Real Sociedad vs Valencia – One small step, one giant leap.

Real Sociedad took a massive step towards securing Champions League football with an excellent victory over Valencia at Anoeta last night. Whilst the final scoreline of 4-2 may be slightly harsh on the visitors, they ultimately paid the price for their lack of a cutting edge in the final third of the pitch. Despite holding an advantage in possession, Valencia were unable to manufacture sufficient clear chances. La Real, meanwhile, displayed the sort of lethal finishing from transitions that has become the hallmark of their season.

Line Up

With Griezmann absent, Chory Castro was given a  place in the starting line up, a clear indication fo a more attack minded side from Montannier as opposed to the slightly more conservative Zurutuza.

Real Sociedad vs Valencia Starting Line Ups

Real Sociedad vs Valencia Starting Line Ups

Valverde opted for Cissokho in place of Guardado at left back following recent performances with Fehgouli recalled to the right side of midfield. Otherwise, Valencia were as expected.

The Game

With so much at stake, this game began brightly and continued in a similar vein, really opening up as it reached the end. Valencia prompted by Ever Banega were keen to test Bravo early on and enjoyed some decent possession but Sociedad gradually grew into the game and always looked dangerous on transitions but struggled to gain any meaningful possession with Valencia pressing aggressively. Twice in the opening 15 minutes Vela burst down the right and provided warnings to Valencia. A similar transition brought a yellow card to Cissokho when he tripped Prieto.

As the game was evening out, Valencia took the lead with Cissokho charging down the left and delivering a cross which Soldado scored after stealing a yard start on Inigo Martinez. The left back would become embroiled in a number of incidents leaving him fortunate to remain on the pitch and it reduced his effectiveness as he adopted a more low key approach.

Banega was drifting out of the game as Sociedad’s full backs pushed high and the home side exerted more influence on the game. Valencia had struggled to deal with a few crosses and Sociedad equalised when Vela and Prieto took a  short corner and delivered a ball to Martinez who was unmarked at the back post to volley home.

The second half saw both teams more stretched and the lack of width in Valencia’s play became more evident but Banega was once more instrumental in all positive play from Los Che.

The game hinged upon the ability of Sociedad to counter swiftly with slick, sharp passing. The second goal was superb with Castro breaking from his own half and linking with Aguirrexte before scoring. Two further goals followed both from Aguirretxe including the final goal being a wonderfully delicate chip over the stranded Alves. Such poise and guile was shown by the frontman when the game was still hanging in the balance.

In between Aguirrexte’s goals, Jonas offered Valencia some fleeting hope.

Full Backs

With both side using inverted wingers particularly Jonas from Valencia, the onus was always going to be on the full backs from both sides to provide width in this game.

Carlos Martinez completed three crosses from seven attempted as shown in the graphic below which included two key passes:-

Martinez Crosses

Martinez Crosses                          http://www.squawka.com

Martinez was the more adventurous ad productive full back over the 90 minutes. De La Bella on the Sociedad left also ventured forward and completed one cross from five attempted but with both Prieto and Vela leaving towards that side of the pitch, there was less onus on him to push high.

Yet with Jonas cutting inside at every opportunity and Fehgouli more inclined to stay wide but having a relatively quite game, Valencia’s full backs were unable to have any effect o the game. Cissokho threatened early on and managed to deliver one successful cross from four attempted but a caution soon left him more conservative, unwilling to venture forward for fear of being caught out on the counter. Pereira meanwhile offered nothing going forward and only attempted one cross all night.

Chory Castro

The former Mallorca front man was brought into the side with Griezmann out. That Montannier selected Castro ahead of Zurutuza was perhaps indicative that he wanted to be more aggressive in attack.

Castro had six attempts and goal and scored once with four efforts being blocked. Despite playing out wide in a counter attacking side, he made 18 passes form 30 attempted and people will judge him on his attacking contribution but Montannier will assess his full performance which includes the defensive effort he provided:-

Chory Castro Tackles

Chory Castro Tackles                        http://www.squawka.com

Castro made four successful tackles during the game as he supported De La Bella by tracking both Pereira and Fehgoiuli on the right. Yet he was still able to push forward and cause problems.

