The Submarine Rising

It’s not often you start a game in one month, complete it the following month and make history in the process but Villarreal did exactly that on Saturday evening at El Sadar. The game kicked off at 11pm on Saturday 31st August and as the full time whilst sounded with 1am approaching on Sunday 1st September, the Yellow Submarine were about to depart with three points following a very comfortable win marked by some tremendous attacking play. And they would sit top of La Liga alone for the first time in their history.

This was a poor performance from Osasuna epitomised by a lot of endeavour but not  great deal of structure or organisation. The home side parted company with manager Mendilibar this morning.

Line Ups

The former Villarreal player Oriol came into the Osasuna side with Damia only fit enough for the bench. Further forward, Riera started as the central striker.

Marcelinho made one change for Villarreal with Giovanni dos Santos dropping to the bench to be replaced by Perbet. As was customary prior to their relegation, Villarreal lined up in a 4-4-2 variation with Perbet dropping a little deeper off the front two. Aquino operated as a true winger whereas Cani frequently moved into the centre from the left.

Contrasting Styles

At first glance, this would seem like an obvious contract in styles between both sides. The more direct, physically robust style of Osasuna against the short, sharp passing of Villarreal and yet Osasuna enjoyed 59% possession making a substantially larger number of passes in the process but as the graphic below shows, the passes were always around the middle third of the pitch and never penetrative. Osasuna would push so far up the pitch then run out of ideas against an extremely well organised Villarreal side:-

Osasuna vs Villarreal Passes

Osasuna vs Villarreal Passes

Villarreal defended using two bans of four who sat fairly deep and were compact with no real space between the lines. Osasuna found this difficult to break down and when moves were disrupted, both Perbet and Pereira were left up the pitch in order to instigate counter attacking moves primarily down the channels where both of Osasuna’s full backs had been caught high up the pitch. The attacks were often simple yet brilliantly executed.

 

Attacking Options

Osasuna didn’t offer enough variety in attack. They would pass around the middle third of the pitch and either concede possession or knock a long hopeful ball forward towards Riera in attack but there was never sufficient support around the frontman or breaking forward from midfield to feed off scraps. There were very few successful passes into the opposition penalty area either. Osasuna were simply not hurting Villarreal.

Final Third Passes

Final Third Passes

Villarreal continually attacked their opponents down the flanks, aided by some less than secure defending with the diagram above showing the repeated attacks down their right side through Aquino.

Osasuna Defence

The diagram below shows the average positions from both teams during the game with Osasuna shown in blue and Villarreal in red. The stand out point is that Osasuna appear to have nobody operating at right back with Oier pushing into midfield. Osasuna are squashed where as Villarreal have much better balance:-

Average Positions

Average Positions

Osasuna conceded just 14 goals at home in 19 league games last season. Their survival was built upon this foundation with their attack being notoriously weak. Yet after two home games this season, they have conceded five goals.

Villarreal could cope very easily with Osasuna’s disjointed press and exploit the huge gaps between midfield and defence.

Cani often strayed into a central position from wide leftt and this probably created the problem for  Oier who followed his man but with no cover at full back, Pereira could pull wide and run down this flank, drawing Loties over into an area that the defender looked distinctly uneasy with. La Liga missed Cani last season and the creative midfielder used his skill and experience to good effect.

 

Villarreal Goals

The three goals were all the result of quick counter attacks, involved sharp passing and were completed with close range finishes. The opener came was Pereira broke down the left and beat Loties far too easily with Perbet converting. The second goal followed a beautifully lofted ball over the defence by Bruno with Aquino cutting in from the right to score after Pereira had again escaped from Loties:-

Villarreal Goals

Villarreal Goals

The third and final goal arrived midway through the second half. Aquino went on a surging run forward following Osasuna losing possession with dos Santos cutting back for Uche to side foot home.

All counter attacks, all completed quickly and all finished with aplomb in complete contrast to the laboured approach of Osasuna.

Defensively Sound

And just as Villarreal were swift with their counter attacks, their young defence was solid too, preventing an Osasuna side devoid of craft and guile from breaking them down or out muscling them with a more physical approach.

