Week 18 Observations

A few observations from the key games played this weekend in La Liga:-

Deportivo 1 Malaga 0

A defeat for Malaga in a game they dominated in terms of possession yet still relied heavily upon goalkeeper Willy Cabellero to help them out with some key saves. Cabellero again demonstrating why he leads the race for the Zamora.

Malaga now face Barcelona at home before eminently winnable games against Celta, Mallorca and Real Zaragoza.

The noteworthy element of this game, however, arrived via Deportivo with new coach Domingos Paciencia securing a much needed three points in his first match in charge of the Galicians. Having spent the bulk of his career in Portugal, his first managerial appointment in Spain has the bonus of being in charge of a squad with a considerable Portuguese contingent.

Paciencia utilised the same system as his predecessor Oltra with a 4-2-3-1 with one key difference. Juan Carlos Valeron was on the substitutes bench. Was this a tactical ploy or a technical reason?

At the age of 37, Valeron is very much in the twilight of his career. The mind and the skills are still as sharp as ever even if his legs began failing him a long time ago. Within a squad marked by limited quality, Valeron is still a standout. The statistics verify this. Valeron has the highest number of assists this season with four whilst he averages 2.1 key passes per game. In terms of the number of passes, he is second only to Aguillar.

Perhaps it’s what Valeron does not provide you with that Paciencia, a coach who believes in defensive solidity and hard work as a base, values. Valeron has made just one tackle and committed just one foul this season. Not attributes for a team fighting relegation. And then there’s Valeron’s weary limbs again.

True, Valeron has completed 90 minutes on just two occasions this season but a player of his quality cannot be overlooked.

Whatever the reason for his omission at the weekend, if Depor are to avoid relegation then a player of Valeron’s quality will have a role to play in that battle, even if it is only fleeting moments.

Real Madrid 4 Real Sociedad 3

Forget the inclusion of Adan in goal again for Real Madrid. Forget about his red card and the arrival, to rapturous applause, of Iker Casillas after just six minutes. Forget about the two Ronaldo goals.

Instead focus on one thing. The inability of Real Sociedad to take advantage of a a Real Madrid side lacking cohesion, reduced to 10 men for around 84 minutes of the game and with a makeshift defence.

This was a game marked by conflict within La Real. Arrive at the Santiago Bernabeu with little in the way of expectation or hope and concede a sloppy goal in the opening moments of the game. Yet after just six minutes you are presented with a glorious chance to equalise and then to seize the initiative in the game.

Hang on though. You would have gladly taken a point before your arrival. Now with an extra man, you could pretend you are still paying 11 men and just hold on for a point? And therein lay the problem. La Real failed to take the opportunity. Their desire to avoid defeat significantly outweighed their ambition to win.

Madrid retreated into a low defensive block after conceding the first equaliser yet Sociedad failed to retain a high tempo to their own game. Initailly playing with greater verve, they allowed the game to drift by. The game often had the feel of a training game with Madrid content to defend deep and strike during quick tranisitions.

Despite falling behind for a second time, Prieto once more drew Sociedad level and at half time, the onus was on Montanier to guide his troops towards a massive victory. The Basques could not take that next step. The choice between a more concerted attacking strategy possibly negated by the threat of Madrid on transitions.

“For me, this was a unique opportunity to achieve something here, but we did not deserve to because we played a bad game defensively. We have made many technical mistakes, we lost a lot of possession. We gave too many chances for Madrid to counter-attack”

And so Madrid secured the three points.

Mallorca 1 Atletico Madrid 1

No Falcao equals no three points for Atletico. Or is that simplifying matters too much?

A weakened Atleti team managed to control the game and create and spurn a number of chances before Raul Garcia prodded the ball home for the opening goal midway through the second half. At that stage, a second Atleti goal seemed the most likely outcome yet Caparros men struck back with Kevin scoring the equaliser in the 87th minute.

