February 5, 2020
Final Score: Real Sociedad 1-0 Levante UD
After managing to beat reigning league champions Atlético Madrid in the final of the Copa de Reina last year, 2019-20 was supposed to be Real Sociedad’s season. Recent performances however, have suggested an exodus of many key players from the Basque Country side. It is possible that this includes the team’s captain, Nahikari García, who has been with Real Sociedad since 2014 and has made waves at both domestic and international levels. The tournament champions came in sixth this season, suffering a few substantial losses to teams higher up in the table. One of these teams turned out to be Valencia’s Levante UD, who narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Champions League at 5 points behind the second place Atlético Madrid. The Valencian side boasts a roster stacked full of younger Spanish talents and established internationals, and can be absolutely deadly in how they position their attack. Levante however, faces a similar problem to Real Sociedad but on a much larger scale. Eight players have recently announced their departure from the club, and more are expected to leave Spain all together because of the transfer clause placed on players under the age of 23 in hopes of keeping youth talent integrated in some of the lesser known teams.
GAME RECAP: The scrappy, competitive tone of the game was set from the very beginning of the match with Maitane López receiving a yellow card for tripping ex Barcelona player Bárbara Latorre. A few moments later, the ball had ended up on the opposite side of the field where a long, hardfought Levante attack was ended by Estefanía Banini striking the frame of the Real Sociedad goal. Minutes later, Real Sociedad were successful in their efforts to pressure the Levante back line and they were rewarded with a strong run and low liner (nutmegging a central defender in the process) into the left side of the net by Leire Baños. The second half was just as eventful as the first, with each team having numerous chances to think over. Real Sociedad started off the half with Nahikari García almost pulling off a spectacular backheel goal which instead just grazed past the size of the right goal post. Marta Cardona had numerous chances to score, most notably crossing the ball over the face of the net. This is not to say that Levante did not have their fair share of chances, because they did, seemingly keeping the majority of possession until well into the second half. Claudia Zornoza hit the crossbar from a brilliant free kick and Esther González, an early substitute, gave Real Sociedad’s lead a scare. Real Sociedad ended up winning in dramatic fashion, where Levante was left appealing for a goal, scored by Alba Redondo, that was questionably called offsides.
Levante UD Analysis:
An Attacking Minded Defense
Levante UD kept a generic 4-4-2 shape throughout the game, though put some youthful Spanish style into the mix and they got a pretty good set up going. A large part in creating these attacks was their backline, who were very confident on the ball and the epitome of what it meant to grow up in the Spanish system of football. Levante spread their defense very wide, which can result in creating gaps within the center of the field, but for the most part, this allowed them to open up options to play long balls through. It also allowed their midfield to have room to be creative with the ball and intercept passes from the opponent, in this case, Real Sociedad. Keeping the defensive line wide also gave permission for their center backs to drive forward and play pinpoint passes to players further up the field. Ona Batlle in particular, had excellent distribution ability and a link up with Eva Navarro that was well beyond their years. Batlle could drive up the center of field and had enough confidence on the ball to pass a defender or two before launching it up the field to its intended destination. Although fullbacks were a part of the attack along the sidelines when the ball was farther up the field, their primary job was to play balls through to center midfielders or switch the point of attack. It was rare to see Levante use an outside back to make overlapping runs around their midfield wingers.
A Possession Oriented Attack
Adding on to the previously discussed topic of ball distribution out of the back, Levante loved to utilize their central midfielders as the orcastraighters for most of the play going forward. Levante set up their possession amongst their back four, and encouraged them to have patience with the ball and to know the right time to play forward. Levante almost seemed to have created two different groups of possession using this tactic. Once the ball was played through from a defender to a central midfielder, Leavante set up another back four with their midfielders and allowed their wingers to press forward and add another layer to the attack. Once the ball reached the midfield, or the second back four, the goal was to play another line breaking pass to reach the forward line so that everyone could join in the attack. This meant that again, Levante had to maintain a high level of patience on the ball and switch the field numerous times to get the opening they wanted to be able to play forward. This system also gave permission for the midfielders to have freedom with what they wanted to do with the ball. Estefanía Banini in particular is a very creative player and is excellent at driving the ball up the field at her feet. Banini was a standout player for many reasons during the course of the match because of her skills on the ball, and her workrate and clever usage of her energy off of the ball.
If this pass, or dribble drive, could not be played directly to one of the center forwards, the other option was to knock the ball wide for an on-running midfielder or center forward who had positioned themself near the sideline. This could also be done when the defensive line had no options through the midfield. Once the ball had reached an outside midfielder or forward, they had numerous options for what to do with the ball. Eva Navarro in particular is highly skilled at driving the ball forward with pace and making runs in behind her opponents defense, or creating passing triangles with midfielders in behind her. Triangles were a very popular method of attack for Levante during this game. It allowed the Valencian side to utilize their technical skills while also maintaining possession and making progress within their attack. These options usually resulted in low or aerial crosses from the endline which forwards, midfielders, and defenders alike didn’t usually have a problem getting on the end of.