The Submarine would fall back into two compact blocks of four during the defensive phase which Osasuna found increasingly hard to break through. Slow passing and lack of passing options contributing towards this. The success of the Villarreal system can be viewed by the number and location of tackles that the away side attempted:-

Osasuna vs Villarreal Tackles

Osasuna vs Villarreal Tackles

Osasuna as they normally do, pressed their opponents high and won a number of tackles in the opposition half of the field but they were also forced to make a high number of interventions in their own penalty area as they were repeatedly exposed on transitions. Yet Villarreal only attempted one tackle on an Osasuna player in their penalty area. The compact block did it’s job very well with Osasuna unable to progress centrally, they moved wide where they were tackled and lose possession. This was an ideal position to launch counter attacks with balls down the channels pulling the Osasuna central defensive pairing of Loties and Arribas wide and into uncomfortable territory.

Passing in the Night?

The Yellow Submarine have returned to La Liga and immediately impressed with three wins from three placing them temporarily as La Liga leaders for the first time in their history. They may not have the star names of some recent Villarreal sides but there remains a style and panache about them when they burst forward in attack. With no debt now, Villarreal can be quietly confident of establishing themselves in La Liga against this season and moving forward from there.

For Osasuna, things have started very badly both on and off the pitch. It’s difficult to see any quality reinforcements arriving and they really needs injuries to clear up quickly to get their best eleven players on the pitch but even then, the quality in the ranks of Osasuna has dropped in recent times. Avoiding relegation looks as if it will be a considerable achievement even this early in the season. Mendilibar will take the flak for the poor start but a closer examination would reveal a lack of support for the manager with nobody showing any vision in scouting new players or promoting from the cantera. The club has problems on and off the pitch.

Osasuna Need Marginal Gains

The 2012-13 season has been difficult for Osasuna and coach Jose Luis Mendilibar.

Los Rojillos have experienced their worst worst start to a top flight campaign since their doomed 1993-94 campaign which ended with relegation after four defeats in their opening five games. The poor form continued beyond September. With only five points from their opening nine games, Osasuna were bottom of the league in early November.

There were reports that Mendilibar would be sacked if Osasuna failed to win against fellow relegation strugglers Espanyol. Perhaps it was fate. Mendilibar’s first game in charge at Osasuna was a 4-0 win over los percios and a 3-0 away win resolved the issue temporarily backed up by two scoreless draws and a win as Osasuna moved up the table. Whilst Mendilibar avoided dismissal, that matter befell his rival that day, Espanyol’s Pochettino, just two weeks later.

The mini revival saw the side rise to the lofty heights of 15th before three defeats in four games saw the team return to bottom place at the start of January.

It was the optimum time for the board to dispense with Mendilibar. The January transfer window would enable the new coach to bring new players in. The squad could be freshened for the challenge ahead. Yet the board retained faith in Mendilibar. Was it loyalty, were there no alternatives or would sacking the Basque coach have exposed the failings of the club off the pitch?

On The Pitch

Mendilibar celebrated two years in charge in February. He joined with the Pamplonan side in 18th place and would lead them to a 9th place finish in season 10/11. Last season witnessed the extraordinary 7th place finish which has raised expectations considerably rather than a recognition of what it was. A side over achieving.

The style of play under Mendilibar can easily be characterised. Osasuna have personality, a clear identity of who they are and how they will approach each game. This identity is what is so interesting about Osasuna; what they do with and without the ball. The side adopts many of the tactical elements that you see in some of the best possession orientated sides across Europe without the ball. The intensive pressing of an opponent across the whole pitch and holding a high line to squeeze their opponent deeper into their own territory. Yet this contrasts sharply with what occurs when they get the ball. A direct game is employed with the target being to get the ball forward as quickly as possible.

Mendilibar - Going in that Direction

Mendilibar – Going in that Direction

The side averages 48% possession in league games and their pass completion rate is just 68%, the second lowest in the league. Averaging 70 long balls per game, only Valladolid and Rayo Vallecano attempt more, whilst only Real Sociedad attempt more crosses (Los Rojillos average 25 per game) into the penalty area. They win 27 aerial duels per game, vastly more than anyone else in La Liga.

There is nothing unusual about their tackling or interception statistics but when they recover possession, they shift it forward quickly attempting just five dribbles per game, another very low figure.

