Albacete: Proving that attack is the best form of defence – scout report
Goals win games. Many teams have thrived under the notion of simply outscoring their opponents, but this can often be harmful in the long run. Spanish side Albacete of La Liga 2 currently fall into the of ‘good attack, poor defence’ as they boast the joint-highest goalscoring tally in the division but have one of the worst defensive records in the top half. It seems to be working wonders for them in the current campaign – this is their first season back in La Liga 2 since earning promotion from the third tier of Spanish football in the 2021/22 season and they currently sit in sixth position despite their defensive record, as they bid to earn promotion to La Liga.
In this tactical analysis, we will dive into the attacking tactics of Rubén Albés’ side to uncover why they are so dangerous in the final third, while we will also provide an analysis of their defensive woes as we try to understand why they ship so many goals and struggle to deal with transition phases.
Formation & style of play
Rubén Albés has danced between formations this season, using a variety of shapes, but seems to have placed his trust in the 4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1 – of course, these formations are very similar to each other, especially in possession as it becomes a case of three central midfielders supported by two wide players.
Albacete look to play out from the back, favouring short passes to get them from third to third. Of course, there is the occasional long ball attempt into the flanks, but they seem to find the most success with their intricate passing play and clever off-the-ball movement.
Attack – where are all these goals coming from?
As mentioned, Rubén Albés’ side currently boast the joint-best goalscoring record in La Liga 2, scoring 39 times in 30 games, and it is clearly their attacking assets that are keeping them at the higher end of the table. In this segment, we will look at the attacking tactics of Albacete in the final third.
This first example shows Albacete attacking their opponent after winning the ball back high in the midfield third thanks to good reactions from two midfielders – we will dive into that soon. This first image also gives us a taste of how Albacete would shape up in the final third – wingers on either side adding some width but not hugging the touchline, instead holding a position that allows them to attack the box quickly.
One element of Albacete’s attacking play is to utilise the wide areas of the box – they have scored a number of goals and created numerous chances from these sorts of positions, with the opposition seemingly unable to handle the element of unpredictability. What’s so unpredictable about attacking from the flanks? Well, in Albacete’s case, it’s the movement off the ball and the variety of passing options that really adds the spark to their play. Sure, we get the occasional standard delivery across the face of goal, but so often do they manage to find a cute pass to a player in a dangerous position – which is exactly what they did above.
After playing his initial pass out to the right flank, Maikel Mesa made a darting run into the edge of the box, unmarked, making himself available to receive the return ball, and the midfielder guided the ball home with an elegant first-time finish.
Albacete’s inclination to play through the thirds provides some brilliant passages of play and demonstrates their ability to use their opponent’s weaknesses to their gain. This, combined with their outstanding ability to recognise and utilise open spaces, particularly in midfield, makes them a very dangerous team. In the image above, straight away, you’re probably questioning the defensive presence and shape of the opposition, but as we mentioned, Albacete shine in picking at their opponent’s faults.
The opponents in the image above, Real Ovideo, are looking to win the ball back in a dangerous area of the pitch and even doubled up on the Albacete man, but he showed good technical ability to wriggle away from pressure. He then shows no hesitation in playing a forward pass into his teammate, Lander Olaetxea (number 19), who probably couldn’t believe his luck with the amount of space he had been afforded in the middle of the park!
Olaetxea continued the trend of forward passes with one of his own, sending Dani Escriche in the channel, and yet again we see that clever movement in key moments from Rubén Albés’ men. The goalscorer on this occasion, marked yellow, started making his run into the box before Escriche even received the ball, knowing how dangerous he could be in the open space. Again, questions could be asked of Ovideo’s defending, but credit must go to the side capable of capitalising on mistakes.
This is the image we referred to earlier, with Albacete’s midfield being well-placed to stop a Sporting Gijon counterattack. The two midfielders rushed forward simultaneously to apply pressure to their counterparts, using good angles and body shape to dictate the outcome of the duel. They regain the ball, in a highly dangerous area and launch their side into an attack that results in a goal. However, stopping opposition transition attacks is something they struggle with, as we will cover later in the analysis.
This shot assist map of Albacete’s season confirms what we spoke of earlier – their quality from wide areas. As you can see, they have created a high number of chances from these positions, with a good number of assists as well. Getting into those positions just inside the box but still fairly wide is essential to Rubén Albés’ style of play.
