Celta de Vigo tactics

Real Sociedad – Celta de Vigo: Excellent pressing and defensive organization yields three points for Sociedad (2-1)

Real Sociedad won their first home match of the season scoring two goals against a passive Celta defense. Sociedad were strong in their pressing and prevented Celta from playing through the midfield, while constantly posing a threat on the flanks which Celta were not able to deal with.

Tactical analysis by Chris Baker

Real Sociedad’s manager Asier Garitano made three changes to his starting eleven with Juanmi, David Zurutuza and Joseba Zaldúa replacing the suspended Asier Illarramendi and injured Aritz Elustondo with Andoni Gorosabel dropping to the bench. Sociedad deployed a 4-4-2 formation against the ball, sometimes transferring to a 4-3-1-2 shape depending on the opposing teams movements.

In his first game in charge as Celta de Vigo’s manager, Miguel Cardoso made a string of changes from the previous 4-2 loss to Real Madrid. Kevin was one of many changes, making his debut at right-back. Elsewhere, the bigger surprise was Maxi Gómez on the bench in place of Andrew Hjulsager.

Celta’s approach in possession

For the entirety of the match, Celta de Vigo enjoyed several lengthy spells of possession, although they struggled to make this effective, attacking in a 3-5-1-1 shape. Midfielder Okay Yokuslu often dropped into the defensive line creating a back three, whilst the fullbacks moved up to the midfield line, allowing Celta to stabilise their build-up and circulate the ball, having a three-versus-two advantage.

Real Sociedad’s 4-4-2 press vs. Celta de Vigo’s build-upReal Sociedad’s 4-4-2 press versus Celta de Vigo’s build-up

There were some slight issues in their build-up. Yokuslu and Jozabed were vulnerable when receiving the ball in deeper areas, showing poor resistance and intelligence to evade the pressure by Sociedad’s attackers. There was also very little support from midfielders or dropping attackers to escape the pressure.

This often led to turnovers in areas that presented opportunities for Real Sociedad to run at Celta’s passive defense. In the 37th minute, Sociedad did take full advantage of one of those opportunities. After a bad touch by Jozabed led to another deep turnover, with Mikel Oyarzabal slotting past Sergio Álvarez to make it 1-0.

Sociedad against the ball

As mentioned before, Real Sociedad’s pressing was fairly effective in the opening exchanges, they won possession in midfield areas quite regularly and were rarely played through. They dropped into a 4-4-2 or 4-3-1-2 block.  A defensive block is the compact group of defenders that defends a particular zone, either their own half in a medium defensive block, or the zone around their own box in a deep defensive block.

When pressing, the positioning of Juanmi and Willian Jose was quite interesting. They did not base themselves between the back-three to block connections. Instead they were mostly positioned just ahead, to be able to press Celta’s defenders when necessary. Their positioning also allowed them to block progressive passing lanes through the centre, eventually funnelling Celta’s into wider areas. Igor Zubeldia and David Zurutuza were unwilling to step up and pressure at the risk of exposing spaces behind their line, thus forming a tight midfield behind the forwards focusing on marking the central spaces.

At times, Celta found a way to progress and bypass Real’s press. The main form of doing so was using a dinked pass into the advanced fullback to progress down the flanks, triggering runs into depth for long balls from Iago Aspas, which was usually covered by Real Sociedad’s four-man back line who provided adequate protection. However, Real Sociedad struggled in creating effective attacks when their fullbacks were in possession. They often lacked a support structure to offer connections to progress the attack. This led to some turnovers, comparable with Celta de Vigo.

Small pressing issue for Real Sociedad

Nonetheless, there were some slight pressing issues when Real Sociedad afforded territory ahead and defended deeper. Real Sociedad guided Celta towards the wing in order to apply more pressure in these zones. This often opened spaces between the midfield and attack to exploit, mainly due to the midfield not following the dropping movement of the opposing team, and not pushing their line as high as it was needed to support the first line of pressure. Thus, when the ball was played forwards, the ball-receiver at times could turn and start to dribble with the ball against the defensive lines.