Valencia Attack

One of the key problems from a Valencia perspective was their inability to turn their possession and territorial dominance into clear cut chances. Despite enjoying a slight advantage in terms of possession, Valencia never used the ball well in the final third with Sociedad defending very well and the onus was placed upon the shoulders of Ever Banega to create once more.

The Argentine though is reliant upon his team mates to offer themselves and share the burden. With Soldado often isolated and marked out of the game, Jonas was deeper than Banega at times and Fehgouli too wide. Parejo infrequently broke forward from midfield. It left Banega making passes and recycling possession but not hurting Sociedad.

The graphic below shows Valencia’s key passes:-

VCF Key Passes

VCF Key Passes                            http://www.squawka.com

Too few of Valencia’s passes were hurting Sociedad. The key passes were deep against a side that was content to sit a little deeper when required to do so. Yet this contrasts very sharply with the key passes from La Real who made fewer passes overall but had far more key passes as they cut open the Valencia defence on numerous occasions:-

Sociedad Key Passes

Sociedad Key Passes                      http://www.squawka.com

Of course, when you are breaking into space as La Real frequently did, then it’s easier to play key passes from a two vs two situation. Yet Valencia knew this was how Sociedad would play. It’s how they have played for much of the season and on those terms, it was Valencia who failed to address the problems that the home side would cause. Was there an alternative to the aging Albelda in front of the defence? Should Cissokho have been withdrawn when his yellow card more of less left him unable to offer enough either defensively or pushing forward?

Conclusions

Two teams who both sustained poor starts to the season and languished in the wrong  half of the table early on but will both finish in the top six now.

With five games remaining and a five point lead over both Malaga and Valencia and a superior head to head record, La Real are very much in pole position to claim the final Champions League position. The San Sebastian team have built their season around a superb run of form which has seen them lose just one game since November 2012 and even then, they really should have avoided defeat to 1o man Madrid at the Bernabeu.

Qualification for European football’s premier tournament will be just reward for a richly talented squad that has grown, developed and entertained as the season has progressed.

For Valencia, the ramifications of defeat may very well stretch out beyond this season. With the loss of much needed Champions League revenue, additional departures may be likely to help balance the books. The poor early season form that saw the side collect just 11 points from their opening nine games combined with instability on and off the pitch has meant they have always been playing catch up and always almost getting there but never quite making it.

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Sevilla vs Atleti – Some Thoughts

Atleti left the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan with full points after a disappointing game which was tetchy, lacked any real flow and neither side was able to provide the quality required to make the difference until Raul Garcia’s shot was flicked home in the 75th minute.

Line Ups

With no Gary Medel to anchor the midfield, Emery went with Kondogbia and Rakitic as the double pivot and Reyes as the central point in the attacking trident behind Negredo. It never really worked with Reyes having a limited impact upon the game.

Sevilla vs Atleti Starting Line Ups

Sevilla vs Atleti Starting Line Ups

Simone opted for a 4-4-1-1 formation with Diego Costs supporting Falcao in attack. It was very familiar from Atleti. Maintain shape and control space whilst waiting to exploit Sevilla on the transitions.

Lack of Flow

As stated earlier, this game never really developed any real flow. There were a number of petulant fouls conceded and many further incidents of players going to ground easily trying to win free kicks etc. There were 30 fouls in the game and 6 cautions with 5 of these going to the away side.

Despite the nature of the game, Sevilla only collected a solitary caution, surprising given their extremely poor disciplinary record in the league this season that has seen them collect 12 red cards already. Suspensions have cost them dearly this season.

Whilst many players become infuriated by a disrupted game, unable to develop any rhythm, there are those players who thrive in such circumstances and only add to the situation through their own calculated behaviour. Diego Costa is one such individual.

Anger Management

Diego Costa has earned quite a reputation this season to the extent that the LFP have offered to provide him with anger management classes, seemingly in an effort to curb the worst excesses of this behaviour. Somewhere along the way, everyone seems to have overlooked the quality that Costa can offer the team and also the small issue that Costa may actually enjoy performing such a role on the pitch. Why? It works.