The preference for a direct game, playing the percentages, aimed towards the central striker is clear for all to see.

Defensively, they now concede fewer shots at goal (11.7 per game) with only four teams conceding less shots. Only Malaga, Atleti and Real Madrid have conceded fewer goals than Osasuna. The defensive frailty that was evident on occasion last season, most notably when the high offside line collapsed and hefty defeats occurred, has been addressed. A further season under Mendilibar’s guidance along with the acquisition of Arribas from Rayo and the defence has been solidified.

Win the ball quickly, high up the pitch and then fire it into the penalty area. Simple yet last season, it was highly effective. However, problems persist at the opposite end of the pitch where nobody has scored as few goals as Osasuna, just 23 goals in 29 games.

Problems Not Tackled

The problems Osasuna are experiencing this season are not surprising even allowing for their superb 7th place finish last season. Despite finishing 7th, Los Rojillos finished the season with a goal difference of -17. That they missed out on a European place by one point is at best misleading. With an equal head to head record as Levante, had Osasuna finished level on points, that inferior goal difference would have cost them that coveted European place. Their lack of goals was an issue.

Key players from that side departed with replacements being adequate but unable to operate at the same level or within the preferred system. In particular, the loss of Raul Garcia both in terms of goals and assists has not being replicated despite Mendilibar seeking a direct replacement during the summer. Garcia scored 11 goals whilst providing eight assists.

Ibrahima Balde moved on along with Dejan Lekic leaving Osasuna without the target man required to allow their system to function efficiently. Neither Balde or Lekic was prolific but the physical target man is an essential component of the system which Mendilibar implements. Veteran striker Joseba Llorete arrived but his impact has been minimal whilst Nino is an awkward choice in the striking role given his small stature.

This is not the fault of Mendilibar, it’s the Sporting Director who must accept responsibility here. Mendilibar can only work with the tools the club provide him with. His system is clear, the personality he projects onto the team is known. The club must find the components to fit that system. They have failed in this regard.

The Misleading League Position

Osasuna are not out of the danger yet despite sitting four points above the relegation zone.

The 2-0 home defeat to Atleti captured many of their failings this season. The opening goal for Atleti arising after the high offside trap failed with no pressure placed on the ball in midfield. Koke was able to break through the uneven defensive line.

Mendilibar’s starting line up included Masoud, a midfielder, in the striking role with Nino and Llorente on the bench, a clear indication that neither are favoured to produce in that role. Despite the overly defensive line up, Osasuna began the game in familiar fashion

This game will not be decisive in Osasuna’s season.

The problem that faces Mendilibar and his side is the legacy of their poor start to the season that included key losses to fellow relegation battlers. Why is this so important now? In La Liga, teams level on points are not separated initially by goal difference but by the head to head record, that is, their respective results against each other. Osasuna have an inferior head to head record with Deportivo La Coruna, Celta Vigo and Real Zaragoza. Having already lost to Granada earlier this season, the sides meet again on 19 May in what could be a crucial encounter. Osasuna must rectify the balance.

Survive this season and Mendilibar will need to work again. Club captain Francisco Punal is 37 years old now. A replacement must be found who can provide the drive and energy from the centre of the pitch. The lack of goals remains a problem and the recent form of Kike Sola, top scorer with a lowly 7 goals, is likely to attract suitors if it is maintained.

Is there no spectre of light ahead for Osasuna or is the club unable to recognise the environment in which it finds itself? Has the club failed to adapt to it’s new surroundings and evolve sufficiently, consequently finding itself a potential victim of relegation to the wilderness of La Segunda?

The Accumulation of Marginal Gains

This is an age of austerity.

With economic recession, all Spanish sides are facing uncertain times with the exception of the big two. The lack of available finance is no longer an excuse for poor performances in La Liga. The Pamplonan’s had net debt of £31million in September 2012 with the first team budget squeezed as a consequence. This is not unique however. The bulk of the top flight teams are in the exact same predicament. With less cash to burn on transfer fees, teams have to become more adept at discovering rough diamonds to polish. Scouting networks take on new levels of importance. Closer to home, the work of the cantera increases in importance. The likes of Levante and Rayo Vallecano are the benchmark for clubs to aspire to. The Rayo coach Paco Jemez  outlines the problems his side face perfectly when he talks of everyone else having more than Rayo. The men from Vallecas in the suburbs of Madrid are forced to work harder than everyone else in order to compete. They must train harder, must scout better, invest in their cantera more. All of these small issues mount to have a cumulative impact, the accumulation of marginal gains.

