Levante hosted Valencia in last week’s Valencia derby. Both sides came into this match with mixed recent results in La Liga, but the away side was arguably in better form with three wins in the last four.
As expected of a city derby, both teams fought intensely for the win. Levante was surely the better side in the first 30 minutes of the match, but Albert Celades’ change of formation turned things around for Valencia. They came back, scoring four goals after being two goals down in the first 20 minutes.
In this tactical analysis, we will delve into both sides’ tactics, and how Valencia beat Villarreal.
Levante (4-4-2): Aitor Fernández; Carlos Clerc, Coke, Eliseo Falcón, Jorge Miramón; Enis Bardhi, Nemanja Radoja, José Campaña, Rubén Rochina; Roger Martí, (c) José Luis Morales.
Valencia (4-1-4-1): Jasper Cillessen; Daniel Wass, Ezequiel Garay, Gabriel Paulista, Jaume Costa; Francis Coquelin; Rodrigo, Carlos Soler, (c) Dani Parejo, Ferrán Torres; Kévin Gameiro.
Levante in possession
Valencia defended zonally in a 4-1-4-1, but the higher midfield four would look for chances to step out of their position to press high – e.g. Parejo often stepped out to press Radoja. The whole shape would move together and try to overload the ball side.
Valencia generally used a mid-press and didn’t pressure Levante’s players in their own third. They wanted to lure the opponent higher up the pitch and then press to get the ball back so that their pacey attackers could counter by exploiting the space Levante’s defence left behind.
Their first priority was to keep a compact shape and block all central passing lanes. After successfully doing so, a midfielder could step out to press the ball carrier, forcing him to pass back. If that happened, the other midfielders would look to push up and press, aiming to force the opponent to pass back to their goalkeeper.
Levante built up short in a 4-1-3-2, with Radoja playing quite deep to help circulate the ball. The full-backs kept the width, while the two wingers roamed freely – literally everywhere in the middle third – and thus, were always able to provide passing options for the deep players.
The wingers and Campaña would try to move in a way that made them close to each other, creating an important triangle for short combinations. In the below example, we can see that left winger Bardhi was even closer to the right flank than right winger Rochina.
With a lot of passing options in the initial build-up phase, it was easy for Levante to progress the ball. They were very patient with their short build-up, looking to overload areas to play through Valencia’s defence with quality short combinations. The below example showed all of Levante’s midfielders and forwards on the left flank. This helped them combine easily to penetrate Valencia’s defence.
In the final third, Levante also showed flexibility. Forward Morales often moved to the right flank to create a triangle with Miramón and Rochina, while Campaña and the wingers tried to create their triangles with the forwards. The result was that Levante had a lot of bodies to attack zone 14 and the box. We can see this overload in the example below.
As Levante overloaded key central zones and forced their opponent narrow, they could quickly counterpress very quickly after losing the ball. It was hard for the compact Valencia shape to get out of the press.
Valencia’s higher midfield four often didn’t keep a flat shape, partly due to Levante’s extremely fluid attacking structure. As Levante overloaded the central areas with their wingers’ movements, Valencia’s shape was pulled narrow, except for their wingers, who were left isolated out wide as they followed Levante full-backs’ run. Soler and Parejo stayed central, and Coquelin sat behind them to take care of between-the-line movements.
Valencia in possession
Levante defended in a 4-1-3-2. The two forwards tried to stay close together, between Coquelin and shift according to the ball. The higher midfield three initially stayed narrow to isolate Soler and Parejo; when there was a pass to a Valencia full-back, the three would shift towards the ball; the nearby Levante winger would step out to press.
Soler and Parejo’s high positioning ensure they were easily covered by Radoja and Campaña, meaning the Valencia full-back mostly could only progress through the nearby winger – but he would then be pressed by the Levante full-back and forced to pass back. This would trigger a high press from Levante, with their wingers pressing the opponent’s full-backs, Campaña closing down Coquelin, and the forwards pressing the centre-backs.
Why did Valencia have so much difficulty in the build-up?
They used a 4-1-4-1 in possession, with Coquelin as the lone pivot. Parejo is often the key man in Valencia’s build-up with his smart positioning and passing. However, in the first 30 minutes, his positioning were often too high. With Parejo and Soler isolated, Coquelin and the back four couldn’t progress the ball efficiently, often having to play long and concede possession, as they don’t really have strong headers up front.
Valencia’s troubled build-up ensured Levante was much more efficient in possession. Roger made this a score advantage for the home side with a double in the first 20 minutes. Parejo had to drop deeper and deeper, but Valencia still couldn’t gain access to the middle area: Their key creator up front – Rodrigo – was left isolated out wide and couldn’t connect with Gameiro and the midfielders the way he usually did. Soler’s movements were not smart, making sure he was caged by the Levante midfield.
Valencia’s key 30th-minute formation change
In the 27th minute, keeper Cillessen was injured and replaced by Jaume Doménech. Celades instantly reverted to the familiar 4-4-2, with Soler on the left and Ferrán on the right.
When the pressing-resistant Parejo moved deeper, Levante couldn’t risk committing another man to close him down. Valencia started to progress through the middle much more easily with Rodrigo’s smart movements between the lines. Gameiro and the wingers started making a lot of central runs, knowing Rodrigo would often find them.
The below example demonstrated Rodrigo’s influence. His positioning made sure Parejo could find him with a line-breaking pass. He then instantly launched a through ball onto the run of Gameiro.
Having Rodrigo up front also helped Valencia counter-attack quickly. He has great pace, and could always pick the right pass. This was shown in Valencia’s third goal. Captain Parejo got the ball and instantly laid a pass onto the path of Rodrigo, who then rushed forward and found Ferran’s run. The youngster then assisted Gameiro.
In the final 15 minutes of the first half, Valencia clearly gained more control of the ball. Their possession scheme greatly improved. Roger’s own goal in the dying seconds gave Los Che a lot of momentum into the second half. They now sat deeper in the solid 4-4-2, gave the opponent more control of the ball, and then destroyed the opponent with their biggest weapon: counter-attacks. That was demonstrated in their second and third goal.
After centre-back Eliseo’s red card in the 74th minute, the losing side was even more vulnerable. Rodrigo once again showed his talent with another assist. Here, he positioned well and got the ball and time in zone 14. Ferrán made an explosive burst into the box, and Rodrigo’s smart through ball helped the prodigy score the final goal.
Rodrigo was arguably Valencia’s best player of the night, registering three big chances, two assists and one second assist. In the end, Valencia came from 2-0 down to win 4-2.
In the end, this analysis showed that Valencia deserved to win this match. They did not play well in the unfamiliar 4-1-4-1 and had a hard time building from the back. However, their switch back to 4-4-2 helped them regain control of the match. They invited the opponent high up in the second half and punish them with lightning-quick counters. They have now moved up to 8th place in the La Liga table, with only one point behind 4th-place Real Sociedad. A Champions League spot is now clearly in sight.
On the other hand, Levante faltered from a promising start to this match. Their exciting short passing game gave them a 2-0 lead, but they couldn’t deal with Valencia’s change of formation. They had ineffective possession in the second half and couldn’t stop the opponent on the break. They are now stuck in the middle of the table, which is not bad, but they need to make sure their defensive problems won’t hurt them later in the season.
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