The match week 24 La Liga game between Eibar and Real Sociedad at Ipurua Municipal Stadium in Eibar, Spain was postponed in early February due to poor air quality in the region. It was rescheduled on March 10 and the game was played in an empty stadium due to Coronavirus scare. Real Sociedad looks to move into fourth place under Imanol Alguacil while Eibar looks to stay out of the relegation zone. Sociedad is coming off a 1-0 loss to Barcelona ending a five-game winning streak. Alguacil’s defensive tactics seem to be working allowing only three goals in their last six games. While José Luis Mendilibar Etxebarria’s Eibar side have struggled to have clear tactics losing three of their last four games. In these last four games, they have given up nine goals including a 5-0 loss to Barcelona.
In this tactical analysis, we will look at how each team’s tactics matched up and provide an analysis of how each team progressed through the game in a 2-1 match where Sociedad took the win and three points to move into fourth place in the league.
Etxebarria has played with different tactical formations over the last few matches with lineups of 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, and 4-1-4-1. In this match, Eibar was placed in a 4-3-3 formation to start with. Sergio Álvarez setting in as the holding midfielder behind Eduardo “Edu” Expósito Jaén and Gonzalo Escalante. The movement of these players needed to be key to keep the Real Sociedad midfield in check. Due to the defensive organization of Real Sociedad Eibar changed into a 4-4-2.
Sociedad was placed in a 4-1-4-1 tactical formation. The formation has changed over the season but Alguacil has only adjusted his tactics in major games against high power teams like Barcelona and Real Madrid. In his tactical adjustment, he would work more defensively in a 4-4-1-1. Alguacil has seen Eibar struggle to keep goals out and has pushed the attacking line of Mikel Oyarzabal, Mikel Merino, Luca Sangalli, and Adnan Januzaj higher up the pitch to support the front play of the sole striker Willian José da Silva. After an early goal and coming under heavy pressure they moved back into the 4-4-1-1 to help preserve the win.
Real Sociedad’s tactics in attack
Alguacil’s tactics were very apparent when in possession. Sociedad wanted to move the ball up the field very quickly with long distributions into wide areas. As possession was won by Sociedad they would use long passing attempts to access the areas behind the Eibar backline. Eibar averaged 39 meters between the strikers and their backline and the formation of their backline averaged 50.3 meters from goal. This leads me to believe that Sociedad’s tactics for putting Eibar under pressure were correct. They would bypass the midfield and push Eibar deep into their half with long passes. As you can see in the example below José would make himself available for the outlet pass. As Eibar’s defenders tried to gain shape by dropping behind the ball, Sociedad would send deep midfield runners forward. In the next image, you can see the space that Sociedad was trying to attack. They looked to play Oyarzabal or Januzaj into space deep inside of Eibar’s defensive half. This caused Eibar to continually rebuild from their keeper or from their backline and typically starting deep inside their own half of the field.
Eibar’s inability to breakdown the backline
Eibar’s challenge was to break down the organizational defensive-minded tactics that Sociedad put in place. In the image below you can see how Eibar tried to do this. Sociedad played 1v1 on the width of the field and knew that Eibar would work to provide service of the ball from the width. Instead of playing in those situations or committing numbers to the ball to play in twos and threes Eibar tried to access the heart of the goal with crosses against a very compact Sociedad. Eibar played 114 long passes and was only successful 47% of the time. Many times Eibar players would only make runs off the backside of the defence. As you can see below even when running into the attacking third of the field, Eibar midfielders were only concerned about crossing the ball to the back post instead of creating combination play at the top of the box. With an average pass length into the final third or almost 40 meters and completing only 52% of those, it played into Sociedad’s tactics perfectly. Eibar was creating poor chances due to the low percentage of chances being created off of long crosses.
Second half changes
Etxebarria’s men came out with a more refined tactic in the second half. Instead of crossing the ball and trying to catch Sociedad’s backline out or trying to organize they began to switch the ball in front of a backline that was conceding ground in front of the penalty box. In the example below, you can see how Sociedad’s backline would drop deep and commit numbers to the ball once it entered into their defensive third. Eibar began to push their wing-backs higher up the pitch to support switching the point of attack. This showed promise early but faded due to the laser-like focus to get the ball into the box with a cross. As you can see in the image below if Eibar would have played the ball into the middle after switching the point of attack they would have had the ability to unbalance the backline of Sociedad. By Eibar pushing into that space a player from Sociedad’s backline would have had to step out to put pressure on the ball allowing for combination play at the top of the box. Eibar missed the opportunity to capitalize on Sociedad’s defensive mindset and create scoring opportunities.
Sociedad found openings starting to appear as Eibar pushed into the attack. This is how Sociedad’s second goal was scored as you can see below. Eibar was expecting the ball to be played wide and their backline had a late shift. As Sociedad played the ball through it became a 1v1 against the Eibar goal.
In the end, Sociedad did enough to keep the other team out of the net and had the counter-attacking ability to create chances for themselves. Moving into fourth was a major step for the club. Eibar will need to continue to work to correct some simple tactics in order to keep the ball more and access the space given to them by the opposing teams. As this season progresses it will be interesting to watch and see if Eibar can find the right mix to keep them above the relegation zone in the league.