The Brazilian, who has recently received his first two caps for his country, possess that rare quality. The ability to infuriate opponents through his demeanor, attitude and general play acting which often overlooks his quality.

Costa has weighed in with seven goals and six assists in the league so far this season but his caution count is more impressive standing at 10. Against Sevilla he was fairly quiet in terms of his quality committing one foul and being fouled twice.  He completed 9 passes from 12 attempted and managed just a single shot at goal which was off target.

Yet he was still the focus with his play acting after he and Navarro went head to head in the second half.

Some may say that Costa has to eradicate these unsavoury elements from his game if he is to reach the next level but there is most definitely a case to be made that those same elements are what makes Diego Costa so successful in the first place.

The Game

Much of what happened could have been easily predicted before the start. Sevilla controlled possession with 62% as Atleti dropped into their usual format away from home, retaining their shape and allowing the opposition to come forward.

Sevilla completed 468 passes from 576 attempted but the pass statistics from Atleti are surprising. Despite having just 38%, Atleti only made 134 successful passes form 194 attempted. The men from Madrid were very direct, going long as soon as possible. Simone is an advocate of doing something with the ball when you have it but this is still an extremely direct approach to take.

Yet Simeone would not have been concerned. For the first 75 minutes despite having so much possession, Sevilla could only manage seven attempts at goal with just one shot on target. The side were lacking in the final third with no real ideas and Negredo, in the first half especially, not linking with the rest of the team. The frontman made just three successful passes in the first half. He lacked mobility. The home side managed a further six shots at goal in the final 15 minutes as Atleti fell deeper to protect their slim advantage but just two shots were on target. Courtois was never placed in any real difficulties.

The poor forward play was also visible on the Atleti side too as the visitors had one shot on target in the entire game and scored.

The problem for Sevilla was in originating in the midfield are.

Sevilla Midfield

With Medel missing and Maduro on the bench, Emery went with Kondogbia as the deepest midfielder alongside Rakitic who could move higher. The problem was that this removed Rakitic’s passing from the final third and Reyes simply offered too little in an attacking sense.

The graphic below shows the Croatian’s passes:-

Rakitic Passes

Rakitic Passes         http://www.squawka.com

Sevilla needed Rakitic higher up the pitch and could have removed Reyes fro Maduro earlier, allowing Kondogbia to become more of a box to box midfielder. This trio may have been more effective.

Yet compare Rakitic against the Atleti central duo of Gabi and Mario. The duo completed 42 passes form 48 attempted, considerably less than Rakitic did on his own. Creation is not their role though. They are there to shield the back four. To always be in position. Gabi and Mario made 5 successful tackles from 6 attempted and completed 5 interceptions. Their job is primarily destructive and provides the platform for the team to play and they are highly effective at their occupation within the Atleti set up.

Conclusions

The possibility of a European place for Sevilla was always a long shot but it’s now almost certainly over. Their away form is very poor and they had to secure maximum points from their home games if they were to have any hope of clinching a place.

Atleti now have the ideal opportunity to move into second place in the league and end a horrendous run of form stretching back to last century against their cross city rivals when they host Madrid at the Calderon on Saturday evening. Just three points separates the sides but Madrid must contend with a Champions League semi final either side of the derby.

Espanyol vs Valencia – Another home game, another draw.

Espanyol served up another excellent high scoring draw at home following on the back of their recent 2-2 draw with Real Sociedad. On Saturday evening, the visitors were Valencia and an open and entertaining game burst into life in the final 10minutes with four goals.

Line Ups

Both sides lined up in broad 4-2-3-1 formations.

Espanyol vs Valencia Starting Line Ups

Espanyol vs Valencia Starting Line Ups

Espanyol opted to use Wakaso instead of Simao on the left wing, other than that, the line up was as expected.

Valverde continues to have problems in the centre of defence and the makeshift pairing for this game was Ricardo Costa and Mathieu. Guardado continues at left back and Jonas and Canales were favoured on the wings with Fehgouli remaining on the bench.

