Valencia hosted Celta Vigo in this week’s La Liga round 22 fixture. Valencia has still put in quite inconsistent performances, but somehow has managed to get enough points to be in the battle for a Champions League spot for next season. Nevertheless, it’s hard to say that these overperforming results will keep coming until the end of the season.
Meanwhile, Celta has wildly underperformed, which trapped them at the bottom of the table. They were in absolutely terrible form – unable to win in their last seven Liga matches – heading into this match.
A reason for Celta’s struggle this season has been their tendency to lose focus and concede goals in the final 15 minutes of the game. This again happened in yesterday’s match, which further worsened their crisis. In this tactical analysis, we will delve into both sides’ tactics, and how Valencia defeated Celta.
Valencia (4-4-2): Jaume Doménech; José Gayà, Gabriel Paulista, Ezequiel Garay, Alessandro Florenzi; Carlos Soler, (C) Dani Parejo, Francis Coquelin, Daniel Wass; Maxi Gómez, Ferrán Torres.
Celta Vigo (3-5-2): Rubén Blanco; Néstor Araújo, Jeison Murillo, Joseph Aidoo; Lucas Olaza, Rafinha Alcántara, Okay Yokuşlu, Fran Beltran, Kevin Vazquez; Gabriel Fernández, (C) Iago Aspas.
Valencia in possession
Valencia built up in a 4-2-3-1. The full-backs pushed close to the half-way line, while the double pivot roamed deep to help the centre-backs play from the back. The back four and double pivot are all comfortable with the ball, meaning Valencia could consistently get past Celta Vigo’s first line of pressing.
In attacking midfield, nominal wingers Soler and Wass often moved more centrally, while Ferrán dropped deep from his striker position. This is natural for these players as Soler and Wass can play well as attacking midfielders, while Ferrán is more of a creator than a finisher.
Celta Vigo defended in a 3-1-4-2. Their two central midfielders were very active without the ball and would try to coordinate with the strikers to press Valencia’s centre-backs and double pivot – their first line of pressing looked like a front three or four at times. The wing-backs would look to close down Valencia’s full-backs, aiming to force them long. Okay took care of Ferrán’s dropping movements.
Celta’s goal was to shift the whole shape according to the ball and cover central passing options, forcing the opponent wide. The ball-near central midfielder must work hard to close down passing lanes and coordinate pressing with the wing-back. The pivot and the ball-far central mid would stay deeper to protect the back. In the following example, Valencia was forced to build up through the right wing. Olaza then rushed to press Florenzi, while Rafinha blocked the full-back’s nearest central option.
Coquelin and Parejo are very pressing resistant and capable of beating Celta’s high press. If they helped Valencia get through the press, the home side could then launch a quick attack, with their speedy attackers – e.g. Soler, Ferrán – trying to exploit the space Celta’s shape left behind. Here, Soler dropped deep and central to receive Parejo’s pass and launch an attack through the right.
As a winger playing on the wrong side, Soler often tried to cut inside and connect with the double pivot or Wass on the right. Looking at the heatmap below, we can see that Soler’s overall positioning was much more central than Wass’.
It was clear that Celta’s mid-press was hard to bypass. Valencia often resorted to long balls, which didn’t really work as Celta’s defenders and pivot Okay won most of their duels (11 out of 19).
Valencia often had no choice but to attack from the flanks, which actually was not against their usual plan. This season, having the physical Maxi instead of Kévin Gameiro upfront has encouraged Los Che to launch crosses after crosses into the box.
However, in this match, they even had trouble just launching crosses. When Valencia had the ball wide in the final third, Celta would overload the ball-near flank with their nearby central mid, wing-backs and centre-back – the ball-near centre-back could leave his position as there were still two other centre-backs behind him. That was how they created a 3v2 against Valencia’s nearby full-back and winger. In the following example, centre-back Araújo moved from his position to compress the wide area, making it impossible for Valencia’s wide players to combine and cross.
Without striker Rodrigo Moreno up front, Wass was sometimes the one to join Maxi in the box. The Danish’s aerial prowess was no match for Celta’s centre-back, meaning Valencia couldn’t rely on crosses as much as they wanted.