Real Sociedad Analysis:
Problem Solving in the Defensive Third
Real Sociedad played a 4-2-3-1 for the entirety of the Supercopa Semifinal match, and surprisingly, it seemed to water down a lot of the problems usually found within this Basque side. When Real Sociedad was on defense, the main problem had nothing to do with their ability to stay compact, but more with their communication and ability to hold a defensive line that was not flat. Real Sociedad struggled a bit more with runs down the wings and combination plays on the side of the pitch because of this. Real Sociedad was exceptional at something different on defense however, their ability to press the ball well. Even though communication between the back four seemed nonexistent at points, Real Sociedad always made sure that pressure cover situations were handled well, particularly when Levante had the ball in their defensive third of the field. This meant that even though Real Sociedad lacked depth, Levante was not able to use their style of line breaking passes and maintaining possession either between their defensive line or midfield line. Levante was forced to play the ball wide more than they would have hoped for, and in turn, steered the ball away from easy line breaking passes through the center of the field, Real Sociedad’s problem area.
An Explosive Offense
More towards pockets of the game when Levante had more possession, Real Sociedad tended to be very direct in their attack, almost appearing frantic. Once the ball would reach Real Sociedad’s defensive line, their first thoughts were basically to launch the ball up the field for a midfielder or forward to chase onto, and get the ball as far away from their net as possible. Fortunately, Real Sociedad had pacy, skilled forwards who were adept at chasing the ball and slowing down the attack. This was especially apparent in forward wingers such as Bárbara Latorre and Marta Cardona who are excellent at creating a play themselves from taking defenders on 1 versus 1 and driving into open space to try and open up their center forward.
Once Real Sociedad started to calm down a bit and play the way they planned, they were able to exploit their attack to a much more effective scale. Again, using Latorre and Cardona, combination plays were able to happen down the wings. This usually occurred when an outside back would play into a midfielder who would play through to either Latorre or Cardona to run down the sidelines and continue passing through the middle and back out wide until they were able to have a clear cross or shot at goal. This was a similar tactic to the one Levante used when they were not able to play through the middle. Triangles were created, though the difference was that there was only one true forward, and Cardona had to balance her duty of being a central attacker with drifting out wide to take the place of Etxezarreta on occasion. Notable examples of this happening were in both of Cardona’s chances where she lost a 1 versus 1 battle with the keeper and when she crossed the ball over the frame of the goal. Latorre created a chance for Nahikari García early in the first half, barely missing the goal, using similar means.
A One (Wo)Man Show
The excellence of Nahikari García may appear understated to some, but the Gipuzkoa born, and Real Sociedad made, forward was the engine that allowed the entire team to start ticking. García was an expert at the Real Sociead type of play. She knew Levante’s game plan, and counteracted as best as possible, forcing them out of the way they typically like to play. Specifically, García cut off passing options, forcing a Levante defender to play in a particular direction and allowed her outside attacking midfielders to read which side the ball would be passed to. She communicated with her body language exactly what the other team was going to do, and gave her team the extra time to force pressure on the opponent and win the ball high up the field. This is exactly what happened for Real Sociedad’s goal, the only goal of the game. García forced the defender to play a certain direction which gave Latorre the chance to put pressure on the ball. The defender pressured by Latorre ended up giving up the ball and Real Sociedad were prepared with a counterattack that Levante would never have time to get ready for.
García not only led the way to making the other team uncomfortable, but she was also a major catalyst in their attack through winning the ball out of the back. García has superb skills when she is on the ball, both technically and physically. Even though the Basque forward is smaller than a lot of the opponent she goes up against, her tenacity more than makes up for it. This was extremely apparent in her game against Levante by the number of fouls she received and the amount of passes she looked to have played under pressure. Her work ethic off of the ball may even be more impressive, as she was heavily relied on to be the first line of pressure and to set up chances all across her attacking third.
Even though the chances of winning seemed to be stacked in favor of Levante, never underestimate a team with as much fire to win as this Real Sociedad side. Games between these Spanish selections always appear to be interesting and will continue to be as long as these teams exist. Even with distinctly different personnel, the values of these clubs will continue to shine though any player who choses to wear their colors.
Levante UD: 4-4-2
Alharilla O. Batlle Rocio Ivana
Zornoza Banini Maitane M. Corredera
Eva Navarro Redondo
Real Sociedad: 4-2-3-1
Lucía N. Mendoza Tejada Iraia
L. Baños Itxaso
Bárbara M. Cardona Etxezarreta
Written by Maddie Metz
Creator of Only Women’s Soccer
- Women Also Play: YouTube – Real Sociedad vs Levante UD. Supercopa 2020. Seminifal A: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1inpUSLu25Q&t=1s
- Sofascore.com – Real Sociedad Levante UD live score, video stream and H2H results: https://www.sofascore.com/real-sociedad-levante-ud/xqpsXhG
- Nahikari García – Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nahikari_Garc%C3%ADa
- 2019-20 Primera División (women) – Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019%E2%80%9320_Primera_Divisi%C3%B3n_(women)
- Elconfidencial.com: Las futbolistas llevan su caso a la Audiencia: “¿Formación? Nos pagan el salario mínimo” – https://www.elconfidencial.com/deportes/futbol/2020-06-05/futbol-femenino-audiencia-naciconal-futbolistas_2621087/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=BotoneraWeb
Real Federación Española Fútbol: YouTube – RESUMEN | Real Sociedad 1-0 Levante UD. Semifinal Supercopa de España Femenina: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkkzmpByOPg
- Lacronicadesalamanca.com: Supercopa femenina Real Sociedad – Levante
- La Crónica de Salamanca – 05/02/2020: https://lacronicadesalamanca.com/262148-supercopa-femenina-real-sociedad-levante/
- Flickr.com: La Crónica de Salamanca: