Deportivo – Down and Out in La Coruna.

And so, as is customary in Spain, the final day of the season saw countless permutations existing for the three relegation positions with any of the bottom four teams capable of retaining their top flight status or taking the drop to La Segunda.

There were 81 different combinations of results possible to determine who was relegated and who secured the coveted fourth bottom spot. The balance of probability was tipped in Deportivo’s favour with a 55.6% chance of survival, while Celta had a 22.2% chance, Zaragoza 17.3%, and Mallorca had just 4.9%.  All four sides were at home but only Depor would meet an opponent with something still to play for in the shape of Real Sociedad.

Depor began the day safe. Their fate was entirely in their own hands. Win and they were safe no matter what else happened. The turnaround in fortunes since coach Fernando Vasquez took over after the short and somewhat ill fated reign of Pacienda was palpable. On Thursday, the coach had been carried out of the training ground on the shoulders of many, recognition for what had been achieved, the great escape remained possible.

They just had to beat Real Sociedad to complete the journey to safety.

Line Ups

Neither side had any key player missing through either suspension or injury for this game.

For the final game of the season, Fernando Vasquez went with arguably his strongest line up in their usual 4-2-3-1 with Valeron tasked with providing the creativity from a central attacking midfield position.

Deportivo vs Real Sociedad Starting Line Ups

Deportivo vs Real Sociedad Starting Line Ups

Similarly, Montanier in his final game with the San Sebastian side named his strongest line up with the potent front four of Agirrexte, Vela, Griezmann and Prieto in place for this crucial encounter.

Deportivo Fail to Create

This was a game that both sides needed to win yet Deportivo just never developed any sense of impetus or drive. After a brief flurry ain the opening period, the game settled and Depor lacked guile and creativity.

The player influence map is shown below:

Depor vs Real Player Influence

Depor vs Real Player Influence

Everything was clogged into the centre of the pitch when Depor had possession, only the full backs from both sides enjoyed any real space. Surprisingly, the veteran Manual Pablo produced a rousing performance which belied both his age and his general lack of pace.

The problem for Depor was the movement of the Sociedad front four. Both Griezmann and Vela come in off the flanks particularly the Frenchman. The full backs may be free then but the central area is overloaded. Their pace and running caused Depor all sorts of problems early on and the home side never really recovered from the damage, both psychological and renewal, that was inflicted.

Cutting Edge

The contrast in how both teams entered the final third of the pitch was stark. Whereas Deportivo continued to build from the back and try to construct attacks moving up the pitch as a unit, Sociedad were happy for the back six to absorb pressure and then let their four main creative outlets strike on transitions.

The graphic below shows the final third passes of both sides:-

Depor vs Real Final Third Passes

Depor vs Real Final Third Passes

As they have done for much of the season, Sociedad were happy to build play when the opportunity required it but were equally content to go direct if that option existed too. With Deportivo frequently lacking defensive midfield cover, this was always an option for the away side to exploit.

The only goal of the game came after a long ball down the Sociedad left. Once Manuel Pablo had slipped, Depor were in trouble and although Agirretxe’s shot was pushed wide, Griezmann arrived unmarked from the right flank, despite being positioned on the left, to score. Silvio was too close to his centre backs.

Deportivo has plenty possession as they moved forward but were unable to translate that possession into the creation of clear cut chances. When they entered into the Sociedad half of the pitch, their ideas ran out and they found themsleves under pressure as their opponents pressed them. Poor play and sloppy passing enable the away side to counter swiftly.

Depor were failing to create at one end whilst aiding their opponents at the other.

No Happy Ending

Juan Carlos Valeron announced his retirement after the game:-

“My cycle in la Coruna is finished. I’m saddened by the situation, but its a decision taken weeks ago”

At the age of 37 years old, Valeron still possesses the guile and creativity allied to the eye for a pass that he always enjoyed. He still glides around the pitch effortlessly but age has wearied him and although never blessed with great pace, the increased physicality of the game has squeezed him.

He still provided numerous highlights in his swansong season for Depor such as the deft chipped pass to Riki for the opening goal in the final Galician derby of the season. A game that reignited the sense of belief in Depor.

