El Centrocampista

La Liga new boys hit the ground running: Valladolid 2-0 Levante – Tactical Analysis

Photo: EFE

Levante Team Shape

Already boasting a thin and ageing squad, Levante’s early season fitness was tested after travelling to Scotland to play their Europa League qualifying tie against Motherwell on Thursday. Juan Ignacio Martinez utilised his usual 4-2-3-1 defensive setup, which shifts into a defensive 4-5-1 on the road relying on the counter attack and establishing a deep defensive line in their own half.

Defending in front of goalkeeper Gustavo Munua were David Navarro and Sergio Ballesteros in central defense with Pedro Lopez and Christian Lell at right and left fullback respectively. Papa Diop and Iborra played as two deep lying holding midfielders with Juanlu and Michel on the flanks. Up front was Angel with Jose Barkero playing as the playmaker whose task was to ignite the counter attack after receiving a quick ball from the midfield.

Real Valladolid Team Shape

Having not seen Valladolid play last season, I was quite pleasantly surprised at how expansive their style of football was on Monday night. Manager Miroslav Djukic lined his team up in a 4-3-3 variation. Jaime was in goal with Balenziaga and Rukavina at fullback and Jesus Rueda and Marc Valiente in central defense.

The midfield three consisted of one holding player (Alvaro Rubio), one shuttling player who moved play from defense to the front four (Victor Perez) and a more typical playmaker (Oscar). This balanced midfield system helped Real control the center of the pitch and also have enough muscle and positioning skills to stamp out any Levante counter attacks. The front three were Patrick Ebert on the right, Omar on the left and Javi Guerra up top, who struggled mightly to find service and threaten the goal.

Valladolid Dominate from the Beginning

Quickly realizing that Levante were going to sit deep and defend the final third all night, the home side controlled the possession and tempo of the match from the outset. They played an impressive style based around short passes and ball retention. Such attacking qualities and high levels of efficiency in employing this sort of technical football are rarely seen around the leagues from promoted sides, but Valladolid had aplomb on the ball.

It must be said that Real struggled to create clear cut chances in the opening half hour. Levante did an expert job at forcing the Valladolid attacks out wide. On the right, Ebert saw plenty of the ball but failed to find the target from his own shots and was unable to place a cross for Javi Guerra to fashion a chance. When the ball went out wide, Navarro and Ballesteros flexed their aerial muscles and dealt easily with these crosses.

Going forward, Levante hardly threatened on the counter because distribution from the back to the front was poor resulting in giving the ball straight back to Real. However, the away side from Valencia created the first two chances of the match around the half hour mark. Valladolid right back Antonio Rukavina was impressive pushing forward but he placed a poor clearing header onto the boot of Juanlu whose off target strike went straight towards Angel six yards from goal but the striker could not hit the target.

Two minutes later, a Rukavina giveaway to Juanlu allowed the left wing to put a cross on the head of Angel but the striker once again could not test Jaime. Juanlu was the most impressive attacker from Levante on the night surging forward down the left.

Penalty and Red Card force Levante to Change

Squandering these two chances would come back to bite Levante ten minutes later when David Navarro was shown a second yellow card after handling a Rukavina attempted flick in the box. Replays showed the call by referee Ignacio Villanueva to be harsh as the ball hit the upper arm of Navarro from close range and the arm was tight to his body.

Regardless, Victor Perez stepped up and smashed the penalty past Munua into the bottom right hand corner. While it is worth noting that Valladolid had 73% of the possession before going a man up, going a man down would make it hard for Levante to recover the ball, let alone break forward on the counter attack. They managed to get into halftime by shifting Iborra into central defense.

After the break, Martinez brought off Angel and put on Rodas Ramirez to play central defense. The away side lined up in a 4-4-1 with Barkero moving into the lone attacking role. The halftime team talk essentially went out the window when Papa Diop recklessly bundled over Omar in the penalty area one minute into the second half. The referee had no choice but to award Valladolid another penalty and Victor Perez doubled the lead after going to the left corner.

Two goals and a man up, the match was pretty much killed off after the second penalty was converted. Valladolid controlled the ball but struggled to create chances other than a couple of speculative efforts from outside the box. Levante brought on Nabil El Zhar and looked lively in the final fifteen minutes, even hitting the crossbar but never put pressure on Real by getting a goal back.


Hopefully, Levante will focus on the Europa Leauge this season as it is unlikely they will play in Europe in the near future. In the Liga, it will be difficult for them to finish in the top half and they will struggle to replace the 15 goals scored in the league by Arouna Kone last season.

Valladolid should be a pleasant surprise to the Liga. If they continue to play attractive football (most likely against the lesser sides) then they will be a fun watch. However, their supporters will be more concerned about staying in up and that will happen if they can find a way to turn possession into creating more chances from open play. Although, they will be ecstatic after taking six points from their first two matches this season.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Follow us and get La Liga news right in your feed!

Already a fan?