Valencia hosted Real Betis in this week’s La Liga round 26 fixture. Valencia had been in a quite bad form going into this match. They lost four and draw one of their last five matches, including terrible three-goal losses away to direct Champions League spot competitors Getafe and Real Sociedad, and to Atalanta in the Champions League round of 16. Things look even less promising for Betis, who had been winless in their last six. This talented squad was knocked out of the Copa del Rey and was close to getting in the relegation battle. Understandably, this was a must-win match for both sides.
Valencia (4-4-2): Jasper Cillessen; José Gayà, Mouctar Diakhaby, Gabriel Paulista, Daniel Wass; Carlos Soler, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Dani Parejo, Ferrán Torres; Maxi Gómez, Kévin Gameiro.
Real Betis (5-4-1): Joel Robles; Álex Moreno, Sidnei, Edgar González, Aïssa Mandi, Emerson; Joaquín, Sergio Canales, Andrés Guardado, Nabil Fekir; Borja Iglesias.
Valencia in possession
When the ball was in Valencia’s half, Real Betis would try to press in a 4-1-2-3. Canales and Guardad would follow Valencia’s double pivot, while the front three tried to stay close to form a web in order to occupy the ball-carrier’s nearby passing options. They would initially position centrally, forcing the ball out wide. When a Valencia full-back received the ball as a result, the ball-near winger would move wide to press him, forcing a back pass, which would trigger intense high press. The striker would close down the ball-near centre-back, while the ball-far winger occupied the other Valencia central defender. Should the ball be switched to Valencia’s ball-far full-back, the nearby Betis full-back would anticipate and rush towards him. In the below example, Joaquín and Fekir’s press forced Valencia to go back to their keeper, who was then closed down by Borja. With all short passing options occupied, Cillessen had to go long. His long ball proportion was 82%, much higher than his season average of 62%.
Being a side that likes to play out from the back, Valencia was heavily troubled by Betis’ intense press. The back players were not composed enough and were forced to go long much more than usual. 23% of their 128 passes in the first half were long.
In situations which they won the resulting second balls (or forced turnovers), they would try to launch quick attacks down the wings. Their shape in attack was more oriented towards the right as the likes of Wass and Parejo tried to feed the pacey creator in Ferrán, who would then try to run down the flank and send crosses in. Gameiro often overloaded this area to facilitate short combinations after flexible movements from Wass and Ferrán.
As Betis’s shape shifted towards this side, Valencia could also progress by switching play towards Gaya, who would then have acres of space on the left to dribble and cross. Their possession sequences in the first half were few and short as Betis dominated possession, while the home side’s quick attacks seriously lacked creativity and accuracy.
When Valencia got the ball in Betis’ half, the visitors would drop into a 4-1-4-1, with Edgar the lone pivot. The whole shape tried to be narrow and compact and shift according to where the ball was. Edgar’s positioning was very static and conservative, mostly around the two centre-backs. When Valencia attacked down either flank, he would move back to his own box. At 6 ft 3, he’s a reliable aerial cover for Betis’ centre-backs, who had to duel with the mighty Maxi.
Real Betis in possession
Valencia used a 4-4-2 out of possession. They didn’t aim to press high at first, instead prioritising keeping a narrow and compact shape. This was important as even Betis’ wingers were willing to drop deep to help the build-up. However, Canales and Guardado were still more present in Betis’ first phase of build-up, and Valencia’s strikers and double pivot tried to block central progression by taking care of them. In the below image, Gameiro and Kondogbia used their cover shadow to block passing lanes towards Canales and Guardado.
When Betis was forced to go wide, Valencia would move their whole shape towards that area, making it difficult for the opponent to progress. The aim was to force a back pass towards Betis’ central defender, which would then trigger a high press. In the below example, Valencia players overloaded the area around Fekir, who was carrying the ball. Wass and Ferran’s positioning indicated a ball-oriented shape.
Betis used a 3-4-2-1 in the build-up phase, which would become a 4-1-2-3 in latter stages. Edgar would drop to become the third centre-back, creating a 3v2 in the first phase of build-up while allowing the full-backs to move higher.
Canales was instrumental in Betis’ build-up play, constantly showing his positional awareness to be a good passing option. He could drop very deep and then used his composed dribbling and passing to get the ball up field. The likes of Joaquín and Fekir often moved to the half-space to provide good central passing options, while giving the full-backs space to make overlapping runs.
Flexible movements from Canales, Guardado and the wingers meant Betis also had a numerical advantage in central midfield, and the defenders had multiple passing options. The quartet’s technical qualities helped them combine well and make sure Betis dominated possession.
In the below example, Joaquín dropped very deep to help Betis build up. Canales in turn smartly moved higher to support Fekir and Borja.
In the below example, Betis’s central mids and wingers showed smart movements to overload the centre and create passing triangles to facilitate short combinations.
In the above example, Betis players occupied pockets of space within Valencia’s shape to break through the centre. They did the same thing on the wings, as demonstrated in the below image.
These wing combinations also occurred in higher areas to facilitate crosses. In the below example, Canales moved wide and deeper from inside the box to connect with Fekir and Emerson. Fekir then made an overlap and was found by Emerson’s pass. The French attacker then tried to find Borja with a low cross.
Despite their free-flowing football, Betis was not effective in the final third. The static Edgar contributed very little to their passing game. Great defensive midfielders can launch quality lobbed through balls over the opponent’s defence, but Betis players generally didn’t make the penetrative runs to facilitate these kinds of passes anyway – they mostly combined around the box but were unable to get inside the box. Borja was rather static and didn’t offer much besides his aerial presence, but his teammates were more eager to combine short than to send floated crosses. That was explicable as besides Borja, only Edgar could pose any aerial threats – but the latter would never make runs into the box, preferring to stay deep and provide defensive cover.
Albert Celades’ impact substitution
Valencia started the second half by bringing on Gonçalo Guedes for Maxi, who contributed little to their passing game while he was on the field. Valencia soon played in a 4-1-4-1 with Guedes on the left and Soler in the centre. Kondogbia now became the sole pivot.
With Soler now in the centre and Guedes making inward runs, Valencia started to take back control in central midfield. Guedes contributed to Valencia’s play much more than Maxi with his explosiveness and incisive passing. He was the one who could cut inside and find Soler and Gameiro’s runs into space with smart through balls.
In the above example, Guedes passed to Soler, but Gameiro was making a notable run into the gap between Sidnei and Mandi. We could see that Betis’ back four were not horizontally compact, and Mandi positioned himself too high compared with Sidnei and was ball watching Guedes. This lack of cooperation between these two centre-backs would eventually hurt the visitors, as Gayà found a similar Gameiro run minutes later. The incident would end with Gameiro’s curling effort into the bottom corner. 1-0 for Valencia.
As expected, Valencia dropped deep to protect their lead after the goal. Now having an extra central midfielder in Soler, Valencia could easily overload the wing by committing a central mid out wide. Here, Soler’s presence gave Valencia a 3v2 against Joaquín and Moreno.
The pace of Guedes, Ferrán, and substitute Denis Cheryshev allowed Valencia to hurt Betis, who now committed lots of men forward in search of the equaliser on the counter. The home side would finally sealed the deal with Parejo’s goal from one such counter attack. Betis’ substitute striker Loren Morón managed to score a consolation goal for his side in the last minute. The match ended 2-1 for Valencia.
In the end, this was a deserved win for Valencia. This analysis showed that while they were poor in the first half, they took control for a period of the second half and scored important goals. Meanwhile, Betis’ build-up scheme and short combinations were still fun to watch, but their inefficiency in the final third hurt them, as it did many times this season.