Here, against Sociedad, Valeron was too deep to influence play effectively and then, when he did have the ball, Depor were too slow to commit men into the penalty area. The graphic below shows his passes during the game:-

Valeron Passes

Valeron Passes

His deeper positioined allied to the inability of players to get into the penalty area rendered Depor ineffective in attack. Indeed, the home side’s best opportunities arose after Monatanier withdrew Vela for Zurutuza. The more defensive substitution allowed Deopr to take the intiative as Sociedad retreated somewhat towards a much deeper block allowing Depor to advance. Some half chances were created by Bravo was never seriously tested, his biggest difficulty being his own nerves for a brief spell.

Ineffective Attack and Effective Defence

As outlined, Depor did not struggle for possession in this game with 60% but they could not convert that possession into goals or even clear chances. Part of the problem must reside with their reluctance to commit men forward for fear of being caught out on quick transitions from Sociedad as evidenced by the opening goal and a handful of other chances in the first half that really should have seen the away side clear by half time.

Depor attempted an incredible 42 crossed into the SDociedad penalty arae but theese were often poorly delivered or there were no players in attacking position to take advantage:-

Depor vs Real Crosses

Depor vs Real Crosses

And yet Sociedad were relatively content to allow Depor to come forward, confident that their back 6 unit would be able to repel attacks and make the necessary clearances which they comfortably did for much of the game only really toiling for that brief spell when Montanier inexplicably handed the initiative to Depor:-

Depor vs Real Clearances

Depor vs Real Clearances

A pattern of play developed whereby a cross was delivered into the box, cleared and loose possession collected by a Depor player who would attempt another cross etc etc.  Everything was happening in front of the Sociedad defence. By striking first, Sociedad were in the perfect position to utilise their skill set, defend, absorb pressure and strike on counters.

Return to La Segunda

Depor return to the lower tier after just one season back in the top flight. The sad truth is they were simply not good enough to sustain themselevs no matter how much they fought. Their final seven leagues witnessed a return of just six points.

Their Galician neighbours Celta Vigo meanwhile, somehow avoid the drop. Despite being without their best player, Iago Aspas, for five weeks due to suspension after he inexplicably headbutted an opponent in the Galician derby, they survive.

Deportivo find themselves saddled with a debt estimated at €156m. Despite the advert of parachute payments, the drop will herald a new era for the club once called Super Depor. A side built upon youth team members will emerge with the likes of Valeron retiring whilst others depart for pastures new.

Return to the Champions League

The final word must go to Real Sociedad and the job Montanier has delivered. Following a comfortable if underwhelming mid table finish last season, the side have grown this season expressing their personality. With just two defeats in their final 21 league games, Sociedad deserve the final Champions League position.

And after a 10 year absence, Real Sociedad have the opportunity to return to the Champions League should they successfully qualify through the final preliminary round. They will do so with a new coach at the helm but if the squad remains intact and can be strengthened a little, they should be able to cope with the demands that European football will place on them.

 

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Building for a Real Future?

So often this season, games at Anoeta have produced superb technical and tactical games with one key ingredient. Goals, and lots of them. And in their final home game of the season, La Real once again served up a tremendous spectacle.

A game in which an unfamiliar looking Real Madrid appeared to have somehow secured all three points despite Real Sociedad carving out chance after chance only for Xabi Prieto to secure a point in injury time. Just how crucial that point will be is likely to be determined next weekend.

La Real Dominate

With Real Sociedad now only holding onto fourth place courtesy of the head to head record, there was no margin for error against Madrid. With Madrid and Mourinho announcing his departure when the season concludes and the Madrid team missing a number of key players, this was the chance for a hungry, motivated La Real side to seize the initiative.

La Real edged possession with 53% but time and time again this season, Madrid has shown that they are not a side that cares for possession when they possess the best counter attack in world football. A problem emerges though when you withdraw key components of that counter attack. When that attack lacks the same pace and verve as it normally contains, its’ effectiveness is substantially reduced. The opposition can recognise the weaker attack and commit more men forward.

Sociedad seized the initiative but were undone by defensive errors. Not huge errors but against a side with the quality of Madrid, even minor errors can be punished. Madrid had just one shot at goal in the first half and Higuain scored.

The graphic below demonstrates the ability for La Real to create, and miss, a sizeable number of chances against their visitors:-

Sociedad vs Madrid Shots

Sociedad vs Madrid Shots

From 27 attempts at goal, Sociedad hit the target on 12 occasions. Will Madrid and Mourinho be concerned about the number of chances that La Real managed to create and the manner in which the point was earned?