If Osasuna want to avoid enduring relegation battles each season, these areas must be addressed commencing with their acquisition policy. The problems that Mendilibar has to address are on the pitch but the Sporting Director must contribute to the solution and avoid becoming another obstacle.

Mendilibar cannot win battles on two fronts simultaneously.

Week 21 Observations – Anything You Can Do…

Another week in La Liga brings another routine victory for each of the big two and yet more scoring exploits from their two main protagonists seemingly locked into a constant game of “Anything you can do, I can do better”.

Real Madrid began the day with a 4-0 victory over Getafe with Ronaldo scoring a hat trick. His goal scoring feat was later surpassed when Messi helped himself to four goals during a 5-1 demolition of Osasuna.

Both benefitted from decisions that were favourable at key points in the game.

Real Madrid 4 Getafe  0

Luis Garcia’s Getafe side have now gone nine games in all competitions without a win. With games against Deportivo, Celta Vigo and Mallorca coming up, El Geta must pick up points to prevent the slide down the table taking them dangerously close to the relegation zone.

Madrid finds its self in something of a quandary. Trailing Barcelona by 15 points in the league, their title is all but lost with nearly half the season remaining. Motivation becomes an issue for the squad as their focus shifts towards the two remaining prizes which they can win; the Copa del Rey and the Champions League. It’s not that simple though. Mediocre league form cannot be transformed overnight to a level sufficient to win the real prize, la decima. It’s an issue that the team as a whole need to address.

The first half was almost instantly forgettable. Getafe hinted at offering something in attack, particularly on quick transitions with Essien not being the most mobile and Modric caught further upfield. Without Khedira or Alonso starting, the midfield looked weak and demonstrated both players worth to the side. The visitors played some neat football but Adan in goal was never properly tested by the sporadic Getafe attacks.

The game changed in the second half with the opening goal being controversial. Whilst it is clear that Carvalho’s arm caught Moya in goal, the keeper really should have done better than to drop the ball enabling Ramos to poke home the opener. Having sad that, it was a foul.

Getafe were then complicit in their own downfall to an extent. Following a corner, Khedira won the ball in his own penalty area and 12 seconds later Ronaldo scored. Castro then conceded possession at the halfway line and 9 seconds later Ronaldo scoed his second and the sides third. There was no patient build up play. Instead, Madrid ruthlessly took advantage of their opponents weakness during a transitional phase. With Madrid, your corner kick is their attacking opportunity.

The final goal followed the award of a penalty which could possibly be called soft but the challenge on Modric was still foolish. The Madrid move was instigated by Moya needlessly attempting a quick throw out which was easily intercepted and fed back into the penalty area.

A harsh 4-0 defeat for a Getafe side who contributed to their own downfall after a first half performance which offered a degree of optimism. Their compact shape and sound defending undone by both individual and collective errors.

Three clean sheets in a row in the league now for Madrid  following a poor run in the preceding four games when they conceded 10 league goals. If the performances, with the exception of the Valencia game, in the league have been inconsistent, Mourinho will at least be content with the clinical nature of the attack just now with nine goals in two games.

 

Barcelona 5 Osasuna 1

Jose Luis Mendilibar took his Osasuna side to the Camp Nou, scene of their 8-0 humbling last season, on Sunday evening. This time around, maybe things would be different. Osasuna arrived with the 4th best defence in La Liga and goalkeeper Andres Fernandez sitting second in the Zamora.  The defensive solidity masks attacking problems that has seen Osasuna fall into the relegation zone with the worst goalscoring record in La Liga.

Real Sociedad had demonstrated a workrate allied to ability to beat Barcelona 3-2 at the Anoeta last week and Osasuna would adopt the same ethic by pressing Barcelona early to stop them building from the back. The high defensive line also pushed Barcelona back and made them begin constructing moves much deeper than they would prefer. Mendilibar had spoken prior to the game about Osasuna playing the way they “normally do” in reference to the lack of a clear plan by any team to defeat Barcelona.

