Osasuna and Real Betis participated in a cagey, tactical affair in their first 2019/20 La Liga match. This tactical analysis will investigate how Osasuna’s tactics did enough to nullify the threat of Betis’ biggest threats- Sergio Canales and Nabil Fekir; as well as how they attacked their more favoured opponents. The analysis will demonstrate how Los Rojillos’ high initial press and compact mid-block denied their opponents space in the centre of the pitch and how Betis attempted to counteract this approach.
The home side lined up in a fairly rigid 4-4-2 formation. Their front four of Rubén García, Chimy Ávila, Adrián López and Roberto Torres were tasked with providing their attacking threat. Their double-pivot meanwhile, had an important task in nullifying Betis’ own double pivot.
Rudi initially set out his side in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Javi García and Andres Guardado were originally the double-pivot. They were tasked with progressing the ball and covering for Betis’ attacking quartet of Juanmi, Fekir, Canales and Borja Iglesias. It was a fluid shape however and Rudi did move personnel around during the match in order to counter Osasuna’s tactics.
Osasuna’s press and defensive block
Osasuna’s press was a key feature of their tactics in this match. They pressed Betis aggressively from restarts, before dropping into a compact 4-4-2 block when Betis were able to progress. Resultantly, Betis’ pass accuracy dropped considerably. Against Osasuna, it was 80.27%, and in the last calendar year their average has been 88.5%, while this season it has been 85.5%. Osasuna’s press and block ultimately ensured Betis only managed an xG of 0.54. It also forced 29 lost balls deep in Betis’ half.
Osasuna’s wide midfielders, García and Torres had an important task. They had to stay narrow to close passing lanes into the half-spaces, often occupied by Fekir and Canales. Furthermore, they needed to retain access to the Betis full-backs. Fran Mérida and Oier Sanjurjo had to stay connected, either pressing the Betis double pivot or holding shape just in front of their defence.
With their backline also squeezing up aggressively when higher up the field, Betis players often found themselves surrounding the ball under intense pressure from their markers. Betis largely failed to adjust to this, rarely making the types of third man runs to manipulate and exploit the aggressive marking. This was an approach that would have reaped more rewards, and did so on the very rare occasions Betis actually used it.
Betis’ attempts to counteract Osasuna’s press
Early on, Betis’ 4-2-3-1 was poorly equipped to deal with Osasuna’s aggressive pressing. Initially, Canales was playing on the right side, with Fekir as the number 10. By pressing aggressively, Osasuna were able to deny both players the ball, because Betis simply could not progress it to them. They were clearly missing the suspended William Carvalho.
However, Rudi made some tweaks to his side’s attacking shape. He switched Andres Guardado and Canales, moving the former onto the right side and the latter into the double pivot. This gave Betis a superior ball player in deeper areas than they had previously enjoyed. Nevertheless, it did often require moments of real quality to bypass Osasuna’s press.
Furthermore, Rudi asked Juanmi to play narrower and higher alongside Iglesias. This created more of a 4-2-2-2 structure, and rather than Osasuna’s full-backs having anyone to press, they were pinned along with their centre-back partners by Juanmi and Iglesias. With their own full-backs providing width (albeit quite poorly), Betis were able to overload the centre more effectively. Additionally, they could get the ball to their most dangerous player, Fekir, more often via Canales.
Fekir was by far Real Betis’ most threatening player. Whether playing higher, dropping off or pulling wide, he carried Betis’ most potent threat. Their most dangerous movements came as a result of his passing, dribbling or work rate winning the ball back in dangerous areas. However, a combination of poor decisions at crucial moments by Fekir or his teammates, as well as excellent Osasuna defending, ensured Real Betis did not benefit from Fekir’s potentially difference-making quality. Aridane Hernández in particular impressive.
Osasuna’s direct attacking
Osasuna favoured a direct attacking style. This was partly due to Betis’ own 4-3-3 high pressing shape that made it difficult to pass through them due to their midfield overload. However, Osasuna had also identified a perceived vulnerability from Betis aerially and in transition. They frequently sought to get the ball forwards quickly when they turned it over. They clearly felt that without Carvalho, Betis would be vulnerable.
This style was complemented by the positioning of their four most attacking players: García, Ávila, López and Torres. They often made it appear that Osasuna were playing a 4-2-4 shape, ensuring 1 vs 1s against the Real Betis defenders. If Osasuna were able to win the first ball, they could threaten Betis quickly. But if it weren’t for Joel Robles or the woodwork, they would have won.
They did nevertheless miss out on the opportunity to hurt their more illustrious counterparts. When Guardado was moved to the right flank, it was clear that Pervis Estupiñán was far superior athletically. He was able to run beyond Guardado on a few occasions to create a two-on-one with Emerson simply due to his athleticism. Osasuna failed to take proper advantage of this vulnerability, however.
Osasuna’s defensive pro-activeness ensured they kept their talented opponents comfortably at arm’s length for much of the game. Their press forced Rudi into a change of attacking shape and their work rate defensively across the team constantly forced Betis to receive the ball under pressure. Furthermore, their direct attacking play caused Betis real issues. Had Robles not been on such impressive form, they would have won.
Though the likes of Fekir and Canales were able to get into the game more effectively as it wore on, Betis overall looked fairly toothless in attack, as well as vulnerable in transition and to direct attacking play. They will need to improve moving forward.
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