On Saturday played Valencia at home against Leganes. What sounds like an average game in Spain was this time a top-game. The second-placed Valencian welcomed the seventh place Leganes. Both teams started really well in the season and wanted to continue their recent successful streak. Especially Valencia needed a win to put pressure on Barcelona. Before the game, they were just four points behind Messi&co. In the end, it was an intense game with some interesting tactical points. Valencia won with 3 goals, but the match was much tighter than the result seems.
Under Marcelino Valencia constantly plays in a 4-4-2 shape. Neto played in goal. In front of him, Murillo and Ezequiel Garay paired up as the center back connection. Former Barcelona player Montoya defended on the right side while José Gaya played a tremendous game as left-back.
With Kondogbia Valencia had a physically strong player in front of the back-four. He played together with captain Dani Parejo as central midfielders. Parejo was responsible for the build-up along with both centre backs while Kondogbia offered himself as an additional passing option.
The young and extremely talented players, Guedes and Soler got lined-up at the winger position. Soler played on the right side while Guedes paired up with Gaya on the left wing. Guedes often pushed more in the halfspace to combine with the strikers or to start his dangerous dribbling.
Up-front the Italian striker Zaza played along the quick and technical strong Rodrigo who had problems to perform in that game at first but later on scored his goal.
Asier Garitano coach of Leganes lined-up his team in a 4-3-3 which changed to their common 4-4-2 when the opponent was in possession. Cuellar played in goal, in front of him Siovas and Munoz were the two centre backs while Rico defended on the right and Zaldua on the left side. Moran occupied the space in front of the back-four when Leganes was in position he got supported by Gabriel and Brasanac in the middle of the field.
Captain Szymanowski attacked the left wing, on the right wing Eraso lined-up by Garitano. Both supported Beauvue who played as the only one up-front.
Leganes defensive work and Valencias approach to create chances
Leganes is famous for their good defensive work. That’s why they are so successful this season, every team they played so far had problems to break down Leganes defence. They normally defend in a 4-4-2 shape. The last line pushed higher to stay connected with the midfielders. Also, the two strikers positioned closely to the midfield which made Leganes really compact and reduced the space for Valencia to create some of their offensive magic like in other games this season.
On the wings, Leganes usually plays man-oriented. Against Valencia, they changed nothing. The full-backs stepped out of the back-four to follow Valencia’s wingers and pressure them when they receive the ball. The objective was to deny Valencia’s wingers, especially Guedes, to control the ball and turn in direction to Leganes goal. Leganes wingers either supported the full-backs when Guedes or Soler received the ball, or they cut the passing line back to Valencia’s full-backs.
To pressure Valencia’s full-backs was the main task for Szymanowski and Brasanac. Both pushed out of the midfield line when Valencia’s full-backs received the ball. So sometimes the defensive shape of Leganes looked more like a 4-2-4 or asymmetrical 4-3-3 because of the higher position of the wingers.
The two strikers of Leganes played relatively deep. They didn’t press the centre backs consistently moreover they tried to control the space in which the central midfielders of Valencia were positioned. Therefore, they stayed near the central midfielders creating a compact square around Parejo and Kondogbia. The strikers either followed the central midfielders of Valencia or tried to cut the passing lanes into the centre by using their cover shadows.
Depending on the position and movement of the strikers the central midfielders acted differently on the pitch. If the strikers stayed deeper, the central midfielders of Leganes covered the space behind the strikers. If they pushed higher the central midfielders could momentarily follow the opponent’s central players. This was mainly the case when Leganes closed down Valencia higher and more aggressively, however sometimes the movement of the central midfielders of Leganes opened space in the center for Valencia.
Furthermore, the role and position of the central midfielders of Leganes were crucial when Valencia attacked through the wing. Leganes central midfielders had to shift quickly in the halfspace to cover the space behind the forward pushing wingers and full-backs.
Although in that game Leganes sometimes pressed higher. As I mentioned above they were relatively uncompact on some occasion or Valencia was just good enough to liberate from the higher pressing. In those scenes, Valencia got more space between Leganes lines and could create dangerous situations through quick passing.
