Real Sociedad 0-2 Shakhtar Donetsk: Sociedad start excellently but Shakhtar more ruthless

September 17, 2013

The starting line-ups

Alex Teixeira was barely noticeable for long periods – but struck twice to give Shakhtar three crucial points in a tough group.

Jagoba Arrasate named Haris Seferovic upfront having used Carlos Vela there at the weekend. The Mexican returned to the right flank, while Imanol Agirretxe – first-choice centre-forward last season – wasn’t yet fit enough to start, but was on the bench. Ruben Pardo and Marek Bergara returned having been rested at the weekend.

Shakhtar are wobbling in the league – three games without a win, having won their opening six. Mircea Lucescu rested his full-backs at the weekend, but named his expected XI here – Tomas Hubschman returned to the side having suffered from сonjunctivitis in recent weeks.

Real Sociedad dominated early on thanks to their energetic pressing, but failed to take advantage of their dominance.

Real Sociedad press

A key early feature was the positive play without the ball from the home side. One might have expected this to be a cagey, defensive-minded game with both sides playing on the counter-attack, but Sociedad pushed high up the pitch and forced Shakhtar into errors.

Sociedad’s front three moved high up the pitch to pressure the back four, and they seemed happy to let right-sided centre-back Oleksandr Kucher have possession – he didn’t look comfortable on the ball, and made an early error when conceding possession cheaply in his own half, which resulted in the first proper shot of the match, from Antoine Griezmann. There were also a couple of dodgy clearances from Andriy Pyatov in the Shakhtar goal – twice he cleared straight to Sociedad players.

The pressing also meant Sociedad kept a high defensive line, which repeatedly caught Shakhtar out – they kept being flagged offside by absolutely huge margins. Despite the technical quality upfront, Shakhtar actually looked best when they hit long balls to Luiz Adriano, bypassing the midfield zone completely.

Seferovic movement

Haris Seferovic was fielded as Sociedad’s main striker, and his movement throughout the contest was very interesting. He peeled away into deeper positions, almost as a false nine, and caused Shakhtar’s two centre-backs problems with their positioning. Yaroslav Rakytsky, in particular, was dragged out of the defence readily.

This allowed the home side to get men forward into attack: Carlos Vela was very quiet on the right flank, but Grizemann cut inside and found space nicely in left-of-centre positions.

The role of Xabi Prieto was also interesting – although nominally playing on the right of a midfield triangle, he crept forward to become something more like a second striker, winning a few aerial duels in dangerous positions. Shakhtar weren’t really sure how to cope – Tomas Hubschmann didn’t know how far to track him, while Rakitskiy was concerned with Seferovic’s movement away from goal, and unable to help. As a result, Prieto was repeatedly fouled as Shakhtar’s defensive players found themselves out of position.

This seemed a promising area for Sociedad, but they didn’t create enough goalscoring opportunities to make it count.

Srna gets forward

Shakhtar didn’t play particularly good football throughout the first half, but it was increasingly obvious that right-back Darijo Srna was making dangerous runs down the touchline, as the front four narrowed and attempted to combine.

In truth, Srna’s performance was inconsistent – on one occasion he miscontrolled a high pass and handled, on another he scuffed his cross straight to Claudio Bravo. But he continued to get forward, playing much higher up the pitch than left-back Vyacheslav Shevchuk, a more defensive full-back. The difference in the positioning of the two full-backs was amazing. Srna received over five times as many passes as Shevchuk…

…played the ball into the final third 300% more…

…and crossed the ball six times compared to Shevchuk’s none.

And it was Srna that provided the breakthrough moment, rampaging forward down the right and providing a low cross for Luiz Adriano, who touched the ball back to Teixeira to fire into the net. It was somewhat against the run of play.

The different roles of the full-backs also contributed to Shakhtar’s defensive shakiness. They were fine against Vela because Shevchuk stayed in position, but more vulnerable to Grizemann’s movement because of Srna’s attacking intent. Socidead’s best chance of the second half came when Seferovic attacked from that left-sided channel in behind Srna, too.

Latter stages

Both managers made changes, but none truly changed the course of the game. Lucescu freshened up the midfield zone by replacing Hubschmann with Stepanenko, who sat solidly in front of the defence, then brought on Bernard for Douglas Costa, a straight swap on the right.

Arrasate’s changes were disappointingly tame – simply straight swaps. Agirretxe was a replacement for, rather than a partner for, Seferovic – despite the fact Sociedad were now likely to control possession, and could have done with a second striker. Agirretxe at least provided more of a penalty box presence, and a target for longer balls.

But Gonzalo Castro on for Griezmann was a surprising change considering Griezmann had looked one of Sociedad’s more effective players – later, Esteban Granero replaced Ruben Pardo in roughly the same role.

Shakhtar were clever at controlling the tempo of the game, making it a stop-start contest late on – and Teixeira eventually scored a second on the break with three minutes remaining, extending the lead and exaggerating Shakhtar’s dominance.

Conclusion

The movement of Sociedad’s two central attackers – Seferovic and Prieto – was interesting, but Sociedad looked most effective down the left. Srna’s attacking intent seemed likely to decide the game, whether because of his crossing or his tendency to leave the right-back zone unattended.

This is inevitably the sort of clash where ‘Champions League experience’ is cited as a key factor, but it’s difficult to say precisely how this had an impact upon the clash. Sociedad dominated the game, but struggled to create more than a couple of clear-cut chances in open play. Vela, one of the few players with Champions League experience, was probably their most disappointing player on the night.

This is a fairly large blow to Sociedad’s hopes of qualification, considering the strength of the group – but it’s still impressive that they can lose one of their key players from last season, Asier Illaremendi, concentrate on promoting youth rather than investing the money in an expensive replacement, and go toe-to-toe with a fine side like Shakhtar.

This wasn’t a great performance from Shakhtar, and while the smash-and-grab nature of the victory makes it look like a fine counter-attacking away performance, Lucescu will demand much more from his players in their subsequent group games.


Real Sociedad 0-2 Shakhtar Donetsk: Sociedad start excellently but Shakhtar more ruthless

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