“El Cholo” Simeone was considerable in his praise for the side however, one more referring to the physical qualities which he spoke of when he took the hot seat at the Calderon back in December 2012:-

“The game is not won by just the football played, but for the attitude, the intensity, the game situations, I have nothing to say about the team because they played a complete game”

The game also demonstrated that Atleti have the skillset to control a game with possession and still create chances. Considered a counter attacking team, Atleti enjoyed 56% possession with 15 attempts at goal.

Atleti maintain a five point leads over Madrid but there has been a stutter in their recent form with two wins, two defeats and a draw now in their last five league games.

For Caparros, the rot appears to have stopped. After a horrendous run of form which has seen the Islanders collect just six points from their last 13 league games, they now have a win and draw in their last two games.

Key issues remain to be resolved. With 131 chances created from their opening 17 league games, Mallorca need to improve their attack and quickly. Only Levante has created less but their defence is not as porous. Shut the back door and Mallorca should survive. Leave it open and it could be a long end to the season.

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Mallorca vs Real Madrid

When the fixture list was announced, it is likely that Mourinho would have highlighted the away trip to face Joaquin Caparros’ Mallorca side an as awkward away fixture, particularly as it arrived immediately following a tough Champions League appointment away to Borussia Dortmund.

Having suffered four defeats in seven away games in all competitions this season, this game should have presented some questions for Madrid and Mourinho to answer.

What Mourinho would not have expected would be an insipid display from the hosts which enabled Madrid to win comfortably whilst performing well within their normal capabilities.

Madrid cruised to a 5-0 away victory and the concern over fatigue both physical and mental never arose.

Madrid Set Up and Mallorca Approach

With three full backs still missing, Essien was again forced to deputise at left back.

And, as against Dortmund , Mallorca targeted the Ghanian by focussing their attack in the first half almost exclusively down the Real Madrid left. The graphic below clearly illustrates this:-

Mallorca 1st Half Passes vs Madrid                         http://www.squawka.com

Mallorca repeatedly played passes towards their right wing. Initially Nsue started on the right and attacked Essien but all too often the attack broke down. Xabi Alonso moved slightly to the left to provide support to Essien but Mallorca failed to take advantage of any potential openings which did come their way. A more direct approach should have been adopted to try and isolate Essien quickly especially as he sometimes drifts into the centre which is to be expected as he is a central midfielder but too often the play from Mallorca was laboured.

The final pass lacked quality whilst many attacks broke down through poor decision making. Mallorca ‘s best opportunity arose from a misplaced cross from Nsue which Casillas tipped over. Ironically, this came from an attack down the left flank. Despite Madrid being below their best, Mallorca never placed their opponents under any sustained pressure. The tempo of the game was seldom lifted by the hosts.

This was definitely not a normal performance from a team managed by Caparros.

Defensive Fragility

When playing either Real Madrid or Barcelona , there are two key points which lesser opponents much adhere to. Don’t concede cheap goals and don’t concede early.

Mallorca conspired to do both, finding themselves two goals behind after just 21 minutes and the game was effectively over as a contest.

The opening goal arose when Conceicao needlessly gave away possession. Real Madrid gathered the loose ball and a pass was flicked through towards Higuain. Conceicao had regained his position well and was ideally placed to intercept the ball. Yet in his attempt to control the ball, he somehow managed to allow the ball to break off his thigh and into the path of Higuain who gratefully accepted this gift and scored the opening goal.

The second goal was just as bad from a Mallorca perspective. Fontas was pressed and conceded possession just outside the penalty area. Now out of position, he was easily beaten and the ball was quickly worked to the opposite side of the penalty area before Ronald drilled a shot low into the corner of the net.

This was Ronaldo’s 14th goal in the last 8 games and, incredibly, he now has an outrageous 164 goals in 157 games for Real Madrid.

In the second half following Mourinho’s appearance in the technical area when he demonstrated his displeasure with the level of performance, Madrid stepped up the intensity of their play and scored a further three goals. Their passing and movement was much sharper now and a lethargic Mallorca simply could not compete.

