Saturday, 5 November 2011

A look at Levante's system

Until last Saturday, the team leading La Liga was not Barcelona nor Real Madrid. After winning seven league games on the trot, having drawn the first two, Juan Ignacio Martinez's Levante side sat at the top of Spain's top league with 23 points from nine games.Unfortunately for them and many of  the neutrals, who had become attached to this side who were halting the dominance of the big two, a 2-0 loss to Osasuna last Sunday, who won despite playing the last half an hour with ten men, broke the winning run and left Levante in third place after Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola's sides won on Saturday.

Whether they start to drop down the table remains to be seen. What is for sure, their run has certainly been enjoyed by the neutrals.

So how have they done it? Here's a look at their tactics and shape



Formation

Levante's main shape is based around a 4-2-3-1 formation. Without possession this can end up being a 4-4-1-1 shape as the wingers often drop deeper in line with Iborra and Torres, the holding midfielders. The shape does have subtle changes at points; Xavi Torres often goes out to close down on a more frequent basis than Iborra and thus often makes it a 4-1-3-1-1 or a 4-1-4-1 depending on the positioning of the attacking midfielder. In attack it is also often a 4-2-1-3 with both wingers moving high while the attacking midfielder helps to link play. More about these later.

Strategy

Levante play a very counter attacking style, reliant on a very compact low block in defence and quick transition and good movement from the front four. They generally get the ball forward quickly with very few horizontal passages of possession.

Because of this they very rarely have the most possession in a game. In their ten league games this season, only twice have they had the majority of the possession; once against Racing Santander where they had 51% of the possession and in their only loss of the campaign against Osasuna, where they faced 10 men for the last half hour and where Osasuna sat back very deep and invited Levante to come onto them. In fact they average just 40.9% possession in the league

An example of Levante's low block without possession (vs Real Madrid)
One of the strengths Levante have is they are very hard to open up. As you can see from the picture above they are often extremely compact, with not much gap between the centre forward and the centre backs. With the extra midfielder (Barkero in this instance) they are also able to form a five in midfield and make themselves even harder to break down as they did in their win over Real Madrid.

How Levante matched Real Madrid up in the middle as shown by the triangles.
Their back four is often extremely narrow and compact, which helps cut out diagonal balls between the centre backs and full backs.

This makes width against them very important. Real Madrid looked at their most dangerous against them when their wingers got the ball high up out wide against the full backs. This generally happened from a quick switch from one side to the other which Levante are open to because of their compact shape and the fact that they often double up on the wide players on the ball out wide.

Seven players pressing when Real Madrid have the ball out wide on the left.
The big hero of their campaign so far has been their 36 year old captain, Sergio Ballesteros. Officially the heaviest player in the league, it's easy to doubt his ability yet him and his defensive partner, Nano, have had terrific campaigns so far. Their anticipation and composure has been extremely useful so far in the campaign, especially considering the team's defensive style - balls over the top become more prominent so as to break down the midfield as does the importance of controlling the space between them and the holding midfielders.

Attack

As mentioned, Levante have been very good in transition from defence into attack. Their front four have very good movement with Arouna Kone at the centre of it. Kone is often the target man on the counter attack, either by the ball being played directly into him or diagonal balls behind the defence for him to chase into the channels, while the wingers move up. Kone is very good at bringing other players into play. Often he will dribble wide while the attacking midfield, be it Barkero or Ruben move into the centre forward position and one of the wingers moves inside, generally Valdo.


Similar movements and patterns also happen in possession when they're not counter attacking. As shown from the diagrams above and below, Nano is generally the player who plays long diagonal balls from the back, though goalkeeper, Munua's kicking is also very good. The wingers are generally very high in possession, often higher than the attacking midfielder often leading to a 4-2-1-3 formation in attack. Nano then plays a long diagonal ball to one of the wingers in the air. The aim is generally to get Kone running in behind the opposition defence with a headed flick on or to get Barkero on the ball to build attacks (shown below)


Long diagonal balls from Nano to wide area. Kone makes diagonal run to that area for the flick on by winger. Opposite winger and attacking midfielder move forward.



Because their attacks are mainly reliant on counter attacks, it is generally the front four who do the main attacking. Torres and Iborra generally hold their positions together though Torres tends to move up more and add a more positive reference point in attack.

The full backs are generally fairly disciplined and aren't particularly attacking though they will attack when given the opportunity - Javi Venta played a big role in Kone's winner against Real Madrid. Valdo is generally the highest of the wingers so he is able to use his pace to get behind the full back often from diagonal balls behind. Juanlu only really gets behind when Barkero links up with him out wide. Barkero himself is a very good passer and has very good movement in the trequartista role. He is often the deepest of the front four but he is often in space, either to recieve long balls or to link up with wingers, which he is very good at.

Barkero's heat map against Malaga
One weakness they do have is a possible lack of ability to break teams down when the opponent gets men behind the ball. Against Osasuna, they faced ten men for the last half an hour yet never particularly looked like scoring even with a majority of possession and a 3-2-1-4 formation

How Levante ended their game against Osasuna.
Overall though, Levante have been excellent so far - extremely efficient and very well organised and Martinez has got some excellent results from his side. It would be nice to see them go on another winning run but whether that happens or not, they have performed extremely well so far.