Different managers, same problems: The story of Elche’s 2022/23 season – scout report
Elche’s recent history has been full of drama, excitement, and plenty of ups and downs. In the 2012/13 season, they achieved promotion to the top flight of Spanish football for the first time in 24 years, after finishing second in the Segunda Division. The team was led by striker Coro, who was instrumental in their success, scoring 18 goals in 37 appearances.
The following season, Elche managed to avoid relegation on the final day of the season, thanks to a dramatic 1-0 win over Espanyol. The club’s 2014/15 season proved to be a difficult one as they were relegated to the Segunda Division after being found guilty of financial irregularities by the Spanish Football Federation.
They then spent the next five seasons in the Segunda Division, with their fortunes fluctuating greatly during this time. The 2019/20 season proved to be a historic one for the club. Despite losing their first game of the season, the club went on to secure automatic promotion back to La Liga, finishing in second place behind Cadiz.
Elche’s return to La Liga has been a difficult one, with the team mostly fighting to avoid relegation. However, the club has managed to secure some impressive results, including a 1-0 win over Barcelona back in January 2021. The 2021/22 season saw Elche achieve a very respectable 13th-place finish. The key to this was a five-game unbeaten run in January through February, which included a very respectable 2-2 draw with Real Madrid.
Los Franjiverdes’ current campaign has been nothing short of disastrous. They find themselves rock bottom of La Liga, with a woeful 13 points to their name. In contrast, second from bottom Almeira are on 26 points.
If the performances on the pitch haven’t been bad enough, the club is in a state of turmoil off it. The door to the manager’s office at the Estadio Manuel Martínez Valero has been perpetually revolving since the start of the season. Amazingly, the Alicante club have recently employed their fourth permanent manager of the season, sixth in total. Six managers in one season is pretty unheard of, and the impact on the players from the constant change of coaching staff cannot be overlooked.
Just so we can identify the right manager with the correct timings later in this tactical analysis, here is the Elche manager timeline for 2022/23:
- Francisco (until 4 October)
- Alberto Gallego (caretaker, from 4 – 12 October)
- Jorge Almirón (from 12 October – 7 November)
- Sergio Mantecón (caretaker, from 8 – 17 November)
- Pablo Machín (from 17 November – 20 March)
- Sebastián Beccacece (from 21 March)
The new manager, Sebastián Beccacece, was once part of Jorge Sampaoli’s coaching staff during his stint at the Argentinian national team and has previously managed Defensa y Justicia, Racing, Independiente, and Universidad de Chile. This is his first role in Europe and one that he views as a long-term project, calling it an ‘investment’ during his unveiling press conference. The Argentine is also very clear about the flexible style of football he wants to play, stating:
“My system is variable and the important thing is that the idea of football that I have gets through.”
Beccacece can consider himself a little unlucky as his first game in the Elche hot seat came against league leaders and the currently unstoppable, Barcelona.
This tactical analysis in the form of a scout report will dissect what has been going on at Elche this season. We will look into the tactics they have used and perform an analysis of exactly what their problems are, plus, we will see if we can offer any solutions.
What do the numbers say?
For us to get an overall understanding of the situation at Elche this season, a good place to begin is to take a look at the data. Elche have only scored 19 goals and have conceded a very troublesome 55. It is immediately clear to us that there are problems at both ends of the pitch. Crunching the numbers will enable us to delve a little deeper into those stats and then we can begin to theorise why this team is having such a torrid time of it this season.
The pizza chart allows us to compare Elche’s percentile rankings to those of their fellow La Liga teams this season and it’s fair to say that they are performing quite badly in all areas. In an attacking sense, their highest ranking is for crosses per 90 where they sit in the 38th percentile. Based on that, it appears that getting crosses into the box has been a significant element of their attacking play consistently throughout all the managerial changes.
The defensive stats are woeful, as we can see, Elche’s opponents are able to generate a good amount of xG per shot which means that they are able to get into solid goals scoring positions relatively easily. According to Wyscout data, Los Ilicitanos concede 1.96 goals per 90 – almost two goals per game. It’s clear why this team is glued to the base of La Liga.
