Real Sociedad dispatched Real Betis at home in La Liga by three goals to one on Sunday. Sociedad now sit fourth in the La Liga table, while Betis moved into the drop zone. This tactical analysis will look into how Sociedad picked up the three points against a struggling Betis side.
Sociedad started in a 4-3-3 set-up, with Zubeldia and Le Normand manning the middle of the defence. Monreal and Zaldía covered the wings, with Merino, Guevara and Ødegaard making up the midfield three. Ahead of them was Portu on the left, Oyarzabal on the right, supporting Willian José through the middle.
Betis came out in a 4-4-2 formation, with Barragán, Mandi, Bartra and Álex Moreno making up the back four. In line with them stood Canales on the left, Fekir and García in the centre and Joaquín on the right side. Loren and Borja Iglesias partnered up front.
Sociedad’s diamond defending
Sociedad came up against a well-balanced side who, if given the time and space, could play explosive football with the power of Iglesias, the pace of Loren and the technical ability of Nabil Fekir in midfield.
Fekir’s theoretically deeper position in a 4-4-2 allowed for Sociedad to set-up a stable block which would separate the midfield from the two up-top. As we can see below, Sociedad push Fekir away from goal while isolating the two Betis strikers. This allowed for Sociedad to control Betis’ attacking shape, to an extent.
Sociedad’s block has Betis’ wide players on the right inside and static, while the only progressive pass is a long ball, which is unlikely to be possible given the pressure put on the ball.
Real Sociedad set themselves with spare men who can cover oncoming runners from the midfield, while still being able to recover or retain their defensive shape. As we can see below, Sociedad’s winger Orzabayal drops out of the centre to cover one of Betis’ wide runners, while Nacho Monreal man-marks the other, forming a back five.
Sociedad’s midfield block remains, with the ball and Betis’ two linking players man-marked, with a spare midfielder screening the back-four.
The diamond block is one of the tactics frequently used by Sociedad off the ball. As we can see below, Sociedad looked to use the diamond press to force Betis wide when bringing the ball out from the back. This form of Gegenpressing looked to completely panic the player in possession, while cutting-off all short passing options, giving Sociedad a high chance of recovering the ball either high up the pitch, with plenty of options around them, or forcing a long ball to the Sociedad back-four.
Another tactic used by Sociedad was pressing in lines, as the picture below shows Sociedad looking to push Betis wide again, cutting off their two central midfielders, one of whom was Nabil Fekir. This shape staggered Betis’ shape, forcing forward players to come deeper for the ball, and suffocating their own shape for desperation to play out from the back.
Betis off the ball
Betis set-up a high press to counteract Sociedad’s forward-thinking midfield. Sociedad went with one linking player from the midfield dropping deep. Betis looked to take advantage of Sociedad’s play-out tactics by setting up a central block which looked to isolate Sociedad’s link, while leaving the full-backs free, encouraging the ball to be played out at the by-line.
As the ball is worked wide, Betis look to isolate the ball from Sociedad’s most dangerous players in the centre. Betis control the avenue into the middle while looking to push the ball against the touchline, with Sociedad’s shape squashed together, unable to expand themselves across the pitch.
However, leaving the by-line open is a risky tactic, and an aggressive wide press and block must be perfect. But given Betis’ position in the La Liga table, it couldn’t be kept up, which brings us onto our final piece of analysis.
In order to counter Betis’ cage around their deep midfielder, Guevara, he dropped in-between the Sociedad centre-halves to form a back three, giving license to the full-backs to push further forward.
Merino would then drop into the number four position to drag more black shirts toward the ball, leaving space in the middle between the Betis lines.
From here, Sociedad can play around Betis’ high press by playing between the back five, before quickly switching focus to Merino in the centre, who takes up the space previously created. The space between the lines is recurring between each third of the Betis set-up, as their ambitious press left gaps between the lines.
Merino gets his head up and plays a splitting pass between a midfield whose shape had been toyed with from Sociedad’s play-out through the high press. This takes three midfielders out of the game while opening up an abundance of space in the wide areas, exploiting Betis’ switch in focus to Merino in the middle.
Merino’s pass puts Sociedad in an excellent position, with three creative players attacking Betis’ high line man-for-man, leaving the wings completely free. Sociedad’s striker, Willian José can, therefore, breakthrough this overloaded line and have his pick of the space as the ball goes wide. This chance goes astray, as the ball is blocked for a corner, which Sociedad score from following what was a great pattern of play.
Sociedad deserved the victory, as they were the ones to adapt to Betis’ high press. Sociedad did well to counteract Betis’ tactics, defending well while also not compromising their style of play.
Meanwhile, Betis were pretty poor tactically. They allowed themselves to be dominated in the midfield, which didn’t cover the defence well enough. This was a particular problem when the shape switched to a 4-4-2, losing density in the middle of the pitch, while pushing Fekir back, making him ineffectual.
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