Osasuna and Real Betis participated in a cagey, tactical affair in their first 2019/20 La Liga match. This tactical analysis will investigate how Osasuna’s tactics did enough to nullify the threat of Betis’ biggest threats, Sergio Canales and Nabil Fekir, as well as how they attacked their more favoured opponents. The analysis will demonstrate how Los Rojillos’ high initial press and compact mid-block denied their opponents space in the centre of the pitch and how Betis attempted to counteract this approach. 

Lineups

La Liga 2019/20: Osasuna vs Real Betis - tactical analysis tactics
Osasuna vs Real Betis teams (wyscout.com)

The home side lined up in a  fairly rigid 4-4-2 formation. Their front four of Rubén García, Chimy Ávila, Adrián López and Roberto Torres were tasked with providing their attacking threat. Their double-pivot meanwhile, had an important task in nullifying Betis’ own double pivot.

Rudi initially set out his side in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Javi García and Andres Guardado were originally the double-pivot. They were tasked with progressing the ball and covering for Betis’ attacking quartet of Juanmi, Fekir, Canales and Borja Iglesias. It was a fluid shape however and Rudi did move personnel around during the match in order to counter Osasuna’s tactics.

Osasuna’s press and defensive block

Osasuna’s press was a key feature of their tactics in this match. They pressed Betis aggressively from restarts, before dropping into a compact 4-4-2 block when Betis were able to progress. Resultantly, Betis’ pass accuracy dropped considerably. Against Osasuna, it was 80.27%. In the last calendar year their average has been 88.5% and this season it has been 85.5%. Osasuna’s press and block ultimately ensured Betis only managed an xG of 0.54. It also forced 29 lost balls deep in Betis’ half.

La Liga 2019/20: Osasuna vs Real Betis - tactical analysis tactics
Betis attempt to play out from a goal kick but Osasuna press them extremely high up the field. They essentially go man for man, forcing an error from Robles and winning the ball deep in Betis’ half.

Osasuna’s wide midfielders, García and Torres had an important task. They had to stay narrow to close passing lanes into the half-spaces, often occupied by Fekir and Canales. Furthermore, they needed to retain access to the Betis full-backs. Fran Mérida and Oier Sanjurjo had to stay connected, either pressing the Betis double pivot or holding shape just in front of their defence.

La Liga 2019/20: Osasuna vs Real Betis - tactical analysis tactics
When Betis were able to possess the ball further from their goal, Osasuna adopted a compact 4-4-2 shape. Their midfield pushed up close to Betis’ midfield. They stayed narrow to restrict passes into the half-spaces. Their defence pushed up behind. Osasuna’s strikers also worked hard to manipulate Betis’ defenders passing options, not allowing them to pass back and round. Ávila is in position to prevent the ball moving on further to the right.

With their backline also squeezing up aggressively when higher up the field, Betis players often found themselves surrounding the ball under intense pressure from their markers. Betis largely failed to adjust to this, rarely making the types of third man runs to manipulate and exploit the aggressive marking. This was an approach that would have reaped more rewards, and did so on the very rare occasions Betis actually used it.

La Liga 2019/20: Osasuna vs Real Betis - tactical analysis tactics
A third man run works well. After giving the ball inside to Guardado, Alfonso Pedraza continues his run down the left flank. Juanmi drops towards Guardado, bringing the right-back with him. Guardado gives him the ball. Juanmi then flicks it round the corner for Pedraza into the vacant space.

Betis’ attempts to counteract Osasuna’s press

Early on, Betis’ 4-2-3-1 was poorly equipped to deal with Osasuna’s aggressive pressing. Initially, Canales was playing on the right side, with Fekir as the number 10. By pressing aggressively, Osasuna were able to deny both players the ball, because Betis simply could not progress it to them. They were clearly missing the suspended William Carvalho.

However, Rudi made some tweaks to his side’s attacking shape. He switched Andres Guardado and Canales, moving the former onto the right side and the latter into the double pivot. This gave Betis a superior ball player in deeper areas than they had previously enjoyed. Nevertheless, it did often require moments of real quality to bypass Osasuna’s press.

La Liga 2019/20: Osasuna vs Real Betis - tactical analysis tactics
Osasuna continue to press Betis high. Marc Barta’s quality shows here however. He is able to play a first time ball to Guardado, who has found space. Betis could then launch an attack.

