Real Sociedad stole the three points away from home at Celta Vigo to move up to third in La Liga. Ten-man Celta Vigo were undone by a late winner from Alexander Isak, and this tactical analysis will look into how Sociedad managed to take the win.
Celta Vigo lined-up in a 4-4-2 formation, with Araújo and Aidoo manning the middle of the defence. Olaza and Hugo Mallo played as full-backs, with Suárez and Méndez ahead of them. Pape Diop and Lobotka were in the centre of midfield, with Santi Mina and Iago Aspas leading the line.
Meanwhile, Sociedad came out in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Zaldúa and Monreal starting as full-backs. Next to them sat Diego Llorente and Le Normand, with Igor Zubeldía sitting as the number four. Mikel Merino and Martin Ødegaard started in the middle, with Portu and Oyarzabal on the wings. Willian José started as the sole striker for Sociedad.
Sociedad off the ball
Sociedad’s tactics off the ball had them deploy a high press throughout the game, with their press designed to block the passing lanes through the middle, leaving the deep full-back positions open. This was done to encourage Vigo to play-out into the wide areas, leading Sociedad to aggressively press possession against the by-line, forcing Vigo to either play a long ball or forcing panic on the ball, giving Sociedad the chance to win the ball in an advanced position.
As we can see below, Sociedad set up a block around Vigo’s main linking player, with one of the four-man block marking Vigo’s number eight, who comes in the form of Pape Diop. Sociedad’s winger stays deep, encouraging them to continue their play-out with their full-backs.
As the ball is played into Olaza, Sociedad’s block floats toward the by-line, with the winger and central midfielder aggressively pressing the full-back. This press forced Vigo into a long ball, which in turn gave Sociedad possession and the means to play-out themselves.
Sociedad continued their aggressive press in the middle, particularly when they’ve just lost possession. As we can see below, Sociedad have lost the ball high up the pitch and quickly set up a high central block in a bid to panic the player on the ball.
This block cuts the passing lanes into Vigo’s most creative players while looking to panic the player on the ball as they look to regain possession quickly high up the pitch.
Vigo’s aggressive press
Celta Vigo provided a stern test for themselves as well as their opponents, with their press going all the way to the goalkeeper, showing brilliant fitness and great determination to push Sociedad as far back as possible.
As we can see below, Vigo create many lines in Sociedad’s thirds as they look to separate their supporting players who look to play out from the back. Vigo match-up to Sociedad’s supporting three as the goalkeeper is forced to play the ball into the two players at the near side in order to keep the play-out alive.
Vigo match Sociedad’s triangular positioning, trapping the play-out in the corner with the aid of the by-line. The home side look to cut-off passing lanes into the centre and suffocate the ball out of Sociedad’s hands, with the press opening an abundance of space on the inside and on the edge of the box.
However, this press can be described as ‘over-committed’, as any player who comes to support the pressured players bring a Vigo marker with them, opening space in the midfield if Sociedad can escape the cage or manage to send a long ball to their target-man, Willian José.
Vigo set up with two solid banks of four with the two strikers providing pressure on Sociedad’s linking players while isolating the strikers from Sociedad’s creative players. The formation was compact off the ball, encouraging Sociedad to play at the by-line to trigger their wide press.
However, from the example below, we can see that this shape when not pressing the ball did not disrupt the shape of Sociedad’s team, which sees Oyarzabal on the near side in the position to receive a switch pass and get between the lines. This brings us on to our third and final piece of analysis.
Sociedad make the breakthrough
Real Sociedad were able to take advantage of an overly eager press from Vigo, moving the ball quickly in order to retain their 4-1-4-1 shape while mixing up Vigo’s shape, which led to their downfall in the end.
Originally in this move, Vigo’s press lacked numbers, as Oyarzabal is not pushed against the by-line and Vigo’s screen is far from compact. Sociedad’s support delays their runs while providing support from the full-back who covers the oncoming midfielder who in turn runs ahead of the screen to ruffle their feathers.
Oyarzabal passes to the supporting midfielder, whose presence bends the screen into the middle, leaving one player to block the passing lane into the strikers. The space on the wing remains open for Sociedad to attack, but the pass in-behind puts them in a position to be caged against the by-line by the full-back, central midfielder and right midfielder.
The ball is played back into the feet of Oyarzaba, with Merino taking his marker with him, which opens up the space for Willian José who drops deep to receive the ball. The Vigo full-back spots the pass inside and looks to close José down before he can make a move.
The marker’s movement toward Willian José opens up the space to find Merino’s run, putting him in the position to come inside and shoot at goal. However, on this occasion, the pass was not quite what it needed to be, and Merino received the ball further wide, with his following cross ultimately unsuccessful.
Now we move on to Sociedad’s winning goal: Sociedad again come inside and are at a stand-off with Vigo’s midfield screen ahead of the back-four. Sociedad break this screen by outnumbering their block behind them, with the fourth player stretching the screen in order for the pass through the screen to be available.
The pass inside splits the middle of Sociedad’s 4-4-2, as one of the central midfielders comes out from the back-line to press Ødegaard, which makes way for Alexander Isak. The Swede uses his physicality to turn his man before whipping the ball into the top left corner.
Vigo’s attacking woes
Celta Vigo struggled to break down Sociedad’s block and press as they lacked the adaptive nature that their opponents had. Vigo’s 4-4-2 shape was too rigid at times, which prevented the home side from being more positive on the ball and breaking through the Sociedad lines.
For example, Sociedad set up a block with the defensive focus on the ball in the wide area. This opened space behind the block which should’ve been taken up by Pape Diop with his midfield partner in Lobotka dropping deep to then cover him. Had Vigo switched between a flat midfield and a diamond, Vigo might’ve been able to break through the lines and capitalise on the movement of the Sociedad midfield.
We can see this naivety again from Vigo in the example below. Vigo look to attack the wide areas, and the man in possession is stood up against a block of four who cut off the two strikers. He has options in the centre which are too static and aren’t proactive in trying to pierce Sociedad’s defence, which is exposed on the far-side.
Instead, he opts for the long switch pass, which could still cause problems, but is a much lower percentage pass, which results in Vigo losing the ball.
Vigo had a very good plan coming into the game, with their aggressive press causing all sorts of problems for Sociedad when trying to lay out. However, Vigo ran out of steam very quickly and couldn’t keep up the press, leaving holes between the lines which Sociedad exploited expertly. Sociedad’s well-balanced team allowed for the away side to adapt to their opposition’s tactics and exploit their weaknesses.
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