Real Sociedad stole the three points at Granada to leapfrog them in the La Liga table. A double from Sociedad’s Portu gave them the victory as they moved up to third in La Liga, while Granada slipped to sixth. This tactical analysis will break down how Sociedad managed to take the three points.

Lineups

Granada lined-up in a 4-4-2 formation, with Carlos Neva and Victor Díaz starting in the full-back positions. Domingos Duarte and Germán Sánchez manned the middle of the defence, with Yan Eteki and Yangel Herrera sitting ahead of them. Alvaro Valdillo and Antonio Puertas were on the wings, supporting Carlos Fernández and Ramon Azeez who started as strike partners.

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

Real Sociedad came out in a 4-1-4-1 shape, with Diego Llorente and Robin Le Normand guarding the penalty area. Either side of them sat Nacho Monreal and Joseba Zaldúa in the full-back positions, while Igor Zubeldía started just ahead of the back-four. Mikel Oyarzabal and Portu were on the wings, with Mikel Merino and Luca Sangalli manning the middle, headlined by Willian José as the sole striker.

Granada off-the-ball

Granada’s defensive tactics looked to take the game to their in-form visitors and did this by deploying a high press which looked to push Sociedad’s play out into the wide areas, before pushing the player in possession against the by-line.

When Sociedad started their play out from the goalkeeper, Granada’s wingers pushed up to form a 4-2-4 formation. This was done to block the number four from supporting his back-four while keeping the full-backs as deep as possible and therefore stunted the expansive shape that Sociedad were aiming for.

La Liga 2019/20: Granada vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Granada face-up to Sociedad’s play-out with a 4-2-4 formation, which cuts-off the supporting midfielder while keeping the full-backs as deep as possible

As we can see below, Sociedad’s centre-backs split in a bid to stretch the play as much as possible to therefore open more play-out options. To counter this, Granada looked to separate the play-out by committing the two strikers and the near-sided winger to the press.

When the ball was with the Sociedad centre-backs, the three-man press would form to block the middle and cover the linking midfielder, while the far-sided winger would push toward the other centre-half so that in the event of a switch pass, Granada could replicate this shape quickly. The press kept the full-back open, which is the ideal position for Granada’s press, as they looked to push backs against the wall and completely isolate the full-back from the middle of the pitch.

La Liga 2019/20: Granada vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Sociedad look to play-out from the back but are up against a 4-2-4 formation. Granada’s front four look to push the ball wide before initiating an aggressive wide press to maximise their chances of taking possession in high areas

When the ball was in the possession of the full-backs, Granada would set-up a series of blocks which looked to take complete control of the centre and isolate the full-back as much as possible. The block simultaneously cuts passing lanes while man-marking the most dangerous or crucial players who look to offer support, either from deep midfield or from advanced positions. When more and more players pile into one area of the pitch, something’s got to give.

La Liga 2019/20: Granada vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Granada set-up a midfield block which isolates the full-back in possession by making a combination of man-marking and a focus on cutting passing lanes from the inside to the outside

Sociedad’s defensive set-up

Real Sociedad also looked to push Granada high in order to keep them at arm’s length. Sociedad’s 4-1-4-1 formation gave one of the central midfielders the freedom to push the ball alongside the striker, with the deep midfielder filling the gap in what became a 4-4-1-1. Sociedad’s press looked to panic the player in possession while cutting off the linking players.

As we can see below, Sociedad cage one of the midfielders, who has been identified as the primary link between the defence and midfield. The marker left behind by Mikel Merino is picked up by Oyarzabal who comes inside from the left. The 4-4-1-1 is very compact in the midfield, encouraging Granada to play into the full-backs so that Sociedad can deploy a wide press of their own.

La Liga 2019/20: Granada vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Sociedad look to put Granada to the sword and ask as many questions as possible. Therefore, they switch to a 4-4-1-1 formation, with the midfield tightening up to mark the midfield players

When the ball is played wide, Sociedad’s vertical 4-4-1-1 turns into a horizontal 3-3-3 block, with the full-back out of shot providing cover and pressure on the ball at the by-line. This block provides Sociedad with a stronger shape which can isolate Granada’s supporting midfielders and dangerous forwards while making it more difficult for these layers to move around and distort the Sociedad shape as they have to stay in close proximity to the isolated full-back.

La Liga 2019/20: Granada vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Sociedad’s wide block prioritises cutting-off the inside rather than pressing the ball out-wide. As Granada’s supporting players are drawn to the by-line, the block follows them, clogging the area of the pitch with too many players for Granada to hold onto possession

As Granada looked to play-out from the back, Sociedad approached the high press in a 4-3-3 formation which was tasked with stretching Granada’s back-line while keeping their midfield players away from the play-out.

Granada similarly looked to stretch the play as much as possible to maximise the options available for the play-out. Granada’s play-out formation formed a back-three, with one full-back pushing forward to take the place of the winger who has moved inside, while the other full-back drops into the wide centre-back role.

La Liga 2019/20: Granada vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Sociedad pushed against Granada’s temporary play-out shape with a three at the back system. Sociedad’s narrow shape neutralised the long ball toward the full-backs while cutting-off the central midfielders

This allowed Sociedad to match Granada’s play-out formation in a 3 vs 3 press. The match in numbers stripped the press to individual battles, which was aided by the three attracting the two Granada midfielders having to try to keep up with Sociedad’s front three, who were constantly pushing on the back-three of Granada.

The Sociedad press was well constructed numerically, as matching the Granada defensive play-out, while outnumbering the supporting midfielders’ opened gaps, which brings us onto the third and final piece of analysis.

Sociedad punish Granada

Granada were unable to adapt their play-out to surpass the Sociedad high press. As we can see below, Sociedad set up a number of blocks in the midfield which separated the back-three from the midfield, with Willian José leading the press while Portu and Oyarzabal sit slightly deeper in order to form the first block around Granada’s closest linking player, who is dragged out from the back-three in an act of desperation to find the breakthrough from the Sociedad block.

As Willian José aggressively pushes the ball, the centre-half is forced to knock the ball forward with the Sociedad cage leaving space for a striker to drop into. Granada fall into the trap, and the ball is intercepted by the player marked blue in the diagram below.

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

The Sociedad front-three quickly expands, stretching the remains of the Granada defence as much as possible. Willian José’s movement pushes two of the centre-halves away from Portu’s run into the space left open by the Granada defender. The pass was inch-perfect for Portu, who made no mistake in punishing Granada for giving him so much space to attack.

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

This wouldn’t be the last time that Granada would fall into the trap. Once again, Granada are outnumbered in the midfield area, with Sociedad creating a focus of play on one side of the pitch – namely the side of the pitch where the full-back has dropped into the back three. Sociedad set up another cage on Granada’s supporting players, while one green jersey pushes the ball to hurry a decision.

Meanwhile, Portu is waiting on the near-side to attack the space that opened between the central and right-sided centre-back. The ball is panic-passed straight into the cage and is taken by a Sociedad midfielder.

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

The ball is quickly played through the gap in the back-three, and Portu rounds the keeper before finishing the move off, sealing the three points for Sociedad late on.

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

Conclusion

Sociedad took advantage of a poor Granada play-out system which didn’t change at all during the game, and Sociedad did brilliantly to pick their moments and frustrate their opponents before taking advantage of their mistakes and punishing them in behind.


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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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