It wasn’t long ago that Granada was the darling of La Liga, jumping out to a surprising lead at the top of the league table. Since claiming the top spot just two weeks ago, Granada has crashed back to earth as they have now lost three consecutive matches.
In this tactical analysis, we’ll look at the tactics used by Valencia to dominate the tempo of the match, leaving Granada scrambling to defend dangerous long diagonal passes. We’ll also delve into an analysis of Granada’s inability to use their numerical superiority in the centre of the park. Despite three central players, Granada failed to create meaningful opportunities on goal or manage the tempo.
Albert Celades went with a 4-4-2 in this game. The flat midfield was vital to his approach as the surging vertical runs of Manu Vallejo and Ferrán Torres targeted the space created by Granada’s attacking outside-backs. Rodrigo Moreno and Maxi Gómez stretched the Granada backline while Geoffrey Kondogbia and Daniel Parejo operated behind them. The backline consisted of José Gayá, Gabriel Paulista, Ezequiel Garay and Daniel Wass while Jasper Cillessen commanded the goal.
Meanwhile, Diego Martinez countered with a 4-2-3-1, setting Roberto Soldado alone up top with Álvaro Vadillo, Ramón Azeez and Antonio Puertas in support. Former New York City FC man Yangel Herrera and Maxime Gonalons operated as the pivots with Carlos Neva, Germán Sánchez, Domingos Duarte and Quini forming the backline. The Portuguese Rui Silva rounded out the formation with his start in goal.
Kondogbia and Rodrigo left early due to injuries, but both teams maintained their tactics throughout the match.
Valencia imposes the tempo
In terms of pure statistics, there wasn’t a lot between the two teams today. Granada had 51.1% possession, 13 shots to Valencia’s 12 and completed 314 passes (eight more than Valencia). Despite the statistical equivalence, this match was decided by the tempo and successful long passes.
On the day, Granada completed just 21 of 61 long passes, good for a 34% success rate. Meanwhile, Valencia attempted 59 long passes, completing 34 of them (58%). Watching the game, you would never have guessed that Granada attempted so many long passes. Their possessions tended to be very slow and indirect. Even after winning possession, many of their passes went negative. If anything, they should walk away from this game ruing the opportunities for direct play that they didn’t take.
The difference between the two teams was in the when. Granada’s long passes tended to come after several shorter passes. With Valencia regaining their defensive shape quickly after each turnover, Granada squandered opportunities to counterattack. They gave the sense that they wanted a more controlled, restricted build-up with each member of the team engaged in the attack. If the outside-backs weren’t high up the field in support of the wide-midfielders, Granada would use possession to buy time for the outside-backs to get higher up the pitch.
In contrast, with each turnover, Valencia’s wide-midfielders shot up the field with the eagerness of a hungry cheetah. Each recovery produced a sense of anticipation that something extraordinary was on the horizon. With their pace and phenomenal mental quickness in the transition from defending to attacking, Valencia looked to make their move before Granada had a chance to get their defensive shape. Given the number of threatening positions they created, Valencia will feel they should have improved upon the 2-0 scoreline.
While Valencia looked to push the pace of the game, turning it into a track meet, Granada tried, unsuccessfully, to slow it down. Granada’s inability to adapt to the pace of the game hurt it in defence and stifled its attack. Let’s take a look at a situation that was begging Granada to pick up the pace.
After a Valencia turnover, Kondogbia steps forward to pressure and Herrera finds a passing lane to Soldado, splitting the defence. Notice Soldado’s body orientation.
The penetrating pass gave Granada a 3v3 with the Valencia backline. Due to his poor body orientation, Soldado didn’t recognize the space behind him, so he received with his back to goal. Rather than running at the backline, Soldado must set the ball to Azeez. Soldado’s pass went behind his teammate, which delayed Azeez’s action.
Like Soldado, Azeez received the ball back to goal and was not aware of his space. By the time he had control of the ball, numerical equality was lost as Valencia gained an additional two players behind the ball.
Azeez’s poor touches and decision to finagle his way around Torres is the last nail in the counterattack’s coffin. As the ball found its way to Neva, Granada could have tried to make progress along the left-wing. Vadillo started his run into the half-space and Azeez was in the early stages of a vertical run to stretch the field vertically. Had Neva decided to carry to ball forward, Granada would likely have encountered a 3v3 n the wing with a 2v3 or 2v2 in the central channel. However, Neva decided to recycle play.
After a few passes, the ball returned to Neva on the wing.
He tried to play forward on this occasion, but his read of the game conditions was poor and the ball was turned over. Valencia’s pressure certainly rattled Granada, but the away side struggled with decision making all game, bypassing opportunities for penetration and allowing Valencia to regain its shape.