Overall

Despite dominating possession with 57% compared to the home sides’ 43%, Valencia were never really in control of this game. Espanyol were sharper in the first half with Valencia too slow in possession when constructing attacks. There was a lack of dynamism and Soldado never really entered the action as moves broke down in the final third. Espanyol were always able to regroup and regain their positions quickly whereas Valencia were slower to do so.

A key feature of this Espanyol side is their pressing. They drop off to the halfway line to regain their shape but they can, and do, press high on occasion when they see certain triggers. Dani Parejo was robbed of possession twice when he received the ball facing his own goal. Espanyol knew Valencia would always try to build from the back and targeted when to press for maximum impact.

Espanyol Asymmetric Approach

Espanyol have leaned heavily upon the attacking trio of Verdu, Garcia and Stuani for creativity and goals to push the side further up the table. It has led to a lop sided approach and this was noticeable on Saturday evening and can be seen in the graphic below:-

Espanyol Heat Map

Espanyol Heat Map           http://www.squawka.com

With Stuani being much more attack minded, Aguirre opted to go with the inconsistent but gifted Wakaso on the left. With a higher work ethic and a more industrious nature, Wakaso was able to offer greater security on the left defensively and an edge when attacking. From three attempted tackles, Wakaso was successful with two. This was necessary as Verdu and Garcia moved further to the right to link with Stuani.

Further evidence of Espanyol favouring the right can be seen by Valencia’s tackling statistics. In their own half of the field, Valencia only made one tackle on their right side but 11 tackles on the left:-

Valencia Tackles

Valencia Tackles                    http://www.squawka.com

Espanyol were very reliant upon one side of the pitch for creativity during the game yet their second goal arrived from a breakaway down the left with Wakaso leading the way. The chance appeared to have gone before Verdu volleyed the ball in off the ground.

The Problem with Inverted Wingers – Jonas Goncalves

In recent weeks, Jonas has been shifted from his preferred central berth to a wider starting position and operates more like an inverted winger now. Providing width during counter attacks to stretch the opponent, but moving inward when Valencia are building attacks, enabling the full back to move beyond him and provide the width at that point in the move.

The graphic below shows his passes:-

Jonas Passes

Jonas Passes                       http://www.squawka.com

Despite scoring a goal in the 86th minute, Jonas offered little in the final third with all of his crosses failing to find a team mate.  HIs tendency to drift inward also created a problem for Valencia on transitions which Espanyol were able to exploit with Wakaso scoring the opening goal.

When an inverted winger moves inward, there is immediately a problem if the move breaks down as the opposing full back or winger is able to progress without restriction.

In the 45th minute, Espanyol regained possession in their own half and Verdu released Garcia on the right. His surging run ended with a deep cross to the far post where Wakaso arrived at pace to head the opening goal. Ignoring the poor defending of Joao Pereira, Wakaso was not tracked. Jonas had been central when play broke down and stranded.

Valencia Positions – Banega and Ruiz

The positioning of several Valencia players has been a noticeable and intriguing feature of Ernesto Valverde’s time at the club. What may have arisen from emergency situations, appears to have potentially solved some positional concerns.

Ever Bangea has been utilised in an advanced central midfield position previously but he often seems uncomfortable there particularly if he is starved of possession. And Valencia can seem bereft of ideas when Banega is deployed so high. The solution has been to use Dani Parejo almost like a deep lying regista, knitting the play together, recycling possession.

With Parejo behind him and providing the ball, Banega can create more opportunities for his team mates as he did on Saturday evening.

The graphic below shows Banega’s passing:-

Banega Passes

Banega Passes      http://www.squawka.com

Although he started brightly, Banega was stifled during the first half and only began to have an impact on proceedings when he took up a more advanced position and with Tino Costa off the pitch, the three central midfielders for Valencia had clear duties. Albelda to sit, Parejo to circulate possession and Banega to create scoring chances.

Banega played further forward in the second half. More probing. Feeding balls through to the front players. Roberto Soldado became more involved as a result as the Argintenean played a number of slide passes through the Espanyol backline searching for runners coming from a wide to central position.

