Segunda Division 2021/22: How predictable Tenerife were beaten at home by playoff underdogs Girona – tactical analysis
310 days after Eibar and Huesca kicked off the Spanish Segunda season Tenerife and Girona fought it out to escape to the illustrious La Liga. After an action-packed match, Girona beat Tenerife away from home to send their club into the top division to add to their two previous seasons in La Liga.
Girona only just reached the playoffs in the regular season and were hoping to end their streak of consecutive playoff final losses. Tenerife were hoping that Estadio Heliodoro Rodríguez López would create an atmosphere to get them over the line.
Both teams were completely unchanged from the first leg of the play-off finals as both Luis Miguel Ramis and Míchel put out their strongest sides for the second time. Additionally, both managers decided to keep the same formations to start the match as Tenerife set up in a 4-4-2 while Girona played with width in a 3-5-2 or 5-3-2.
The biggest changes to their systems came as the match evolved. Girona were forced to make a substitution early with a devastated Iván Martín replaced by Samu Sáiz after the midfielder got a knock from a sliding tackle. Samu Sáiz played a big part in the Girona win supplying lots of energy in the midfield and looking to show Míchel why he should have started.
Following this there were substitutions as the scoreline changed, seeing Girona become more defensive in their shape, opting for a 5-4-1 at the end. Ex-Real Madrid player Luis Miguel Ramis also made substitutions of his own, with only his half-time change to bring on Carlos Ruiz having any true effect as he levelled the score in the 59th minute.
Stems from the system
Girona came out of the blocks putting Tenerife under lots of pressure from kick-off, this quieted the home fans settling the atmosphere. Girona didn’t score early in the match but they did cause Tenerife problems from the width of the channels.
Girona are experienced in their 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 depending on the phase of play. This experience gives them lots of confidence in their system, which is especially important in matches with lots of importance as players may forget their roles in the moment. Míchel decided to exploit Tenerife’s 4-4-2 by opening up all the spaces between the players by utilising the full width of the pitch and drawing out the Tenerife players to press. The traditional 4-4-2 is well known for being weak between the lines and can be exploited by highly-creative players.
Tenerife chose to press Girona when they reached the halfway line, intending to keep their structure compact to reduce the gaps in the formation. Girona are a comfortable team on the ball averaging 53.3% possession across the playoffs this season. In their two home matches, Girona have controlled the games with an average of 67% possession, largely down to the opposition’s tactics and the freedom the away team can be given with no expectation to control the match.
Tenerife, however, didn’t take into account the reduced possession Girona have averaged away in the playoffs with only 40% across the two matches. Girona usually decide to play in the safe areas of the pitch unless there is no pressure from the opposition. The wing-backs in the 3-5-2 are granted lots of freedom in the shape and are the key feature of the Blanquivermells’ attack.
Míchel deployed a high-risk, high-reward system, sending six players high up the field against the back four of Tenerife, when in attack. If Girona were to be unsuccessful, this would give Tenerife an opportunity to score with their numerical superiority for a counterattack. When the tactic comes off though, you can get the results Girona did in the match. The key to making this system work is the long balls to bypass the Tenerife press with the low risk of losing the ball to the opposition.
Frequently, Girona played the long ball from an outside centre-back to a full-back on the opposite wing. This bypassed the Tenerife midfield and attack, leaving space to exploit from the overload.
A key battle in the match was between left wing-back Valery Fernandez for Girona and the former FC Dallas man Shaquell Moore in right-back for Tenerife. For the entire match, these two battled it out in aerials duels, positional games and defensive duels as Fernandez looked to be the creative outlet for Girona in the wide channel. Moore had a great game, keeping Fernandez at bay, but with just one clear slip-up.
Moore had already started getting frustrated, with the score line requiring Tenerife to score two goals. Fernandez had looked to go down the outside of Moore for the majority of the match, which meant Moore positioned himself to defend this run. Fernandez decided to cut inside for a change, catching Moore off guard. This resulted in Moore fouling Fernandez to halt his advances towards the edge of the box.
These miniature chess matches are everywhere in the beautiful game but are not often focused upon when watching a match, due to the detailed analysis required to pick up on these battles. The free-kick from the foul was converted by Girona increasing their lead to an almost unreachable score line of 1-3 on aggregate because of the away goals required Tenerife to score three.
Battle of crosses
The battles on the wings were fought in the attacking and defensive phase for both teams with the game becoming a game of converting crosses. Over the duration of the whole match, Tenerife attempted 30 crosses compared to Girona’s 8. this stark difference isn’t just in the sheer number but the accuracy that Tenerife had with 13 (43%) of the crosses accurate to Girona’s 2 (25%).
As you would, expect three out of the four goals were as a result of crosses during the match. Crosses can be broken down into three broad factors: the quality of the cross, the movement of the attackers and the positioning of the defenders. These will allow for the reasons behind a cross being unsuccessful and successful crosses to be quickly analysed. Along with these factors, the stats will also reflect the nature and flow of the match, as Girona looked to sit deep towards the end of the match allowing them to be peppered by crosses in the later stages.
