Real Sociedad – FC Barcelona: La Real’s Gorgeous Football Is Countered By Barca’s Ruthless Efficiency (2-2)
Real Sociedad dominated the first half with their right-sided buildup, but failed to fashion many clear-cut chances aside from a penalty. Barcelona created even less but capitalized twice off of brief moments of defensive disorganization, before they eventually conceded an equalizer to La Real’s renewed brilliance.
Tactical analysis and match report by Om Arvind.
Real Sociedad have been a revelation this season under manager Imanol Alguacil. Their smart recruitment, which brought in a mix of promising prospects – Martin Ødegaard and Alexander Isak – and unwanted talents – Adnan Januzaj and Nacho Monreal – has helped push the Basque side into Champions League contention and has made them the fourth best offense in the league by the reckoning of expected goals. Of course, Alguacil’s tactics have also been a major factor; they are well-suited to the squad he possesses and have, consequently, produced some of the most attractive possession-based football in the world.
Despite sitting tied in first place ahead of the likes of Real Sociedad, Ernesto Valverde has been swamped by criticism from Culés. Putting aside their sometimes-irrational desire for a particular aesthetic, the fanbase have reason to be upset. Barcelona have labored their way to wins for most of the season and have ridden their luck versus the likes of Getafe and Sevilla, before returning to the usual Lionel Messi-reliance of late. Much of that has to do with Valverde’s struggles in creating an optimal buildup structure, but he has also not been helped by the squad dynamics presented to him.
The Antoine Griezmann signing was questionable, at best, in terms of fit and on top of that Barcelona lack true wingers outside of the young Ansu Fati. In midfield, there are a lot of controllers and few that like to exist between the lines. Some of the core, like Sergio Busquets and Luis Suárez, are aging, but there are questions over whether Valverde has the dressing room clout to consider benching such figures.
In Valverde’s latest attempt to try to create a balanced eleven, he went with the Frenkie de Jong-Busquets-Ivan Rakitić combo that played versus Mallorca. In attack, however, Valverde stuck with the Griezmann-Suárez-Messi formula that shunted their new star signing out to the left.
Alguacil also had to make some changes, bringing midfielder Igor Zubeldia into defense virtue of an injury to center-back Aritz Elustondo and a suspension to Robin Le Normand. As Asier Illarramendi remains sidelined with a long-term knock, Ander Guevara was slotted into defensive midfield behind usual suspects Mikel Merino and Ødegaard. The attack was comprised of Mikel Oyarzabal, Isak, and Christian Portu.
Real Sociedad execute their buildup at the highest level
One of the more positive developments for Barcelona this season has been the renewal of their high press. This is a tactical area that Valverde feels more comfortable in and, as a result, his team ranks third in PPDA Passes per defensive action is calculated by dividing the number of passes allowed by the defending team by the total number of defensive actions. in LaLiga.
Barcelona’s high press versus Real Sociedad’s buildup.
Against La Real, Barcelona pressed from a nominal 4-4-2 structure that saw Messi and Suárez rush Diego Llorente and Zubeldia while Sergio Busquets stepped up onto Guevara. In midfield, Griezmann shifted out to the left to shadow Zaldua, Rakitić sat on Merino while trying to ensure pressing access to Monreal, and de Jong marked Ødegaard. If Real Sociedad progressed, the plan was for Roberto to move onto Monreal while Piqué handled Oyarzabal.
As it happened, Barcelona had to execute that transitional change quite a bit, since Real Sociedad’s buildup was a thing of beauty. Guevara was extremely proactive and brave under pressure, continually looking to play daggers to Martin Ødegaard between the lines. If he could not find that pass immediately, he would play a safer ball so that La Real could patiently hold onto possession and work their way into the right halfspace. 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 the 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. Once there, Isak dropped to form a rhombus structure on the right and overload De Jong. When combined with Ødegaard’s qualitative superiority, this strategy made it impossible for Barcelona to contain Real Sociedad, and the home side repeatedly attacked La Blaugrana’s back line in semi-transition.
The only thing that stopped Real Sociedad from creating a host of high-quality chances was the excellent last ditch defending from Piqué and co. and the occasional suboptimal pass from both Oyarzabal and Ødegaard. Instead, La Real had to make do with a penalty in the twelfth minute, which came from a clear Busquets foul on a corner kick. Oyarzabal took the chance coolly and put his side up by one goal.