The equalising goal in the 52nd minute came from Baenga’s pass, Canales on an inward diagonal run collecting and dispatching the ball home. Soldado saw his 78th minute effort saved after receiving Banega’s through ball but Valencia’s top goalscorer was not to be denied and latched onto another pass from Banega in the 90th minute to give the away side a temporary lead. Again, the run from from a wide starting position into the channel between full back and centre back. An area Valencia sought to expose in the second half.

Whilst Banega represents a change at the front of the side, a change at the back has been equally good although on side evening, Victor Ruiz reverted to type. Ruiz returned to the first team following a month out trough injury when he was called into action following the removal of Ricardo Costa due to injury.

Following the arrival of Valverde and the poor form of Fernando Gago in the defensive midfield position, Ruiz was moved into a deep midfield slot as a temporary measure. It’s an area where he has shown a considerable improvement in his form and crucially, where any mistakes he makes are not subject to harsh punishment. Statistically, Ruiz performance was fine. He was not hitting stray passing, mistiming tackles, failing to win headers or conceding fouls. But it’s the things that cannot be measured that have caused Ruiz problems. The poor decision making and lapses in concentration.

On Saturday evening, the thought process behind Valverde’s decision was brought sharply into focus. Arriving as first half substitute, Ruiz somehow escaped the concession of a penalty from a reckless challenge on Sergio Garcia in the penalty area. It was a challenge that did not have to be made yet Ruiz launched himself into it.

And in the final minute of the game, Ruiz failed to deal with a ball headed into the penalty area. The defender tried to shepherd the ball back to Guaita in goal rather than undertake the basics. Your side is winning 3-2 away from home and the game is deep in injury time. Clear your lines. Conceded a throw in or a corner kick if necessary. Ruiz did neither and he was unsuccessful holding Garcia off and Espanyol promptly equalised.

Conclusions.

Javier Aguirre has led Espanyol to five home wins and four draws during his brief tenure at the club.

As well as Espanyol are doing, Aguirre must now let his focus shift to next season. Can Garcia continue to deliver as he enters the last few seasons of his career? And will Verdu still be at the club next season? These are the dilemmas which should now occupy the Mexican’s mind.

Given the run of form Espanyol are on, a point is a decent result for Valverde and his men. Until that is, La Real secured 3 points away to Rayo. It leaves the gap between La Real and Los Che at 4 points.

Valencia now face two games which could define their season. Malaga travel to the Mestalla this weekend followed by Los Che making the trip north to San Sebastian where La Real lie in wait.

Secure maximum points and the coveted 4th position will still be within touching distance.

 

Deportivo vs Real Zaragoza – The Great Escape Part 1?

At some point of every season there are the inevitable discussions over which major European league is considered the best although what the best actually comprises is seldom accurately defined. In recent times, the argument has centered around the Bundesliga, La Liga and Premiership and is often inextricably linked to the performance of teams in the Champions League even if this offers no clear assessment of the depth of quality within a league as a whole. The Bundesliga appears to be a recent discovery for many and so some plaudits are thrown in the direction of Germany before the debate moves forward. Spain’s La Liga is the most technical, they claim, but the game is too slow, it revolves around a tiki-taka style of play and lacks excitement. Observers, either ignoring or completely oblivious to their own bias, will thereafter state that the Premiership provides the greatest entertainment which therefore makes it the best.

Perhaps those who would attack La Liga as being boring or too tactical should have been at the Riazor last night and witnessed a superb encounter between two teams fighting to secure their future in the top league, and in the case of Depor, possibly their future existence. Two teams who simply went at each other for the full duration of the game with neither overly concerned about shape or discipline as the game progressed, just about getting goals and securing at least a point but always with an intention to construct play from the back in a positive fashion.

Shape

Both sides lined up with broadly 4-2-3-1 formations as outlined below:-

Deportivo vs Real Zaragoza - Starting Line Ups

Deportivo vs Real Zaragoza – Starting Line Ups

The one interesting point was the use of Bruno Gama on the left and Pizzi on the right. Otherwise, it was fairly expected line ups from both sides.

