In this tactical analysis, we had an eye on the La Liga match between Real Sociedad and Valencia. Real Sociedad started in the fourth matchday as an unbeaten team. They came from a comfortable 3-0 victory over the promoted FC Elche. Valencia started with only one victory into the season. The team of Javi Gracia had a lucky escape against the also promoted SD Huesca. They held on for a 1-1 draw. Valencia went into this game as the underdog. But Valencia could decide it for themselves with an 0-1. Maxi Gomez scored in the 75th minute after a counterattack.

In this analysis, we included statistics and tactics of both teams to give a complete review. We showed why Valencia was defensively stable. Also, we provided the impact of former Manchester City man David Silva at Real Sociedad – substantiated by some stats.

Line ups

La Liga 2020/21 - Real Sociedad vs Valencia - tactical analysis tactics

Real Sociedad played in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Coach Alguacil changed his starting squad on four positions. He substituted in the former Arsenal man Nacho Monreal as his left full-back. Furthermore, he gave Martín Zubimendi a starting position as a central midfielder, which gave David Silva and Mikel Merino some freedom in his tactics. Real Sociedad played a pass-intensive style. They had 63% possession and fanned out more than Valencia (43m x 50m vs 40m x 43m compactness).

Valencia played in their most likely 4-4-2 formation with a double pivot. Coach Gracia changed his staring squad also on four positions. He gave the two youngsters Yunus Musah (17) and Alex Blanco (21) the advantage over Jason and Gonçalo Guedes. Moreover, striker Lee Kang-In was preferred to the beefy Kevin Gameiro. Therewith figured out also the tactics of Valencia. They wanted to counterattack the pushed-up team from coach Imanol Alguacil. These tactics proved to be successful down to the ground. Valencia outplayed the unbeaten Real Sociedad also in expected goals with 0.94 xG to 0.62 xG.

Valencia’s compressed centre

Gracia identified the most threatening play came out of the centre of Real Sociedad. As a consequence, he instructed his players to act disciplined.  Daniel Wass and Geoffrey Kondogbia were not be outplayed, as they were to hold their position in front of the last line strictly. They also got the task to stay behind the ball.

La Liga 2020/21 - Real Sociedad vs Valencia - tactical analysis tactics

The image above shows a build-up situation from Real Sociedad. You can see that Valencia’s pivot who was closer to the ball came towards the player with the ball. In this case, it is Kondogbia. Wass held the distance to his teammate. Also, he backed him as he stood off-centre to Kondogbia. Valencia’s wings were also inserted to compress the centre.

They did not attack, because Real Sociedad did not pose a threat from this position. As a consequence, Real Sociedad could pass the ball often. They played 499 passes at this La Liga match. On the other hand, Valencia played only 253 passes. Furthermore, Valencia allowed Real Sociedad in average 14.8 passes before they attacked. Real Sociedad allowed only 6.1 passes until they had a defensive action. Besides, coach Imanol Alguacil’s team had ten times possession over 45+ seconds – Valencia only once. These stats underline Valencia’s compactness.

La Liga 2020/21 - Real Sociedad vs Valencia - tactical analysis tactics

The image above shows a situation from the first half, in which Real Sociedad outplayed Kondogbia and Wass. So, Adnan Januzaj ran into the centre. Real Sociedad’s striker, Alexander Isak, crossed his route horizontally to stretch Valencia’s centre-backs. Moreover, the Swedish striker could offer a passing option with his run.

Kondogbia realised the danger and played a tactical foul on Januzaj, just behind the halfway line. Kondogbia saw the yellow card for this one. But now, Valencia could get back to their compact defensive block in the centre. Also, Wass got a yellow card for a similar situation. This was the strategy from coach Gracia. If the central midfield was outplayed, they should stop the opponent with tactic fouls.

La Liga 2020/21 - Real Sociedad vs Valencia - tactical analysis tactics

Real Sociedad tried to exploit the space on the wings in the tactical analysis above. You can see how structured Valencia’s defensive lines were. They held a homogenous distance between every player. As a consequence, Kondogbia could leave the centre to back his winger on the left side. To avoid having a numerical disadvantage in the centre, Valencia’s right-wing inserted to play the second pivot.

Now, Real Sociedad could play a cross-field pass, but this did not happen for two reasons. Firstly, this is not the way Real Sociedad play. Secondly, Valencia covered their opponents that close, that ‘the bats’ could block a cross-field pass. So, common statistics were indicative of the favourite Real Sociedad, but at a second glance, Valencia dominated Real’s attacking game.

David Silva’s impact in the last third

Nevertheless, there was also some glimmer of light in Real Sociedad’s offence. After they lost Martin Ødegaard, who went back to Real Madrid this season, there was a hole at the midfield. David Silva should fill this spot together with Merino.