Elche’s woes in attack are very evident from the moment we start digging. As we can see from the data viz above that compares goals scored to expected goals, the underperformance is desperately clear. They have scored 19 goals so far this season, four of them coming from the penalty spot. If we compare this to Almería, who are 19th in the league, we can immediately see that they have scored a significantly higher number of goals. They also have a higher xG so we know they are generating many more scoring opportunities than Elche.
What might be even more concerning to Elche fans than their lack of goalscoring capabilities is their lack of overall creativity. If we compare the two clubs on their assist stats, we can see that Elche once again, are worryingly underperforming their xA. From an xA of 15.92, they have only produced 11 assists. Of course, there are a multitude of reasons that can explain this. The players are getting into the right areas to provide an assist but the final pass is possibly letting them down. Alternatively, another reason is that the passes are finding forwards, who as we know, are struggling to find the back of the net, therefore, the assists are not registered.
Although the person sitting behind the desk in the manager’s office has been everchanging, the tactical structure of Elche’s set-up has been surprisingly similar. For the most part, they use a 3-4-3 formation or a 5-3-2 – these were the preferred formations of Machín’s tenure. Francisco preferred a 4-4-2 while during Jorge Almirón’s short time in charge, Elche mostly used a 4-1-4-1. Ultimately, regardless of their formation, their style of play primarily focuses on sitting back and hitting teams on the counter – looking to use the wide areas and get plenty of crosses into the box.
A lack of confidence
Confidence is such a huge element of football, it has a significant impact on a team or player’s decision-making. When players are feeling confident, they are a lot more likely to make positive decisions on the field. They will often take risks that they wouldn’t normally take, such as attempting a difficult shot on goal or trying a new skill or trick. This can lead to a more creative and dynamic style of play, which can be very effective.
On the other hand, when players are lacking in confidence, they may make negative decisions on the field. They will hesitate when making a pass, take fewer risks, or play more conservatively. This can lead to a more predictable and cautious style of play, which is a lot less productive in terms of creativity.
Leaders are born out of confident players. They are able to make decisions and offer instructions to guide their teammates on the field. Conversely, players who lack confidence will be less likely to take on these roles, which can lead to a lack of direction and cohesion on the field, as we are witnessing with Elche this season.
Confidence can also impact communication between teammates; when players are feeling confident, they often feel able to communicate with each other effectively, sharing ideas and strategies to improve their performance. However, when players lack confidence, they are often unsure of themselves and hesitant to speak up or offer suggestions. Therefore, it’s easy to see how teams can get stuck in a rut.
Elche’s lack of confidence is no surprise. They had to wait until 4 February 2023 to pick up their first win of the season. The 3-1 victory arrived under the reign of the fifth manager Pablo Machín. Sadly, this failed to kick-start their season, even belatedly, and just six weeks later, Machín was out of a job.
Let’s take a look at some of the scenarios where the Elche players’ lack of confidence has impacted their decision-making:
We will begin with a look at Machín’s final game in the dugout, a 2-0 loss at Real Sociedad. In all honesty, this Elche side looked bereft of confidence as they took to the field, never mind when the game was underway.
Figure 2.1 shows us the Elche defenders lined up in their block of five, which is perfectly fine. We can see that each of the Elche players has picked up a Sociedad player to man mark and they are all aware of their jobs. However, if we look at Figure 2.2, we can see how the throw-in plays out. Elche’s defender who is highlighted has got his body orientation all wrong.
It’s obvious that the Real Sociedad throw-in will be played down their left and that a cross will come into the penalty area, yet the Elche defence is slow to react and the cross breezes past the first defender. In this case, the cross leads to nothing but it was a sign that Elche lacked the self-belief to make the simplest of choices correctly.
