Athletic Bilbao travelled to Mallorca in the hope of continuing their impressive start to the 2019/20 La Liga season. This tactical analysis will investigate the tactics of both teams which ultimately cancelled each other out. The analysis will identify the way the teams nullified each other.
Mallorca lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation. The only change from their previous match came at left-back, with Baba Rahman replacing Lumor Agbenyenu.
Gaizka Garitano sent his team out in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Raúl García, Iker Muniain and Iñigo Córdoba played off Iñaki Williams in a very fluid front four.
Bilbao’s offensive fluidity nullified by a low block
Garitano gave his front four significant freedom to interchange positions. Córdoba generally stayed wider, but Muniain, García and Williams exchanged positions frequently. García would often be the player highest up the pitch, pinning the defence, whilst Muniain and Williams came inside to try to overload Mallorca’s midfield.
However, Mallorca’s disciplined defensive block successfully limited the space between the lines for Muniain and Williams to operate in. As a result, Bilbao often resorted to long balls up to García. He won 11 out of 13 aerial duels, but his teammates failed to make the most of them. Once again, Mallorca’s compact block helped them, this time on second balls. Iddrisu Baba screened his back four effectively and competed admirably with García to ensure his centre-backs could stay at home.
When Aritz Aduriz came on, Athletic added another player who could compete aerially. They moved Williams to the right side and Muniain to the left. The effect was ultimately to get more players centrally and who could win first and second balls. They looked more dangerous subsequently.
Mallorca’s left-sided threat
Mallorca sent the majority of their attacks down their left flank. 42% of their attacks went down the left side and they clearly looked most threatening down that flank. Despite it only being their first game together, Baba Rahman and Lago Júnior had a good understanding. Baba normally overlapped, allowing Júnior to kick inside. On other occasions, Baba would underlap if Júnior was wider. However, a lack of bodies in the penalty area and poor finishing failed to take advantage of some dangerous deliveries from the duo, particularly Baba.
Baba was actually able to complete four of his six crossing attempts, though Bilbao generally handled them well. Júnior was noticeably less successful however, only completing one of his six crossing attempts. Crossing can often be a fairly inefficient way to create chances and Mallorca being forced into this approach for much of the game against Bilbao’s aerial quality was a key reason for their lack of offensive threat.
Once Takefus Kubo came on, Mallorca looked notably more ambidextrous in the attack. Though Kubo did tuck in, he also showed the awareness to stay wider on occasion. This was how he won the penalty which could have won his side the match.
Bilbao’s high press
Bilbao’s aggressive high press from a 4-4-2 structure made it extremely difficult for Mallorca to play through them. Though Mallorca also tried to invert their wingers to overload Bilbao’s double pivot, they were unable to pass effectively through Bilbao’s lines. This completely nullified the quality of Aleix Febas and Dani Rodríguez between the lines and ensured Mallorca offered little central threat.
García would join Williams in pressing the centre backs aggressively, forcing them to play the ball long to the extremely isolated Ante Budimir. Budimir only managed to win three of his 11 aerial duels, good for just 27%. That was 20% worse than his season average that day.
García was equally as important in the press as he was in attack. He often initiated it, as well as positioning himself intelligently to pin Mallorca to the touchline when they were on one side of the field.
The tactics of both sides successfully nullified their opposition’s strengths. Mallorca’s compact low block heavily restricted the space between the lines for the likes of Muniain and Williams. Bilbao had more success once they made some substitutes- Aduriz notably gave them an extra aerial presence in attack. Furthermore, it enabled Bilbao to tuck Muniain and Williams in alongside García and Aduriz to play off them.
Bilbao’s high press meanwhile forced Mallorca long, preventing them from passing through the lines with any efficiency into the dangerous Febas, Rodríguez and Júnior. This forced Mallorca to focus their own attacks down the left flank. They did have some joy with Baba dovetailing well with Júnior. However, a lack of bodies centrally generally meant they failed to exploit dangerous crosses.
When Kubo came on, Mallorca had more success because he was willing to hold his width, and this created a penalty chance that could have been the difference between the two sides.
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