In La Liga we’re all used to hearing about the “Big 3” and how they dominate Europe. But today we take a deeper look into the lower teams and their tactical advancements. Teams like Celta and Valencia are playing beautiful football but are not getting the recognition deserved as the focus is on Barcelona and the Madrid clubs.
Despite a rough start to the season (1 win in their first 5 games) Celta had an impressive pre season under former Barcelona assistant manager, Unzué. Unzué’s men focus on quick passing and constant movement to keep passing lanes open. This is a very similar style to that of Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli and Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. Celta also have an emphasis on creating overloads, especially in the midfield. With the constant movement it’s not unusual to see a player move up or drop deep into midfield. A good example of this pass and move football is Guidetti’s goal in Celta de Vigo’s 3-3 draw with Bayern Leverkusen.
We’ve seen this trend of Girona trying to tactically outplay teams that are leagues above them. That alone deserves loads of respect. To convince the players in your idea is said to be a very difficult but the most important task in management,Pablo Machín has convinced the players to go to big teams and push for the win. Usually when they get the equalizer (Especially vs a team like Madrid) teams will hold on but Girona pushed on for the goal and won the game. Girona have tried to tactically match teams like Man City, Barcelona, and Real Madrid. Machín succeeded in the tactical side of things but was let down by the sheer quality of teams like Barcelona compared to Girona.
Quique Stien has been known for playing quick passing or juego de pocision football after his stint with Las Palmas. He has replicated this same style with Real Betis and has gotten a fair bit of recognition. The problem with Las Palmas was,they’d collapse mid game and that led to a knock to their mentalities. In a similar manner to Guardiola’s Manchester City last season. Stein’s players build their game around being a step ahead, catching the opponent off guard and advancing the play while they’re trying to catch up. Betis are very patient and if not with penetrative quick vertical passes they try to attract the pressure and exploit the space left behind. When momentum builds up players unconsciously increase the intensity of their press leaving them unaware of the space behind them. Quique exploited this human error to his team’s advantage.
An interesting quote from him is
“In these days when people say you have to run, work, fight, compete, I ask my players to think”
and what he says evidently translates into their play. Betis have problems defending the channels or spaces between their backline and that will cost them as it is the main reason why they aren’t in the top 6 .
Valencia took the league by storm. Currently 2nd, 7 points above a disappointing Real Madrid. Marcelino’s men drew with both Madrid giants and won games against the likes of Bilbao, Betis, Sociedad, Sevilla, and are yet to lose a league game. Valencia play a fairly attacking 442 protected by one of Europe’s best midfield pairing this season, Kondogbia and Parejo. Kondogbia looks revived, drives from the midfield with the ball but is always there to prevent counterattacks. With Dani they form a very balanced and effective pairing.
Valencia’s wide midfielders, Soler and Guedes add a different dimension to their game. With Soler offering the option to move into midfield to create an overload or match the opponents midfield. Guedes acts as an attacking outlet, makes 3rd man runs in behind. The young Portuguese is very mature for his age, he possesses an intelligent understanding of runs and space, he is a nuisance to deal with if you’re a defender. In 8 games, Goncalo tallied 3 goals and 5 assists, and 2.4 tackles+interceptions per game. One important aspect to not forget is Valencia’s depth in attack, with options like Zaza, Rodrigo, Guedes, Orellana, Mina, Pereira and finally Carlos Soler. Finally, when Valencia defend it’s a mix of man marking and zonal, Marcelino lets the opponents have the space. Their defending is focused on maintaining positions and defending your zone .
On the whole, La Liga is advancing in terms of tactics and are ahead of any other league. We’ve also seen teams like Sampaoli’s Sevilla and Pellegrino’s Alaves perform well last season. This only highlights the movement of the game from speed and physicality to tactical intelligence and an understanding of the game. Through this you can draw a conclusion of “Poets don’t win titles” or “Beautiful football doesn’t guarantee success” But you can never deny the huge feat that these managers achieved, and the fact that they’d be competing for bigger things if they were blessed with a better squad.
Written by IlFutbolista
Feature Image via Marca
Celta Vigo Goal via Youtube
Girona Celebration Image via Eurosport
Real Betis goal via Twitter
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