La Liga 2019/20: Real Sociedad vs Leganes – tactical analysis

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

Real Sociedad hosted Leganes at the Anoeta, looking to equal Real Madrid and Barcelona’s points. The addition of midfield creator Martin Ødegaard took the side to the next level. His wonderful passing has helped their quality front three bag loads of goals. Meanwhile, the likes of Spanish international Diego Llorente and Igor Zubeldia has maintained the team’s defensive solidity.

On the other hand, things couldn’t have been worse for Leganés. A string of terrible results forced coach Mauricio Pellegrino to leave the club. Javier Aguirre has just been appointed, and it was unlucky for him to face the mighty Sociedad in his first match in charge.

Underlying stats this season have shown that Leganés have played far better than what the actual results indicated, and they would eventually get a point off Real Sociedad in this match. For Sociedad, they are surely missing Ødegaard’s creativity. Yesterday, they were not able to create quality chances on their own.

In this tactical analysis, we will delve into both sides’ tactics, and how Leganés managed to get a draw in this match.


Ødegaard’s injury forced Imanol Alguacil to use a 4-3-3 for La Real in this match. Álex Remiro was the one between the sticks. The back four consisted of former Gunner Nacho Monreal, Llorente, Robin Le Normand and Joseba Zaldúa. The midfield three were Mikel Merino, Igor Zubeldia and the once-promising youngster Adnan Januzaj. At the front, captain Mikel Oyarzabal lined up alongside Willian José and Portu – each of the three scored at least four goals in La Liga this season.

Leganés lined up in a 5-4-1. Goalkeeper Ivan Cuéllar was protected by a back five with Unai Bustinza, Kenneth Omeruo and Dimitrios Siovas the centre-backs; the wing-backs were Roberto Rosales and Kevin Rodrigues, who replaced the suspended Jonathan Silva. Roque Mesa and Recio were the double pivots, flanked by Óscar Rodríguez and José Arnáiz, while Martin Braithwaite was the lone striker.

La Liga 2019/20 Real Sociedad vs Leganes - tactical analysis tactics
Real Sociedad – Leganés line-ups

Real Sociedad in possession

The home side used a 4-3-3 in possession. Zubeldia played as a pivot, while Januzaj and Merino were the central mids. The latter two often moved wide to support wing play, with Januzaj staying higher in general.

La Liga 2019/20 Real Sociedad vs Leganes - tactical analysis tactics
Sociedad’s 4-3-3 in possession

Leganés defended zonally in a compact 5-4-1 – the main aim was not to press high, but to prevent central progression. Striker Braithwaite and the midfielders would press high when a Sociedad’s centre-back got the ball and turned towards his own goal, or there was a pass back to Sociedad’s either centre-back or goalkeeper, especially one that was difficult to control. Otherwise, they would try to keep their shape, with Braithwaite marking Zubeldia or blocking passing lanes to him – as in the picture above. The midfielders stayed close together, trying to prevent any central penetration. The back five also stayed narrow as Sociedad’s front three positioned themselves centrally. Sociedad were forced to attack through the flanks.

To counter Leganés’ narrow system, a Sociedad midfielder (mostly Zubeldia) would drop deep to become the third centre-back – and invited Braithwaite to press higher. Thus, the full-backs could push high, and the centre-backs could spread wide. This bettered Sociedad’s buildups and attacks down the wings.

La Liga 2019/20 Real Sociedad vs Leganes - tactical analysis tactics
Zubeldia as a 3rd CB; Oyarzabal in between the lines

When pushing high, Sociedad’s full-backs could easily be found and allowed time and space, as Leganés’ shape was quite narrow. They would be crucial in helping the home side progress the ball. One option Sociedad used was building up through one flank, dragging the whole Leganés shape towards that flank, and then switching play to the other. Le Normand played accurate long balls, succeeding in five of his nine attempts.

Oyarzabal is a player with good technical abilities. He often roamed between the lines (like in the picture above) to provide a good central passing option for the wide players. After receiving the ball, his smart positioning and technique allowed him to combine with nearby teammates. He was much more involved in the build-up than the other forwards, who often stayed high and pinned down the opponent’s defenders. The captain recorded 63 touches, much more than Portu (23) and Willian (18).

Sociedad wingers could be the ones to receive the ball from short passes from deep, with their smart movement around the half-space. Here, Januzaj’s inward movement dragged Recio with him. A gap in the Leganés’ defence was opened. Portu recognised it and moved outward to provide Le Normand with a passing lane.

La Liga 2019/20 Real Sociedad vs Leganes - tactical analysis tactics
Portu’s smart movement to open up a passing lane for Le Normand

Sociedad’s wing play on either flank often involved the nearby full-back, sided central mid and winger. From the resulting combinations, they would try to launch crosses into the box for the likes of Willian and Oyarzabal. The match’s top four most prolific crossers were all Sociedad’s wide men – Januzaj, Oyarzabal, Zaldúa and Merino. 31% of the four’s 19 crosses were accurate, which was quite good.

Sociedad often tried to attack from wide with two players, mostly the full-back and the nearby central midfielder on either side. On these occasions, Leganés’ shape would shift towards that flank, with the wing-back closing down the opponent’s sided central mid, while the nearby winger closing down La Real’s full-back. When possible, both of these players would press the opponent’s wide ball-carrier, forcing him to pass back. The nearby pivot would provide cover in these cases.

