Barcelona vs Real Madrid

Given the regularity with which these teams have met in recent times, we have often been spoiled with the quality being displayed alongside the theatre of the spectacle. Saturday evening at the Camp Nou provided sporadic moments of quality within a game played at a relatively low tempo and lacking in the theatrical, and sometimes Machiavellian, behaviour that we have grown accustomed to.

Line Ups

The main decision for Martino was who would feature in the attacking positions. There was discussion that either Pedro or Alexis Sanchez would join Messi and Neymar in attack. Both would begin on the bench with Cesc Fabregas favoured in the central attacking position. Neymar would begin on the left as per usual with Messi operating from the right.

Starting Line Ups

Starting Line Ups

For Ancelotti, much of the focus surrounded whether or not Gareth Bale would start the game. He did but that wasn’t the most surprising feature. Varane, Pepe and Ramos were all in the starting line up with Ramos placed in a defensive midfield role. At right back, perhaps wary of the problems Neymar had given Arbeloa in the Confederations Cup, Carvejal started.

Madrid would begin the game in a 4-3-3.

Low Key Game

As suggested at the outset, this game was played at a lower tempo than recent clasico’s. The higher level of intensity was missing from the game.  Madrid seemed content to regroup and sit off Barcelona, allowing the hosts time in possession. There was nothing unusual about this scenario. It’s one that Madrid have played out so often in clasico’s, absorbing pressure and striking on the break. Yet this attacking threat was missing from Madrid.

There is a problem with the structure of the Madrid team which was evident on Saturday. The coach is responsible for maximising the potential of his players whist camouflaging their weaknesses. Ancelotti has proven he can do this elsewhere but the Italian contributed to the problem experienced by Madrid against Barcelona.

Ancelotti Errors?

There’s a fine line to strike between deploying players in alternative positions as part of a wider tactical masterplan and just making a mess of things. The key to succeeding with the former and avoiding the latter is early recognition when you have made an error and rectifying it. It took Ancelotti far too long to rectify things in the game.

The graphic below shows the average positions for the players in this game:-

Average Positions

Average Positions

Di Maria, Khedira and Bale are bunched together, occupying similar space. The three players will attract close attention from Barcelona denying Bale the space that he craves.

The question over why Ramos was positioned in central midfield also has to be asked. The last time Ramos played in midfield was back in 2005. The partnership of Varane and Ramos offered great potential last season when Pepe fell out of favour. If a stronger defensive midfield presence was required, why not place Pepe back in there? He has played there before although he often played right on the edge before tipping over. When Ramos collected a yellow card in the 14th minute, it rendered him useless. The combative edge he was supposed to bring was suppressed.

Iniesta ran off Ramos in the 19th minute forcing Carvejal to move in from right back. Iniesta released Neymar and his low shot was deflected into the bottom corner to give Barcelona the lead.

The role of Ramos caused confusion for Khedira and Modric with Ramos clearly uncomfortable in this odd position and giving Barcelona too much space as Xavi admitted afterwards. Khedira was pushing too high leaving Modric  in trouble.

The use of Bale in the striking role flanked by Di Maria and Ronaldo may look great on paper but given his lack of fitness, it was always a risk to play Bale in a game such as this. Bale had no impact other than to collect a caution for a foul on Pique and was removed early in the second half. It was another gamble that didn’t pay off.

Messi Positioned Wide Right

The deployment of Cesc in the striking position was designed to provide great depth and verticality to the Barcelona attack. It required Messi to move back to a right wing position and although both Fabregas and Messi would switch positions, the move required Messi to help provide cover for Dani Alves at right back against the Madrid left of Marcelo and Ronaldo. He did this frequently, perhaps not at the level required for a normal right sided attacker though.

Still not quite 100% fit, Messi would have to undertake his share of defensive duties to protect Alves. Whilst his application may have been questioned in the past, it was an area of his performance that could not be faulted on Saturday:-

Messi Tackles

Messi Tackles

Alongside Iniesta, Messi made five successful tackles during the game, more than any other player on the pitch. Combined with his work rate when required to close down Madrid players and although he may not have stamped his quality in this game like he done previously, his presence was still an important factor for Barcelona.

