Celta Vigo hosted Valencia in gameweek two of La Liga. Both teams utilised similar tactics, which undoubtedly helped create a cagey affair. In this tactical analysis, each side’s approach will be investigated. Furthermore, the analysis will suggest why Valencia, in particular, struggled to break down their opponents. Celta’s victory was largely a product of the quality of their attacking quartet and left-back Lucas Olaza.
Both managers lined up their teams in a 4-4-2. Fran Escriba made one change to the Celta team he named the previous week against Real Madrid: Joseph Aidoo replaced David Costas at centre-back.
Marcelino made more changes to his Valencia side. Dani Parejo replaced the suspended Francis Coquelin; Jose Gaya replaced Jaume Costa; Cristiano Piccini replaced Carlos Soler (pushing Daniel Wass from right back to right midfield) and Maxi Gomez replaced Rodrigo.
Celta’s initial build up
To give themselves more control in the initial phase of build-up, Celta would form a back three. Normally, one of the central midfielders, Fran Beltran or Stanislav Lobotka, dropped between or to the left of the centre backs. This gave Esbriba’s team an additional ballplaying presence in deep areas.
As such, they were able to keep the ball reasonably effectively in those deep areas. Joseph Aidoo, Nestor Araujo and the central midfielders showed good composure and quality in possession. Aidoo, Lobotka and Beltran all recorded at least a 90% pass completion percentage.
This strategy did cause a slight problem however. Often, Celta were left with a slight shortage in the centre of midfield. This shortage was normally countered by one of the wide midfielders coming short and inside (as above). On a few occasions, both wide midfielders came inside, which actually created an overload against Valencia’s midfield duo, forming a 5-3-2 shape. On those occasions Celta progressed most easily. Otherwise, however, they struggled immensely to play through Valencia.
Valencia’s high press
The key reason for Celta’s difficulties playing through Valencia was their opponents’ high, more man-orientated, press. Esbriba clearly predicted it somewhat: from goal kicks his team had been directed to send the ball long rather than trying to play out from so deep.
Nevertheless, Valencia’s press in a 4-4-2 did cause their opponents real issues when they did try to pass through them. This was mostly when Celta established themselves a little higher up the field. Part of the issue was Celta’s aforementioned slight shortage in the centre of midfield. This normally ensured they were equally matched in numbers centrally, if not ever so slightly outnumbered.
Even so, Valencia’s press was crucial in countering and largely neutering Celta’s offensive approach. Their strikers and wide midfielders would typically press Celta’s defence. Meanwhile, one of their midfielders would normally press or at least move up towards Celta’s deepest midfielder. The presser was normally the ball-near midfielder, but as the game wore on, it was increasingly Geoffrey Kondogbia. The other midfielder covered behind.
Generally, Valencia triggered their press once their defence moved up behind them as they were forcing Celta back into their own half. A backward pass to one side would be the trigger to press. In the game, Celta lost the ball in low areas 22 times and in midfield on a further 32 occasions. By contrast, Valencia lost the ball only nine times in low areas and 26 times in midfield.
Celta’s flexible attacking quartet and left-back shine
That Celta were able to win the game is a credit to their attacking quartet and left-back Lucas Olaza. The movement and on-ball ability of their wide midfielders did occasionally help create a central overload. This occurred when they moved off their fullbacks into the spaces vacated by Valencia’s high press. Otherwise, they moved intelligently in unison with their teammates either in wide areas or high up the field, to overload those spaces or manipulate the defenders.
Celta’s frontmen, Iago Aspas and Gabriel Fernandez played well. They offer something slightly different from each other: Fernandez is more of an aerial threat than Aspas, whilst Aspas is more of a creator. Fernandez took his goal superbly. It was their movement which benefited their side most frequently. Whether dropping off the defence to add an extra body centrally or pulling wide to help overload Valencia in wide areas, Celta’s strikers made a significant contribution to their side’s success.
The new partnership of Olaza and Denis Suarez also dovetailed well to threaten Valencia’s right flank. Piccini and Wass had real issues with Celta’s left-sided duo. Olaza and Suarez’s delivery created some of Celta’s most dangerous moments, including the only goal of the game.
Valencia on the ball
Valencia also struggled to play through Celta, though not because Los Celestes pressed in the same way Valencia did. Instead, Celta adopted a compact mid or low block which forced Valencia’s most dangerous players into wide areas. With Parejo often dropping deep to form a back three in much the same way as Celta’s midfielders did, Valencia frequently suffered from a similar lack of bodies centrally.
Celta marked zonally rather than being more man orientated. Their strikers initially screened Parejo and Kondogbia, forcing Parejo deeper. Their midfield and defence would then squeeze up behind the strikers, creating an extremely compact block. Resultantly, there was little space for Valencia’s wide men to move inside Celta’s shape or for their strikers to drop off Celta’s backline. Line breaking passes were just too difficult for most of the match. Valencia’s best moment in the first half came from such a pass.
Valencia did look a little better in the second half, perhaps surprisingly after Marcelino introduced centre back Mouctar Diakhaby. With the strikers more focussed on Parejo and right centre back Ezequiel Garay, Diakhaby was free to step up. This, in turn, enabled Gaya to move higher and Guedes to tuck inside more. With Diakhaby stepping up, Valencia were able to create slight overloads on Celta’s right flank and penetrated most frequently down this channel as the game wore on.
Escriba will be satisfied with his team’s defensive display in particular. For the most part, Celta forced Valencia’s most dangerous players deeper and wider with their compact defensive block. In attack meanwhile, their strikers, wide men and left-back Olaza showed good understanding and quality. Beltran, Lobotka, Aidoo and Araujo were composed on the ball.
Marcelino meanwhile, will be troubled by Valencia’s general toothlessness in attacking areas. They managed an xG of 0.82 on the night and only one shot on target. They failed to get the ball to their best players in dangerous areas, sometimes due to a lack of ambition in their passing, but mostly due to a lack of ambition with their positioning. Too many players were unwilling to move into traffic to receive and progress the ball.