Real Sociedad start the new La Liga season with a trip to Real Valladolid. The visitors come in this fixture on the back of a home win this fixture last season. Real Sociedad are unbeaten in their last three games against Real Valladolid in La Liga. Real Valladolid’s last win the La Liga against Real Sociedad came in December 2018.

Real Sociedad(6) finished eight places above Real Valladolid(13) in the previous La Liga season. The visitors finished 31 points below La Liga champions Real Madrid while the home team finished 45 points below the La Liga champions. However, Real Sociedad was able to finish in the Europa League spot with Granda and Villarreal, finishing well below Champions League qualifiers, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid.

In this tactical analysis, we’ll give an analysis that shows the tactical battle between the two sides.


The home team lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The Real Valladolid manager opted for Jordi Masip in goal, a back four of Javi Moyano, Joaquin Fernandez, Bruno Gonzalez and Nacho Martinez. The midfield comprised of the double pivot of Michel and San Emeterio. The front four comprised of the left winger Waldio Rubio, attacking midfielder Orellana, striker Sergi Guardiola and right winger Oscar Plano.

The visitors lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation. The manager, Imanol Alguaoil opted for Alex Remiro as the man between the sticks. The defence comprised of left-back Alex Munoz, centre backs Diego Llorente and Aritz Elustondo, finally the right-back Andoni Grosabel. The midfield comprised of the defensive midfielder, Igor Zulbedia, right interior midfielder, Roberto Lopez, left interior midfielder, the gracious Mikel Merino, left winger Ander Barrenetxea, and the right winger Portu. The attacker comprised of the lone striker, 20-year old Swedish international, Alexander Isak.

 La Liga 2020/2021: Real Valladolid vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics

Valladolid risk averse build-up

Valladolid built out of the back with two different tactics. First, through launched goal-kicks or long balls from the keeper as Real Sociedad prevented any short pass build-up. Secondly, through short passes in moments where Real Sociedad didn’t high press and allowed them to build-up with short passes. The second form largely led to long balls and other times to attacks.

The former was more of a chaotic approach but risk-averse as it eliminated any form of mistakes or potential turnover during short passing build-ups. Real Valladolid’s goalkeeper, Jordi Masip, launches the ball into central areas. Real Valladolid became very compact as the goal kick was launched. This is aimed at winning the second balls from an aerial challenge or stopping any possible transition by immediate counter-pressing as the ball is lost. In the advent of possession regain from a counter-press, Valladolid sort to create chances from these situations.

La Liga 2020/2021: Real Valladolid vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Launched goal-kick from Valladolid

At first, the aerial balls from the goal-kicks were mostly won Real Sociedad as Diego Llorente won few aerial balls. Real Sociedad were able to win both the headers and second balls. As mentioned earlier, the former was due to Diego Llorente’s aerial prowess.  The latter was due to Igor Zubeldia dropping deep to form a back five and the compactness of Real Sociedad which acted as a safety net to win second balls. Apart from this, most of the loose balls ended up being won in midfield by Sociedad thanks to the technicality and physicality of Mikel Merino.

La Liga 2020/2021: Real Valladolid vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Aerial duel on the right wing

As the game progressed, Real Sociedad targeted the flanks which were more successful as the right-back Javi Moyano and right winger Oscar Plano could bully Real Sociedad’s left-wing pair of Ander Barrenetxea and Alex Munoz.

Real Valladolid’s attacks

Real Valladolid looked to create chances from set-pieces, transitions as a result of counter-pressing from loose balls or lost second balls from goal-kicks and long balls into the channels during settled play. The first method was largely fruitless as they couldn’t get chance good goalscoring chances. The second method led to a goal but very few low-quality attacks while the last method led to high-quality chances subject to the errors of the Real Sociedad defenders.

As mentioned earlier in the previous chapter, the goal-kicks resulted in loose balls or second balls which Vallalolid didn’t do so well in winning. However, they still looked to capitalise on it through counter-pressing. This enabled them to attack Real Sociedad when they were in a chaotic and less organized game state. This method of attack led Real Vallalolid’s only goal.

La Liga 2020/2021: Real Valladolid vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Sergi Guardiola on an offensive transition.

Here, Real Vallaloid regained possession after losing it from an aerial duel as a result of the goal-kick. They quickly transitioned with a perfectly timed long diagonal pass to the striker Sergi Guardiola who controls it perfectly. He easily beats Real Sociedad’s left-back and attacks the box, then lays a cutback into the path of the on-rushing central midfielder who slots it home.

As said earlier, this method didn’t create many chances as Real Sociedad were compact in transition and protected the central area which stifled any potential threat from transitions.

However, Real Valladolid was able to create chances from settled play. These chances resulted from Real Valladolid’s ability to play out of Real Sociedad’s press as they could find the free man in the build-up which was the left-back, Nacho Martinez.

Real Valladolid´s main aim in settled play was to hit balls into the spaces between the centre backs or the full-back and the centre back(channels). They aimed to hit these balls for the centre forward, Sergi Guardiola or attacking midfielder, Orellana to end up in 1v1 situations with either a centre back or a full-back. This was more favourable Real Sociedad’s attackers as they could beat the opponent’s defenders in 1v1 situations which automatically led to high-scoring chances.

Real Valladolid aimed to isolate the opponent’s defenders by dragging them out of position and stretching them horizontally as a means to achieving these 1v1 situations. Real Valladolid achieved this by making out-to-in runs(decoy runs) which dragged their markers away from central areas. This automatically led to spaces vacated in central areas which the either Orellana or Waldo Rubio attacked.

