As we enter the international break, Real Sociedad sit at the top of LaLiga. Imanol Alguacil’s team have made a fantastic start this season and have led the chasing pack since matchday 6. They’ve equalled the club record for the most points by this stage of the season, matching the 20 points (counting three points-per-win) they accrued in 1981/82 – the year they won the title – and in 2002/03, when they finished second.
So, the omens are good for La Real. What do the numbers tell us about their fast start this season?
At the moment, just four sides are averaging more shots per game in LaLiga than Real Sociedad – the usual duo of Real Madrid and Barcelona plus Atlético Madrid,and Real Betis. And only Barcelona have landed more shots on target than the Basque side in the competition.
Imanol Alguacil’s side are evidently finding no problems generating good shoot volumes.
When you combine that with them running hot on their finishing, you can see how they’ve put themselves in a good position to succeed.
The Basque side have scored a league-high 20 goals and boast the fourth-best shot conversion rate (17.4%) in the league. Incidentally, this rate is their best percentage in LaLiga in the last 15 seasons. Yes, while we’re dealing with a relatively small sample, the data shows that Sociedad are finishing better than ever before.
With these factors combined, Sociedad are averaging over 2.2 goals a game, their best rate in the league for 70 years. You have to go all the way back to 1950/51 (2.57 goals a game) to find them operating at a higher rate.
Their hot finishing is further illustrated by expected goals (xG). Excluding penalties, Sociedad have scored 15 league goals from an expected goals total of 12. In other words, based on the quality of chances they’ve created, Imanol Alguacil’s side have scored three more goals than ‘the average’ team would have expected to do. This overperformance is the third-highest in the league.
Expected Goals Overperformance LaLiga 2020/21:
|Atlético de Madrid||16||10.9||5.1|
The key for Real Sociedad will be to sustain these attacking outputs as the season wears on. The good news though is that the underlying numbers look good.
Solid At The Back
The classic combination of being strong going forwards and solid at the back correlates nicely with league position, who’d have thought? But it’s true, Sociedad have been rock solid in defence. Only Athletic Bilbao have conceded fewer shots and shots on target per game in the league this season.
Preventing opponents from getting shots off at goal has helped Real Sociedad concede just 0.44 goals per game so far, the third-lowest figure among all the teams in the top five European leagues.
Sociedad’s best form of defence has been their aggressiveness out of possession. They’ve stifled opponent attacks high up the pitch with an aggressive press, utilising good positioning and coordination to then launch attacks once they’ve recovered the ball. Indeed, Sociedad have won more high turnovers (winning the ball back within 40m of the opposition goal) than any other team and no side has generated more shots as a result of these high turnovers (12).
Highlighting Real Sociedad’s High Press:
|Team||High Turnovers||Shot Ending High Turnovers||Goal Ending High Turnovers||Pressed Sequences|
Unai Emery’s Rebirth With Villarreal
Unai Emery is back and so are Villarreal. Under his stewardship, the Yellow Submarine have produced some of their most competitive performances in recent memory. His side are unbeaten in their last nine matches in all competitions (W7 D2) and sit in second place, just two points off Real Sociedad.
The ingredient to Unai Emery’s success has been a return to his beloved 4-4-2. His Villarreal side have lined-up in this formation in all nine of their league games and found real success with it. It seems Emery has left behind the tactical tweaking that so plagued his time at Arsenal.
Under this approach, his two main strikers have flourished. Paco Alcácer (five goals) and Gerard Moreno (four) currently form one of the most prolific partnerships in the league. So far the pair have nine goals between them and have contributed to 69% of their sides total league goals (9/13).
While Villarreal are fairly midtable when it comes to the number of chances they create, the chances they do create are of extremely high quality – their average xG per shot of 0.16 is the highest in LaLiga. They certainly make the most of these high-quality chances too: 10 of the 13 goals they’ve scored so far have come from Big Chances, the highest proportion in LaLiga so far.
% Of Goals That Have Been Scored From Big Chances:
|Team||Goals||Big Chances Scored||Big Chance Scored/Goals|
|Atlético de Madrid||17||12||70.6%|
*NB: A Big Chance is a shot that is subjectively judged by analysts to be an excellent goalscoring opportunity where the player should have scored – a clear cut chance, such as a ‘1 on 1’.
The secret for Villarreal has been to be patient in attack and wait to create clear-cut opportunities for the deadly duo of Alcacer and Morendo to pounce upon.
Unai Emery has also been able to rely on the great form of his key midfielder, Daniel Parejo. The former Valencia man pulling the strings in Emery’s midfield, completing the most passes per game (68.1) of any player with at least five appearances in the league and key to reclying the ball. Once he wins the ball back, Parejo has been the link man between attack and midfield. On average he’s started 1.7 sequences that end in a shot, the fourth-highest rate in LaLiga.
Cádiz: The Promotion Sensation
The headline didn’t mention the newly-promoted Cádiz, but we felt they were owed a shoutout anyway. After the first nine LaLiga matchdays, “Los Gaditanos” are sixth, having picked up 14 points so far. Among the newly-promoted teams across the top five European leagues this season, only Lens have been able to reach this tally, although the French team have played one game fewer.
The key to understand Cádiz’s success so far is to understand their total disinterest in having possession. Their average of 30.8% possession is the lowest number in the top five European Leagues, and it’s not even close. Crystal Palace are next with 36% possession on average.
What is even more remarkable is that their four victories, which have all come away from home, have been secured with even lower percentages than that. In their historic win over Real Madrid at the Alfredo Di Stéfano stadium, they mustered a meagre 25.2%.
So far this season only Leicester, Tottenham, PSG and Marseille have achieved as many away wins in the top five European Leagues as Cádiz (four).
Cádiz Away From Home in LaLiga 2020/21:
Dates Opponent Result Score Possession % September 20, 2020 Huesca W 0-2 29.1 October 1, 2020 Athletic Club W 0-1 27.7 October 17, 2020 Real Madrid W 0-1 25.2 October 30, 2020 Éibar W 0-2 26.9 November 7, 2020 Atlético de Madrid L 4-0 32.5
Cádiz know their limits. As mentioned, they really don’t like having the ball and when they do get it, they’re not great at keeping it. Their passing accuracy of 64.6% is the lowest in Europe’s top five leagues.
A major reason for that poor pass % is that they play long. In fact, only Eibar and Getafe hit more long balls per game than Cádiz. Their gameplan is simple: hit long and win the second balls, thus winning the ball back very close to the opposition goal. Only Elche (35.7m) start their sequences closer to the opposition goal than Cadiz (37.2m).
Once they lose possession, instead of trying to immediately win the ball back, Cádiz then retreat into a low block. It’s not surprising then that they have conceded the most passes in their own half. (3,972).
Cádiz are happy to defend deep before launching attacks on the counter. This is something they’ve had a lot of joy with, having already recorded seven fast breaks (behind only Real Madrid and Celta de Vigo) and scoring from two of these.
Cádiz Counter-Attacking in LaLiga 2020/21:
|Team||Total Fast Breaks||Shots from Fast Break (incl. goals)||Goals from Fast Breaks|
|Celta de Vigo||9||7||2|
Barcelona and Real Madrid’s stranglehold on LaLiga is well-known. Between them, they have won 14 of the last 15 LaLiga crowns. While there is still a long way to go this season, the rise of Real Sociedad and Villarreal, as well as the success of plucky Cádiz, are all storylines to keep an eye on.
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