Modric or Khedira?

Following a recurrence of his hamstring injury during the game in Dortmund , Sami Khedira was replaced in the starting line up by Luka Modric who started in central midfield alongside Alonso.

Khedira is often criticised yet when he is not in the Madrid team, it is easy to identify what he brings to the side. There was a lack of urgency about Madrid early on. They lacked the dynamism and industry which Khedira adds to the side. He may be one of the less glamorous players within the side, but his role is an essential part for the Madrid machine to function correctly.

The differences between both players statistically is not that substantial and is broadly what you would expect. Modric play more passes and with a greater degree of accuracy whereas Khedira excels at the more defensive side of the game, making tackles and closing opponents down.

With Modric still adjusting to life at Madrid and the requirements of him, the midfield was unable to function as intended particularly in the first half. Despite a very high pass completion rate, Modric was not involved as heavily as he would have liked. His pass statistics for the game as a whole are shown below:-

Modric Passes vs Mallorca                                                     http://www.squawka.com

Modric became more involved as the game progressed and with hindsight, perhaps this was the perfect opportunity to embed himself within the Madrid system. Mallorca offered no challenge and Modric was able to find his feet and begin the process of adaptation.

Modric operated ahead of Alonso and behind Ozil, able to move laterally as well in an effort to build play together. Once he fully adjusts to Madrid, the diminutive Croatian should prove his worth.

Conclusions

Joaquin Caparros was clearly animated in the technical area for the majority of the game. Afterwards he spoke of Mallorca playing with no “intensity” and playing as if it was a “tribute match”.

The defeat makes it four straight defeats in a row now for the Islanders with Barcelona waiting in their next home fixture. What began promisingly with an early season run of good form is now becoming a serious issue which Caparros needs to turn round.

Whilst Mourinho was clearly displeased with the performance early in the second half, he will be content with an easy game which never asked any questions of his side. A difficult, physical encounter could have posed questions on the back if the Champions League game. Madrid now has their first back to back clean sheets in La Liga this season.

A professional, almost perfunctory, performance from Madrid . They did what was necessary to leave with the points secured whilst conserving themselves for the tougher challenges which lie ahead.

All graphics and statistics taken from www.squawka.com

Mallorca vs Real Sociedad: Tactical Analysis

A slow burning game at the San Moix, the game eventually delivered some excitement following the only goal of the game in the 74th minute. With both teams harbouring aspirations of pushing towards the top ten, this game offered much yet failed to deliver with only sporadic moments of guile intersped amidst a midfield battle.

Whilst Sociedad may be disappointed by the result, their lack of ambition has ultimately cost them and saw Mallorca briefly mount the summit of La Liga.

The shape of Sociedad was the most interesting feature but they never used their superiority in key areas, always too content to take the safe option. Mallorca delivered a performance, in the second half at least, that you would expect from a side managed by Joaquin Caparros.

Line Ups

Caparros made one change to the side with Conceicao replacing Bigas in central defence. Giovanni Dos Santos signed prior to the transfer deadline but was not eligible to play.

Mallorca Starting Line Up

Mallorca lined up in Caparros’ favoured 4-4-2 with an emphasis upon the wingers to push forward and supply the two strikers with crosses.

Real Sociedad Starting Line Up

Montanier made one change to the Sociedad line up with Griezmann dropping to the bench to be replaced by canterano Ruben Pardo.

With such a poor away record last season, La Real only managed three away wins all season, it was expected to see a more cautious Sociedad in away fixtures. Although notionally a 4-5-1 formation, Sociedad offered great flexibility and the system was something more akin to a 3-4-3 when attacking yet the team was sadly never as adventurous as the numbers on the paper has promised.

First Half

Sociedad started brightly in the first half enjoying greater territorial advantage but seldom created any genuine scoring opportunities. The chance for Agirretxe from a free kick in the opening minute of the game was arguably their best opportunity of the half, spurned with a misplaced shot.