La Liga 2020/2021: Real Valladolid vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Guardiola dragging out his marker out of position

Here, Sergi Guardiola drags his marker out of position as he makes a run towards the flank. This leaves spaces in the channel for Waldo Rubio to attack which he does as he makes a run. The left-back Nacho Martinez, as usual, finds it with an inch-perfect pass into the channels which creates a good goalscoring opportunity for Rubio. Unfortunately, he misses it as his strike hits the bar.

Real Sociedad’s build-up and Valladolid’s proactive press

Real Sociedad built up with short passes from the back unlike the more risk-averse approach of Real Valladolid. Real Sociedad build-up structure was a 1-3 and 1-4 build-up structure. The latter was used in the first-phase build-up in order to add numerical advantage on the Real Valladolid’s 1-2 high press. The former was used in the second phase build-up to counter the two-man strike force.

At first, Mikel Merino dropped into the left half-space in the 1-4 build-up structure which allowed the left-back to push up. As the left-back pushes up, the left winger inverts in the halfspace. The centre backs and the right-back complete the four while the defensive midfielder moves into the central position to complete the one.

La Liga 2020/2021: Real Valladolid vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
1-4 build-up structure

However, as the game progressed Merino moved higher to position himself in the halfspace while the left-back dropped deeper to engage in the build-up.

Valladolid pressed in the 4-4-2 diamond shape. The striker and attacking midfielder pressed the centrebacks while a central midfielder stepped up to press the lone defensive midfielder. The wingers positioned themselves centrally so as to create a 3v2 numerical superiority of over Sociedad’s midfield. Apart from this, the wingers, positioned centrally, still have access to press the full-backs.

La Liga 2020/2021: Real Valladolid vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Wide area press from Real Valladolid

Valladolid’s press tactics were to guide Real Sociedad’s build-up to the wide areas and intensify their pressure as the ball reaches the full-backs. The rationale behind this was that pressure an enclosed area like the wide areas was more controllable and could lead to better turnovers, better yet force long balls from Real Sociedad.

Valladolid executed this by pressing Real Sociedad’s centre backs with curved runs which blocked the passing lanes between the centre backs. This angled pressure forced the ball-carrier to pass to the nearest full-back. As the pass comes in, the ball-near winger presses the full-back while the remaining central midfielder presses the ball-near interior. The ball-far winger comes in-field and marks the ball-far interior midfielder.

La Liga 2020/2021: Real Valladolid vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
1-3 structure with deep fullbacks

The aforementioned 1-3 was a solution used to play out of Real Sociedad’s diamond press. The 1-3 featured deep full-backs in the first phase and high full-backs in the second phase. The deep full-backs and the spacing in the 1-3 structure allowed more passing angles and increase in the distance at which Real Valladolid had to press. This automatically allowed more time and space for Real Sociedad.

La Liga 2020/2021: Real Valladolid vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Barrenetxea dribbling through the press

Real Sociedad used wide combinations/rotations and 1v1 dribbles to beat Real Valladolid’s high press. The dribbling ability of Portu, Barrenextea and Nunoz in tight spaces was instrumental in manipulating the press.

Apart from the dribbles, the aforementioned wide combinations were useful in progressing the ball and subsequently initiating attacks. These combinations featured in-to-out runs from either the centre forward or the interior midfielders, bounces passes from the dropping winger, and balls into the channels.

La Liga 2020/2021: Real Valladolid vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Right interior midfielder dragging his marker out of position.

These runs create spaces centrally for an inside pass for the outside player, mostly the full-back. Here, the interior midfielder drags the opposition midfielder away which creates time and space for the defensive midfielder to receive the ball.

Real Sociedad’s high press

Real Sociedad pressed in a 4-1-4-1 shape. They aimed to prefer short passing build-up from Real Valladolid which pressured Real Valladolid into adopting a risk-averse route.

La Liga 2020/2021: Real Valladolid vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics

Real Sociedad started by their press by Isak pressing the ball-near centre back while Portu presses the ball-far centre back. Merino and Roberto Lopez press the double pivot. The ball-far winger positions himself to press the ball-near full-back. This automatically forces Real Valladolid into a long ball.

However, this pressing mechanism leaves the ball-far full-back as the freeman. Real Sociedad used this freeman when trying to beat Real Sociedad’s press. Depending on the intensity of the Real Sociedad’s press, Real Vallodolid is able to find their free man with either a switch or medium pass to the right-back. This automatically initiates Real Valladolid’s attack on the left side.

La Liga 2020/2021: Real Valladolid vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics
Portu pressing the right-back. Isak marking the centreback

In trying to prevent this, Portu stops pressing the centre back and holds his position. Isak starts to angle his press on the ball-near centre back which forces the build-up to the wide area. As the ball-near full-back receives the ball Portu presses the full-back while the interior midfielder marks the double pivot.

La Liga 2020/2021: Real Valladolid vs Real Sociedad - tactical analysis tactics

Another way they pressed Real Valladolid is the right interior midfielder stepping out to press the ball-near centre back. The right interior presses at an angle that places the ball-side midfielder in the double pivot in his cover shadow. Apart from this, the defensive midfielder pushes up to create a 3v2 advantage in midfield while the striker blocks the passing lane between the centre backs.


Real Valladolid played well and deserved to win the game but unfortunately, they were let down by the goalkeeper’s error. As it shows in this analysis, Real Valladolid’s off-the-ball work was top notch as they defended well in transitions, blocked space in their 4-4-2 and pressed effectively in their 4-4-2 diamond.

On the other hand, Real Sociedad wasn’t able to create any decent goalscoring chance. The chances created from transitions were of low quality. Their crosses in the third phase play were ineffective. They couldn’t break down Real Valladolid. However, their first phase play and second phase play was impressive but the much need to play in the final third was lacking. They got lucky by leaving with a point.