The issue for Mendilibar is that high pressing is not matched with short passing to retain possession when they win the ball back. Osasuna prefer a very direct and vertical style of play. They lack the technical quality of La Real.  With that in mind, Mendilibar opted to start with Joseba Llorente as the central striker. Llorente does not offer the greatest level of mobility but he is able compete aerially and offer a central reference point for the team, something that the style of play dictates.

The normal high defensive line and aggressive pressing from a Mendilibar team was identifiable as Osasuna pushed Barcelona back in the opening minutes, recording more possession than their illustrious hosts in the opening minutes of the game. The warning signs were evident for Osasuna however. With a high press, the team tried to stay fairly narrow. There was ample space between the high defensive line and Fernandez in goal to exploit. Thiago failed to collect a pass early on but a David Villa run onto a through ball led to Fernandez coming off his line. The keeper’s clearance was poor but when Xavi collected the ball there was no immediate danger. There was no shot on goal for the diminutive midfielder and Fernandez recovered his position. Xavi was able to beat his opponent and weight a perfect ball to Messi to open the scoring. Many players would have attempted an audacious shot in such circumstances and wasted the opportunity.

Osasuna continued to push high, seeking to impose their style of play on the game and also aware that adopting a defensive gameplan would most likely be their undoing. An equaliser came via a long range effort from Loe. Barcelona failed to adequately clear their lines and the Frenchman moved onto the ball freely.

Any semblance of hope which arrived with the equaliser was soon removed with the award of a harsh penalty for handball against Arribas. A second yellow card was given to the defender and the 10 men would soon trail 2-1 when Messi scored from the spot. The game ended as a contest just before half time when Dani Alves made a forward run to receive a pass, cutting back for Pedro to score. Alves was offside when the pass was made but it was a ball that Barcelona were increasingly looking for.

The second half focussed on damage limitation with Messi scoring two further goals as Barcelona cantered to a 5-1 victory. As important as that was the opportunity to remove Xavi from the action after 66 mins and provide him with much needed rest ahead of a key period in the season starting with the first leg clasico in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday evening.

Two victories ahead of Wednesday’s meeting at the Bernabeu. With injuries and suspensions, it may well be a patched up Madrid side that takes the field. Both sides will need to lift their game if they wish to gain a first leg advantage.

 

Osasuna vs Valencia

The reign of Ernesto Valverde at the Mestalla, for however long that may be, commenced with a hard fought 1-0 away victory in Pamplona against Osasuna. This was a poor quality game were determination, character and strength were valued more highly than any technical quality or skill.

Both Valverde and Mendilibar made numerous changes to their starting line ups from their previous games. Osasuna had four changes from the side that had defeated Rayo 1-0 at home providing their fifth consecutive clean sheet in all competitions during which time they had recorded two wins and two draws in the league to lift them outwith the relegation zone.

Valverde made six changes to the Valencia team that crashed 2-5 at home to La Real in a game which marked the end of Mauricio Pellgrino’s short stint in charge of Los Che. Amidst the changes due to injury and suspension, the most interesting alteration was the inclusion of Albelda who was recalled in place of Fernando Gago.

Low Quality

The quality on show during this match is aptly demonstrated by the very poor pass completion rates. Valencia completed just 265 passes from their total of 394 attempted (a success rate of 67%). The hosts fared much worse with a pass completion rate of just 59% as only 204 passes from 344 attempted found a team mate.

Too often passes went astray or were mis-controlled and the opposition gathered possession. With both teams pressing, short accurate passing was limited with long balls being more prevalent.

Osasuna are a side who are aggressive, play a high defensive line and press the opponent. You don’t expect them to have much in the way of possession or a high degree of accuracy as they look to play a quick, direct game. Following a summer of key departures, Osasuna need to fight for every point and rely heavily upon their home form. With players of a lesser ability in their team, they need to force opponents to play the game at their level and they achieved this during this match.

Valencia are still searching for a personality this season but there were signs from the outset that Valverde wants them to adopt a patient style with attacks being constructed from the back. Against such a spiky opponent, it was perhaps wrong to try and instigate such a change in style. The side never looked comfortable when Alves went short to instigate moves.