The key for Sociedad enjoying greater territory in the opening period was their numerical superiority in the centre of the field.

With Bergara, Illarramendi and Pardo all positioned centrally, there was a clear advantage over the Mallorca duo of Marquez and Pina. This advantage was exacerbated by the advanced position of Estrada for much of the first half. The heat map below shows his positions:-

Estrada First Half Heat Map.                                                   http://www.squawka.com

Despite being the notional right back, Estradra pushed very high which allowed Pardo and to a lesser extent Xabi Preito to move slightly infield.

Yet on the few occasions when Bella Donna advanced on the left, Estrada would drop back to maintain a solid defensive trio for Sociedad.

With an overload on the right handside, Claudio Bravo in goals, aimed a number of goal kicks in this general direction to take advantage of the situation:-

Claudio Bravo Passes First Half                                           http://www.squawka.com

This had two effects on Mallorca. Firstly, the overload of players pushed Michael Pereira further back reducing a key attacking threat from Mallorca. Secondly, the numerical advantage in the centre of the field forced Pereira and Nsue to tuck in and provide support for Marquez and Pina. This left the wings open for Sociedad to use hence Estrada pushing very high.

Yet Sociedad failed to craft any chances and as the half wore on, Mallorca slowly began to exert more pressure on their opponents defence but the game as a whole was bogged down in a midfield battle. Sociedad dictating the tempo, content to play slowly whereas Mallorca always seeking to lift the pace of the game.

The diagram below shows the number of crosses attempted and completed by Mallorca in the opening 45 minutes. With Pereira and Nsue either central or deep, Mallorca were unable to develop their own game and pressure Sociedad to any extent.

Too often the cross was delivered in advance of the penalty area and so was easy to defend against. The first real opportunity for Mallorca was in the 18th minute when Hemed’s cross was met on the volley by Pereira and flew over the crossbar.

Second Half

Mallorca began the second half with a much higher tempo. The most obvious difference was Pereira offered a greater attacking threat to Sociedad and pushed Estrada further back as shown on the heat map below:-

Estrada 90Minute Heat Map                                                http://www.squawka.com

With Mallorca taking the initiative and Sociedad moving back, the midfield pairing of Marquez and Pina were no longer outnumbered as Prieto stayed on the right and Ruben Pardo’s influence on the game disappeared. Sociedad were now a conventional defensive four.

Mallorca were able to get both wingers but especially Pereira involved in the game in the second half and deliver more balls into the penalty area for Victor and Hemed to attack. The graphic below shows Mallorca’s total attempted crosses into the penalty area:-

Mallorca Crosses 90 Minutes                                             http://www.squawka.com

With Pereira and Nsue committing their opponent, Mallorca were moving further forward before crossing the ball.

Sociedad moved further back towards their own goal as the second half wore on whether this was by design or due to the higher energy game by Mallorca is open to interpretation. With such a poor away record, it seems likely that Montanier became too conservative and aimed for a point rather than have the necessary belief that all three points were available.

The only goal of the game arrived in the 74th minute and it should have come as no surprise to see it arriving via the head of Victor from a Javi Marquez cross from a relatively deep position. Marquez had time to examine his options before flighting the ball forward to Victor.

Conclusions

A good three points for Mallorca and one which showed the side implementing the tactical plan of Caparros in the second half. The aggressive and direct style which he favours and which has proven successful before. The acquisition of Javi Marquez and Antonio Lopez look shrewd and it’s difficult to see this Mallorca side even flirting with relegation this season.

For La Real, two away games and two defeats already but a lack of belief within the side as the second half wore. Montanier’s pan created problems for Mallorca in the first half but it was never built upon and despite the superiority in midfield, there were too few options in the final third. Sociedad wanted to play the game slowly and safely in the middle of the pitch. It was never going to be like that for 90minutes against a Caparros side.