In some ways this captured one of the key battles in the game. Barcelona showed hunger, desire and work rate throughout.

Barcelona More Direct

It’s become a common theme this season to state that Barcelona are becoming more direct under new boss Gerardo Martino. By playing deeper at times and encouraging opponents on to them, Barcelona then hope to counter attack in a direct fashion.

The graphic below shows passes from Victor Valdes. It’s noticeable how many passes are now long kicks forward as opposed to building from the back. True, sometimes Madrid pressed high at goal kicks to force Valdes to go long but the short passes under pressure have been removed for a safety first approach:-

Valdes Passes

Valdes Passes

The shot by Neymar in the 54th minute was another example of the more direct style. A long raking pass from Iniesta found Neymar running off Carvejal and able to shoot at goal. Lopez pushed away the shot but the threat being carried was clear. Another opportunity fell for Neymar in the 61st minute after a through ball from Messi but Varane showed fantastic recovery skills to block the shot.

The second goal came via Alexis Sanchez. Introduced in the 8th minute to profit from the space now being created in the Madrid team by Barcelona defending deep. The goal was an excellent piece of improvisation, unable to outpace Varane, he cut back inside the defender before chipping Lopez.

Pressing Remains

In the second half with Barcelona leading 1-0, it was notable how the home side began to sit deeper combined with a greater sense of urgency from Madrid supported by Ancelotti’s positive substitutions. This encouraged Madrid to come forward and enjoy their best spell of the game. Whilst such an approach is nothing new, it is unusual to witness Barcelona moving so deep particularly given the weaknesses within their defensive unit:-

Tackles

Tackles

When Barcelona did press coherently, they won the ball back high up the pitch as shown in the graphic above. When they sat deeper, they managed to stop Madrid getting too close to goal although the woodwork saved them following a superb hit from Benzema.

Attempting 30 tackles to Madrid’s 19 again shows how timid Madrid were at times. They seemed to lack desire and gave their opponents far too much respect in the opening exchanges. The withdrawal of Iniesta to be replaced by Song as the second half wore enable Barcelona to regain a degree of control with both Busquets and Song screening the defence. Martino confirmed post match this was a defensive move but it helped re-establish control.

Madrid Lack Association

What style of team is Ancelotti building at Madrid? It’s a question that’s been asked already this season and the performance in the clasico provides no further evidence as to what team will emerge.

Bale and Ronaldo both want to receive the ball to run into space. Neither wants to come deep to link play and associate with other team members. That left the burden of creativity on the shoulders of Modric. Di Maria was essentially shuttling between attack when in possession and midfield when out of possession as Madrid alternated between 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 with or without the ball.

The front three were largely left to their own devices with little support from a midfield that dropped off to quickly when the forwards tried to press or failed to provide adequate passing options in the attacking phase.

This was a disjointed team performance that only really came together in the last 25 minutes when Illarramendi and Benzema entered the field with Bale and Ramos being removed. Madrid now had a better balance in midfield and attack. Illarramendi could collect the ball and distribute quicker from a deep position enabling Modric to play higher whilst Benzema is happy to move deep and link play.  In his brief spell on the pitch, Illarramendi attempted 26 passes compared to the 24 attempted by Ramos in his 55 minutes on the pitch.

The consolation goal from Jese was scored via a counter attack in stoppage time.

A New Challenge from Madrid?

A distinctly average clasico as these games go with Barcelona taking all three points. There are still issues for both teams to resolve in the coming weeks not just for the domestic game but also for their ambitions at European level. At the moment, Ancelotti has a significantly harder task on his hands. The alteration in style is still an ongoing process for Madrid whereas Martino has made smaller, easier changes for Barcelona to assimilate.

Madrid are now 6 points behind Barcelona after 10 games whilst neighbours Atleti are just 1 point behind. Will the challenge from the Capital this season come in red and white stripes?