Goalmouth incident was also at a premium in this game. From a total of 21 shots at goal from both sides, just six hit the target. Neither team had the ability to craft out chances with limited action in either goal mouth area as can be seen from the two heat map graphics below:-

Osasuna Team Heat Map

Osasuna Team Heat Map                                                http://www.squawka.com

Valencia Team Heat Map

Valencia Team Heat Map                                                  http://www.squawka.com

What must concern Valverde, even this early, is the need to link the midfield and attack to prevent Soldado being isolated. Banega cannot play too high, he needs to be on the ball in the midfield area. Either Jonas must start, when he is not suspended, or the wingers must become more inverted and reach Soldado quicker to offer support.

Osasuna Approach

Osasuna tried to move in behind Guardado at left back. As a converted winger, Guardado is more comfortable moving forward and sought to do so as often as possible with the result that Osasuna hit more long balls into the channel behind him for Lamah to try chase.

On the occasions that the pass was productive and Guardado was caught higher upfield, Albelda offered excellent defensive cover. Although he is firmly in the veteran stage of his career, the midfielder still has qualities which can be useful in games such as these. Albelda is not one to pull out from a tackle.

The high defensive line that Osasuna employs requires their keeper to be comfortable moving off the goal line as and when required to clear balls over the top. Twice Andres Fernandez was called into action, leaving his penalty area to clear the ball. The graphic below shows this and also how he often brought the ball out from his area before launching a long ball forward.

Fernandez Passes vs Valencia

Fernandez Passes vs Valencia                                  http://www.squawka.com

Fernandez played just one short pass to a team mate in the entire game. Although Fernandez may concede possession as often as Osasuna retain it with his long kick outs, Osasuna will compete for the second ball as they push up and squeeze their opponents. Territorial gain is greater than possession for Mendilibar.

Valencia Set Up

Valverde retained the 4-2-3-1 style formation which Valencia have used this season but it was noticeable how the team lined up when keeper Alves had possession. Both centre backs were splitting and Albelda was dropping deep, not quite between them but sufficiently positioned to act as as auxiliary centre back. The full backs pushed very high to form a line of four across midfield with Fehgouli and Piatti flanking Roberto Soldado in attack.

The approach gradually fizzled out as Osasuna repeatedly pressed high forcing more longer passing from Valencia and partly due to the positioning of Valencia being correct but not compact enough. The team needs to be positioned to allow shorter passing if they are to build from the back and must offer greater movement. If Rami or Ricardo Costa received the ball in this game, only Albelda was relatively close.

Does Valverde have the players at his disposal to implement the system that he wishes to use?

The only goal of the game was scored by Soldado and, in some respects, the goal was fitting of such a poor game. Piatti made a good run down the left but is cross was poor and was moving away from the waiting Soldado before it struck the inside of the post and rebounded out to Soldado who blasted home from a few yards out.

Soldado Shots vs Osasuna

Soldado Shots vs Osasuna                                                     http://www.squawka.com

Soldado struck the target with three of his four shots but as highlighted above, he is often isolated and left to cut a forlorn figure in the Valencia attack. Someone has to break from the midfield to support him.

Valverde achieved in his first game, that which had eluded Pellgrino all season; an elusive away league win. The manner in which it was achieved was not particularly stylish or even enjoyable but it’s three points on the road.

Mendilibar and Osasuna will likely feel harshly treated. There was little between the sides and a draw would have been fair. The issue from Osasuna is scoring goals. With the departure of four of their five top scorers from last season, the men from Pamplona need to begin scoring and quickly. The veteran striker Joseba Llorente is probably not the answer but Mendilibar has few alternatives. Just 12 goals scored from 15 league games tells the story. Defensively they are quite sound as they have conceded just 16 goals. As is so often the case, for Osasuna, the first goal in a game is completely crucial.

Villarreal vs Osasuna – Three Short Observations

Contrasting Styles

Although generally uninteresting from a tactical perspective, the game did showcase the two differing styles of football by both teams. Unsurprisingly, Villarreal enjoyed more possession than their visitors and had a far better pass completion rate whilst Osasuna won the aerial battles.