Madrid may. For Mourinho, his judgement value of this game was demonstrated in his starting line up.

Player Selection

With Jose Mourinho leaving Real Madrid after the season ends, and with nothing left to play for given they have already secured second place in the league, what was the key objective in San Sebastian?

Winning didn’t matter but you still want to win the game of course but considering the prevailing circumstances, what was the key consideration here. To secure three points or to consider Madrid’s development beyond the end of this season?

Carvalho, Essien and Kaka are all likely to depart the Bernabeu shortly. Higuain could follow. Pepe remains benched following his dispute with Mourinho. Could Mourinho not have played the likes of Nacho or Morata or even Casemiro? Players from the Cantera who will be around next season and are likely to be part of the first team squad?

Sociedad vs Madrid Line Ups

Sociedad vs Madrid Line Ups

Madrid gained a point which, on the balance of play, they were probably fortunate to get but given they led 2-0, they should probably have gathered all three points. Does it matter though? It’s a point gained but is it an opportunity lost? A game that could have aided player development substantially.

Playing a weaker team may have resulted in Real Sociedad winning all three points and leaving them in pole position to finish in 4th place. Valencia would have complained but that’s not Real Madrid’s concern. Madrid must focus on themselves.

And they did so but with a distinctly short term focus.

Montanier Departing?

With Montanier departing the Basque Country to coach in Rennes, it leaves the question of who next for Real Sociedad and can the next incumbent build upon the foundations that have already been laid?

The Board’s resolve may well be tested during the close season with figures such as Inigo Martinez, Illarramendi and Griezmann attracting attention but another season together could reap rich dividends for La Real.

If the squad remains largely intact, the tactical issue for the side is to improve defensively without losing their attacking edge. The side have the 6th best defensive record in the league but a small improvement on their nine clean sheets could make a huge difference. The difference could be in those 12 games that La Real have drawn such as Sunday evening. One of those games converted to a victory would seem them level with Valencia but leading thanks to the head to head record.

Is 5th a Success?

And how should Real Sociedad be judged this season if they do finish in 5th and “only” gain a Europa League place? Is the season still a success or would it be deemed a failure by some given their five point lead over Valencia with the end of the season in sight? Had you offered La Real a 5th place finish at the start of the season, it would have been accepted with great appreciation. Only now, when 4th is so close, does 5th seem like a disappointment. Should the side be disappointed with a 5th place finish, it illustrates the progress made since their return from La Segunda just three seasons ago. Remaining grounded is now the key. La Real may well have over achieved this season.

Does the story revolving around La Real detract from the work undertaken by Valverde over at the Mestalla?

Valverde has dealt with uncertainty over his own future, as has Montanier also, but with instability in the boardroom whilst a club that is financially stricken desperately chases the riches that the Champions League has to offer. Montanier has built a foundation in his time at La Real whilst Valverde has been fire fighting for the past six months. Who has the better achievement?

La Real travel to Deportivo needing to win to have any opportunity of finishing 4th. Yet Depor must also secure a result to maintain their survival chances. Valencia meanwhile will travel to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan and face a Sevilla side with nothing to play for or a European place still at stake. That depends entirely upon how both Malaga and Rayo Vallecano are judged for next season in terms of satisfying European criteria.

So who will claim 4th place? In April I backed Los Che to edge 4th place here. For the first time this season, they have the advantage and should hold onto the advantage this weekend.

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?

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.

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.

Barcelona vs Real Sociedad: Tactical Analysis

Montanier made the unusual choice of beginning the game with the club’s joint top scorers from last season both on the bench alongside him. Griezmann started in attack alongside Illarramendi with new signing Castro making his debut on the left wing.

Sociedad adopted a 4-4-2 formation at the outset of the game.

Real Sociedad Starting Line Up

Real Sociedad Approach

Whilst examining the Barcelona performance in closer detail, it must be remembered that this was a Sociedad side that were prepared to use two strikers and tried to attack. It’s doubtful if many opponents will arrive at the Camp Nou this season with such an outlook. The approach was tempered somewhat after the half time interval when Illarramendi dropped deeper to form a midfield five to stem the tide flowing towards the Sociedad goal. A 4-5-1 formation was utilised from this point onwards with Griezmann becoming isolated as the lone striker.

