0-2. 1-3. 2-3. These (or better) are the scorelines we'll need to advance from the Champions League group stage for a 16th consecutive season. There's nothing to gain for Olympiacos and quite a bit to lose, as they have no chance of winning the group - even if they win, they'd reach 12 points, a level Bayern are already at before visiting Dinamo Zagreb.
Even if Bayern lose, they hold a 7-0 aggregate advantage over Olympiacos. In other words, we should all expect the Greeks to sit way, way back, defend in numbers, and all but refuse to get forward, the rare exception being if all of our players decide to play dead and flop to the ground. Even then, I suspect that our hosts will simply clear the ball and wait. What to do, then?
Well, we've sewn up a spot in the Europa League, courtesy of our two-goal aggregate advantage over Dinamo. Should the Croatians win in Munich, they'd rise to nine, level with us - but we'd still finish third in the group thanks to that 0-3 win.
Therefore, with nothing to lose except our Thursday nights, and quite a lot to gain, we have no option other than to hit Olympiacos so hard that they curl up in the corner and accept their fate.
They're sure to sit back in a 4-4-1 or something similar, defending narrow and packing the box with defenders. Even before this match, Olympiacos have kept only 40.5% possession, third-lowest in the Champions League behind the truly overmatched Malmo and BATE Borisov. We're sure to keep something close to if not better than 60 per cent possession, but what do we do with it? After all, in losing at the Emirates, we kept 67.9 per cent possession but lost 3-2.
It comes down to Olivier Giroud...
He didn't play against Olympiacos in the first fixture, but he'll have to on Wednesday, and not just because neither Walcott nor Alexis is fully fit. With Olympiacos packing defenders into the box, we will need his height and physicality to keep those defenders busy, to present himself as a target for crosses, and to earn us set-pieces. While keeper Roberto and central defenders Siovas and Bota offer height, none of them is particularly strong in the air.
Much as I hate to admit it, we may have to largely abandon any notions of hitting on counter-attacks or picking apart their defence through intricate passing and movement off the ball. Instead, we may have to send in cross after cross after cross into the box, hoping that Giroud can score, earn a set-piece, or create a chance for runners like Campbell, Oxlade-Chamberlain or Ramsey to finish.
With Giroud’s Greco-Roman wrestling in the area, anything can happen. A near-post goal, a ball chested down for someone to volley home, Heck, he might even earn us a spot-kick. Olympiacos are hardly a defensively minded outfit. In the group, they've conceded 10 goals, and they've hardly been stingy in the Greek Super League, which they dominate to an embarrassing degree: they narrowly escaped a visit to cellar-dwellers Panthrakakikos Komotini, winning 4-3 thanks to two spot-kicks. Prior to that match, Panthrakakikos had scored eight goals in 12 matches.
Remember that, last season, we needed a 3-0 result against an AS Monaco side renowned for its defensive stubbornness, to overcome a 3-1 first leg loss - we got to 2-0. This visit to Greece is similar, except for the part where Olympiacos can't defend as well. While that's far from a guarantee that we'll qualify for the Champions League knockout stage, it's got to be enough to inspire a gritty kind of confidence, not just among us fans, but among our players as well.
Our path to the knockout stage is a tough one, no doubt, but Giroud's shoulder to the wheel should be just enough to clear that path.
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