Valencia 1-1 Schalke: two left wing crosses

February 17, 2011

The starting line-ups

An open game and some wasteful finishing resulted in a stalemate at the Mestalla.

Unai Emery made surprises in his team selection, deciding to leave out his true wide players in favour of a very fluid 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 system. Aritz Aduriz and Roberto Soldado both started.

Felix Magath’s selection was more predictable, it was the usual 4-4-2 / 4-2-2-2, with Raul dropping off Klaas-Jan Huntelaar upfront.

Valencia started on top. They made use of having two strikers on the pitch (something they’re not always used to) by constantly sending longish, straight balls over the top of the defence – not necessarily for the two strikers to run onto and get through on goal, but to bring down and control after making diagonal runs.

Valencia shape

They were somewhat forced into this strategy, because their unusual shape meant that they lacked width. The formation is hard to explain on a diagram or in numerical form, as Mehmet Topal (the holding midfielder) and Soldado (the central striker) were the only players who remained solidly in position throughout the game.

Tino Costa played a left-of-centre playmaking role, Ever Banega drifted from side to side in deep positions, Alejandro Dominguez started on the right but sometimes ended up on the left wing, whilst Aduriz drifted from a left wing position to a striking role.

As always with Valencia, there was an understanding amongst the front players that they would take it in turns to defend the wide areas when moves broke down, regardless of their nominal starting position.

An example of Valencia's fluidity - Dominguez's passes took place on the right, the left, and in the centre

Width from full-back

The lack of width meant Jeremy Mathieu and Miguel had to provide overlapping runs from full-back, although this was somewhat complicated by the fact that the players they were supposed to be tracking, Jurado and Jefferson Farfan, often ended up in the centre of the pitch, meaning the Valencia full-backs had to provide cover at the back.

After a tentative start, Mathieu got forward in the 17th minute and swept a cross in for Soldado, who converted at the near post. Soon after, an identical chance was fashioned when Valencia played through Miguel.

Although Valencia dominated the ball and created chances, it’s debatable whether Emery’s approach was correct. The Schalke full-backs often receive no help whatsoever from the wide midfielders in a defensive sense, and therefore are prone to wingers running at them 1 v 1. Valencia probably didn’t exploit that weakness enough.

Schalke had a different approach – they always played the ball out to their wide midfielders, although they too sometimes drifted into the centre of the pitch. Raul had a good game, playing just off the front and linking play well, whilst also closing down Topal when Schalke lost the ball.

Second half

Despite the different approaches, the goals were almost similar – a left-wing cross into the striker at the near post. Of course, with Schalke’s width coming from their wide midfielders, it was one of them, Jurado, who provided the cross for Raul’s well-taken goal, in a very simple move.

Schalke's wide men lost the ball too frequently when trying to beat opponents

The tactical battle remained uneventful, with Joel Matip dropping deeper the only positional change. On 67 minutes, Emery decided to bring on two wingers – Joaquin on the right, Vicente on the left, with Dominguz and Banega departing. In theory it looked as if Valencia were going to a wide, 4-2-4 with the wingers hugging the touchline and running at the Schalke full-backs, but they too drifted inside and made Valencia’s play increasingly congested.

Schalke’s changes also looked attach-minded – Julian Draxler and Edu replaced the wide players, but in reality this was just to provide fresh legs. Both sides tried to win the game, but neither were good enough to deserve the victory.


An entertaining game, but neither side were particularly impressive and neither won the battle tactically. The systems were very different, but Valencia didn’t test Schalke in wide zones, whilst Schalke’s full-backs didn’t exploit their freedom enough on the break.

Schalke will be marginally happier with the scoreline.

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