Valladolid vs Athletic – Valverde Starts with a Win.

Valladolid and Athletic Club met on Saturday evening in the opening fixture round of La Liga. Two clubs with new managers who were both hoping to build on disappointing season’s last time out. Valladolid is under the tutelage of Juan Ignacio Martinez this term whilst Ernesto Valverde takes the helm at Athletic Club following the sometimes brilliant but quite often anarchic reign of Marcelo Bielsa.

Line Ups

Marino made his debut in goal for Valladolid otherwise the team was as strong as Martinez could field in the normal 4-2-3-1 format. As per last season, Valladolid would look to Patrick Ebert for creativity and Javi Guerra to score aided by Oscar breaking forward.

Vallodolid vs Athletic - Starting Line Ups

Vallodolid vs Athletic – Starting Line Ups

Valverde handed debuts to Balenziaga at left back, following his loan spell at Valladolid, Benat in midfield and Kike Sola as striker in the absence of Aritz Aduriz. With the loss of Javi Martinez and Fernando Amorebieta over the past two seasons, the veteran defensive midfielder Gurpegi stepped into central defence alongside Borja Ekiza.

Player Influence

The graphic below shows the player influence during the game and clearly highlights how the game developed primarily in the centre of the pitch with the forward players from both sides only fulfilling periphery roles for their respective team:-

Player Influence

Player Influence

Valladolid appeared more willing to sit a little deeper early on as Athletic made most of the running without really creating any chances. Athletic pressed very high when Valladolid passed the ball back to goalkeeper Marino with Kike Sola very aggressive in this regard but the home side always managed to play their way out of trouble with Athletic thereafter quickly dropping back into a 4-4-1-1 during the defensive phase.

The battle between Rukavina and Balenziaga on one side of the pitch is also clearly visible with both Ebert and Muniain moving further infield despite being nominally positioned on that flank. The Serbian had the upper hand over Balenziaga positionally.

 

Attacking Intent

Both sides were very comfortable moving the ball and building attacks but too frequently attacks broke down or stalled as the teams entered the final third of the pitch. The graphic below shows all of the passes into the final third of the field attempted by both teams. There are very few passes into the opposition penalty areas:-

Final Third Passes

Final Third Passes

 

With both teams fielding strikers who complement their system but are hardly prolific, it was necessary to get support into the penalty area yet neither side really managed this to good effect. For Athletic, Ander Herrara sat too deep in midfield and with Susaeta holding the touchline and Muniain not venturing forward enough, the result was Kike Sola being isolated and left to feed off scraps.  Yet behind the striker, there was ample movement for Athletic laterally between Muniain, Herrara and Susaeta but not enough vertical movement to stretch the opposition defence.

It was a similar picture for the home side with Javi Guerra upfield although support was closer to him on occasion with Oscar breaking forward from midfield and Partick Ebert moving in from the right, a tactic that offered much potential but which the German and Valladolid failed to take advantage of.

Valldolid tried to hit balls over the high line that the Athletic defence was holding early on but the lack of support that moved upfield quickly prevented this from really being exploited despite the evident lack of pace of Gurpegi and Ekiza. It’s an area that Valverde will need to consider. The central defensive area looks shaky.

A total of just five shots on target overall from both sides is evidence of the lack of attacking threat posed despite productive approach play.

Valladolid Right

With Ebert cutting infield and supported by the overlapping Rukavina from full back, Valladolid utilised the right side for much of their attacking play, particularly in the first half. They were aided by the continual inward drifting of Iker Muniain from Athletic. With Muniain cutting in, the Athletic full back Balenziaga was left with no cover during quick transitions enabling Valladolid to create 2 on 1 situations. These were never really exploited. Rukavina only attempted 3 crosses in the first half with only 1 being successful.

The graphic below shows all of the passes attempted by Patrick Ebert during the game:-

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Ebert Passes vs Athletic

Ebert Passes vs Athletic

An astute signing last season and a key performer for Valladolid, Ebert was sound in possession and scored the equalising goal for Valladolid after a decent move down the right but he never quite managed to become fully involved in the game. His passing was never as pro active as it could be with too many lateral or even backwards passes in the game partly owing to a lack of movement and options ahead of him.

In an effort to become more involved and help shape the game, Ebert moved into a more central position in the second half but was unable to find any solutions to the problems that Athletic were presenting.

Benat

Almost seven years after he made his previous solitary appearance for Athletic lasting just six minutes, Benat took to the field once more in the colours of Athletic Club and provided ample evidence of just how pivotal a figure he could become for Athletic this season.

Operating as the central player in a vertical line of three in the Athletic midfield, Benat really began to exert influence over proceedings at the start of the second half when Athletic took control of the game and dictated the tempo. This forced Valladolid further back with the adventurous runs of Rukavina curbed during this spell of the game. The graphic below shows all of his attempted passes:-

Benat Passes vs Valladolid

Benat Passes vs Valladolid

Benat was also pivotal in the opening goal with his short flicked pass releasing Susaeta for the winger to score with a low shot following a wonderfully crafted move by Athletic.

His ability to enable Athletic to control the tempo of the game was crucial though. Playing faster, sharper passes when required or taking the ball under pressure and slowing the game down when needed. It’s a substantial change from the demands of Bielsa. The players are no longer constantly running either to win possession or when they are in possession. There is more consideration of the phase of the game. The tempo alters, the game remains under their control. The performance of Benat symbolises this.

Valladolid had no player able to perform at a similar level.

Promising Signs

Despite the defeat, Martinez should be reasonably content with the performance his side produced. Valladolid retained their commitment to building play constructively from the back even when placed upon pressure from Athletic. The game was also an important demonstration to the fans that Martinez can adapt after playing a fairly direct, counter attacking style during his tenure at Levante. With more technically minded players, a more expansive style of pay will be followed.

An excellent opening day win for Athletic and one which saw glimpses of the type of football that Valverde wants to deliver on a regular basis. The opening period of the second half, Athletic played some superb football prompted by Benat in the midfield area with Herrara pushing higher to support Kike Sola.

Questions remain however with Balenziaga given little support by the increasingly central Iker Muniain and much of the creative player lacking an end product but these are small points given the stage in the season.

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