Albacete’s tendency to ship a worrying number of goals is their biggest hurdle at the moment, having conceded 32 goals so far. In the top half, this is the second worse record in the division, and if Albacete have their sights set on promotion, it is something they must improve. In this section, we will look at some of the reasons for their tendency to let goals in, with a focus on their defensive action in midfield zones.
Counterattacks can be difficult for anyone to defend, but Albacete have had major trouble defending counterattacks and transition phases. This particular example relates to sending too many men forward and leaving your remaining defenders extremely vulnerable – something which is included in the final segment where we look to provide a solution to their defensive problems.
Following a turnover, opponents Las Palmas find themselves in a 3v3 in terms of players in front of the ball, with the man in possession in plenty of space himself. If you look around the top leagues in Europe, some teams will react to this counterattack with poise and preparation, while others, like Albacete, crumble and enter panic mode. Not only is the Las Palmas man able to dribble the ball to the final third, but he is also able to find a pass to his teammate in space arriving on the right flank. Take note of the Albacete defensive shape, particularly in the second image – there is a good presence in terms of numbers, but there is no organisation, no shape, just chaos. This is where you want your senior players to stand up and be counted on to guide the rest of the team.
The positioning and defensive application of Albacete’s midfield unit has let them down on multiple occasions and is far too easy to penetrate at times. In the image above, the opposition have the ball in a position that should offer little immediate threat to Albacete, but if you notice the positioning of their midfield three, that threat becomes much larger. Now, there is nothing wrong with the distance between the three, in fact, in isolation, that element is positive. However, they are far too high up the pitch as a unit, and as a result, they leave a ridiculous amount of space behind the.
One floated pass into a player who is in that space behind the midfield, and suddenly it looks like Albacete are trying to defend a counterattack! Smelling blood, the opposition winger drives into the central space, using teammate runs as decoys to allow him to gain more and more distance. He finishes the move off with a spectacular long-range effort to make it 1-1. This goal could have been avoided if the midfield three were in a better defensive position.
From not sitting deep enough in midfield, to completely standing off your opponent – Albacete have a real problem with defending in midfield. This is a strange one, the (makeshift) midfield three (highlighted with arrows) almost act like they’re executing a mid-block, but they still have at least three players ahead of the ball, so the midfield three are effectively in no man’s land, giving the opponent on the ball far too much time and space. To his credit, the midfielder picks out a splendid pass to his striker, who collects the pass and slots the ball home.
Finding the balance & solving their midfield issue
Clearly, the two main defensive areas that Albacete are struggling with are the midfield’s role in defending and dealing with transition phases. In terms of defending a counterattack, as we mentioned before, it comes down to leadership and organisation; players able to react in key moments and make a difference – each counterattack is different to the last so there is no one way to defend counterattacks universally.
When it comes to their issues in midfield, though, we have singled out one potential solution that could bring balance to their overall game plan, as it benefits them in possession as well as out of it. Being a team who likes to play through the thirds with patient passing, having your full-backs in high supporting positions makes perfect sense, but of course, this leaves you vulnerable at the back with just two central defenders. The answer? Drop your most defensively capable player into a makeshift back three.
In possession, this would allow for a shape that promotes greater control of possession – wide centre-backs and wing-backs pushing higher up, but defensively it gives you an important extra body. As you can see from the image below, it is a solution that could have helped Albacete.
Their opponents are mid-counterattack, with five players involved. Albacete’s shape is somewhat chaotic again, but just imagine if they had one of their midfielders in the spot where the yellow circle is, effectively creating a back three. In this instance, it would allow either that midfielder or the RCB to leave their line to come out and engage in a duel head-on.
Sometimes, the teams who score loads and concede loads are the most fun to watch if you’re neutral like Manchester City, Real Madrid and the likes. But playing under this mantra will come back to haunt you eventually – not a good long-term plan. Of course, no coach sets his team up to concede goals just because they’re dangerous going forward, but Albacete really need to work on some gaps in their game, namely the role of their midfield out of possession.
Having a better starting depth and shape will go a long way toward providing them with more defensive stability. Credit where it is due though, they are deadly in the final third and near-impossible to stop on the attack at times this season.