Celta Vigo in possession
Celta used a 3-1-5-1 formation in possession. The wing-backs pushed high to help the attack, while Aspas often dropped deep to exchange position with the central midfielders, who were protected by pivot Okay.
Valencia defended in their familiar 4-4-2 mid-press, but would look to press keeper Blanco – who is not comfortable on the ball – to force long passes. Celta’s back three gave them a 3v2 advantage against Valencia’s first line of pressing. Valencia’s compact midfield four meant a good option for Celta was long balls towards the wing-backs, as shown in the below image. During the first phase of build-up, Rafinha moved high, looking to win second balls should there be long balls towards target man Gabriel.
Unlike Valencia, Celta didn’t try to play from the back. Keeper Blanco mostly went long with his passes (17/26, or 65.38% of his passes were long). He was often pressed by the relentless Maxi. Celta’s centre-backs were not too comfortable on the ball, but their midfield were. Okay served as the anchor man, connecting the defence with the more offensive players and showing good composure on the ball with his smart body turns when pressured.
The central mids and the forwards roamed rather freely (Gabriel the least mobile) but tried to stay close to combine through the centre. In the below image, Rafinha and Beltran were even closer to the box than their forward teammates.
Celta’s most notable players in attack were the left-footed Rafinha and Aspas. Both are great pressing-resistant dribblers with great technique and passing. Their movements across the pitch were key to Celta’s ball progression. The below image was Rafinha and Aspas’ heatmaps.
After exchanges of passes in the centre, Olaza was often found on the left wing with lots of space to run and cross – he had most crosses of the night with 16. Olaza was the Celta player with most touches in this match (80). He showed good passing skills to connect with Rafinha and the strikers.
Valencia’s midfield kept compact, shifted together towards the ball side and aim to block central progression. Here, Wass’ half-space positioning took out two central passing options of the ball carrier.
After forcing Celta wide, Valencia would instantly overload the ball-near area. Look at the positioning of centre-back Garay and the home side’s double pivot.
Valencia’s pressing was highly synchronised. In the below example, Wass started closing down the ball carrier. Coquelin and Florenzi instantly rushed towards his two nearby forward passing options.
Much of Celta’s central play was stopped by Coquelin (2 interceptions, 2 tackles) and Parejo’s (2 interceptions, 3 tackles) pressing and other defensive actions.
Second half changes
From the 42nd to 53rd minute, Valencia used a 4-1-4-1, with Coquelin the pivot, Wass and Parejo central mids, and Ferrán the right winger. Striker Rodrigo replaced Florenzi soon after, meaning Valencia reverted to their 4-4-2, with Wass the right-back.
In the second half, Valencia were much more willing to cross as they looked to score the winning goal and had the added aerial threat of Rodrigo. 5 out of their 12 crosses in this half were early ones, which was an indication of a more direct style of football. The below graph showed Valencia’s position of crosses.
Valencia also now tried to overload the right flank with Parejo and/or forward Rodrigo. This helped them have enough men to combine and create space for someone to send a cross in. The result was that they had 8 crosses from the right in the second half compared to 2 in the first.
During wing attacks, one of the wide players would move more centrally, pulling Celta’s wing-back, central mid and centre-back narrow and thus, creating space out wide for his teammate to cross. In the above example, Wass moved centrally, creating space for Ferrán out wide.
In the 73rd minute, left winger Pione Sisto came in for Araújo, making Celta a 4-2-3-1, with Rafinha the central attacking midfielder and Aspas the right winger.
Almost instantly, Ferrán switched to the left flank, possibly to use his and Gayà’s speed and skill to exploit the space behind Aspas, who is naturally a striker and doesn’t contribute much to his team’s defence. In the 77th minute, substitute centre-back Mouctar Diakhaby launched a quick counter. Ferrán ran freely with the ball on the left and sent a low cross towards Rodrigo, which eventually lead to Soler’s goal. That was the only goal of the match.
In the end, this was an acceptable win for Valencia. This analysis showed that they were again not particularly impressive, lacking creativity in the final third, but in the end did just enough to seal three points. Their performance needs to be levelled up if they want to earn a Champions League spot though.
Celta defended well but didn’t show too many offensive ideas. Their finishing wasn’t good enough. Once again, the away side undeservedly lost in the final minutes. Chances are that luck will finally come their way and help them stay in La Liga for another season.