Osasuna have a clear identity and under Mendilibar it has been emphasised. The preference is for a very vertical style of play, using the wings and delivering the ball into the penalty area frequently. A very high defensive line is also incorporated to push the opposition back.

Perhaps it was due to this tendency to deliver the ball from wide that resulted in Lotina asking his full back, Mario and Costa to stay deeper than normal. With Villarreal reliant upon their full backs for width over the past few seasons, it was somewhat strange to see such a subdued performance from them. It was expected from Costa, the 3rd choice left back, given that Osasuna are stronger on their own right side but more was expected of Mario on the right.

Under Lotina, Villarreal still demonstrate patches of their intricate short passing game honed under Pellegrini. It is a style that is somewhat inevitable when you have technical players like Borja Valero, Bruno and Senna in your team. With the inclusion of Hernan Perez on the wing, Villarreal can be more direct. What is clear so far is that, in the midst of a relegation scrap, Lotina is taking a safety first approach. He is a fairly conservative manager. From 8 games under the guidance of Lotina thus far, Villarreal have 2 wins, 5 draws and 1 defeat.

Slow, but steady progress.

Osasuna Attacking

With 46% of their goals so far this season the result of a set piece, it was no surprise to see Osasuna frequently deliver the ball into the Villarreal penalty area especially from long throws in an attempt to benefit from their aerial superiority.

The problem for Osasuna is a propensity for long, high balls yet they play Nino, a small forward, centrally. As a consequence, Villarreal, although somewhat scrappy at times, were able to deal with the high balls and Osasuna gained little from this direct approach. They had just 9 attempts at goal in the whole game and their equalising goal was an excellent long range strike from, yet again, Raul Garcia.

Garcia had four of the nine Osasuna strikes at goal. He is the club’s top goalscorer with ten goals this season and the main creative force with eight assists.

He is also only on loan from Atletico Madrid and although a permanent recall under Simeone may be unlikely, his form only serves to increase his value, possibly outwith of Osasuna’s reach.

Borja Valero

Under Garrido and with Cazorla in the team, Borja Valero previously played as one of the pivots in front of the back four where he was always available to receive a pass and recycle the ball quickly to a team mate in space. His positional sense and passing range were essential components in the yellow submarine.

Borja Valero – Caught sucking his thumb

This season, with Cazorla gone and both Bruno and Senna full fit, Valero has adopted a range of positions. From initially being deployed as an interiore, in an attempt to replicate the same system without Cazorla, to a more advanced central position against Osasuna where Valero played behind Marco Ruben but with the freedom to move both laterally and vertically.

Valero was involved in almost all of Villarreal’s constructive attacking play and overall, had an excellent game.

He often broke beyond Ruben but was also found tracking back and undertaking more than his fair share of defensive duties.

Was Valero trying to do too much?

He is arguably a more effective player as a defensive pivot but the alternatives in attack for Villarreal are de Guzman and Camunas who have both disappointed this season.

Looking ahead, does Borja Valero require a change of scenery to break back into the Spain squad and elevate his game to the next level?

Osasuna vs Real Madrid: Tactical Analysis

A key game and one, which according to the prevailing wisdom, was a potential banana skin for Real Madrid and their hopes of regaining the La Liga title. Osasuna came into the game on the back of 3 wins and 3 draws in their last 6 games, a run of form which has saw them move into 6th position whilst Madrid have sneaked victories away at Rayo and Betis before being held at Villarreal in their last 3 away games. This was the game were Madrid would crack again, drop more points and allow Barcelona to move that little bit closer.

Instead, it was a game which Madrid won comfortably and with some ease, only really coming under a period of pressure for 20 minutes early in the second half.

Line Ups

Both sides adopted the familiar 4-2-3-1 which is prevalent in La Liga.

Osasuna

The inclusion of Damia at left back with the attack minded Roversio at right back was perhaps surprising and it was a move which, whilst indicated the attacking intent of Mendilibar, was ultimately one which would not pay dividends.

Madrid made four changes from Wednesday night’s game away at Apoel. Albiol, Marcelo, Alonso and Granero all came back into the side.

1st Half

Under Mendilibar, Osasuna play an aggressive pressing game with direct passing and a high line. Yet it was Madrid who closed down Osasuna early on and imposed themselves on the game.

