Real Sociedad 4-2 Valencia: superb counter-attacking seals the win

April 30, 2013

The starting line-ups

Real Sociedad opened up a five-point gap in the race for fourth place.

Philippe Montanier brought in Alberto de la Bella for the injured Liassine Cadamuro at left-back, Asier Illarramendi returned after suspension, but Antoine Griezmann was banned so Gonzalo Castro played on the left.

From the side that thrashed Malaga 5-1, Ernesto Valverde brought Ricardo Costa back into the centre of his defence, while Sofiane Feghouli started on the right, as Canales was injured again. Jonas switched to the left.

The key feature of this game was not about formations, individual positioning or possession dominance – but instead about Real Sociedad’s brilliant quick counter-attacks that repeatedly carved Valencia open.

Midfield battle

Valencia’s main weakness was their inability to exploit the space Real Sociedad allowed them in midfield. There was something strangely unconvincing about the way Sociedad’s midfield worked – Illarramendi played a strict holding role while Marek Bergara shuttled forward to the right.

But neither had a clear responsibility for tracking Ever Banega, who played left-of-centre, and a little like last week against Malaga, moved into deep zones to collect possession. Often Illarramendi followed him with Bergara higher up the pitch, which meant Sociedad committed too many resources to the right half of the pitch, especially with Xabi Prieto playing on that side, too.

It meant a big space opened up in Valencia’s right-hand channel, which Feghouli moved into. Even right-back Joao Pereira took up surprisingly narrow positions a couple of times, sensing the space in that zone. Parejo probably should have contributed more – he was given space to play forward passes from the midfield zone. He constantly gave away possession – which is fine, because he was attempting to play penetrative passes – but only actually created one chance.

Sociedad wingers

The home side based their play around direct running from the two wingers. This was obvious from the first couple of minutes, when forward Imanol Agirretxe dropped deep and sent a stunning pass out to Carlos Vela on the right – he cut inside and curled the ball just past the far post.

Some have termed Sociedad’s system a 4-3-3 rather than a 4-2-3-1 because of the high positioning of the wide players, but here they tracked back and tried to prevent Valencia’s full-backs overlapping into space. Indeed, part of Sociedad’s approach depended upon Valencia’s full-backs moving high up, leaving space to break into – so while Vela and Castro had to remain in positions where they could spring forward quickly, they didn’t actually want to pin back Aly Cissokho and Pereira.

Sociedad right flank

A lot of the action was happening down Sociedad’s right and Valencia’s left. Cissokho, who motored forward brilliantly to assist a goal last weekend, did something similar for Roberto Soldado’s opener on 25 minutes – but he’d already been booked, and considering he was receiving relatively little support from Jonas, who took up narrow positions, he got himself into problems defensively when he pushed forward.

Sociedad focused their attacking down this side. Carlos Martinez isn’t the most technically gifted right-back in La Liga, but he storms forward powerfully and is a decent crosser, while Vela’s advanced positioning caused problems because of his pace.

Sociedad counter-attacks

Valencia dominated possession after half-time, but the game was almost entirely based around the home side’s counter-attacking potential. There was little unusual about the way they broke – they kept Prieto in advanced positions and told Castro and Vela to break forward immediately, although it’s also interesting that they were happy to hit long balls forward to Agirretxe, who can bring down long balls expertly.

They always broke in numbers, and there was a determination to prompt immediate counter-attacks with good positive distribution from the defenders and (in particular) from goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. The one-touch play throughout the game was tremendous, and Sociedad relied on good decision-making and neat passing to break at the Valencia defence before the midfield could form a barrier in front of them.

The best example was Castro’s goal – a crucial strike, as it made the scoreline 2-1. Sociedad were ahead for the first time, which meant Valencia had to push forward and leave more spaces at the back for the home side to counter-attack into. See this video explanation.

That was classic Sociedad – pouncing while Valencia had men up the pitch for a free-kick. The clearances may have been scrappy, but the one-touch forward interplay was the basis for their attacks throughout the match.


In a way, this wasn’t a particularly tactical game. Sociedad were trying to play on the counter-attack throughout, but the first part of good counter-attacking football involves having a solid defence and being able to soak up pressure. Sociedad don’t necessarily have that quality – they conceded too much space in front of their defence and dealt with crosses very poorly.

This was the third time in the last five games that Sociedad have conceded two goals in a game – they’re simply able to compensate for a relatively poor defence with brilliant direct attacking.


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