They struggled to defend situations in which Guedes for example pushed in the half space and Parejo moved out of the centre behind the left back. Because of those movements simultaneously with a higher first line of pressing, Leganes opened space in the middle of the pitch which Valencia could use by playing with the third man. Often one of the strikers received the ball and just played a quick pass to Guedes or Soler who pushed inwards.
In this situation is clearly visible which problems Leganes had when they pushed higher without getting enough pressure on Valencia’s center backs. Because Moran followed Kondogbia, Valencia got access to the centre through a diagonal pass.
Because of the strikers who left their position to come deeper and play those little one-twos with the midfielders Valencia was able to draw Leganes defenders out of position. Valencia used the forward movement of Leganes defenders to quickly attack the open space behind them. Crucial for those attacking plays were the third man passing options.
Besides the third man plays through the middle, Valencia also focused their attacking play on the half spaces. Especially their left side was really active. You could observe frequently diagonal passes from the wing to the strikers. Guedes, for example, liked to combine with Zaza through diagonal passes and then quick layoff passes, the free kick before the first goal for Valencia was a production of the combination on the left wing.
The left side was also so strong because of Jose Gaya who performed well in that game. With Gaya Valencia had a technically strong player who has some playmaking skills. His supporting runs from deep when Guedes pushed in the half space challenged Leganes defence as well as when Gaya positioned in the half space while Guedes waited near the sideline.
Together with Zaza and Kondogbia Valencia formed a diamond in the left halfspace. Some of their attacking plays started there but Leganes defended those situations well especially because Zaldua pressured Guedes immediately when he received the ball. Furthermore, Leganes shifted quickly to the side and made the ball near side very compact. So, they rarely gave Valencia a lot of space to initiate their fluid attacking game. For Leganes dangerous situations resulted in dribbling from Guedes when he could win the 1v1 on the wing. With subsequently diagonal access to the strikers.
The rest of the build-up was the responsibility of Parejo together with the centre backs. However, the game was marked by a lot of mistakes in passing. Valencias passing game often was not precise enough so they couldn’t break down Leganes compact defence on a constant basis. When Leganes risked more in the second half and also made mistakes in their vertical offensive play, Valencia received more space to play quick combinations and through balls behind the last line of Leganes.
Leganes tried to attack quickly
Valencia also shaped in a 4-4-2 in defence. With their midfield and strikers closely together, they created a compact shape similar to Leganes, but in contrast, Valencia was able to press higher without losing their compactness in the middle of the pitch. The defensive movements of Rodrigo and Zaza seemed better coordinated.
They managed to force Leganes on the wing, making them more vulnerable to Valencias pressing. Compared to Valencia Leganes built-up in a 4-3-3. Moran was the lonely central midfielder in front of the back-four which spread wider. Supported by Gabriel and Brasanac Leganes tried to advance to higher areas of the pitch with quick vertical passing.
Similar to Valencia Leganes got really dangerous when they got access to the ten-space through diagonal passes from the wing. Both wingers of Leganes forced passes from the wing to striker Beauvue, who then could use layoff-passes to continue the quick combination play.
Due to their high risk passing, Leganes lost a lot of balls, however there connected shape allowed them to quickly counterpress in those situations. When Valencia was able to play out of those pressure situations, Leganes had problems to recover quickly, indeed Valencia had too many turnovers in their offensive game also Leganes regularly could win the ball back due to their aggressive approach, so situations in which Valencia played out of pressure in open space appeared rarely.
In the end, Valencia was the better team. Both sides were organised compactly and didn’t give a lot of space to the opponent. Valencia indeed had the better offensive plan, they used the space which Leganes gave them with quick passing and fluid movement and furthermore had more individual power to win the game in the end. However, Leganes didn’t play bad and could equalise with the chance from Beauvue in the first half.
All in all, this game pictured perfectly the tactical and technical class in the Spanish Primera Division besides the big three, Real, Atletico and Barcelona. With the win, Valencia is still in second place and can play a tremendous season if they continue to play on that high level.