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.

Lineups

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.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics

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.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Sociedad set-up a central block which takes Vigo’s two linking players in the midfield, forcing them the play-out to take place at the by-line. This puts Vigo into a vulnerable position as the ball is then pressed against the by-line

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.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Sociedad’s block shifts across, isolating the full-back in possession while completely blocking the supporting midfielders from the ball. In this instance, a long ball is forced

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.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Sociedad quickly set-up a block in the middle as they look to regain the ball as quickly as possible. The cage outnumbers Vigo’s four-man midfield, forcing their shape to squeeze together, which makes suffocating the ball out of Vigo possession even easier

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.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Vigo look to push Sociedad back all the way, as they press the ball back to the goalkeeper, shielding the keeper from playing out to the right side, forcing him to play to the left

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.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Vigo put Sociedad’s backs against the wall, with a triangular press against the by-line trapping the ball in the corner. Winning the ball in this position makes for a great opportunity for Vigo to attack the open space on the inside

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.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Vigo hold their 4-4-2 formation which isolates certain players in the Sociedad formation, but it fails to disrupt Sociedad’s shape as the 4-4-2 was too static at times off-the-ball. It was either a really aggressive press or a lack of defensive movement overall

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.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Vigo’s wide press is less aggressive in the wide area, and the same goes for Vigo’s screen, as the path into the middle is more open than it should be

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.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
The screen is broken by the supporting midfielder, which opens room further in the wide areas, while the block into the strikers is weakened

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.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics

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.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics

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.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics

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.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics

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.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics

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.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics

Conclusion

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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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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