Imanol Alguacil’s Real Sociedad came into Osasuna’s El Sadar stadium in this La Liga matchup, ultimately earning themselves a victory. La Real go into their winter break in fifth place, while Jagoba Arrasate’s Osasuna find themselves in twelfth place. 

This tactical analysis looks to understand how Real Sociedad used their tactics to overcome Osasuna, while providing some analysis for both teams on their successes and struggles.

Lineups

La Liga 2019/20: Real Sociedad vs Osasuna - tactical analysis tacticsOsasuna started and played most of the game in a 4-4-2 with Sergio Herrera as their shot-stopper. Their defence consisted of Pervis Estupiñán, David García, Aridane Hernández, and Facundo Roncaglia. Their four in the midfield were Rubén García, Darko Brasanac, Oier, and Roberto Torres. Their two starting forwards were Chimy Ávila and Adrián López.

Imanol Alguacil’s men came out in a 4-1-4-1 with Alex Remiro starting in goal. Their backline consisted of Nacho Monreal, Diego Llorente, Igor Zubeldia, and Joseba Zaldua with Ander Guevara playing in the space in front of them. The four midfielders in front of Guevara were Mikel Oyarzabal, Mikel Merino, Martin Ødegaard, and Portu, with Portu and Oyarzabal serving primarily as wingers. Willian José was the lone striker at the beginning of the match.

Osasuna Defending the Midfield 

The match can be summed up as a tale of two very different halves, as La Real were able to dictate play much more in the first half than they were in the second.La Liga 2019/20: Real Sociedad vs Osasuna - tactical analysis tactics As seen above, the majority of Real Sociedad’s goals were scored when they had a high percentage of the ball, particularly in the first thirty minutes of the game. While La Real had much of the possession, a lot of it was at the feet of their defenders, who would knock the ball around the outside of Osasuna’s defence, looking to find a breakthrough the middle.La Liga 2019/20: Real Sociedad vs Osasuna - tactical analysis tactics As demonstrated in the map, much of the passes being made were between Llorente (a centre back), Igor Zubeldia (another centre back) and Joseba Zaldua (the right back). While this lead to high amounts of possession, La Real struggled to find their midfielders consistently.

Sociedad looked to build out of the back and draw Osasuna out of their own half by forcing them to press. Osasuna’s main goal was to deny Ander Guevara possession of the ball.La Liga 2019/20: Real Sociedad vs Osasuna - tactical analysis tactics The two midfielders and the forward are creating a triangle of sorts around Guevara as the Real Sociedad centre backs possess the ball. By eliminating Guevara as an option, it forces La Real to play down the wings many times and bypass the centre of the pitch. Prior to La Real’s second goal, which primarily stems from a defensive error, Osasuna continues to make sure that Real Sociedad’s midfielders don’t have much opportunity on the ball.

La Liga 2019/20: Real Sociedad vs Osasuna - tactical analysis tacticsHere, Zubeldia is in possession with Guevara, Ødegaard, and Merino marked tightly. Ødegaard actually has two defenders preventing him from receiving the ball. Zubeldia is forced to bypass the midfield and play the ball into Willian José’s feet, who one touches the ball directly to an Osasuna player. Generally, this would be considered a success — Osasuna are forcing Sociedad to bypass some of their stronger players on the ball. Unfortunately for them, Estupiñán misplays the ball and settles it quite nicely for Portu, who is able to finish off the chance. 

Osasuna shift tactics at the half

Right before the break Osasuna were able to pull a goal back off of a free-kick. Finding themselves down by two goals, they made a distinct switch in styles of play. For the majority of the first half, Osasuna looked to build through the centre of the pitch when they were in possession. As soon as they won the ball off of La Real, Osasuna would combine and often look to play down the wings with one of their strikers often being on the receiving end of a long ball.

After the half, Osasuna decided to be even more deliberate with their long passes. Osasuna played a total of 59 long passes, with a 56% success rate. 13 of those long passes came from their goalkeeper, Herrera. In the second half, Osasuna was much more effective in their pressing, which allowed them to see more of the ball closer to La Real’s goal.La Liga 2019/20: Real Sociedad vs Osasuna - tactical analysis tactics A long ball set up Osasuna’s second goal. There’s a slight miscommunication between Llorente and Monreal, with Llorente coming over to play the ball. He misplays its off of his foot, and it falls directly into the path of Chimy Ávila, who is able to control and finish. Real Sociedad struggled to maintain organization at the back, which is what allowed Chimy Ávila to be open in so much space. Ideally, Igor Zubeldia would have shifted to his left as Llorente slid over. He didn’t, and La Real were punished.

Osasuna’s third goal — and Chimy Ávila’s second — also came off of a quick long pass. Real Sociedad switched to a 5-4-1, clearly intent on protecting their lead. By ceding possession, they invited Osasuna to attack and apply pressure. This meant more clearances by La Real, which allowed Osasuna back into the game. 

