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Keys to Olympiacos's Youth League success

The Greek side's use of width, the high press and their well-drilled defence all comes under the microscope as the UEFA analysis unit assess Monday's UEFA Youth League final.

Olympiacos midfielder Theofanis Bakoulas draws two Milan midfielders
Olympiacos midfielder Theofanis Bakoulas draws two Milan midfielders AFP via Getty Images

Olympiacos's victory against AC Milan in the UEFA Youth League final on Monday was the first title triumph in European club competition for any Greek side.

In the following article, UEFA's performance analysis team – including match observer Jean-François Domergue – look at how the Olympiacos youngsters broke new ground for Greece, picking out three key components of their 3-0 victory, including their use of the flanks to build play and their excellent pressing game.

Olympiacos building through wing-backs

The first tactical feature which caught the eye was the way they built play out wide, exploiting space down Milan's right-hand side in the early stages.

Youth League Performance Insight: Olympiacos building wide

Within their 3-5-2 set-up, Olympiacos used the full width of the pitch in their build-up – a tactic which caused Milan problems initially. With the front three in Milan's 4-3-3 pressing the three Olympiacos centre-backs, the Greek side's left wing-back, Nektarios Alafakis, presented a dilemma for the Rossoneri regarding who should cover him. Initially, Milan right-back Vittorio Magni sought to do this, but, as UEFA match observer Jean-François Domergue said, "this left space behind on that wing".

The first video highlights just how much space. In clip one, we see Magni step high up the pitch to challenge Alafakis, who duly releases winger Stavros Pnevmonidis into the gap to run at the centre-backs and tee up a chance for Antonios Papakanellos.

That was in the ninth minute and, within two minutes, Olympiacos threatened again on that side – as seen in clip two. This clip shows just how wide both Olympiacos wing-backs are in a 3-2-2-3 shape as they build. Again, Magni is drawn out and, again, Alafakis sends Pnevmonidis haring down the wing in what leads to a 1v1 with the goalkeeper.

Milan responded by changing their approach, with Filippo Scotti, the right-winger, falling back to help cover the runs of Pnevmonidis and a midfielder stepping up to press the centre-back. As Domergue noted, "Scotti is now dropping to support his full-back."

For UEFA's wider performance analysis team, it was interesting to see Olympiacos using their wing-backs to progress the ball – and the challenge it posed Milan. After all, the question of how to play through and beyond the press is a recurring one in the senior club competitions, as this analysis from last week's Borussia Dortmund vs Atlético de Madrid quarter-final second leg indicates.

Olympiacos pressing pays off

Pressing is a prominent feature of the game at the elite level in the UEFA Champions League, and in this Youth League final Olympiacos's players showed their own admirable ability to affect the game with their pressing. Indeed, it was so effective that it helped bring about two of their goals, as seen in this next video.

Youth League Performance Insight: Olympiacos pressing pays off

By pressing high, they were able to force Milan long at times. Moreover, in Theofanis Bakoulas and Christos Mouzakitis they had two players who performed superbly in screening midfield roles. "Olympiacos had five at the back and only two midfielders, but those two were very influential, covering the spaces well between the lines and making it hard for Milan to find their players," said Domergue, the match observer.

The first two clips offer examples from the first period of Olympiacos pressing high and forcing hurried clearances. The focus of clip three is the counter-press by the Piraeus team in the lead-up to the second goal: a trio of Olympiacos players ambush two Milan players and come away with the ball in an action that ends with Papakanellos scoring.

Finally, in clip four, we see their work in the lead-up to Bakoulas's magnificent third goal. This time it is a high press from Sotirios Sylaidopoulos's players, who close down their opponents at speed and do not let them out, winning the ball not just once but twice.

Bakoulas told UEFA.com afterwards that Olympiacos's pressing was the sign of a well-drilled team: "When it is successful, it means that the players have good communication between them. When you press, you communicate with your team-mates, go for short passes, and move as a whole."

Olympiacos coach Sylaidopoulos added his own verdict: "Our performance was really good in all facets of the game – defending, attacking transitions, pressing.

"Pressing is one of our strongest points as a team," he continued, "but it's not only about pressing. For me, sometimes we are talking about individuals and about skills, but for me the team spirit was magnificent in all the games that we played. When we talk about a team sport, we have to include heart and we have to include team spirit, and that sometimes makes the difference in these kind of games."

Sina shuts out Milan

As their coach said above, Olympiacos's determination was in rich evidence in Nyon – and their defiance was embodied by their goalkeeper, Antzelo Sina. As match observer Domergue noted, here was a team unbeaten in this season's competition who showed an "impressive will to win" right across the pitch – and no one more so than Sina, who ensured a comfortable-looking scoreline for his team after a match in which Milan had more shots (14 to 12) and a superior xG (Expected goals) of 2.25 to 2.07.

Youth League Performance Insight: Sina shuts out Milan

The video above begins with a crucial tip-over from Milan winger Scotti with the game goalless, and it continues with three late stops – notably his brilliant triple save to foil substitute Emanuele Sala. With it, he earned his fifth clean sheet in nine matches – and left Ignazio Abate's side without a goal for only the second time in their ten matches of this campaign.

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