First Half

The game began in explosive fashion with four goals in the opening fifteen minutes. What was most interesting though was the intensity which Barcelona were displaying. The side appeared reinvigorated and pressed Sociedad as soon as possible, forcing the Basques onto the back foot. The passing was quick throughout as Barcelona seemed to rediscover the hunger and desire that had been lacking during parts of last season. Barcelona also sought to open up the play with crossfield diagonal passing occurring to both full backs and wingers, stretching their opponent and turning the Sociedad defence.

With a 4-1 half time lead, the second half revolved around retaining possession for Barcelona, mindful of the upcoming Super Cup fixture against Real Madrid. The final goal was scored by Villa who made his first competitive appearance since his injury in December 2011.

Given that this was as straight forward an opening fixture for Barcelona as you are likely to witness, it is worth considering a few key points which could be indicative of how Vilanova wants his Barcelona side to play. Clearly, these are early days in the Vilanova regime and we must not make any rash judgements nonetheless there are learning points here.

Tello

Speculation has surrounded Tello during the close season and he still retains a B team squad listing although he has been advised he will feature for the first team. Whilst his starting role may have surprised many, it was entirely justified following an excellent performance which witnessed two assists in the first half.

Making the breakthrough at the same time as his colleague Cuenca inevitably leads to comparisons despite both being very different players. Tello was able to thrive against Sociedad as the Basques were very attack minded which allowed Tello to use his pace to good effect. Holding a wide position, there was ample space behind the Sociedad back line for Tello to drive into. Against a deeper lying defence, Tello may find his pace is not as useful with limited space on offer. He provided snapshots of close control and played a lovely cross for Pedro’s goal. His decision making and final ball are two areas needing further development if he is to be considered as something other than just an extremely fast player. Last night suggested he may have a role to play in the longer term.

Full Backs

Both Dani Alves and Jordi Alba pushed high up the pitch and supported their respective winger especially Alba who impressed on his home debut and overlapped Tello on a few occasion when the opportunity arose.

Over the past few seasons we have become accustomed to witnessing Alves bomb forward on the right whilst Abidal adopted a more conservative position on the left alternating between holding the left back position around the halfway line or forming a defensive trio by slotting in as the left sided centre back. With Alba playing, this option of conservatism is removed.

Whether such an approach would be encouraged against higher quality opposition remains to be seen.

Sociedad scored the equalising goal when Castro moved in behind Alves, hitting the ball high into the roof of the net. The space existed not because Alves was caught high up the pitch but due to poor positional play. Alves moved infield, far too close to Puyol which provided Castro with the space to control the pass from Illarramedi before scoring.

Will the left flank of Barcelona prove to be stronger than the right flank this season? Given the role which Dani Alves has fulfilled over the past few seasons, it seems inconceivable but last night Alba provided evidence of his attacking ability allied to the defensive side of his game which he learned under Unai Emery.

Furthermore, can Barcelona really play with both full backs being so attack minded?

Will the midfield need to compensate?

Midfield

There were two interesting features in the Barcelona midfield. Firstly, Fabregas was in the team as a midfielder and in place of Iniesta. This required Fabregas to drop deeper on occasion which he did although he still linked with Messi when permitted. There appeared to be greater fluidity between the three midfielders.

This was aided as, secondly, Busquets played in a fairly high position on occasion especially during the first half when he pushed up to lend support to the trio of Xavi, Fabregas and Messi. Although still ostensibly the defensive midfielder in the team, there was greater movement between Busquets and the other two midfielders.

This increased movement was necessary as the duos of Alves and Alba and Pedro and Tello were holding very wide, high starting positions. Without Busquets pushing on, Barcelona would have been left numerically outnumbered in the centre of the pitch.

The impact of pushing Busquets further forward meant that Barcelona only had Maschearno and Puyol defending.

Are Barcelona going to play more aggressively this season?

Conclusions

There are relatively high hopes for Sociedad this season. Coach Philippe Montanier has a talented, if mainly youthful, squad at his disposal and coaxing the maximum from those at his disposal could reap rewards. The disappointing result from last night must not be allowed to adversely affect team morale.

The first step in the Vilanova era for Barcelona and one which hinted at some subtle alterations whilst demonstrating that the side has lost not of the hunger and desire which drove them to such success over the past few years. This was no tactical success in this game. Simply, Barcelona had vastly superior players to their opponent.

The upcoming Super Cup games against Real Madrid will provide a significantly sterner test of Vilanova’s tactical acumen.