How Getafe’s heroism and defensive miracles led to an unforgettable season
Out of Getafe’s last twenty goals, seventeen of them have come from Jaime Mata and Jorge Molina. Call it over-reliance if you like, but you’d be wrong. This side have been built on something far greater than a pair of quality goal scorers. Welcome to the tale of Getafe Club de Fútbol in the 2018-19 season: a team with one of the lowest budgets in LaLiga that outshone them all.
Written by Tom Quartly.
Before we get started let me just address that this is not a side full of wonderkids, circa Ajax. This is a squad of 24 players with an average age of 28 years old. There is no Frenkie de Jong dictating the tempo. There is no Matthijs de Ligt plucking the balls out the air for fun.
Built to defend
When manager José Bordalás arrived in Getafe, they were second bottom in the Spanish second division, LaLiga 1|2|3. Two and a half years later, they have qualified for the Europa League group stage, and this is in no small part thanks to Bordalás. Setting his side out in a 4-4-2 shape, the Spaniard’s success has came in his side’s comfortable nature when they are without the ball.
Similar to Atlético Madrid, Bordalás had his wide players operating in more inverted roles than the orthodox 4-4-2 formation. Working with inverted wingers gave cover to the centre-backs and blocked out the halfspaces. If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. This stylistic choice from the Getafe manager would usually result in his side taking up a low block, A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. but curiously, Getafe had the second highest Average Defense Distance (ADD) in LaLiga. José Bordalás had managed to make his side compact yet aggressive in the press, and this often led to mistakes from the opposition.
A poor touch from Hermoso allowed Arambarri to pounce and set up Mata for Getafe’s second in their 3-0 win against Espanyol back in December.
Despite the effective press, Getafe would happily allow the opposition to keep the ball in their own half; this led Bordalás’ side averaging the lowest possession percentage in LaLiga. They would only actively chase the ball if the opponent took a heavy touch or made a slightly wayward pass; this takes a lot of concentration and proved a testament to the discipline of José Bordalás.
Another interesting thing to note is that upon re-entering LaLiga, winning promotion via the playoffs, Bordalás altered the pitch dimensions of the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez to make it wider. This aligned itself with Getafe’s attacking focus: to utilise the wings. Their central midfielders, usually Mauro Arambarri and Nemanja Maksimović, had very few touches of the ball as the play would be shifted to the flanks when Getafe were in possession. Their sole duty was to break up attacks and lay the ball off to more advanced players.
Getafe’s 4-0 win against Deportivo Alavés. Note the lack of involvement from the central midfielders in buildup play. This became a pattern over the season.
This style of play significantly benefited wingers Francisco Portillo and Dimitri Foulquier, who enjoyed driving down the line, linking up with the forwards and overloading wide areas; Getafe ended up with a large amount of goals coming from low driven crosses into the box. Whether it is the wide men or Mata and Molina setting each other up, Bordalás’ style of play fitted both the environment and the players he had at his disposal.
Resilience and defensive heroism
Commitment in modern day football can sometimes be rare, but not with this Getafe side. Goal line clearances against Valencia, superb shot-stopping from newcomer David Soria. This Getafe season has definitely seen its fair share of defensive heroism.
Going off of expected goals, Getafe gave up chances that would usually result in 45 goals conceded this season. They actually conceded 35. Their defensive setup should rightly be credited for pulling of such an impressive overperformance. At the same time, conceding chances worth of 45 goals conceded long term is going something that will need work. It’s perfectly fine to applaud heroism and defensive miracles, but it’s probably a bit naive to count on these things repeating itself year on year.
In Jaime Mata, Getafe this season have their third ever player to be capped by Spain. At 25 years of age, he almost gave up on football entirely, plying his trade in the third tier of Spanish football. Fast forward five years, and by January this year Mata had shaken off Clement Lenglet at the back post, bundling the ball into the empty net against FC Barcelona. Getafe didn’t beat Barcelona in that game but this goal was certainly a testament to the rise of Mata. Finishing the season with 22 goal contributions (16 goals and 6 assists), and aiding his side to their miraculous 5th placed finish was a remarkable achievement. But he wasn’t without his partner in crime…
Everyone loves an old-timer. Whether it’s Aritz Aduriz or Luca Toni, there is no greater sight than someone late into their thirties tearing the the top flight apart. Jorge Molina was another one of these gems. At 37 years of age, the Spaniard found the net fourteen times in LaLiga, a more than modest return for a side that often offer limited possession.
It has been hard to pinpoint why this strike partnership worked so well. The way Bordalás applied his system to the strengths and weaknesses of either forward certainly played a huge part. Mata’s weakness came in contesting with central defenders, one of Molina’s great strengths. If the ball ever went directly up the pitch, it would most likely be pointed towards Molina. On the other hand, Mata applied himself expertly to balls funnelled in behind the fullbacks, something Molina did not have the legs to do.
How Molina and Mata operate in their roles. Note the support given by the wide players.
Just last week, José Bordalás signed a three-year contract extension; excellent news for both parties. Despite marvellous individual performances throughout the season, the manager has to take a large amount of the credit. The ability to create a system which enables players preparing for a relegation scrap to flourish and challenge the footballing giants of Barcelona and Real Madrid is no mean feat.
The next challenge now lies in progressing Getafe as a club, and avoiding a relapse to the performance levels of seasons before. Often times such a relapse will be attributed to the busy schedule, with Europa League matches in between an already filled schedule of LaLiga and Copa del Rey matches. In fact, part of the relapse is already hidden in the overperformance of the present season, and the reliance on hard-to-repeat heroism on either end of the pitch.
On top of that, the squad will age another year and it may be time for Bordalás to blood more youth in an attempt to drive Getafe into consistent top half finishes. Limited financial investments will make this a tough challenge, but in Bordalás they have a manager with drive and determination. One thing is certain, Getafe have an intriguing season coming up.
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