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Madrid vs Atleti – Where and When

Atletico Madrid claim their first victory over neighbours Real Madrid in the league since 1999. The margin of victory doesn’t reflect the superiority of Atleti during the game. This could easily have finished with a two or three goal winning margin to Atleti.

Line Ups

Ancelotti started with Di Maria on the right with Bale deemed fit enough only for the bench. Despite his poor recent form, Karim Benzema once again started in the striking role. The side lined up in a 4-4-2 with Ronaldo in attack and Isco operating from the left side of midfield.

Starting Line Ups

Starting Line Ups

Simeone named arguably his strongest starting eleven with the exception of Tiago replacing the unavailable Mario in central midfield. Atleti lined up in a clear 4-4-2 with Villa and Costa as the strikers, a clear difference from the 4-5-1 adopted by Simeone against Barcelona and one that illustrated El Cholo’s belief that his side could match Madrid in midfield. A clear statement that the side had no inferior complex with the Copa del Rey victory lifting a significant psychological burden from the side.

This game was all about Atleti implementing Simeone’s plan to near perfection.

Atleti System

In his brief spell in charge thus far, still under two years, Simeone has overseen a remarkable transformation in Atleti as they have become one of the most well drilled and disciplined teams in Europe. A counter attacking side, Atleti can struggle when they are required to take the initiative evidenced by the fact that since the beginning of last season there have only been seven league games where Atleti have enjoyed more possession than their opponent. Yet they have won just once, the recent 2-1 home victory over Osasuna.

Yet when the opponent moves onto Atleti, the side are resilient, organised and able to withstand pressure as they control space so effectively:-

Tackles

Tackles

The graphic above provides a glimpse into how Atleti press their opponents. Although Atleti make the vast majority of their tackles and interceptions in a band midway inside their own half of the pitch, the most interesting feature from Atleti is not the “where” but the “when”. If the side have advanced, Atleti will press an opponent who receives the ball facing his own goal or not fully in control of the ball. The only goal on Saturday was the perfect example. Di Maria took a heavy touch and allowed Filipe Luis to close him down midway inside the Madrid half. When the full back won the resulting tackle, Koke slipped the ball through a disorganised Madrid defensive line and Costa scored the winning goal.

Whilst the Madrid defensive line was uneven, this is sharply contrasted by how well organised Atleti are. If they cannot win the ball high up the pitch, they quickly retreat and regain their position. Did Madrid ever have a quick counter attack against Atleti during the game? No, Atleti recover so quickly and seldom get caught out during games with transitions. If no opportunity arises to press, the side drop off.

The graphic below shows the interceptions made by Atleti:-

Interceptions

Interceptions

Again, the line of interceptions across the middle of the Atleti half of the pitch is clearly visible and owes much to the manner of Atleti’s pressing combined with a huge work ethic by the side.

Atleti quickly fell back into two deep, narrow banks of four with little space between the lines. The space is on the flanks and opponents are able to find space here. When the ball went wide on Saturday, both Arda and Koke supported their respective full back. They were also aided by either Villa and Costa to help produce a triangle of pressure on Madrid. If Atleti cannot win the ball here, the passing lanes are closed off and with such little space between the lines, Madrid are forced to move back infield. What occurs is an opponent playing a series of lateral passes. This was strengthened by Benzema repeatedly moving deep and not sufficient movement from the midfield area into the Atleti penalty area.

This tactic is initially defensive by Atleti by it can quickly become an attacking tactic. A lateral pass is far more dangerous than a vertical pass and Atleti made numerous interceptions of lateral passes aided by Madrid recycling the ball slowly in possession. When they recover the ball, Atleti pounce.

The final graphic below details the defensive clearances in the game. Again, Atleti make numerous clearances from a central area:-

Clearances

Clearances

It’s also worth noting how there were just two clearances from inside the six yard area and the area out to the penalty mark was relatively clear compared with Madrid who had to make a number of clearances. Madrid simply did not put enough pressure on the central defensive pairing of Godin and Miranda until the introduction late on of Morata.