The Depor Right

Deportivo’s attacking intentions were clear from the outset. They were going to attack down their right hand side. In the opening 6 minutes, three attacks all came down the right side with Roberto saving well from Riki’s shot during these early exchanges.

The reason for the reliance upon the right was the deployment of Pizzi here rather than Bruno Gama as normal. Pizzi would cut inward onto his stronger left foot whilst Rikki drifts outwards to the right. Their combination play coupled with the prompting of Valeron gave Deportivo a strength on this side that Zaragoza never really came to grips with or managed to quell.

The graphic below clearly illustrates how Depor attacked:-

Deportivo Heat Map

Deportivo Heat Map             http://www.squawka.com

The opening goal in the 10th minute began when Pizzi robbed Romaric deep in the Depor half. Depor broke on the right before cutting infield with Valeron providing a perfectly weighted pass for the onrushing Bruno Gama, cutting in from the left, to fire beyond Roberto.

The second Depor goal, and the equaliser, resulted following Abraham conceding a cheap free kick wide on the right. The delivery was good but Zaragoza partially cleared the ball only for Aguilar to head the ball back towards the goal and Marchena scored with a low strike. Zaragoza tried to push out too quickly and failed to mark players moving back into the penalty area. They had received an earlier warning when an excellent Depor set piece in the 22nd minute saw a header back across goal before the unmarked Aguilar scooped the ball over. If you were being hyper critical, the finger of blame could be pointed at Romatic who was closest to Marchena and did nothing. Zaragoza were too intent on playing a crude offside trap. The warning was not heeded and Aguilar was able to help Depor take advantage.

Abel Aguilar

Zaragoza attempted to squeeze and press Aguilar and early on it worked to an extent but the Colombian would still find the space that enabled him to dictate much of the game. Short, simple passes that kept Depor ticking over and built the play:-

Abel Aguilar Passes

Abel Aguilar Passes                      http://www.squawka.com

The graphic above provides further evidence of the strength of Depor on the right.

With the second most touches in the game (75) behind Manuel Pablo (77), Aguilar had a calming influence on Depor yet was able to repeatedly unnerve Zaragoza most notably at set pieces though not through delivery. Aguilar won a number of headers including one that set up Marchena for the equaliser.

In the second half, his aerial presence set up Aythami who failed to score but moments later his presence unsettled the Zaragoza backline at a corner and the ball ricocheted off the unfortunate Abraham for an own goal. This would turn out to be the winning goal.

Zaragoza Defence and Attack

Defensively, Zaragoza failed to adequately deal with Deportivo particularly at set pieces when they seemed incapable of marking properly or clearing their lines adequately. The game was a personal nightmare for Abraham at left back. Aside from Deportivo relentlessly attacking his area, the full back conceded the free kick which led to the opening goal, scored the own goal which turned out to be the winning goal and, finally, was sent off for a second caution late in the game.

Yet if Zaragoza failed to impress defensively, in attack they were just as limited despite scoring two goals. Both of the Zaragoza goals arose from defensive mistakes from Depor.

Postiga scored Zaragoza’s first goal from the penalty spot after Aythami inexplicably handled the ball in the area. Although the Portuguese striker was behind Aythami, it would still have required a tremendous effort to score. As it was, Postiga was presented with a much easier opportunity to level the scoring.

Zaragoza failed to take full advantage of Montanes pace against the veteran Manuel Pablo even if the young winger robbing the full back earned Zaragoza’s second goal. Manuel Pablo was dispossessed at the halfway line and the Depor backline was spread across the pitch as they were building play. Postiga and Movilla combined to release Montanes who easily outstripped the Depor defence and flicked the ball beyond Aranzubia to give Zaragoza the lead.

Apart from these two goals, Zaragoza only mustered one other attempt on target, a long range effort from outside the box as shown below:-

Real Zaragoza Shots

Real Zaragoza Shots            http://www.squawka.com

This was the problem for Zaragoza. When they had possession, they had no cutting edge. Just 26 league goals in 29 league games before this meeting outlines the problem. Zaragoza would have decent possession and look to build attacks although they were a little more direct than Depor but they simply had nothing within the final third. Montanes looked lively but beyond that, there is not enough quality.