FC Barcelona struggle against Real Sociedad’s press but equalize anyway
Real Sociedad’s ability to gain a larger share of possession was also driven by a high press of their own.
Real Sociedad’s aggressive, asymmetric high press.
Like Barcelona, Alguacil also manipulated his midfield shape in order to match the opposition’s situational back three. In this case, it was Ødegaard who stepped onto the defensive midfielder while Guevara and Merino formed a double pivot 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. to finishing off the man-marking scheme. In order to deal with the free man in Alba, Portu pressed Lenglet from an angle so that he could cover shadow When a player is positioning himself between the opponent that has possession of the ball and another opponent, he is blocking the passing lane. When applied the right way, his ‘shadow’ is effectively taking the opponent in his back out of the game, because the pass can not be played. the passing option out wide.
Real Sociedad’s applied Alguacil’s tactic with intensity and organization. To further limit Barcelona’s time on the ball, Isak would press Ter Stegen while blocking off the passing lane to Piqué. Ter Stegen and his defense, thus, often had no choice but to go long or try difficult vertical passes into Luis Suárez.
Real Sociedad’s progressive passing was played more centrally and shorter than it had been this season. Quite the testimony to their splendid on-the-ball performance.
Barcelona’s low-percentage approach finally paid off close to half-time, when Lenglet launched a hopeful ball towards the Uruguayan striker. Diego Llorente moved to intercept but completely misjudged the flight and bounce of the ball. As a consequence, Suárez had the freedom to receive, turn, move into space, and find Griezmann running off-the-shoulder of the defense. The left winger held his nerve and casually chipped goalkeeper Álex Remiro.
Barcelona score another and assume brief control of the game
With the second half barely under way, Barcelona struck, again, following a series of back-and-forth aerial duels that eventually fell to Griezmann. The goal scorer quickly dinked the ball to Busquets, who looked up and spotted Messi running past the last line. Barca’s number ten received a perfect pass and laid the ball off to Suárez for an easy finish.
The goal, coupled with La Real’s reduced pressing intensity, allowed Barcelona to get their first real spell of ball dominance in the game. Valverde’s buildup manifested in an asymmetric fashion, with De Jong often dropping in line with Busquets to help progress the ball into Messi, who would then look to dribble at the defense, combine with Suárez, or play a pass that would move the ball to the far side. Barcelona also attempted to find Griezmann over-the-top – which led to a decent chance in the 51st minute – or tried to play switch passes A pass from one side to the other. to Alba.
The peak of the away side’s spell came near the half hour mark, where sustained possession play resulted in a corner. Piqué got on the end of the set-piece and forced his header to be cleared close to the line.
Real Sociedad hit back and regain the initiative
Feeling that his team needed a change, Alguacil brought on Januzaj for the fairly uninvolved Portu. The more technically gifted substitute immediately made an impact; he drifted into the center, received a line-breaking pass from Guevara, rode Lenglet’s challenge, and played a ball to the left.
After a slip, Oyarzabal found Monreal on the underlap, Underlap means that the full-back joins the offensive play by playing on the inside of the winger he supports. This is the reverse of an overlap, where the full-back plays on the outside and the winger moves inside. leading to a low cross that Ter Stegen spilled into the path of Isak. The young striker made no mistake and levelled the score.
The equalizer brought life back into the home crowd and Real Sociedad regained their groove on the ball and put Barcelona’s defense under intense pressure. Their smooth, incisive ball playing and Ødegaard-focused attack created a series of shots around the seventieth minute that probably should have seen La Real take the lead; substitute Willian José got four chances in that sequence in addition to the two afforded to Merino.
Though Real Sociedad continued their impressive play until the end of the game, they were unable to fashion any opportunities as good as those they had wasted and were forced to settle for the 2-2 draw.
Even though they ultimately failed to win, Real Sociedad arguably completed the best performance of any team in LaLiga this season. Their buildup was sublime against a competent press and almost the entire team shined with the ball at their feet. Nevertheless, you cannot make any sort of mistake against a side like Barcelona and expect to get away with it, and Real Sociedad paid for their inability to play the perfect game.
It would be harsh to slam Valverde when his opponent played so well but this match continues a theme of Barcelona struggling their way to results. They now have to hope that Real Madrid slip up versus Valencia so that they stay tied at the top of LaLiga until the highly anticipated Clásico.
Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots. Click to enlarge.
Check the match plots page for plots of other matches.