Weekly La Liga Roundup: Atlético's struggles, Valencia's unlikely form, and more
From a set of poor performances from Atlético Madrid while Valencia move up the table, from Chimy Ávila's injury to Getafe's press, take a moment to make sure you didn't miss anything from this week in Spain.
Are Atlético Madrid In Trouble?
It was a bad week for Atlético Madrid. Defeat away at Eibar on matchday 20 was followed by elimination from the Copa del Rey at the hands of Cultural Leonesa of Segunda B and then an insipid 0–0 draw at home to Leganés that saw them slip out of the top four. If that weren't enough, Real Madrid await this weekend.
The narrative seems to be that Diego Simeone’s methods are wearing thin. But here’s the thing: Atlético’s underlying numbers look pretty damn good. They combine La Liga’s best defensive numbers with its fourth-best attack for the third-best expected goal difference in the division.
Their underlying numbers have not only improved as the campaign has gone on, but are actually stronger than those that led them to second place last season.
The problem is their significant underperformance in attack. Atlético generate an above-average number of good quality shots, but for one reason or another fail to finish at an acceptable rate. They are over seven goals worse off than their xG and have converted just one of their three penalties.
Ángel Correa, Álvaro Morata, Diego Costa, João Félix: all have underperformed their xG this season. It’s as if some malign force has swept in and made off with all their shooting boots.
It would be reasonable to assume this kind of finishing run won’t hold through the remainder of the campaign. Even just matching their underlying numbers would help Atlético turn some of their draws into victories and in turn gain them the points they need to secure their eighth consecutive season of Champions League football. If it does hold, they’ll be reliant on the failure of others around them to take advantage.
Are Valencia Any Good?
In short: probably not. At least that’s what the underlying numbers suggest. Valencia moved to within two points of the top four with a 2-0 win over an uninspired Barcelona side at the Mestalla on Saturday, raising hopes of a push for a European finish.
But here is that xG difference graphic again. Scan for Valencia. You won’t find them amongst the top six. Nor the top 10. Not even the top 15. Nope, Valencia currently have the fifth-worst xG difference in La Liga.
Their numbers stabilised a bit after their initial drop off following the sacking of Marcelino and appointment of Albert Celades, but are still not those of a side that can be expected to maintain a top-four challenge. Over the last 10 matches, they’ve still only posted the 13th best xG difference in La Liga.
With Getafe, Atlético Madrid and Real Sociedad to come in three of their next four matches, their position is unlikely to look quite so healthy in a month’s time.
Osasuna Lose Their Talisman
He couldn’t have got injured any other way. Early into the second half of Osasuna’s home win over Levante, scurrying after a defender, Chimy Ávila hopped up to block a clearance. As he landed, his left knee rotated inwards, leaving him writhing on the turf. Tests later revealed he had torn his anterior cruciate ligament — a season-ending injury.
Osasuna will now have to do without one of the league’s hardest-working forwards and the player around whom much of their shot production is built. When coach Jagoba Arrasate described Ávila as a franchise player in his post-match press conference, he wasn’t lying. The 25-year-old comfortably leads his team in goals, xG and shots.
Add good creative numbers and defensive graft to his impressive shooting output and you have a forward who had rightfully been attracting interest from bigger clubs.
How will Osasuna replace him?
At least they have a very solid combined shot volume from their two wide players, Roberto Torres and Rubén García.
But they don’t have another forward with the bullish determination to create shots that makes Ávila such an asset. That certainly isn’t the natural game of Adrián López or Brandon. Marc Cardona has posted solid volume here and there but nothing concrete.
On Tuesday, Osasuna announced the initial loan signing (and, in great detail, the subsequent purchase clauses) of Enric Gallego. He’s barely had a look in at Getafe this season, but his output at Huesca last season, where he shared a dressing room with Ávila, doesn't really suggest he's an ideal replacement.
Thankfully for Osasuna their good first half of the season has given them plenty of margin for error.
Getafe’s Crazy Press
Getafe made a slow start to the season, but they are now in the centre of the battle for European places. Their 1–0 win over Real Betis on Sunday owed much to the vagaries of what is and isn’t reviewed by VAR, but it was nevertheless their seventh victory in their last eleven, and a result that saw them leapfrog Atlético Madrid into fourth.
Pepe Bordalás’ team have a functional attack capable of efficiently creating sufficient chances to win them matches and points. They are, though, significantly overperforming their xG.
What is truly remarkable about Getafe is the manner in which they defend. The side were already one of La Liga’s most aggressive high-pressing teams last season. The graphic shows how each team’s proportion of defensive actions (including our pressure data) to completed opposition passes compares with the league average in each of six vertical zones. The red tones indicate that the team in question completed an above-average proportion of defensive actions in that zone.
Getafe have ramped that up even further. The opposition half is an alizarin ocean.
Getafe defend higher and more aggressively than any other side in La Liga, and concede over two shots less per match than they did last season. Bordalás has crafted a supreme shot-suppression machine.
Our new distribution graphics make it clear just how extreme their approach is. Across the big-five European leagues over the last few seasons, they are in the 99th percentile for Defensive Distance, PPDA and Shots Conceded.
And that isn’t overly conditioned by just how shot-shy La Liga has been this season (around 1.5 less shots per match than last season). Getafe have given up even fewer shots in European action.
Header image courtesy of the press association