In this scenario taken from the recent game against Real Valladolid, we can see two ways the same scenario could have played out. Figure 3.1 showcases what actually happened; Elche attacked down their right side and found themselves in a good position to create a goalscoring opportunity. In this case, the player takes a potshot at goal from a position where he is unlikely to score.
Figure 3.2 shows how this scenario might have played out differently; a far better option would have been to play a cross into the box and allow the forwards, Boyé and Ponce, to attack the space highlighted. The question is; why did this not happen? A lack of confidence is likely to be a huge reason why not.
We’ve previously discussed Elche’s goal-scoring woes in this piece, well, it’s highly likely that played a part in the choices the players made here. The club’s top scorer this season is Pere Milla, with six goals to his name, which is not far from equalling last season’s tally of eight. However, this campaign, half of his goals have been from the penalty spot, and goals from open play are a little more difficult to come by.
In the two images shown above, the fact that the two strikers Boyé and Ponce have only scored three goals apiece this season is probably in the mind of the wing-back as he opts to shoot rather than cross. Furthermore, the two forwards who have low confidence levels make no attempt to get in front of the defenders and attack the space, largely due to the lack of belief that they will actually get there ahead of the opponents.
Space, Space, Space
To fully comprehend Elche’s struggles this season, we need to go all the way back to the start. Los Franjiverdes came into the season off the back of a dreadful pre-season where they won three out of the nine friendlies they played, perhaps an omen for the way their season would go.
Now, if we perform a mini autopsy of Elche’s seventh game of the season (a 2-1 loss to Rayo Vallecano), we can see that their problems were already evident. This was a key game in their season as it was the game that started the managerial merry-go-round. It was after this, that Francisco was relieved of his duties. It appears that the constant change of management has primarily been about papering over the cracks rather than dealing with the root causes of their issues.
So, let’s look into how matchday seven played out:
The first thing of note, that becomes apparent less than ten minutes into the game, is just how easy it is to play through Elche. The space between the lines can indirectly impact gameplay by affecting the players’ movement and the flow of the game. A larger space between the lines may give players more room to manoeuvre, making it easier to move the ball and create scoring opportunities. On the other hand, a smaller space forces players to play more compactly and limits their ability to move the ball effectively.
We can see that figure 4.1 shows Elche in their defensive shape. They are playing a 5-3-2 formation and we can see the block of five. In this case, Domingos Quina has left his position in the three-man midfield to join the forwards to create a front three. Quina makes the rather perplexing decision to begin to attempt a press. When none of his teammates follow his lead, the press simply fades but there is a space that he has left. Interestingly, no other Elche player attempts to cover this vacated space.
Rayo Vallecano recycle the possession and in figure 4.2, just 15 seconds after figure 4.1, they exploit the space behind Quina as he tries once again to press. The lack of movement from the Elche players is slightly disconcerting. None of them makes any effort to close the space and Vallecano can just pass the ball around as they wish. Quina seems to think he is supposed to press but no one else follows suit, the lack of communication is very evident, which suggests this is not a tactical instruction, but rather a personal choice that proves to be costly.
Figure 4.3 once again highlights just how simple it is to play through Elche’s lines. As we can see, there are no players in green attempting to regain possession. Most are just standing, ball-watching. The defensive line is disjointed, meaning that there’s little hope for playing an offside. Just eight minutes into the game, it already seems inevitable that Rayo Vallecano will eventually breach the Elche defence.
Counterattacks leading to crosses failing to find a target
We ascertained earlier in this tactical analysis that Elche look to attack down the wings, based on their most used formations and the fact that they average 14.88 crosses per 90. If we take a look at their heatmap, we can see that this is the case. The heatmap shows that a higher amount of Elche’s play takes place down the wings. Also, we can see that there is not a lot of play occurring in the opponent’s penalty area. This team averages 18.62 entries into the penalty area per 90. Of course, the fact that Elche are mostly a counter-attacking side that sees approximately 42% possession per 90, heavily influences this statistic.