While Merino acted more as a pivot, Silva was responsible for zone 14. He should be the mastermind for the last two passes. Stats proved this split. Merino played 11 passes into the final third, Silva just three. However, Silva introduced the three most likely scoring options with the final or pre-final pass from zone 14.

La Liga 2020/21 - Real Sociedad vs Valencia - tactical analysis tactics

In this situation, you see how Silva dribbled behind Valencia’s central midfield. So, he positioned himself in a threatening position. He crossed the run route of Kondogbia so that he had to let him pass or foul him. Also, with his run towards the centre-backs, he forced the right full-back to act. Valencia’s Thierry Correia had to move inside to help his centre-back. This opened the passing alley for Silva to the wing. He played this pass.

La Liga 2020/21 - Real Sociedad vs Valencia - tactical analysis tactics

Silva is a master in creating himself as an open man. Repeatedly, he was open in the back of the central midfield. The tactical analysis above shows such a situation. If you are concentrating on Silva, you realise that he always looks around. The Spanish scans the field for passing options, opponents and his position.

In the picture above, Valencia’s pivot covered Silva due to their positional play. After scanning the field, Silva feinted a route more into the centre. At this moment he already realised his uncovered teammate on the left-wing. Now he moved quickly into the half-space to get uncovered. It is astonishing that Silva still acted in zone 14. He did not close the space for the right-winger, as he did not move too close to him. He got the pass and shifted it with two touches to his open winger.

La Liga 2020/21 - Real Sociedad vs Valencia - tactical analysis tactics

Real Sociedad had a passing accuracy of 85%. Silva outperformed this value with an accuracy of 88%. Despite the fact that he played in zone 14 against the defensive block of Valencia. Besides, he played the second-most passes to the Swedish strike, like in the situation above. In this situation was also his movement before he got the ball deciding. Instead of going into the penalty box to offer a passing opportunity, the 34-years-old dropped to gain some space. Now Real Sociedad could play a one-two.

Januzaj moved, as the first pass was played, more to the centre. Thereby, he opened the passing alley for Silva. These mechanisms in the positional play did work, but Real Sociedad did not get often enough in these situations.

Valencia’s counter-attacks worked out

As mentioned above, Valencia had less clearly less possession and also played fewer passes. There were only 75% of Valencia’s passes successful. But in the end, they were more efficient. Valencia operated with long balls. While Real Sociedad played only 7% of the balls long, Valencia played more than twice as much of their balls long (15%). Moreover, Valencia had three times more counterattacks than Real Sociedad. The tactical analysis below shows such a counter-attack.

La Liga 2020/21 - Real Sociedad vs Valencia - tactical analysis tactics

Valencia won the ball in their box. You can see how fast Valencia’s wings switched into attacking modus. Isak held his position in the front-line. Sociedad’s full-backs joined the offence and hence there was some space now on the wings. Isak moved in a curved form to that space to avoid offside and to accelerate to his top speed. Kondogbia played a diagonal long ball. This is an atypical, physical, style for Spanish teams.

La Liga 2020/21 - Real Sociedad vs Valencia - tactical analysis tactics

The analysis above shows Sociedad’s attack straight before Valencia scored after a counterattack. The yellow line connects Sociedad’s right wings. It shows how far Oyarzabal and Gorasabel pushed up. They played a beautiful combination and the full-back moved into the box. He tumbled in the six-yard box and stood laying down. Valencia’s goalkeeper made the game fast over the right-wing.

La Liga 2020/21 - Real Sociedad vs Valencia - tactical analysis tactics

Valencia had the ball at the halfway line. On the other hand, Oyarzabal adopted the position as the right full-back. The yellow line shows, that the full-back was too far away. Furthermore, Wass, the player with the ball at his feet, had enough time to play a cross-field pass. As the central midfielder made his swing, Oyarzabal did not move deeper. Moreover, Wass played now the ball perfectly. Oyarzabal could not follow his opponent. He lacked these two or three steps, he should have made before.

These might be just small mistakes, but they were enough for Valencia to profit from. Afterwards, Gaya had a perfect first touch and could play a precise cross. Maxi Gomez finished it. This was enough for Valencia to leave with a victory. Real Sociedad scored a goal in the extra time, but it was disallowed, as there was a handball in the buildup.

Conclusion

For both teams would have been a victory important. Real Sociedad were as the favourite, but they were not impressive enough in their combinations to unlock Valencia’s double pivot. Kondogbia and Wass dominated Real Sociedad’s midfield in most of the cases. But Silva was the mastermind of the game, as he often was at Manchester City. He was sometimes able to outplay Valencia’s central midfield. Nevertheless, a counterattack decided this game after Real Sociedad had collectively made some small mistakes

Valencia are playing against Real Betis Sevilla in their stadium on Saturday. On the other hand, Real Sociedad plays also at home against the current front runner from Getafe this weekend.

Philipp Von Friesen
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