Real Sociedad dispatched Real Betis at home in La Liga by three goals to one on Sunday. Sociedad now sit fourth in the La Liga table, while Betis moved into the drop zone. This tactical analysis will look into how Sociedad picked up the three points against a struggling Betis side.

Lineups

Sociedad started in a 4-3-3 set-up, with Zubeldia and Le Normand manning the middle of the defence. Monreal and Zaldía covered the wings, with Merino, Guevara and Ødegaard making up the midfield three. Ahead of them was Portu on the left, Oyarzabal on the right, supporting Willian José through the middle.

la liga 2019/20: real sociedad vs real betis - tactical analysis tactics

Betis came out in a 4-4-2 formation, with Barragán, Mandi, Bartra and Álex Moreno making up the back four. In line with them stood Canales on the left, Fekir and García in the centre and Joaquín on the right side. Loren and Borja Iglesias partnered up front.

Sociedad’s diamond defending

Sociedad came up against a well-balanced side who, if given the time and space, could play explosive football with the power of Iglesias, the pace of Loren and the technical ability of Nabil Fekir in midfield.

Fekir’s theoretically deeper position in a 4-4-2 allowed for Sociedad to set-up a stable block which would separate the midfield from the two up-top. As we can see below, Sociedad push Fekir away from goal while isolating the two Betis strikers. This allowed for Sociedad to control Betis’ attacking shape, to an extent.

Sociedad’s block has Betis’ wide players on the right inside and static, while the only progressive pass is a long ball, which is unlikely to be possible given the pressure put on the ball.

la liga 2019/20: real sociedad vs real betis - tactical analysis tactics
Sociedad set-up a central block, looking to pressurise the ball backwards or wide in a bid to push Betis backs against the wall. The block is made from man-markers at the front, with the deeper three screening the back four while also being able to cover the full-backs

Real Sociedad set themselves with spare men who can cover oncoming runners from the midfield, while still being able to recover or retain their defensive shape. As we can see below, Sociedad’s winger Orzabayal drops out of the centre to cover one of Betis’ wide runners, while Nacho Monreal man-marks the other, forming a back five.

Sociedad’s midfield block remains, with the ball and Betis’ two linking players man-marked, with a spare midfielder screening the back-four.

la liga 2019/20: real sociedad vs real betis - tactical analysis tactics
Betis’ oncoming winger is covered by one stopper of Sociedad’s block, pushing one toward the ball and another coming inside to man-mark. This encourages the ball to be played wide, allowing for Sociedad to suffocate the ball out of Betis hands by the touchline

The diamond block is one of the tactics frequently used by Sociedad off the ball. As we can see below, Sociedad looked to use the diamond press to force Betis wide when bringing the ball out from the back. This form of Gegenpressing looked to completely panic the player in possession, while cutting-off all short passing options, giving Sociedad a high chance of recovering the ball either high up the pitch, with plenty of options around them, or forcing a long ball to the Sociedad back-four.

la liga 2019/20: real sociedad vs real betis - tactical analysis tactics
Sociedad set-up a diamond block, as they looked to isolate the ball from the middle of the pitch, man-marking any short options

Another tactic used by Sociedad was pressing in lines, as the picture below shows Sociedad looking to push Betis wide again, cutting off their two central midfielders, one of whom was Nabil Fekir. This shape staggered Betis’ shape, forcing forward players to come deeper for the ball, and suffocating their own shape for desperation to play out from the back.

la liga 2019/20: real sociedad vs real betis - tactical analysis tactics
Sociedad look to split the lines of Betis’ defence and midfield, with Fekir and Garcia, with the deeper three looking to force Betis’ linking players deeper

Betis off the ball

Betis set-up a high press to counteract Sociedad’s forward-thinking midfield. Sociedad went with one linking player from the midfield dropping deep. Betis looked to take advantage of Sociedad’s play-out tactics by setting up a central block which looked to isolate Sociedad’s link, while leaving the full-backs free, encouraging the ball to be played out at the by-line.

la liga 2019/20: real sociedad vs real betis - tactical analysis tactics
Sociedad’s linking midfielder, Guevara is blocked off from the ball, with a further block from Sociedad’s two attacking midfielders are too far forward to properly support the central play-out

As the ball is worked wide, Betis look to isolate the ball from Sociedad’s most dangerous players in the centre. Betis control the avenue into the middle while looking to push the ball against the touchline, with Sociedad’s shape squashed together, unable to expand themselves across the pitch.

la liga 2019/20: real sociedad vs real betis - tactical analysis tactics
Betis force the ball wide, narrowing Sociedad’s shape, attracting Sociedad’s supporting players to the ball, restricting any space for progressive passes

However, leaving the by-line open is a risky tactic, and an aggressive wide press and block must be perfect. But given Betis’ position in the La Liga table, it couldn’t be kept up, which brings us onto our final piece of analysis.

Betis breakdown

In order to counter Betis’ cage around their deep midfielder, Guevara, he dropped in-between the Sociedad centre-halves to form a back three, giving license to the full-backs to push further forward.

Merino would then drop into the number four position to drag more black shirts toward the ball, leaving space in the middle between the Betis lines.

la liga 2019/20: real sociedad vs real betis - tactical analysis tactics
Sociedad’s deep midfielder drops to form a back three, the Sociedad full-backs push forward. Merino drops to open up gaps in the middle, giving Sociedad more options to play out from the back

From here, Sociedad can play around Betis’ high press by playing between the back five, before quickly switching focus to Merino in the centre, who takes up the space previously created. The space between the lines is recurring between each third of the Betis set-up, as their ambitious press left gaps between the lines.

Merino gets his head up and plays a splitting pass between a midfield whose shape had been toyed with from Sociedad’s play-out through the high press. This takes three midfielders out of the game while opening up an abundance of space in the wide areas, exploiting Betis’ switch in focus to Merino in the middle.

la liga 2019/20: real sociedad vs real betis - tactical analysis tactics
Merino acts as Sociedad’s linking player, with central support from Guevara for the centre-backs creating more space for the play-out. Gaps open further up the pitch as Betis over-commit in their initial press

Merino’s pass puts Sociedad in an excellent position, with three creative players attacking Betis’ high line man-for-man, leaving the wings completely free. Sociedad’s striker, Willian José can, therefore, breakthrough this overloaded line and have his pick of the space as the ball goes wide. This chance goes astray, as the ball is blocked for a corner, which Sociedad score from following what was a great pattern of play.

la liga 2019/20: real sociedad vs real betis - tactical analysis tactics
Sociedad break between the lines, with space left out wide by a very compact back-line, who were met with a man-for-man numerical overload in the centre

Conclusion

Sociedad deserved the victory, as they were the ones to adapt to Betis’ high press. Sociedad did well to counteract Betis’ tactics, defending well while also not compromising their style of play.

Meanwhile, Betis were pretty poor tactically. They allowed themselves to be dominated in the midfield, which didn’t cover the defence well enough. This was a particular problem when the shape switched to a 4-4-2, losing density in the middle of the pitch, while pushing Fekir back, making him ineffectual.


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Ciaran O'Hare

Writer/Analyst at FBA
Leeds United and Falkirk fan, podcaster and radio producer. I love to dive deep into the art of football tactics and the sport's greatest stories.
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