The above outlines Atleti’s defensive strength, the side also possesses a counter attack that is becoming increasingly potent led by a man who has stepped out of the formidable shadow left by the departure of Falcao. Indeed, the pre season murmurings focused on how Atleti would cope without Falcao. Who would score their goals. September is just ending but we already have the answer.

Diego Costa

Is there a player that is loved more by his own fans whilst being despised and vilified by opposing players and fans than Diego Costa? The frontman produced an excellent performance with his unselfish running into the channels a key aspect as he caused Ramos and Pepe numerous problems which often resulted in him winning free kicks and relieving the pressure on the side:-

Diego Costa Fouls

Diego Costa Fouls

Costa led the line throughout combining his physical attributes with some lovely play including the improvisation that saw him loft a pass from the goal line back to Arda who shot over the bar.  Always looking to run off the shoulder of the last defender or able to hold up the ball acting as a reference point and ably supported by the second line of attack.

Last season Falcao spoke of competing with Messi and Ronaldo for the Pichichi but never managed to. Costa is presently level on goals with Messi.

Madrid Issues

Ancelotti has issues to resolve at Madrid. The Italian will know this as he has sought to overhaul the playing style, moving away from the reactive counter attacking style developed under Mourinho to a style that is comfortable in possession. Along the way there will be problems which the side are demonstrating currently and which are most manifest in attack.

Madrid now have Ronaldo and Bale in the side, both superbly talented players but both players who like to run with the ball and move into space. They are joined by Isco, a player who wants to help build play and Benzema, a striker who looks short on confidence and who drops deep seeking possession. The outcome is a front four that is unbalanced and lacks a presence in the opposition penalty area.

One of the biggest problems is the movement of the attacking players is not counter balanced by the intelligent movement of Ozil to fill in the void created by the likes of Ronaldo moving out of position. It leaves the attack uneven.

The midfield pairing of Illarramendi and Khedria didn’t work. When they sat too deep, Atleti had space to play in with pressing non existent amongst the Madrid forward players and when they pressed high it opened up a gap between them and the defence which Atleti tried to get into. Illarramendi was sacrificed for Modric at half time but he failed to build play sufficiently with Madrid still playing long passes and bypassing him at times.

The introduction of Bale at half time didn’t bring any alteration to the game. Both Bale and Di Maria well marshalled well by Filipe Luis who moved high up the pitch to offer width enabling Koke to move more centrally and influence proceedings.

The Futures Red and White?

Seven wins from seven league games and Atleti sit joint top of the league and the inevitable question arises again of whether Atleti can sustain a challenge for the title. Simeone has repeatedly, and correctly, stated that Atleti are at a massive financial disadvantage compared against the big two. There is a significant gulf in available resources. Yet on the pitch, Simeone has narrowed the gap. The only question that remains to be seen is whether Simone can eliminate the gap completely. The coming months will provide the answer.

Villarreal vs Real Madrid – The Submarine can’t sink Los Blancos

An excellent game at el Madrigal with both sides contributing to an engrossing contest.

Line Ups

Marcelinho made just one change from the side that had swept away Osasuna in their last game with Dos Santos replacing Perbet in attack. Villarreal began with their usual 4-4-2 formation. Cani would tuck into central midfield from his left side starting position.
Starting Line Ups

Starting Line Ups

With a number of injuries to contend with, Ancelotti went with Carvajal and Nacho in the full back positions. Despite not being fully fit, both Isco and Bale started for Madrid with Illarramendi making his Madrid debut too.
After all the conjecture about where Bale would play, he began life at Real Madrid in the right wing in a 4-2-3-1 system. The attacking trident of Ronaldo, Isco and Bale may appear devastating on paper but at el Madrigal, things were anything but.

Positioning

The graphic below shows the average positions during the game. The most obvious feature from a Madrid perspective is just how narrow the side is with the centre of the pitch looking extremely congested. With Ronaldo, Isco and Benzema all favouring the left side and Gareth Bale moving inward from the right, the side lacked a degree of balance in attack:-

Average Player Positions

Average Player Positions

By contrast, Villarreal enjoyed greater balance and movement across the pitch aided by a degree of familiarity and understanding in their play. Both full backs pushed very high especially Mario to support Aquino and push Nacho further back. Early on, much of Villarreal’s play was coming down the Madrid left.

