Valencia hosted Deportivo Alaves at the Mestalla following their 0-3 home defeat against Ajax Amsterdam in the midweek Champions League match. Their La Liga form wasn’t exactly more encouraging, but at least they were unbeaten in the last three matches and just beat the mighty Athletic Bilbao away from home in the last round. Alavés also won their last match, but just after a series of losses. Both were determined to improve their poor position in the table. In the end, Valencia was the team to come out with the victory.
In this tactical analysis, we will delve into both sides’ tactics, and how Valencia just narrowly edged past Alavés.
Valencia started in their familiar 4-4-2, with Jaume Costa starting again due to Jose Gayà’s injury. Cheryshev and Ferrán Torres were the chosen wingers, while Rodrigo Moreno and young talent Maxi Gómez the featured strikers.
Alavés also started with a 4-4-2. With Mubarak Wakaso’s suspended, Manu García was the one chosen to form a double pivot with Tomás Pina. Joselu was the undisputed starting striker, while Lucas Pérez replaced John Guidetti after his goal last weekend.
Valencia in possession
Alavés defended in a 4-4-2, with the strikers trying to mark or block passing lanes to Valencia’s double pivot. A pass to a Valencia winger would trigger Alavés’s intense pressing, with both their winger and full-back closing down the winger above, forcing him to pass back.
The Alavés winger would then rush to close down the full-back, while the forwards closed down the centre-backs – depending on who was having the ball.
There would be a similar pressing scheme if there was a pass to a Valencia full-back first, as demonstrated below.
Valencia tried to counter Alavés’s defensive scheme by having Parejo dropping deep to become a sided-centre back, or Coquelin dropping in between the centre-backs – as seen below. Either way, they created a 3-1 structure with multiple passing lanes to bypass Alavés’s first pressing line. In addition, the aforementioned triggered pressing would be less effective due to Valencia’s back three’s numerical advantage over their opponent’s two forwards.
With Parejo becoming a sided centre-back, Alavés’ forwards couldn’t cover passing lanes towards him. After receiving the ball, he could dribble forward, towards the opponent’s winger and opened up space for the nearby full-back. The full-back could then send a ball down the wing, or switch the ball to the other flank.
Valencia players’ positioning could be flexible depending on the situations, but they would try to balance others’ movements. Here, as Parejo occupied a higher position, Cheryshev moved to the pivot position to open up another passing option for Paulista. Valencia now had five players at the back and could combine to get past Alavés’ first line of defence.
Rodrigo’s dropping between the lines was helpful to ball progression. He is good with passing and short combinations. Here, he opened a passing lane for the centre-back to help Valencia escape the heavy press. He then received the ball and distributed it successfully.
Despite the flexible movements, it’s hard to say Valencia had an easy time bypassing Alavés’ first line of defence. Their top passing link was between the centre-backs with 48 passes – 22 passes more than second-best link, which was also between two defenders.
Valencia could attack through the flanks, with the winger and full-back on either side combining to cross in. Besides being the target of crosses, Rodrigo also drifted wide and crossed himself. Here, he crosses the ball wonderfully towards Cheryshev, who almost found Gómez in the six-yard box.
As said earlier, Rodrigo’s dropping deep and combining abilities were key to Valencia’s central progression. That was how Valencia’s first goal was scored. Parejo freely roamed forward from a temporary left centre-back position and found Rodrigo between the lines. Alavés’ centre-back Víctor Laguardia stepped forward to anticipate Parejo’s possible pass to Goméz, so Rodrigo’s brilliant first-time through ball gave the Uruguayan enough time and space to score.
It’s necessary to mention the bad coordination between Alaves double pivot (connected by the red line) here. When Pere Pons stepped out to challenge Parejo, García was in a bad position to cover him, and Rodrigo had a lot of time and space to assist Gómez.
Alavés in possession
As expected, Valencia defended in a 4-4-2 out of possession. The clear aim was to block central progression. The ball-near player would come higher and try to close down the man in possession, while the ball-far players would stay lower to protect the back four.
