due in part to a Europa League hangover.
Fatigue could be a factor after an energy sapping game at Old Trafford, combined with the travel and heat in going to Athens. Andre Villas-Boas has said that he wants us to take the Europa League seriously, but he also needs to manage the players and not burn them out so early in the season.
Panathinaikos vs Spurs conclusions
Despite Panathinaikos’ slow start to their domestic campaign and being turned over by Maribor, this will still be a tricky trip for Spurs.
The Greek side are unbeaten at home this season and in European competition have beaten Motherwell and drawn with Malaga at the Olympic Stadium.
We will need to be wary of the threat their wide forwards pose dribbling the ball, as well as the full backs overlapping down the flanks. The left flank in particular has been their focus of attack this season, so Kyle Walker or whoever is at right back could be in for a busy evening.
The manager will need to consider rotating some of his squad after the exertions against Manchester United and in the heat of the Greek capital.
Andre Villas-Boas was positive about taking on Panathinaikos though.
“We need to try to get the win because it will put us in a better position in the group, and it will leave Panathinaikos in a more difficult position. They are also in a position where they have nothing to lose. They are looking to repay their fans, will try to get something out of the game and from my experience as a coach, this is a big club and they will play to win.”
Panathinaikos vs Spurs prediction: Panathinaikos 0 Spurs 1