Villarreal Identity Clear

The key aspect of Villarreal’s play was the combined with fluid movement and sharp passing. In Pereira and Dos Santos, the Submarine had two forwards willing to work the channels between centre back and full backs to great effect. Overarching all of this was a clear understanding of what they wanted to achieve. Swift, purposeful moves forward aided by sharp first touch passing with options provided from the second line of attack.

Madrid received plenty of warnings yet failed to heed any of them. Pereira should have opened the scoring after 5 minutes when Pepe failed to cut out a Cani pass on his outside but his weak shot was deflected wide. The Villarreal midfield closed down Madrid quickly early on such as Trigueros robbing Isco after 7 minutes letting the home side break. It set the tone for the game. Villarreal broke quickly and directly but the forwards were adequately supported from the second line of attack. Cani got into the penalty area to open the scoring after 21 minutes with the move being instigated down the channel between Ramos and Nacho.

There were also further chances for Aquino, again driving down the inside right channel, and even left back Costa arrived in the penalty area unmarked. Madrid were physically off the pace and mentally too were lacking. A quick corner in the 13th minute was delivered to the unmarked Pereira at the back post but Lopez saved the resultant shot.

The runners from midfield repeatedly caused problems for Madrid as they went untracked whilst the pairing of Ramos and Pepe looked unsteady.  And at the heart of Villarreal’s play orchestrating things was the highly impressive Bruno.

Bruno Soriano

Although nominally a defensive midfielder, Bruno fulfils a much greater role than purely that of destroyer for Villarreal operating along the lines of a deep lying playmaker at times. Despite performing amidst a crowded central area, Bruno always found time and space to receive the ball and help his side retain possession with a near 100% pass completion rate. He began attacks, prompting team mates to run into space and just as importantly, he knew when to retreat and recycle possession, playing the ball back to Asenjo from the halfway line at one point:-

Bruno Passes Made

Bruno Passes Made

On a night when the press had gathered to see Gareth Bale make a goal scoring debut for Madrid, it’s a fair assessment to say that Bruno was the best performer on the pitch.

Bruno remained with the submarine when they were relegated and he may never receive the move to a bigger, more prestigious club despite reports of numerous suitors throughout his career. He may never add to his four Spanish international caps either but he showed on Saturday evening just what he is capable of and why both he and Villarreal will be an asset to La Liga this season.

Defensive Issues

If Villarreal are clear what they aim to achieve on the pitch, Ancelotti is still working on that element for Madrid. The Italian has repeatedly shoehorned various star players into a starting line up over his career and he will need to repeat the trick again at Madrid. The front three of Ronaldo, Isco and Bale will have many running out of superlatives to describe them but there’s a worry for Madridista’s that the balance is not right.

Ronaldo doesn’t track back but the side could compensate with the workrate of Di Maria on the right but if Bale replaces the Argentinean in the starting eleven and drifts further inward, there will be issues for Madrid during transitions as Villarreal showed on Saturday. Modric and Illarramendi were overrun at times as the Submarine swarmed forward at pace. There was also the problem on occasion of both central midfield players moving forward together with nobody staying deeper to offer defensive protection.

The second goal for Villarreal arrived because nobody bothered to close down Cani as he ran forward in a central area. Lopez saved his shot but Dos Santos converted the rebound. As poor as that was, earlier in the move, Bruno and Musacchio exchanged passes with Di Maria closing them down whilst the remainder of the Madrid team sat back. One player pressing alone is a total waste of time.

It was a difficult evening for Nacho and Carvajal at full back and whilst Nacho may lack the attacking thrust that Marcelo presents, the work of Carvajal on the right collecting a pass from Modric before cutting back for Bale to score shows the greater penetration that he offers over the more conservative Arbeloa.