Can Lighting Strike Twice for Jimenez?

Manolo Jimenez somehow managed to drag Real Zaragoza from the relegation mire last season when it seemed inevitable that they would be relegated. Nine wins in their final 14 league games completed a remarkable turnaround in fortunes which continued into the early part of this season. At the mid-way point of the season, Zaragoza sat in 13th position but the rot had already set in.

And now it shows no sign of stopping. Forget about Barcelona at home next week, the real test for Jimenez and Zaragoza arrives in the following weeks when they face Celta Vigo and Mallorca back to back. These are the games which could define their season.

El Flaco

No discussion of a Deportivo game would be complete without at least a passing mention of Juan Carlos Valeron. As the veteran midfielder enjoys one final hurrah in La Liga, he still possesses the class and ability to glide effortlessly around the pitch in slow motion amidst the whirling maelstrom that surrounds him. Valeron still plays with a style and swagger that few can offer.

His pass provided the assist for the opening goal, a lovely weighted pass that ran straight into Bruno Gama’s path. In total, Valeron completed 45 of his 60 attempted passes and although he did become less of an influence as the game progressed and became more open and stretched, if Depor do pull off the great escape, it’s certain to involve him along the way.

Open Ending

With the final goal being scored in the 55th minute, both teams still pushed forward. Zaragoza to grab the equaliser for a second time in the game and maintain a gap of 4 points over Depor. For the Galicians, another goal was needed to overturn Zaragoza’s advantage in the head to head record. It made for a thrilling ending to a superb game and demonstrates the quality that exists at both ends of the La Liga table. Unfortunately, financial mismanagement over a prolonged period is now severely curtailing the ability of clubs such as these to progress beyond a hand to mouth existence. But on nights like these, the quality remains on viewing for all to see.

In terms of this game however, Depor may very well come to rue the missed chances at the end of the season.

Conclusion

Real Zaragoza are in trouble and Jimenez must be feeling the strain. With just five draws and eight defeats from the past 13 league games, Zaragoza represent that team which the media love so much when they talk of a relegation fight. The team that nobody expects to become involved in the relegation struggle but that somehow gets dragged into it. Perhaps there is a degree of truth given their present run of form but what is also undeniably correct is that Zaragoza don’t have a lot of quality within their squad. And early season form helped flatter to deceive.

The Great Escape from relegation remains a distinct possibility for Deportivo La Coruna. After 10 weeks in the bottom spot, three wins on the bounce have given Depor a sense of hope. From his seven league games in charge, Fernando Vasquez has secured 10 points. And the men from Galicia now have the opportunity to remain in the top flight. The job is not yet over but they have successfully completed part one and ensured that there will be a part two.

Espanyol vs Real Sociedad – Some Thoughts

Espanyol and Real Sociedad fought out a highly entertaining 2-2 draw at the Cornella el Prat on Sunday evening. Aguirre has performed well to date, lifting Espanyol from bottom to mid-table safety even at this stage of the season but their recent form has tailed off slightly. They entered this game with just one win in their previous four games. This contrasted sharply with a Sociedad side that now harbours prospects of Champions League football next season at the Anoeta.

With Carlos Vela missing, Montannier opted to bring Zurutuza into the side in midfield.

The graphic below shows the team’s starting line up:-

Espanyol vs Real Sociedad Starting Line Ups

Espanyol vs Real Sociedad Starting Line Ups

Whilst Espanyol chose a 4-2-3-1, La Real were more like a 4-1-4-1 although the wide pairing of Griezmann and Prieto pushed higher than the midfield duo or Zurutuza and Illarramendi.

Real started the game better, more aggressive than their opponents but they were caught out after just eight minutes when Sergio Garcia opened the scoring. The attack began on the right but quickly shifted to the left with Xabi Prieto flighting a ball for Simao to collect. It meant Sociedad were turning and backpeddling towards their own goal rather than have the opponent face them. Simao’s low cross was deftly slotted home by Garcia who had run beyond both De La Bella and Inigo Martinez to get to the ball first. The early goal allowed Espanyol to counter and forced Sociedad to take the initiative.

