Valencia 5-1 Malaga: Jonas and Canales’ narrowness allows Banega freedom to dominate

April 21, 2013

The starting line-ups

Valencia thrashed Malaga thanks to four goals in an amazing eight-minute first half period.

Ernesto Valverde brought in Adil Rami and David Albelda for the two Costas, Ricardo and Tino.

Manuel Pellegrini was still without Jeremy Toulalan, so named an unchanged side from the 1-0 win over Osasuna.

The eight-minute spell was a freak period of play that decided the game – but it was an exaggerated reflection of Valencia’s dominance, rather than a false one.


In many ways this was a clash between two similar sides – they started the weekend in 5th and 6th, both on 50 points, and both have imminent financial worries that will cause major problems this coming summer.

Tactically, too, there were similarities. Malaga use a system fairly typical within Spanish football, but it often feels most like the Valencia side of a couple of years ago – with a fluid quartet that often switch positions and cover for each other in the defensive phase of play, and a defensive-minded holding midfield duo. Indeed, both Isco and Joaquin developed in that Valencia system, although both were anonymous in this match.

Valencia narrow wingers

There was, broadly speaking, only one key feature of this game. Valencia’s wide players are far from natural wingers – Jonas is a deep-lying forward that moves inside quickly from the flank, while Canales prefers to play in the centre of the pitch, and is being used on the left as he eases into the side on his return from injury.

Predictably, those two attempted to crowd the centre of the pitch. Good overlapping runs from Joao Pereira and Aly Cissokho ensured Valencia still had width on both sides – Cissokho’s dribble and cross for the second goal, scored by Roberto Soldado, was superb. Canales and Jonas could come inside and played neat combinations with the central midfielders.

Malaga defensive shape

Malaga generally defend with two banks of four, and while against Dortmund they were extremely disciplined with their shape, particularly in wide zones, here the three attackers fielded behind Javier Saviola were much more passive without the ball. Joaquin and Isco had a responsibility to get back alongside the two holding midfielders, but were often caught out of possession by Valencia’s quick attackers, and ended up chasing Pereira and Cissokho.

This meant Manuel Iturra and Ignacio Camacho had a great deal of work to get through, forced to protect the defence from four separate midfield runners – Jonas and Canales, plus Ever Banega and Dani Parejo, who both broke forward powerfully from midfield.

Banega movement

With Jonas and Canales coming inside, Banega might have become lost if he’d remained in the number ten position. Instead, he was clever with his movement. There was a huge pocket of space in behind Julio Baptista – who was extremely slow to retreat into his defensive position – and so Banega dropped deep to receive the ball.

Crucially, there were other players making reverse runs towards goal – Parejo in particular, and also the two wide players. This meant Malaga’s holding midfielders were always kept guessing about who to track and pick up – and with Malaga’s centre-backs drawn out of position by Soldado’s good movement, gaps to pass through often appeared.

Banega the playmaker

Banega did various things in that pocket of space. First, he ensured Valencia dominated possession in the first half – he completed 51 passes (the most on the pitch) from 54 attempted passes. Because they away trailed for so long, and Valencia switched off rather early, Malaga actually ended with 51% possession – but Valencia dominated that statistic in the first half, when the game was still alive.

Second, Banega played the ball into the final third frequently, and created chances for teammates. This was important, of course – he may have been cleverly dropping into deeper positions, but he still had to provide creativity as the side’s number ten.

Third, he dribbled with the ball. The likes of Yaya Toure and Mousa Dembele have popularised dribbling from central midfield positions, but it’s still rare to see someone run so forcefully with the ball in tight areas. As well as being the most prolific passer and creator, Banega also dribbled past opponents more frequently than anyone else. Again, this came from his movement into deep positions, where he could pick up speed on the ball before encountering opposition midfielders.

In all, he ran the show and inspired Valencia’s incredible period of dominance towards the end of the first period. The second half was non-event – aside from Banega curling in an excellent fifth to put the icing on the cake.


This should have been a tight game – but Valencia ruthlessly exposed Malaga’s poor defensive shape and were clinical in front of goal.

Banega was the standout performer by a distance – this was a great example of how a number ten can find space in deeper zones, yet still perform their duties in the final third.

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