The graphic below shows plenty of final third passes for Madrid but too few were into the penalty area with key passes leading to shots from outside the area, which is still a strength for Madrid but less dangerous:-

Final Third Passes

Final Third Passes

Villarreal failed with over a third of their final third passes but with a riskier strategy of threading balls into the channels to get behind Madrid, this was always a more likely outcome. The graphic also shows how a number of passes which led to shots came down the Madrid left. The plan was clear. Shift the ball quickly and try to exploit the gaps behind Madrid with pace whereas Madrid were disjointed in attack due to a lack of familiarity with each other and a lack of fitness for key players.

Disconnected

Madrid’s problems were most evidently displayed by the lacklustre performance of Benzema who seemed disinterested for much of the game and often appeared completely disconnected from the rest of the team in the striking position. It forced Benzema to drop deeper and deeper to receive the ball and become more involved in the game. The graphic below shows his positions when he received the ball:-

Benzema Passes Received

Benzema Passes Received

Madrid seldom got in behind Villarreal’s defence and with Benzema dropping deep, it was another example of the visitors always playing in front of their opponents defence. The equalising goal for Madrid was one of the few times they got behind Villarreal.

Benzema was involved in Madrid’s second when his shot was partly saved by Asenjo but the goal was really about the craft of Isco, juggling the ball out of danger before Ronaldo carried possession forward.

The front four of the team possess tremendous individual ability. The trick for Ancelotti will be gaining the best from them collectively.

Missed Opportunity?

Ancelotti will be satisfied and relieved with a point. Playing Bale and Isco whilst not fully fit and handing a debut to Illarramendi nearly backfired but to gain a point and aid team development and player fitness, it will now seem worthwhile.

An excellent point for Marcelinho and Villarreal but the thought will linger that it should have been three and that this may actually have been an opportunity lost. The Submarine created and squandered numerous chances as they attacked with precision throughout.

Four games in and Villarreal are undefeated with ten points. The challenge is to maintain this level of form and begin the process of re-establishing the Submarine back amidst the upper echelons of La Liga.

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.

Atleti vs Rayo – Atleti Strong but Rayo Weak.

Atleti continue their very impressive start to the season with a resounding home win over a poor Rayo Vallecano. The game in some respects went entirely according to plan. Rayo tried to impose themselves on their hosts and played a very open and attack minded game and went consequently ripped to shreds by an Atleti side who are one of the most lethal counter attacking sides at the moment.

Line Ups

Simeone made a couple of changes from the team that had drawn 1-1 with Barcelona in midweek.
Raul Garcia and Tiago came into the side with Mario and Koke dropping to the bench.
Atleti vs Rayo Starting Line Ups

Atleti vs Rayo Starting Line Ups

Paco Jemez named a starting eleven which had changed considerably since last season with players such as Leo and Piti having left the club. Saul on loan from Atleti, started the game in midfield for Rayo with former Atleti player Perea in attack.

One Way Traffic

Atleti only had 44% possession in this game, completing 269 passes from 362 attempted. Would that concern Simeone? No, not at all. The objective from Simeone is to achieve something when his side have possession. To have a goal in mind and not simply have the ball and recycle possession. It has led to an Atleti side that counter superbly well with swift, incisive passing that cuts the opponent open. It has also led to an Atleti that can toil against a low block.
Filipe Luis was very noticeable pushing high on the left aided by Perea moving infield. The full back was able to support attacks and repeatedly found space.
The most notable feature from a Rayo perspective was the squashed nature of their side in the midfield area with almost no influence whatsoever on the right flank with Perea very narrow and exerting no influence over the game. Rayo maintained their passing philosophy throughout as they enjoyed more possession and completed 399 passes from 489 attempted even if this approach indirectly led to the final Atleti goal when Rayo refused to clear their lines despite ample opportunity to do so:-
Atleti vs Rayo Player Influence

Atleti vs Rayo Player Influence

The Naivety of Paco Jemez?