Espanyol Attacking

The graphic below shows all of the attempted crosses undertaken by Espanyol during the game. There was a clear bias, especially in the first half for attacks to come down the Real Sociedad right with as shown below:-

Espanyol Crosses

Espanyol Crosses                    http://www.squawka.com

Of the 16 crosses attempted, only two found an Espanyol player and both resulted in goals during the first half. A number of crosses were blocked but with less cover in the Sociedad midfield, it was easier for Espanyol to create the openings by spreading the play with crossfield passes. It meant Sociedad were more exposed and in less control than they like to be. And Espanyol were able to profit with the assistance of their striker, Sergio Garcia.

Sergio Garcia

He may not be everybody’s favourite striker and he may not be the most prolific goalscorer either but last night Sergio Garcia produced the sort of display that has always been capable of delivering even if he was often frustratingly inconsistent.

The graphic below shows the heat map for his performance:-

Sergio Garcia Heat Map

Sergio Garcia Heat Map                       http://www.squawka.com

Statistically, his performance was not that impressive. Just one shot at goal albeit with which he scored. Only one successful take on against eight attempted. Garcia lost out on his two aerial duels as well.  But he completed 26 out of his 37 attempted passes. He is not disconnected form the team. Always available to take a pass and link play. The key to his performance was his movement, intelligence and ability to link up with the remainder of his team particularly Verdu who roamed behind him. Their combination led to Espanyol’s second goal, Garcia playing a tidy one-two with his captain before Stuani converted the cross.

Real Sociedad Set Up

In their recent away game at Atleti, La Real were very conservative from the outset of the game, playing a highly cautious counter attacking style. Although that is their preference, they were more aggressive here perhaps sensing this as an ideal opportunity to claim all three points.

The most noticeable difference from recent away games was Illarramendi being pushed higher not and not being used as part of a double pivot alongside Bergara. The higher position uses Illarramendi’s qualities in a better fashion. His more direct passing can aid the team and led to the equalising goal.

Prieto made a diagonal run from left to centre and Illarramendi lofted a pass through to him. Casilla cleared the ball which fell to Zurutuza around 25 yards out and his first time lobbed finish found the net. The finish was one of the highest technique but in the process the pass and run which led to the goal were overlooked.

The graphic below shows Illarramendi’s passing:-

Illarramendi Passes

Illarramendi Passes                      http://www.squawka.com

Although a different player from Xabi Alonso, the fact that both began their careers with La Real will lead to comparisons especially when there is something of the Alonso about the passing of Illarramendi on occasion. The misplaced passes above all tended to be longer, flighted passes searching out runners in behind the Espanyol defence. One led to the first goal and in the 55th minute a similar ball found Aggirexte but Casilla saved the resulting shot.

As it was, Illarramendi was withdrawn for the gifted Pardo in 62minutes. And the youngster lofted another ball over the Espanyol defence for the timed run of Griezmann. Despite miscontrolling the ball, it ricocheted off Lopez into the bottom corner to provide Sociedad with the equaliser. The goal came following a period of Sociedad pressure. The attacking talent of Verdu, Garcia and Stuani were curtailed as the game had wore on and Sociedad were able to exert more authority on proceedings as a consequence.

Conclusions

Javier Aguirre has guided Espanyol from the bottom of the table to mid-table security, a tremendous achievement given how he found the club when he took over. As ever though, how he builds from here for next season is key. Verdu is out of contract in the summer and is not the type of player that Espanyol can afford to lose especially as they will receive no fee.

It’s now just one defeat in 19 games for La Real, a very impressive run of form that sees them maintain interest in the Champions League place. They remain on course to record their best league finish since their great side of 2002/03 which narrowly missed out on the title. The number of recent draws though, could cost them. That is four draws in their last seven league games. Even if they do not secure Champions League football, under Montanier they have developed a clear style of play which is highly enjoyable to watch with a number of excellent young prospects. This time last season, if you had to choose a Basque side that would be challenging for Champions League football just now, how many people would have chosen La Real over Bielsa’s Athletic?