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Two Of LaLiga’s Best Face Off, And No, It’s not Barça Or Real


It’s not often that you preview a top of the table clash in LaLiga without mentioning Barcelona or Real Madrid. But it’s 2020, and here we are. Real Sociedad and Villarreal, first and third in the table, meet at the Reale Arena seeking to officially rubber-stamp their strong starts to the season and, who knows, maybe even lay down the foundations for an unlikely title-charge. Ahead of the tie, we analyse the main strengths of LaLiga’s surprise packages this year.

By: Luis Ledesma, David Perales

Striking A Balance Between Attack and Defence

Imanol Alguacil has done it again. Last season under his stewardship, Real Sociedad firmly positioned themselves as one of the most attractive and promising sides, qualifying for the Europa League and reaching the final of the Copa del Rey.

The Basque side have kicked on from there this campaign. With 23 points in their first 10 games of the season, Sociedad have already equalled their best-ever start in LaLiga history, matching their start in 1981/82, the season in which they won their second (and most-recent) league title.

The Omens are good.

Real Sociedad have struck a great balance between attack and defence this campaign. They attack well and defend solidly, as the advanced metrics show.

It’s early days, but currently, Sociedad have one of the strongest attacks in LaLiga, generating chances worth 18 expected goals. From these chances they’ve scored 21 goals, also a league-high. At the back, they’ve surrendered just 7.4 expected goals. Only Athletic Bilbao have conceded fewer. Real Sociedad are performing strongly at both ends of the pitch.

NB: The above graphic displays non-penalty xG and xGA

Villarreal are no slouches either. Their xG total of 16.5 is the third-highest in the league and their defence has been stout too, with 9.4 xGA the fifth-best.

Make no mistake about it, Real Sociedad and Villarreal deserve to be where they are in the table.

Both Teams Love To Press

Real Sociedad and Villarreal are both very well-organized teams, both with and without the ball. Both teams love to deploy a high-press in defence, attempting to win back possession in dangerous areas of the pitch where it’s easier to create dangerous chances.

Only Barcelona, led by new coach Ronald Koeman force more high turnovers (6.3 per game) than Villarreal (5.4) and Sociedad (5.3). But the key difference between these sides is how effective they are in transition. While Barça only average 0.8 shots per game after completing a high turnover (and haven’t converted a high turnover into a goal yet) Villarreal and Real Sociedad show greater efficiency to turn these dispossessions into shots (1.6 and 1.3 per game respectively). In fact, these sides sit one and two when looking at total shot ending high turnovers so far this season. Real Sociedad’s two goals from high turnovers is a league-high.

The Patience of the Yellow Submarine

While Villarreal love to push their opposition high up the pitch, Emery’s side are also patient when they win the ball back. Emery’s side are ranked fourth in terms of passes per game (553.3) and third in terms of passes in their own half (281.6), a sure sign that his team is comfortable with the ball and doesn’t need to rely on fast, direct play once they win the ball back.

Mikel Oyarzabal The Heart of Sociedad

One player stands out for Real Sociedad so far, number 10 Mikel Oyarzabal. The Spanish striker is not only the top scorer in LaLiga this season (6 goals), but he is also the player who’s taken the most shots in the competition (43) behind Lionel Messi (50).

A Choral Contribution

But Oyarzabal’s creativity is not isolated at Sociedad. The Basque Side have eight different players to register at least one assist so far in the league this season, a record that only Atlético de Madrid equals. This includes former City midfielder David Silva, who already has two assists to his name.

Real Sociedad Players – LaLiga 2020/21:

PlayerAssistsChances CreatedChances Created From Open PlayChances Created From Set Pieces
Mikel Oyarzabal21468
David Silva21394
Mikel Merino211110
Andoni Gorosabel111101
Alexander Isak1110
Adnan Januzaj1532
Aihen Muñoz1220

Pau Torres, the Centre-Back of the Future

Pau Torres has been exceptional for the Yellow Submarine so far. In addition to his solid defensive duties where he’s won 88% of all his duels, the Villarreal centre-back is adept with the ball at his feet. Not only is he the player with the most passes (678) and successful passes (600) in LaLiga this season, but he’s formed a formidable partnership with fellow centre-half, Raul Albiol. The Torres to Albiol and Albiol to Torres passing combination has produced the most passes in the competition so far (251 between the two players).

Highest Passing Combinations In LaLiga 2020/21:

TeamPlayer 1Player 2Passes 1 to 2Passes 2 to 1Total passes
VillarrealRaúl AlbiolPau Torres132119251
BarcelonaGerard PiquéClément Lenglet10569174
BarcelonaGerard PiquéSergi Roberto9168159
VillarrealDaniel ParejoMoi Gómez8273155
HuescaJorge PulidoDimitrios Siovas7776153

Furthermore, only Sergio Ramos and the centre-back duo of Gerard Piqué and Clement Lenglet, have been involved in more open play sequences that have resulted in a shot than Pau Torres.

Head to Head

History favours Villarreal, who come into this match with a historic 47% win percentage over their Basque rivals. We’ll have to wait and see what happens at the Reale Arena this Sunday, but you can expect fireworks as two of LaLiga’s most potent sides go face-to-face.

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