Paco Jemez is known for sticking to his footballing beliefs and not altering his view. Perhaps his most famous quote recently referred to Celtic’s ultra defensive performance against Barcelona when they lost 2-1. Rayo attacked Barcelona and lost 5-0:-
“I could play like Celtic did, but I would drop my head in shame when I looked in the eyes of our fans.”
Jemez remains true to his beliefs. Is this an act of folly or the act of a principled man? Whatever way you consider it, his game plan needs to be executed properly if it has any hope of working correctly. The key aspect of a high offside line is pressure on your opponent in their own half but Rayo simply didn’t press well enough. What emerged was a gap between the front half of the team pressing ineffectively and the defence positioned close to the halfway line. Rayo looked slow and unable to compete. That is more concerning than the failure of the offside trap.
The graphic below from the 36 minute shows the Rayo defensive line completely disjointed yet managing to catch Atleti offside just inside their own half :-
Rayo Offside Line

Rayo Offside Line

Atleti were caught offside on 14 separate occasions in the game yet just as often they broke through Rayo’s shambolic offside trap.
The high line cannot explain the terrible defending that enabled Raul Garcia to have a free header after 17 minutes to open the scoring or Diego Costa to arrive at the back post a few minutes later and score the second from a cut back by Arda.
The prowess of Atleti on the counter is well known as is the problems that Atleti can encounter when teams use a low block against them. Yet Jemez opted to continue with his high risk strategy and push men forward even though Atleti would provide a stern test of Rayo’s defensive capabilities on transitions. A Rayo defence substantially different from last season. Cassado, Amat and Figueras have all departed. The defence is new.
Given the manner in which Rayo play, there will always be a need for an adaptation phase. Rayo encountered similar defensive frailties last season before tightening up. These issues should be resolved but you can’t help feel that the overall drop in quality will play a role too. Until that adaptation phase has proven successful, should a more conservative approach be utilised?

What Jemez cannot do, however, is legislate for the poor passing of his side coupled with a lack of aggression in their play. Rayo were meek in their defeat. That is unacceptable as Jemez admitted post match. At the very least, Rayo must compete.

Rayo Attack

If Rayo were extremely poor defensively, they were just as bad offensively. They didn’t manage to register a shot on target until the 84th minute of the game. Apart from two off targets efforts from inside the penalty area, the remaining five shots from Rayo were all from outside the penalty area which neatly sums up their game. Rayo build from the back with short passing but they quickly ran out of idea as they approached the Atleti penalty area:-
Atleti vs Rayo Shots

Atleti vs Rayo Shots

When attacks broke down, Atleti countered swiftly and efficiently with Rayo struggling to regain shape in the transitional phase having committed so many men forward. Arda Turan’s goal was the perfect example. Miranda intercepted a loose ball on the edge of the Atleti penalty area and 14 seconds later Arda scored. Swift and merciless. Atleti had 14 attempts at goal with just five on target but all five resulted in goals.
Normally the central area of the pitch would have players from both sides but with Atleti letting Rayo come onto them, there was an abundance of space to break into. This substantial gap can be seen in the number of take ons that Atleti successfully undertook in the central area of the pitch as shown in the graphic below:-
Atleti Take Ons

Atleti Take Ons

Arda Turan in particular enjoyed himself immensely with one goal and two assists before Simeone withdrew him to allow rest ahead of the second leg of the Super Cup in midweek. Diego Costa continues to grow as a key player for Atleti too. The discussion around how a post Falcao Atleti would cope seems nonsensical now as the front man continues to deliver goals and performances.
Can Atleti Challenge?
Atleti secure 3 league wins in a row for the first time since last November. The professional manner of the victory will please Simeone. It would have been easy to reduce the intensity of their play and coast to a comfortable win but Atleti continued pushing for the full 90 minutes with Villa in particular, desperate to score.
It’s still far too early to say with any conviction but this Atleti side look as if they can again push the big two close this season. For the sake of competition within La Liga, hopefully they will.

For Rayo, Jemez knows the areas he needs to improve upon. Whether the players are of sufficient quality to undertake these improvements is another issue. He won’t change his ways which means the players will be in for a steep learning curve. Until they come to terms with what is required, expect some high scorelines in Rayo games. The team with the smallest budget in the league will continue to provide entertainment for their own fans and others.

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.