On the flipside, Valencia was very eager to push the tempo. In this example, Valencia recovered the ball on the right-wing, overwhelming the Granada attackers in a 4v2 encounter.
Once Valencia won the ball, a vertical pass to Gameiro was made.
He took a few touches before sending a ball just behind the run of Gómez. Though Gómez stopped his run and positioned himself for the ball, a poor first touch resulted in a turnover.
Granada’s central numerical superiority wasted
Given Granada’s 4-2-3-1 was countered by a 4-4-2 with a flat midfield, you would assume Granada would look to attack centrally to draw in the four Valencia midfielders. With all four midfielders converging in the middle, space would open for a pass to the outside-backs in the wings. The next domino to fall would be the connection of the outside-back and attacking midfielders.
Granada possessed the ball in the centre of the field for just 21% of the game. Rather than starting centrally to create space out wide, they were far more likely to play in wide areas. 51% of their possession took place on their right-hand side. They should check the mailbox in the coming days as the Valencia midfield will surely send a thank you card.
With Granada building their attack on the wings, that allowed Valencia to apply immediate pressure on the ball with three midfielders and an outside-back. In that same area of the pitch, Granada would likely have a defensive and attacking midfielder, plus an outside-back. The numbers worked out beautifully for Valencia and we haven’t even touched on the qualitative difference in the two sides.
Had Granada committed to central penetration, they would have moved the Valencia defence more effectively and created more space out wide. With the additional space in the wide areas, Valencia would respond with movements into the wings to deny time and space. Now, at that moment, would the centre of the pitch have opened up and presented opportunities on goal.
This example is one of the few occasions in which Granada effectively attacked the central channel. Vadillo received the ball on the right-wing and opted to dribble centrally. As he made his move, his teammates attacked gaps in the Valencia defence.
By the time Vadillo reached the central channel, his teammates had stretched the backline. Valencia’s midfield didn’t track runners. Rather, the unit was singularly focused on the penetrating dribble. Vadillo had effectively pinned down the entire Valencia midfield. That left Angel Montoro’s run from deep untracked.
A quick combination results in a pass getting set to Montoro. He took a shot from that space and didn’t miss it by much. Unfortunately for Granada, this attack was one of the few to ask questions of the Valencia defence in the central channel.
Valencia target space behind outside-backs
We’ve already discussed Valencia’s emphasis in dictating the tempo of the game. Let’s move into a discussion on how they put Granada on their heels and kept them there.
First and foremost, Valencia used recoveries as a means of penetration. With Granada in their expansive attacking shape, Valencia looked to play forward immediately after each recovery. If it was on, they played it. If not, the ball generally found its way to the central channel where Parejo could work his magic.
Second, the wide-midfielders were the primary targets for those long passes. The moment they anticipated a recovery, those two wide-midfielders sprinted up the field, attacking the space vacated by Granada’s outside-backs. It’s not complicated in concept, but it’s a dreadful tactic to defend against. Those long, diagonal passes created chaos for the Granada defence. Since Granada never found the proper response to the long, diagonal balls, Valencia kept pumping them.
Here we see Cillessen collected a cross and immediately initiated the attack. At the bottom of the picture, notice the emerging footrace between Vallejo and Quini.
Parejo had loads of time to receive and turn upfield. Gameiro, who had just entered the game, noticed his teammate’s opportunity to attack the left, so he made a driving run to the middle of the field. That decoy movement pulled the defence away from Vallejo. With his significant advantage on Quini, Vallejo received the long diagonal ball from Parejo.
It’s a brilliant pass, but Vallejo makes a mess of his first touch, taking it with his front foot and pushing it into the path of Duarte.
Valencia controlled the tempo of the game from start to finish, often using long diagonal balls to get behind the Granada outside-backs. With the two forwards keeping Duarte and Sánchez in the middle of the pitch, the Valencia wingers had a great deal of joy finding space on the wings. Knowing that Granada would play at a slower tempo and look to get their outside-backs into advanced positions, Valencia consistently targeted their wide midfielders in this game. After the international break, Valencia will head to Real Betis before returning home for a vital Champions League fixture against Chelsea.
For Granada, it’s a third consecutive loss. The schedule doesn’t get any kinder with Atlético Madrid and Athletic Club next on the docket. Failing to create chances against a relatively average Valencia defence is worrying. In 13 games, Valencia has allowed 18 goals, two more than Atlético and Athletic combined. The break comes at a great time for Granada. Once La Liga’s pace horse, they’ll surely look forward to the additional time to work out some of their attacking and transitional issues.
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