In figure 5.1 we can see that Elche are about to win the ball back and are about to attack down their right-hand side. In figure 5.2 we can see that Lucas Boyé is in possession of the ball. This game against Girona took place on 8 November, meaning it was the first game since the sacking of Jorge Almirón, by this point Elche had been winless in 14 games and their confidence was on the floor.
Figure 5.2 shows what could have happened if the Argentine striker was brimming with confidence. We can see the space is clearly available for him to cut inside onto his left foot and get a shot away at goal. In reality, this scenario plays out in an entirely predictable fashion as displayed in figure 5.3; Boyé plays a simple pass to Pol Linola on the overlap who crossed the ball into the box and the Girona defence easily clears their lines.
Elche’s attacking play is predominantly designed around getting crosses into the box, so it’s surprising to see that only 30% of them find their target. Sebastián Beccacece’s tactics fit this which shows that there is a desire to retain the same style of play from the higher-ups. Elche need to regroup and the new man offers them the opportunity to do just that, as we will discuss.
The new man in charge
As mentioned at the beginning of this scout report, Sebastián Beccacece has been tasked with overseeing something of a total overhaul at Elche. Whilst they cannot avoid relegation, they can prepare for life in the Segunda Division. Beccacece can count himself a little unlucky with his first game in charge coming against Barcelona. It’s impossible to analyse which tactical systems he will deploy at Elche based on a single game, however, we can look at some of the tactics used in his previous managerial roles to see where he may garner some inspiration.
If we look at the pass maps from Beccacece’s time at Defensa y Justicia and Racing Club, we can see there is a far higher number of passes occurring in the wide areas. This is in keeping with his preferred formations of 3-4-3, 4-1-3-2 and 4-4-2. This also suits Elche’s style and shouldn’t be too much of a departure for them in terms of their build-up play.
As we can see in the images above, Defensa y Justicia have successfully built a counterattack down their left side and three players are making a run into the box. This is not too dissimilar to what we have already seen Elche attempt to do this season. Whilst some of their decisions have been poor, the idea is almost identical. From this, we can see that Beccacece may be not only an inspired choice but a sensible one too. His ideas seem to correlate with the current crop of players at Elche and his way of playing shouldn’t be too much of a departure for them.
Beccacece also ensures that his teams are not scared of launching it long if required. In figure 6.3 we can see that there are three forwards ready to make inverted runs in behind the defensive line and the defender is scanning to play the ball over the top. This perhaps is something we haven’t seen from Elche this season. The ultra-quick transition from attack to defence could prove to be their secret weapon if they can get it right.
Under Beccacece, Defensa y Justicia rarely looked to regain possession high up the pitch. The data visual above shows how many high regains the team made throughout Beccacece’s 19-month stint there – only 159. Instead, Beccacece asks his team to sit back and soak up some pressure and then hit their opponents on the counterattack.
Upon watching Beccacece’s time at Defensa y Justicia, it becomes apparent how calm his players are both in and out of possession. They do not seem to panic, as if they all buy into the manager’s philosophy and believe that it will lead them to victory if they stick to his plan. It’s going to be interesting to see if the Elche players choose to follow the same line of thinking and are prepared to commit to Beccacece’s footballing philosophy.
The new man has already faced Xavi’s Barcelona. Next up is Osasuna which will not be an easy task, and before the season is finished, Beccacece’s men will have to play host to Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, something of a baptism of fire for the new manager. The positive side of this is that there is no pressure on him or the players. They have the freedom to just play however they want, and who knows, we might even see the shackles come off a bit and witness an Elche team that wants to impress their new manager.
Elche’s issues have been prevalent throughout the season regardless of who is in charge and we know that they are a team that is bereft of any sort of confidence. This team is a bit like a car stuck in traffic, going through the motions but not really making any progress.
With relegation a certainty, Beccacece has the opportunity to press the reset button and bring about a style that will boost the players’ confidence. There’s no doubt Elche have the quality of players to bounce back from this poor season.
Hopefully, the players will buy into the new manager’s philosophy and those in power will allow him the time he needs to bring about the significant changes the club requires.