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

Roberto Torres found himself in possession of a bouncing ball seconds after his teammate won an aerial duel, and he quickly played Chimy Ávila into space, who was able to craftily dribble and pop the ball up into the air, finishing the chance into the side netting with his own head. Despite playing themselves back into the game, Osasuna ultimately dug themselves too deep of a hole and were unable to recover from it.

La Real’s style of play

Before switching to the more defensive 5-4-1, Real Sociedad looked to possess the ball out of the back.La Liga 2019/20: Real Sociedad vs Osasuna - tactical analysis tacticsBy opening up wide with their outside backs, La Real were able to create a lot of space for their midfielders, which eventually led to their goal-scoring success. Above, it’s clear how important Ander Guevara is to their build-up, as he has angles to play many different passes when he receives the ball. This is why Osasuna tried to shut him out of the game.La Liga 2019/20: Real Sociedad vs Osasuna - tactical analysis tacticsLa Real’s solution to Guevara being marked out of the game was simple. Allow either Ødegaard or Martino to drop a little bit, and then they would play a pass to Guevara’s feet. Here we have Martino dropping and laying the ball off to Guevara, who is able to quickly switch the field and find a teammate.

Real Sociedad’s first big chance in the twelfth minute came when Guevara was able to find space and progress the ball.La Liga 2019/20: Real Sociedad vs Osasuna - tactical analysis tactics Here, as Guevara moves the ball upfield, Osasuna don’t have a lot of pressure to provide the ball carrier, because they are too busy marking La Real players. Osasuna is spread out as a defence, which is the opposite of what most coaches teach their players.La Liga 2019/20: Real Sociedad vs Osasuna - tactical analysis tactics Real Sociedad have players spread out wide in all parts of the pitch, which makes the backline of Osasuna stretch in order to provide proper coverage. This stretching of the defence becomes a problem because it’s more difficult to recover when a ball gets played in quickly. La Liga 2019/20: Real Sociedad vs Osasuna - tactical analysis tacticsWillian José has the first chance of the game as the ball comes in quickly from the right hand side. He finds himself off of the back shoulder of the Osasuna player, and he is also in a lot of space because his teammate, Mikel Oyarzabal, is occupying Facundo Roncaglia’s attention. Willian José misses the chance, but La Real continue to push and eventually, the goals would come for them.

Ødegaard’s successes

Martin Ødegaard is having one of his strongest seasons to date. His goal came off of a free-kick, where he used his left foot to curl the ball away from the goalkeeper into the top corner, leaving Hererra with no hope of saving it. His assist speaks more to his ability to draw attention from opponents, opening up space and passing lanes in the process.La Liga 2019/20: Real Sociedad vs Osasuna - tactical analysis tacticsØdegaard plays a quick 1-2 pass and in the process, two defenders attack the ball while another one trails behind. Ødegaard slips behind them and effectively removes three defenders from the play. He receives the ball on his left foot and dribbles on an angle, away from where he wants to play the ball.

La Liga 2019/20: Real Sociedad vs Osasuna - tactical analysis tacticsAs he dribbles, the centre back steps up to take on the challenge. As the centre back steps up, he’s leaving his man (Oyarzabal) in a lot of space. Ødegaard draws the pressure and the slots the ball to Oyarzabal, who slots the ball home for the first goal of the match.

Later in the match, after La Real had already scored, Martin Ødegaard received the ball between two defenders, and progressed it forward into an area where Osasuna had two more defenders. La Liga 2019/20: Real Sociedad vs Osasuna - tactical analysis tacticsSurrounded by 4, Ødegaard split the two centre backs and rolled a ball into the box for Willian José. Luckily for Osasuna, their goalkeeper made a play and kept the scoreline at 3-0. Ødegaard’s ability to circulate possession and then get the ball at his feet with him facing towards the goal allowed La Real to break through Osasuna’s press.La Liga 2019/20: Real Sociedad vs Osasuna - tactical analysis tacticsHere, Ødegaard checks back towards the backline and receives the ball at his feet. Osasuna has to commit a defender to him, which opens up his teammates even more. While Ødegaard has multiple options in the direction he is facing, he’s still looking to progress the ball. With his hips facing the sideline, Ødegaard plays the ball across his body towards goal, into his striker’s feet, breaking Osasuna’s line of pressure. Osasuna are forced to defend even deeper as Ødegaard gets the ball back at his feet, primed to cause even more trouble.

Conclusion

Real Sociedad were able to dictate much of the game when they built from the back and spread Osasuna across the field. When Osasuna began playing longer balls, it caused a large problem for La Real, as they struggled to build out under immense pressure. This allowed Osasuna back into the game, until an untimely red card ended most of their hopes of a comeback. Martin Ødegaard continues to be a standout player for Real Sociedad, who have now jettisoned themselves up to fifth in La Liga.


Total Football Analysis Magazine #16: December 2019

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Carl Elsik