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?

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Atleti vs Real – Tactical Analysis – The Real Deal?

And they march on, into 4th place in the league.

La Real have now won nine, drawn seven and lost just once in their last 17 league games (and they should have managed to avoid that defeat against 10 man Real Madrid) as they climb the league into a position entirely fitting for the quality within the squad.

Atleti began and ended the game in 3rd place following Madrid’s win and for the first time this season, they are below their rivals in the league. The last 100% home record in a major European league falls with Atleti suffering their first defeat at home since their cross town opponents arrived and departed with three points late last season.

Line Ups

Simeone reinstated Gabi to central midfield following his suspension to be joined by Koke with Mario missing the game due to suspension.

Courtois continued in goal with Abel Resino’s 20 year old Atleti domestic record for duration without conceding at home within touching distance. Coutois last conceded a league goal at home in October 2012. The record would eventually fall in the 34th minute and be extended by a further 33 minutes before Prieto struck.

Simeone went with a 4-4-2, Diego Costa supporting Falcao in attack.

Atleti vs Real Starting Line Ups

Atleti vs Real Starting Line Ups

Montanier moved Aggirexte to the bench including Zurutuza in an advanced midfield role. A move which could be construed as negative depending upon your perspective, Montanier would surely argue it provided the necessary base to begin the game against Atleti.

Vela and Griezmann would alternate positions during the game between left wing and striker.

Real started with eight players who had progressed to the first team via their cantera

Real Sociedad Shape

Atleti enjoyed better possession early in the game but too often it was in an area of the pitch which could not hurt Real. Aside from a few long range efforts which went wide, the only real threat in the opening stages arrived via the charging runs of Diego Costa, buoyed by his call up to the Brazil squad, moving into the left channel between Carlos Martinez and Mikel Gonzalez. One such run ended abruptly under the challenge of Gonzalez, earning the defender a yellow card.

Whilst Atleti would look to start the game strongly, they were able to enjoy possession by an opponent that was content to drop deep, concede possession and only press Atleti as they entered their half of the field. In the 10th minute, Vela, the most advanced Sociedad player, received the ball near the halfway line with no available team mates near him to pass to, eventually conceded a foul.

The graphic below shows the heat map for Real Sociedad throughout the entire game:-

Real Sociedad Shape

Real Sociedad Shape          http://www.squawka.com

This clearly illustrates just how deep Real sat and how little attacking threat they possessed.

It’s a dangerous game to defend so deeply whilst having such little impact on the break. Real possess players with the correct qualities to counter attack but last night was more of a team effort than a few individuals showcasing their ability. All players worked to earn the result.

As the first half progressed, Real became more comfortable and allowed their personality to show more, carefully avoiding Atleti pressing with short sharp passing enabling play to switch flanks and attacks to be built. There was still little attacking threat from the Basque’s but the side were moving higher up the pitch and enjoying more possession. They were of course, still wary of the quality of the Atleti counter attack.

Defensive Solidity

Part of the success of La Real has been the ability to retain their shape in the face of adversity this season. “To suffer” as Philippe Montanier states but to retain their resolve in such circumstances before triumphing.

The graphic below shows that Real won 21 tackles from an attempted 24 tackles during the course of the game but the location is important. Atleti were constantly forced wide during the game. Real defended compactly with Bergara and Illarramedi shielding their defence and avoiding space developing between the defensive and midfield line. With limited options centrally, Atleti were forced to attack via the flanks yet as they did so, they found Xabi Prieto and Antoine Griezmann tracking Filipe Luis and Juanfran preventing los rojiblancos from having two on one situations:-

Real Sociedad Tackles

Real Sociedad Tackles          http://www.squawka.com

Their defensive solidity was aided by a well organised offside trap, the line being held around the edge of the penalty area when required preventing Atleti from getting in behind them.

The concern for Montanier though was that given how deep Sociedad were defending, when they did get the ball, they were a considerable distance from Courtois and too many players had dropped back to defend. The opportunity for counters was not really in position.

Atleti Attack

The main problem for Atleti last night was their lack of guile and craft to break down an organised and structured defence. Much of the success of Atleti has come from their ability to absorb pressure and counter attack swiftly. A highly efficient reactive side that allows opponents to take the initiative. Last night, Atleti were undone by an opponent using their own game plan.

Atleti had numerous attempts at goal as the graphic below shows, but they were wayward and failed to test Claudio Bravo in the Sociedad goal. Only one scrambled save  in the second half presented any test for the Chilean goalkeeper:-

Atleti Shots

Atleti Shots                      http://www.squawka.com

The graphic also highlights the tendency for Atleti to focus their attacks from their left,  an area that will be explored.

Atleti Take Ons

Atleti began the second half with greater intensity to their play, moving the ball quicker and placed the Real defence under some early pressure. With a lack of creativity in the ranks, Atleti often attempted take ons against their opponents but this provided little success either. From 18 takes ons attempted, just six were successful.

The graphic below shows this in addition to identifying the location of the take ons:-

Atleti Take Ons

Atleti Take Ons           http://www.squawka.com

Too much of the Atleti attack focussed on the left wing with Diego Costa drifting across there and supported by Rodriguez in the first half. The same balance is not found on the right where Arda Turan drifts inward and adopts a central position leaving Juanfran alone on the right to offer width.

Although Xabi Prieto scored the solitary goal arriving on the Atleti left, the move began on the Atleti right with Griezmann releasing the pass to Prieto.

Real Sociedad always had options on their left, the Atleti right, during the game.

Simeone made a number of substitutions later on to try and forge a way back int the game but the moves gave Atleti a muddled look with an even greater imbalance on the left prevalent. Play was no longer constructed but revolved around a series of balls into the box or trying to take an opponent on. There was nobody orchestrating play from midfield forward. Nobody probing the Real defence.

Conclusions

Simeone will now gain a better understanding of the mental resilience of his players. Having led Madrid all season, they now find themselves playing catch up as the season moves into the final stretch.

It also provides glimpse into the future for Atleti under Simeone. Teams will increasingly defend deep against them and force Atleti to take the initiative. In such games, Simeone must develop alternative strategies in all likelihood aided by a more creative central player. Such a move may disrupt the double pivot which he favours but it could become an invaluable weapon in his arsenal.

Real Sociedad began this season with six defeats in their first ten league games but the defeat of Atleti marked their third away win in a row.

Montanier has struck the balance, the dividing line between being overly conservative during games and adopting a counter attacking strategy, one in which the players are able to express themselves and display their personality. The final Champions League place is now there for the taking, if La Real can prove they are the real deal.

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.