A key moment of the game arrived in the 3rd minute. Roversio was caught upfield when an Osasuna move broke down. He was too far ahead of the ball and Ronaldo exploited the space vacated drawing Sergio out of his comfort zone in the central defensive position. The resulting foul delivered a caution for Sergio limiting his ability to adopt a physical approach for the remainder of the match.

The warning was not heeded by Osasuna as Roversio was frequently caught out of position in the 1st half to such an extent that it seems likely he was encouraged to get forward and attack Marcelo. It seems possible that Mendilibar wanted Roversio and Cejudo to create 2 on1’s against Marcelo given that Ronaldo seldom tracks back and offers any defensive cover.

In the 7th minute the opening goal for Madrid arrived. Ronaldo attacked Roversio who gave him far too much space with Punal, directly behind Roversio, offering nothing. Ronaldo’s cross was met spectacularly by Benzema on the volley.

Osasuna gradually settled into the game and despite, somewhat surprisingly given their style, having more possession than Madrid by the latter stages of the 1st half, their main opportunities were via set pieces. They seldom had any men in their opponent’s penalty area.

Nino was drifting to the left leaving space in the centre that Raul Garcia was not exploiting. Punal and Nekounam were too deep to offer anything of an attacking threat. Leo, who was stationed on the left, provided nothing in either an attacking or defensive sense.

Madrid’s 2nd goal was another spectacular effort. A strike of close on 30 yards from Ronaldo. Marcelo and Benzema overloaded the left wing forcing Roversio back and Sergio was reluctant to commit already being on a caution. With time and space in a central position, and Punal unable to close him down, Ronaldo opened up for his first goal of the game.

The third goal arrived moments later. The Osasuna high defensive line was punished when Granero played in Higuain who deftly flicked the ball over Fernandez.

2nd Half

Lekic replaced the ineffective Loe at half time and adopted a central position with Nino moving to the left.

The move paid dividends almost immediately. Roversio moved forward and whipped in a cross from the right. With Albiol and Ramos now dealing with the physical presence of Lekic, Nino was able to drift in behind Arbeloa and head in for Osasuna.

Lekic barely saw any of the ball in the first 20 or so minutes of the second half but his presence in a central position meant Ramos and Albiol no longer had the time and space they enjoyed in the first half when Nino moved to the left. The substitution also allowed Nino to start on the left and cut infield.

Madrid again beat the Osasuna offside trap in the 57th minute but after rounding Fernandez, Higuain collided with Ronaldo in a moment of farce with Higuain only requiring to knock the ball into the empty net.

With Osasuna playing at a higher tempo and playing further upfield and closer to the Madrid goal, the game was much more competitive. That changed with the 4th goal for Madrid in the 69th minute effectively killing the game.

A soft foul was awarded to Madrid on the edge of the area and Ronaldo scored courtesy of a deflected free kick. This was his 40th attempt at goal from a free kick since he last scored from a free kick.

Fernandez was cautioned in the immediate aftermath of the goal for dissent. He appeared to be still lining up his wall when Muniz Fernandez blew for the free kick to be taken.

The game as a contest was now finished and Madrid added a 5th goal in 76minutes. Again, Ronaldo comfortably beat Roversio and his cross was converted by Higuain.

Madrid created further opportunities but a combination of poor decision making and poor finishing meant the game finished 1-5.

Conclusions

For a side that relies on a physical approach and direct passing, the inclusion of Nino ahead of Lekic was surprising unless Lekic was not fully fit. Even allowing for this, surely it would have been better to utilise Lekic for an hour or so and then withdraw him hopefully whilst you were still competing in the game?

Instead, the introduction of Lekic when trailing 3-0 had an effect but it was never to be enough to even salvage a point for Osasuna.

Alonso returning to the  Madrid team was important, linking the defensive and attacking components together. His ability to switch play or hit first time passes and stretch Osasuna was important early on in establishing Madrid’s dominance and control of the match.

The high line of Osasuna can only work when the midfield presses effectively preventing the opponent from having time to choose passes. When Osasuna failed to press, Madrid took advantage of this.

Not a classic performance by Madrid but a ruthless one.

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