Furthermore, Rudi asked Juanmi to play narrower and higher alongside Iglesias. This created more of a 4-2-2-2 structure. Rather than Osasuna’s full-backs having anyone to press, they were pinned along with their centre back partners by Juanmi and Iglesias. With their own full-backs providing width (albeit quite poorly), Betis were able to overload the centre more effectively. Additionally, they could get the ball to their most dangerous player, Fekir, more often via Canales.

La Liga 2019/20: Osasuna vs Real Betis - tactical analysis tactics
Betis morphed into a 4-2-2-2 more in the second half. Canales dropped to the left side of the double pivot, providing a more composed and technical ball playing presence. The full baks provided width. Juanmi and Iglesias pinned the defence. More space opened up in front of the defence for Fekir, who was well found by Canales.

Fekir impresses

Fekir was by far Real Betis’ most threatening player. Whether playing higher, dropping off or pulling wide, he carried Betis’ most potent threat. Their most dangerous movements came as a result of his passing, dribbling or work rate winning the ball back in dangerous areas. However, a combination of poor decisions at crucial moments by Fekir or his teammates as well as excellent Osasuna defending ensured Real Betis did not benefit from Fekir’s potentially difference-making quality. Aridane Hernández was particularly impressive.

La Liga 2019/20: Osasuna vs Real Betis - tactical analysis tactics
With Osasuna pressing hard, it often took individual quality to break it. Fekir is able to turn away from two markers under intense pressure. He then dribbles clear and fires a wonderful pass out to Juanmi to attack down the left side.
La Liga 2019/20: Osasuna vs Real Betis - tactical analysis tactics
Having pulled out wide to the left, Fekir fires a sensational pass across the penalty area. Osasuna were just able to tidy it up.

Osasuna’s direct attacking

Osasuna favoured a direct attacking style. This was partly due to Betis’ own 4-3-3 high pressing shape that made it difficult to pass through them due to their midfield overload. However, Osasuna had also identified a perceived vulnerability from Betis aerially and in transition. They frequently sought to get the ball forwards quickly when they turned it over. They clearly felt that without Carvalho, Betis would be vulnerable.

La Liga 2019/20: Osasuna vs Real Betis - tactical analysis tactics
Osasuna are quick to counter from a set-piece and Betis have only two players back. Osasuna have six players in the attack. After playing it left, they were able to take out one defender. They then created a 1-v-1 against the goalkeeper. Unfortunately, the final pass was a poor one, lifted lazily off the ground which resulted in a heavy touch and a volleyed effort. Robles saved

This style was complemented by the positioning of their four most attacking players: García, Ávila, López and Torres. They often made it appear that Osasuna were playing a 4-2-4 shape, ensuring 1 vs 1s against the Real Betis defenders. If Osasuna were able to win the first ball, they could threaten Betis quickly. But for Joel Robles or the woodwork, they would have won.

La Liga 2019/20: Osasuna vs Real Betis - tactical analysis tactics
Osasuna’s direct play created a fantastic chance. The ball was played over the top, before being pulled back across the penalty area. The shot that resulted struck the crossbar.

They did nevertheless miss out on the opportunity to hurt their more illustrious counterparts. When Guardado was moved to the right flank, it was clear that Pervis Estupiñán was far superior athletically. He was able to run beyond Guardado on a few occasions to create a two-on-one with Emerson simply due to his athleticism. Osasuna failed to take proper advantage of this vulnerability however.

Conclusion

Osasuna’s defensive pro-activeness ensured they kept their talented opponents comfortably at arm’s length for much of the game. Their press forced Rudi into a change of attacking shape and their work rate defensively across the team constantly forced Betis to receive the ball under pressure. Furthermore, their direct attacking play caused Betis real issues. Had Robles not been on such impressive form, they would have won.

Though the likes of Fekir and Canales were able to get into the game more effectively as it wore on, Betis overall looked fairly toothless in attack, as well as vulnerable in transition and to direct attacking play. They will need to improve moving forwards.



Artwork by @chapulana

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Scott Geelan

Scott is an avid sports fan and follower of both football and its American cousin. He tries to write about both of them.
Scott Geelan