La Liga 2021/22 : How Mallorca surprised Osasuna tactically to avoid relegation – tactical analysis
Mallorca had the trickiest opponents for the final game with them fighting against Cadiz and the team who were relegated, Granada. Mallorca had a shaky start to the match conceding 3 clear chances in the first half. With a few tactical changes and a quick goal, Mallorca were able to surprise Osasuna and get a victory away from home.
This article is a tactical analysis of the Osasuna vs Mallorca match. It will be an analysis looking at the key tactics employed by both managers and the subtle difference in the two halves which secured Mallorca La Liga football for another year.
Both sides had full strength teams with no first-team regulars injured or side-lined. The two sides also stuck to their trusted formations at the start of the game with Osasuna changing it to a 4-4-2 for the last 15 minutes of the match.
This change in formation was after the substitutions for Osasuna which saw both of the wingers replaced in the 63rd minute and the full-backs, along with Oier Sanjurjo in the central midfield, to change the formation to a 4-4-2 like Atletico Madrid use.
Mallorca’s formation was much more defensive to not concede any chances and catch Osasuna on the break or by using Muriqi as a target man and playing off the 28-year-old with second balls. Mallorca made four changes during the match, swapping goal scorer Rodriguez and the two outside central midfielders, who covered lots of ground as they were tasked with closing down the opposition’s full-backs. And then one final substitution before the last goal seeing left-back Costa replaced in the 83rd minute.
Poor first half for Mallorca
This was a game of two halves, Osasuna missed three clear chances in the first half warning Mallorca how quickly they could find themselves in the relegation zone. Mallorca were looking shaky defensively with their formation looking far too defensive even though it was being easily opened by Osasuna.
Osasuna chose to start with a 4-1-2-3 or 4-3-3 in this match looking to go three against three with the Mallorca centre-backs. Osasuna’s aim with this formation was to utilise the wide areas of the pitch to stretch the Mallorca defence, opening gaps to be exploited in between the lines.
To use all the width in the opposition half, Osasuna transitioned their shape into a 3-2-4-1 with one of the full-backs remaining alongside the defence and one pushed up much higher on the other side. This gave the double pivot in midfield more space in the centre of the pitch to switch the play. The four behind the target man Budimir would interchange and look to make runs in between the Mallorca back five.
Mallorca were unable to cope with the pressure on the backline with them being man-for-man in defence. Osasuna were able to create their first great chance by utilising movements to drag defenders. They used one of the central attacking midfielders in the 3-2-4-1 formation to pull one of the centre-backs out of the Mallorca back three, opening up space in between. With the gap created, a ball from the left-back Cote was threaded onto a blindsided run from a central midfielder.
The high volume of players forward for Osasuna was certainly going to be a problem that Mallorca were going to have to control to give themselves a chance at keeping a clean sheet. Mallorca were originally using their outside central midfielder to press the furthest wide man which was opening up space all over the pitch. In the second half, this was not an issue because Osasuna didn’t get their full-backs as high, just having the wingers to maintain width in attack. Mallorca were then able to isolate the wide players stopping any progression of the ball.
Osasuna struggled to create chances in the second half with the combination of the defensive block from Mallorca and the lack of height from the full-backs. Osasuna did change their formation to a 4-4-2 after the 75th minute but this was too late to cause any trouble for Mallorca who had a firm grip on their safety.
The tactic to push lots of players high from Osasuna didn’t come without its flaws as so many players pushed up. Any balls lost in the midfield or defence would create a huge opportunity for Mallorca. This also provided lots of opportunities for target man Muriqi, formerly of Lazio, to bring other players into the game with the open space in midfield.
Muriqi and crossing
Both teams were looking to use early crosses to create goal-scoring opportunities during the match. The two sides aimed their crosses towards their target men trying to catch the opposition’s defence out with early delivery giving the strikers a chance to find a yard of space in the box. Mallorca and Osasuna struggled to get this tactic right with an average accuracy of 36.5% between the two teams.