Alavés didn’t feel forced to play from the back. When facing pressure from the opponent, or after a few short passes at the back without any real progression, they would launch the long ball forward, often towards the flanks — Valencia’s full-backs are bad with aerial duels — and try to win the second ball. That was their main way of getting into the final third throughout the match. They had to attack through the wide areas as they generally couldn’t progress through the centre. Valencia did a great job protecting those key areas.
After forcing the opponent to attack through the flanks, Valencia would try to create a 2v1 or 3v2 overload in these areas, mostly with the nearby winger and full-back.
The nearby pivot and centre-back would help when needed. Here, we see Paulista and Coquelin moving towards the ball side to help the wing players defend.
Alavés full-backs’ positioning were rather conservative to prevent the opponent’s pacey wingers from exploiting the wide areas in transitions. Therefore, one of their strikers would often drift wide to combine with the nearby winger and send crosses in. The other winger and striker would get into the box looking to score. In the above picture, we saw a typical situation when Joselu moved to the right flank to help the winger.
Meanwhile, Lucas often drifted towards the left flank to combine with Rioja and Rubén Duarte. Here, Valencia tried to counter this by overloading that area with Garay and Coquelin.
That is not a smart tactic, as it would leave a 2v2 (including an in-form Joselu) inside the box. Here, Parejo and especially Garay should have helped Paulista and Costa create a numerical advantage in that crucial area. Lucas crossed towards Paulista, which made things simple for Valencia. Had that been a cross towards the far post, Joselu would have had a great chance to beat Costa – who is 20cm shorter than him – to score.
Garay was often the one who unnecessarily stepped out of his position to challenge opponent’s players. Here, a cross over the head of Paulista found Joselu, who easily beat Costa but couldn’t score.
Second half changes
Both teams played more long balls compared to the first half. Valencia’s second-half long ball proportion was 17% (1st half: 10%), while Alavés’ second half figure was 18% (1st half: 12%). For Valencia, that meant they became much less interested in the patient build-up and tried to hurt the opponent on the counter. However, that also made them more vulnerable in the moments after their counter-attacks failed. They couldn’t hold a proper shape like in a possession spell.
In the below example, we saw a terrible counter-pressing by Valencia. How did two Alavés strikers combine past four Valencia players and create a one-on-one? Joselu here was surging from deep, so no one really followed him. Garay — yet again — unnecessarily stepped out of position, and none of Paulista, Coquelin and Wass were in a position to cover him. Joselu got the ball and exploited the gap behind Garay, but was unable to score.
For Alavés, more long balls meant they had longer and better possession spells, and thus could send more crosses in. They still progressed with long balls towards the flanks and crosses, but they were more patient. However, their ball circulation was slow. Their chances would only come from counters right after Valencia’s counters, or from the home side’s poor dealing with crosses.
The most notable tactical change in the second half was Valencia’s introduction of Mouctar Diakhaby, who replaced Ferran. Vallejo, who came in for Rodrigo minutes earlier, became the right midfielder, while Diakhaby sat deeper than the midfield four, making Valencia’s formation a 4-1-4-1. Diakhaby is primarily a centre-back, so Celades’ aim here was clear: to shut down the game. The French midfielder won all of his three ground duels.
Valencia actually created very little offensive damage in this match, finishing the game with 0.4 xG from open play. They seem content after scoring the first goal and were lucky not to concede much earlier.
In general, this was a poor match from both sides. Valencia controlled the game early on, but didn’t create much. After getting the first goal, they showed a lack of desire in the second half. Against a better opposition, their bad defending against crosses and poor transition play would have been clinically exploited. Los Che were lucky to concede just once. They have been nothing but consistent this season, but so as all the other sides in La Liga. Therefore, they still have a good chance to qualify for a Champions League spot.
For Alavés, their bad form continued with their fourth loss in the last five matches. This analysis, however, showed that they were at times the better side. Despite not having too many creative offensive ideas, they created great chances and should have finished better. They also looked defensively solid in general. They showed that they can inflict damage to stronger opposition, and thus should look to improve their results.