Sociedad mainly attacked through the right, with the left-footed Januzaj able to cross from deep or feed Zaldúa’s under/ overlapping runs – Zaldúa could then make a late cross. The duo were the most prolific in terms of key passes in this match with three in total.

To counter Zaldúa’s energetic under/ overlaps, Leganés left-winger Arnáiz needed to be aware of his movements. In this situation, Rodrigues stepped out of his position to close down Januzaj, who was about to pass down the flank for Zaldúa’s run. Arnáiz instantly recognised this and tracked back, giving Zaldúa no space. Siovas also moved out to help and eventually cleared the ball.

La Liga 2019/20 Real Sociedad vs Leganes - tactical analysis tactics
Arnáiz alert to Zaldúa’s run

When a Sociedad player was about to cross, the other side’s full-back would move central, trying to win second balls if needed. They could sustain their attack by counter-pressing right after the ball was cleared or take dangerous shots from zone 14.

Here, Monreal’s central positioning helped his side quickly win the ball back. Sociedad always tried to counter-press in the first half. The main way was closing down the ball carrier from all sides, forcing him to clear the ball or make a poor pass. They would foul him if needed.

La Liga 2019/20 Real Sociedad vs Leganes - tactical analysis tactics
Monreal helped counter-press

Oyarzabal and Portu love operating in the half-spaces. However, Leganés’ solid five-man defence allowed their sided centre-backs to follow them without being exposed. This gave the dangerous Oyarzabal and Portu less space to operate. In the following example, captain Unai Bustinza followed Oyarzabal’s deep movement, helping to temporary overload the half-space and stop Sociedad’s attack.

Sociedad’s sided central mids mostly stayed deep, while the full-backs positioning was often not aggressive enough. Therefore, no one was unable to attack the space behind Leganés’ sided centre-back in these situations.

La Liga 2019/20 Real Sociedad vs Leganes - tactical analysis tactics
Bustinza helped close down Oyarzabal

Sociedad’s wing attacks didn’t help them create big chances, as Leganés’ back five protected the box well. The most notable names were Siovas and Omeruo, who in total won seven out of nine aerial duels they faced.

Leganés in possession

There was not much to be said on Leganés’ attack in the first half, given they only had 28% of the ball. They often build-up with long balls from deep and mostly relied on counter-attacks. However, these counters were ineffective as they were pushed deep into their box and had too few men forward.

They often attacked through the wing by crosses into the box. On either side, the wing-back, the winger and the nearby pivot would try to combine before one of them was in a good position to cross. The far-side winger would join the striker to try to get on the end of such crosses.

La Liga 2019/20 Real Sociedad vs Leganes - tactical analysis tactics
Leganes’ wing attack

Sociedad defended in a 4-5-1 with Willian staying high and waiting for the counter. The wingers were asked to track deep as Leganés often attacked from the wings. The nearby centre-back would also step out of his position to help. Look at Llorente’s positioning in the below picture.

La Liga 2019/20 Real Sociedad vs Leganes - tactical analysis tactics
Sociedad’s 4-5-1; Llorente helped with wide defending

As a Sociedad centre-back would focus on wing attacks, he couldn’t help his partner defend crosses. Therefore, Leganés would have the chance to facilitate 2v2 aerial battles from crosses, with their centre-forward and ball-far winger against the opponent’s ball-far centre-back and full-back. That would be the key for Aguirre’s second-half changes.

Second half

Merino scored the opener for the home side just after the hour mark with a difficult header from Januzaj’s corner delivery. After the goal, Leganés tried to keep pressing high with great intensity. Sociedad’s players at the back were forced to clear the ball more often. They also didn’t feel the need to have too much of the ball after the goal. The below example is the incident that led to the Leganés’ equaliser. The away side’s high press forced Llorente to clear the ball. They won the ball back and scored.

La Liga 2019/20 Real Sociedad vs Leganes - tactical analysis tactics
Leganés’ high press

In the 46th minute, Youssef En-Neysri came on to replace Arnáiz. En-Neysri is better in the air, and could be a lethal weapon, given Sociedad provided the visitors with the opportunity to create 2v2 aerials. The left-winger would be a usual presence in Leganés’ second half crosses, as 56% of the team’s attack occurred on the right flank. He would eventually score the equaliser from a 2v2 aerial.

The below image showed that Llorente was focusing on the crosser and not on the aerial duels in the box. He was not in a good position to clear them. Mesa’s cross found En-Neysri, who beat Le Normand in the duel to score the equaliser.

La Liga 2019/20 Real Sociedad vs Leganes - tactical analysis tactics
2v2 aerial in the box and En-Neysri’s equaliser

After that, both teams seemed to settle for a draw. Rodrigues’ 97th-minute red card was the only notable incident late in the match.


Our analysis showed that in the end, this result was a fair one. Sociedad dominated possession but struggled to create clear chance against Leganés’ solid defence. The fact that their only goal came from a set-piece header is a testament to that. They only won one of their last three, and will desperately hope that Ødegaard can return after the international break.

On the other hand, this was an encouraging result for the newly appointed Aguirre. They defended well enough to frustrate a top-table side, and could look to build on this performance.

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