The defensive shape of Girona was the largest problem for Tenerife in their crossing with eight players in the box in most instances, giving little room for error in the movement and crossing accuracy.
Even when Girona had the majority of players in the box, if the quality of the cross and movement of the attacker are perfect chances will be created. This stands for the case above, as Corredera cut inside to swing a cross to the back post run of Carlos Ruiz. Here, Girona were caught out by the blindsided run of the Spaniard and punished the Catalonian side when he blasted in a header from a pinpoint cross.
In a very similar fashion, Girona scored their goal from a free-kick. All three factors were very similar with Tenerife having all their players back to defend the free-kick, and crowding out the penalty box. The attacking run from Arnau Martínez was Diego Simeone-esque, with the run across the front of his man into the open space as he times his run to have full velocity while remaining onside. The ball was placed to perfection onto the run as Martínez just needed to connect to the ball and get it on target.
A cross was also a key part of the second goal for Girona to finish off their counter-attack. The attack starts as Girona snatched the ball from a weak header going towards the centre backs for Tenerife. Girona, at this point, have the ball on the halfway line with a two on two in the centre channel and a seven against four in the race towards the Tenerife goal.
Substitute Samu Sáiz does excellently carrying the ball upfield as, instinctively, the ex-Middlesbrough man Stuani makes a run away from the wide channel opening up space by dragging out the defenders. The space and time created by the two leading attackers allow Álex Baena to join the attack out wide, giving a dangerous angle to the offence.
After latching onto the end of a slipped-through ball, Álex Baena sends the ball towards the six-yard box. José León was then unfortunate to deflect the ball off his chest, catching goalkeeper Juan Soriano off guard as it hits the back of the net.
Even without luck, Girona got their game plan right in defence and attack by forcing Tenerife into crosses from deep as Girona could combat this with the five at the back in the wide areas. This was something Luis Miguel Ramis should have changed during the match as his system was not working in the final third.
Another string to the Gironistes bow was their unpredictability in attack to make defending their attacks harder for Tenerife. This was the case for the third goal which has already been covered in the previous section when Valery Fernandez cut inside of his marking instead of going down the line to put in a cross. Little things like this can be the spark needed for chance creation which Tenerife were lacking in this match.
Across the full match, Tenerife displayed a similar array of attacking decisions much like that of Girona. However, if you look up to the 75th minute which is before Girona chose to sit deep with a 5-4-1 to see out their win, it shows a different story. The two teams were equal in the final third entries with the same 67% accuracy in their 39 entries each. With this in mind, you would expect the teams to each choose to cross, dribble or shoot when in the final third.
For Girona this is the case as they had 7 shots from outside the box in the 75 minutes and 8 crosses, making it 47% between those two. Tenerife had 4 shots from outside the box and 22 crosses by the 75th minute, making it an 85% chance they would cross the ball. In terms of shots, Girona had 12 with 5 on target while Tenerife only had 8 shots with 3 on target in 81 minutes. This shows that it is not all about having one style of play but adapting to what is working within the match for maximum impact.
The easiest way Girona made their crossing game unpredictable was by cutting inside to exploit the space left by the defender. This caused problems for Tenerife as it would draw more players towards the ball opening space for Girona, especially around the box. From cutting inside, the attacker can dribble into the box for a shot or cross with the option to find a teammate in the central channel. This space is often available for teams who cross frequently because the opposition defence is preparing for a cross and drop deep to protect the space in behind.
Here for Tenerife in attack, the Girona defence had dropped deep as a line to defend the cross, this protected them from the cross if it was out-swinging, as the defence can attack the ball, or it allows Girona to close the space behind the line if the cross was in-swinging.
The space created creates a pocket for a midfielder or a striker to pick up and hit a shot. With so many players in the way, there is a high chance to wrong sight the goalkeeper or getting a lucky ricochet or handball. The ball can also be picked up in this space from weak headers from crosses unless the opposition’s defensive shape accommodates this weakness, which was not the case for either team in this match.
This pocket of space was how Girona won their penalty for their first goal as the ball struck the hand of Tenerife defender Sergio González, as Juanpe fired a goal-bound shot from a poor defensive header. Tenerife could only watch as Stuani calmly slotted the penalty to give Girona La Liga football next season.
Girona and Míchel got their game plan spot on with the use of width in attack in combination with the unpredictability for chance creation. In defence, they had enough players to reduce Tenerife to crossing as their five-man defence has the width and core strength to defend against crosses and players through the middle.
Tenerife will be disappointed to be beaten at home in the final match, but after having not scored in the away leg, they were always going to be struggling if they were to concede first. Girona were the more experienced team in play-off finals and used that to full effect to see out their win in the closing stages.