Is not easy to be a minnow between the sharks. Although this is an undeniable truth and despite their latest 6-1 loss to Lionel Messi &Co., that’s not a bad time to be Girona right now as coach Pablo Machín has transformed the club into a decent side deserving to stay in La Liga. A former youth coach and an assistant coach at Numancia, Machín took the job at Girona back in 2014. After they gained promotion last season, Girona shocked La Liga this term due to their tactical approach.
In fact, Machín introduced a 3-5-2 formation that is a relatively new line up for Spanish top tier. It proved to be tough for opponents to deal with this formation as they struggled to counter against. So, the Catalan minnows went unbeaten against Atletico Madrid this campaign and also took three points from Real Madrid with approach.
Bernardo Espinosa (1902 played minutes), Jonás Ramalho (1397) and Juanpe (1894) are usually the starting trio at the back whilst other players such as Marc Muniesa (960) or David Timor (554) have seen the field as central defenders during this season.
Playing with a three-man backline allows Machín’s side to add an centre-backs to cover the depth also adding more central compactness. It also guarantees him an extra-player in the initial build-up phase when playing the ball out from the back.
The utilization of three at the back, combined with three central midfielders, give Girona the needed vertical compactness to avoid being caught on counter by opponents. Álex Granell and Pere Pons are the midfielders charged to protect the backline and that’s become especially true when Machín left his favoured 3-5-2 pattern to play a more offensive 3-4-2-1 formation as it often happened. The midfield pair of Álex Álex Granell and Pere Pons worked with the team out of possession as the 29-year old produced 2.3 tackles and 1.5 interceptions per game while the no.8 registered 2.6 tackles and 1.1 interceptions per game.
But both Granell and Pons also contributed with Girona in possession as they also added respectively four and two assists to their stats. On the flanks, Johan Mojica on the left and Pablo Maffeo and Aday Benítez on the right are full-backs playing wing-backs to provide width when Girona get the ball. They are a pivotal key on Machín’s approach both when Girona have the ball in possession and when they play on counter as they have to stretch opposite’s defenses in order to manipulate their defensive formation.
Borja García and Portu act as attacking midfielders occupying their respective half-spaces with the latter which proved to be very effective. In fact, the 25-years old Portu produced 10 goals and two assists so far showing glimpses of classes with his technical skills and quickness which is pivotal to attack high defensive lines. Both García and Portu have to support the striker.
Portu’s assists so far
Former Middlesbrough striker Cristhian Stuani is deployed up top as lone forward. He plays as a target man with Girona that are not afraid to play long ball towards the sized Stuani in order to avoid opponent’s first line of pressure and quickly reach the opposite’s final third of the field. The Uruguayan is a great header and a key element for a side suited to aggressively play looking for depth.
Machín usually employs the same formation home and away just making some adjustments to better exploit opposite’s weakness. Without the ball, Girona are particularly able on counter as the majority of their counterattacks are fast enough to lead them to create good scoring chances. When counterattacking, the offensive trio featuring Stuani, García and Portu are asked to gain depth by quickly attacking the opponent’s backline at their back.
Girona are an offensive threat when deploying their quick counterattacking play
When in possession, Girona control the wider areas with their wing-backs whilst Stuani, García and Portu occupy the centre of the pitch. Attacking with these five men controlling both the middle and the flanks allows Machín’s team to stretch the opponents forcing them to simultaneously take care of depth and width.
Under Machín, Girona quickly became one of the most interesting sides in La Liga this term. Former Juan Carlos Unzué’s assistant coach at Numancia surprised Spanish managers with an unconventional approach which made the best out from an intelligent recruitment campaign. His 3-5-2/3-4-2-1 tactics made hard for rivals to deal with and also proved to be effective both offensively and defensively. With the ball, Girona is currently the ninth offense with 35 goals scored and even the sixth one in terms of expected goals (xG) with a rate of 36.21 according to the understa.com model.
In terms of goals allowed, Machín’s team is even the third best in La Liga with just 22 goals conceded. When it comes to expected goals against data (xGA), Girona get an astonish 26.32, still the third one behind just Barcelona and Atletico Madrid’s defenses. This rate tell us a lot about how much Machín worked to build a defensively efficient side.