Osasuna had much more possession in the match which enabled them to create 31 crossing opportunities to Mallorca’s 16. It was an interesting dynamic for the match as both teams looked to operate in the wide channels in the attacking phases. Mallorca were the only team to benefit from crosses in the match, scoring in the 83rd minute from this strategy.
Mallorca have always played with Muriqi, being their main goal-scoring threat in the box and a vital part of their game plan as a target man. The Kosovo international was a huge threat during this match, winning 76% of his 17 aerial duels. Muriqi’s hold-up play and flicks can allow Mallorca’s defence a quick outlet to remove pressure if they are under the cosh, and the striker can be used to spark quick counterattacks.
When Mallorca looked to cross the ball into the box, they would usually aim for Muriqi with his height advantage and heading ability, but this was not always the best option. When Mallorca looked to play crosses into spaces instead of Muriqi it tended to result in better outcomes. This is because the defence will be focused on the Kosovo international and not on the other attacker who may be in a better position to shoot from the cross.
This was exactly the case for their second goal, in which Rodriguez crossed the ball in from just inside the box on the left-hand side. Muriqi had made a late run, after being involved with the link-up play, and was aiming for the near post. The target man attracted two Osasuna defenders leaving two 1v1s at the far post. The ball was floated towards the back post giving Prats a chance to jump early and direct the ball towards goal.
The ball was saved but not held by the Osasuna goalkeeper and was finished off by the substitute Grenier who was the fastest to react to the rebound.
Not a lot of Mallorca’s crossing was effective but it did create their best chances in the match. Muriqi has always been a big part of the game plan but he cannot be the only target in the box. Changing up where the ball lands is dangerous for a defence with them not being able to predict where the ball will go. Muriqi does not have many other qualities other than those of a typical target man, but he is very good at his job. He had a big part in the tiki-taka for the first goal while he also played a part in the second goal with his flick-on in the build-up.
Mallorca just about got their crossing right in the match but could have made the game much more comfortable for themselves, by changing up where they crossed the ball and when they crossed it.
Changing it up
Mallorca came out in the second half, looking to put pressure on Osasuna. The hosts were given plenty of time on the ball in the first half with the freedom to play in their defensive third, but Mallorca were right up in their faces winning second balls and capitalising on any mistakes after the break. Their reward came after one minute as the ball found its way to the wide-right channel.
Mallorca had been looking to put in early crosses and take the ball down the channel in the first half. This was very predictable and allowed the Osasuna defence time to cover off any danger and to get in front of the strikers. Osasuna were therefore caught out when Maffeo drove inside with the ball. The full-back had expected Maffeo to go down the channel and had therefore blocked off this option. With the full-back over-committed to stopping the outside run, Maffeo cut inside, allowing him to freely dribble towards the edge of the box.
With some quick interchanging passes in the ‘D’, Muriqi slid Rodriguez through behind the Osasuna defence. Rodriguez gets in front of the defender to slot the ball between the keeper’s legs putting Mallorca 0-1 up.
Mallorca needed this goal to settle the nerves around the stadium with the pressure to get a result. This was a great goal with a quick passing sequence after a smart decision to take advantage of the Osasuna left-back’s mistake as he committed himself too early to stop the run down the wide channel.
From this one-goal lead, Mallorca were able to sit back and soak up any pressure with their defensive structure of a 5-3-2, all the while looking to capitalise on any chances that fell their way. With the knowledge that they would be safe with a victory, Mallorca held strong, reducing Osasuna to just five shots with none of them being on target in the second half.
This was a huge win for Mallorca considering the implications that would have occurred if they had lost. It seemed all too real what might happen to the club after the first half, but with some tactical changes, Mallorca came out of the blocks and surprised Osasuna. Osasuna didn’t have anything to play for and resembled a team with nothing to prove, which aided Mallorca in seeing out the result.
Mallorca will need to change things before next season with them only just escaping the relegation zone. The best place to start would be to improve their fundamental tactics with their crossing and defensive structures and then look to grow from there for a better result in the 2022/23 season.