Celta made good use of this, often using dropping movements from their midfielders to receive the ball. This exact movement pattern led to Aspas’ best chance of the first half. The dropping movement of Jozabed was not tracked, who was afforded time to turn with the ball and choose his next action. This naturally provoked Zubeldia into a decision which saw the midfielder engage and press out from his base position to close the ball-holder. The pressing reaction immediately created a passing lane. To use this space, the ball was played into Andrew Hjulsager who moved into the vacated area to receive the ball, who could then search for a pass behind the defense.

Zubeldia does not follow the dropping movement, thus allows Jozabed space to bring the ball forward with Hjulsager filling ones base position when vacated.Zubeldia does not follow the dropping movement, thus allows Jozabed space to bring the ball forward with Hjulsager filling ones base position when vacated.  

Sociedad’s wing-focus

When Real Sociedad had the ball, they were able to reach the final third The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. with relative ease. They were very cautious and predominantly found space in the wide channels, due to Celta‘s fairly narrow structure.

By changing the direction of their build-up, Real Sociedad quickly made it difficult for Celta to create opportunities in pressing. By mostly constructing attacks down their left, Real Sociedad could draw Celta to this flank, before switching quickly and receiving with more space on their right wing. They used nice diagonal switches from Héctor Hernández into Joseba Zaldúa who had spaces ahead to carry the ball into created by the natural shift of Celta. This created the possibility to attack through the halfspace or wing, with the fullback moving into combinations with forward players, especially their main attacking outlet, Adnan Januzaj.

A large share of Sociedad’s chances originated from combinations on the wings and using balls down the flanks to get into chance creation. A positive impact of these switches of play was that spaces in the center opened up in the center, and two-versus-one situations on the wings. The fullbacks did an excellent job in varying their approach, coming up with underlaps and overlaps to support the winger on the ball. Furthermore Januzaj – who was the focal point in their early possession – used the supporting runs of Zaldúa as a decoy to create further spaces to enable a penetrative dribbling action. 


Sociedad get easy win due to excellent defending

The second half began in similar manner to the first, as Real Sociedad continued to find ways to break into the wings for chance creation. This even saw the home side double their lead a couple of minutes after half-time, after a Januzaj cross was converted by the onrushing Zurutuza.

As such, Sociedad began to sustain longer periods of possession spells, controlling the tempo of the match and spending more time in the build-up phase. They looked to continue to circulate the ball laterally until the opportunity arose for a penetrative dribble or combination down the left-hand side. These prolonged possession spells were in order to get into crossing positions, their main source of chance creation which they did on several occasions throughout the match.

For all their strong short combination plays in the first phase, Celta did not manage to play out of the back succesfully, despite these long spells of possession, mostly outside of the home sides’ defensive organization.

When Celta did manage to get the ball on the edge of their opponents box, it was largely fruitless, as the hosts experienced little difficulty against the ball. All in all, Celta’s way of attacking did not allow for any sort of combination or movement to penetrate the two banks of four deployed from the home side, allowing them to protect their goal and ultimately the three points.

On one of the few occasions it did yield a chance for Celta de Vigo, it was taken by substitute Maxi Gómez, who produced a powerful header into the back of the net. The ensuing ten minutes did not produce any more big chances, and Sociedad took a fully deserved three points.


Victory for Sociedad sees them move up into eigth place in LaLiga, just one point behind Real Madrid. The hosts won the match very convincingly with a tactical structure in midfield to support their pressing, limiting their opponents to scraps and clinically punishing their passive defence.

Celta are now in a transitional period with a new man in charge. Although the result went against them, the blueprint of how he wants his side to play was evident with some strong possession spells. However, they were very defensively unstable when defending against the ball as Sociedad managed to access the final third all too easily.

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Chris Baker (22) is a Business Coordinator. Interested in, and writes about, tactics. Coaches twice a week and aspires to work full time in football. Tries to follow most of the top teams across Europe, especially Arsenal and Barcelona. When he is not coaching or watching football, he is probably reading… about football. [ View all posts ]


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