FC Barcelona: 1st, 37 points (W12 – D1 – L1)
Xavi’s Barça top the LaLiga Santander table having racked up 27 points from the last 30 on offer. They are the highest-scoring side in the division (33 goals, level with Real Madrid) and have conceded the fewest (5, half as many as the next tightest at the back).
However, if we had to highlight one aspect where Los Azulgranas are really shining in keeping with their playing style, it would have to be their counter-pressing: they are the team with the fastest ball recovery rate, averaging 3.9 recoveries per minute. They are also the team who force the highest percentage of turnovers in the opposing half, at 32.5%, doing so at the highest average height up the pitch: 42.1 metres from their own goal line, which facilitates the transition towards the opposing goal.
Real Madrid: 2nd, 35 points (W11 – D2 – L1)
After making a scintillating start and picking up all of the first 18 points up for grabs, Real Madid have taken 23 of the last 30 points on offer. Los Blancos stand out in LaLiga Santander for their constant presence in the final third: they are the team who have completed the most passes on average in this zone (157.3), accounting for 25.1% of the team’s passes – the highest figure in the league.
The capital club are a vertical outfit who try to install themselves in their opponents’ half as quickly as possible. And they have been doing so with great success: no team averages a better pass completion rate in the final third (87.2%) than Los Merengues. This puts them as the team who average the most shot assists (11.2) and the most goal assists (1.6) in the league.
Real Sociedad: 3rd, 26 points (W8 – D2 – L4)
Imanol Alguacil and his Real Sociedad charges have started in similar fashion to recent seasons. Following a spotty opening spell, they have taken 19 points out of the last 30 on offer, including a run of five wins on the trot. The men from San Sebastian are finishing their moves with consummate effectiveness (7.3% success rate), but above all they have been excelling in a key aspect of their football philosophy: they are winning balls back quickly and far up the pitch. They are fifth in terms of ball recovery rate (3.3 recoveries on average per minute), they win the ball back the fourth highest up the pitch (39.9 m) and are third in terms of the percentage of recoveries in the opposing half (27.3%). When they do not manage to regain possession, they have a clear tactic: no other team breaks up as many opposition attacks (27.4) per match.
Athletic Club: 4th, 24 points (W7 – D3 – L4)
Ernesto Valverde’s Athletic Club are giving the San Mames crowd plenty to cheer about this season. They are a team with a clear identity, and one which goes down well in Bilbao. Athletic are currently the third highest-scoring team (24) in LaLiga Santander, evidencing the attacking potential of the squad. However, if there is one metric where this team stands out it is their fitness: they are the team who cover the most distance at high intensity during each match (7.3 kilometres on average), and who make the most high-intensity sprints (436).
This physical exertion, combined with good collective positioning, is helping Athletic to reap ample rewards from their high press: they are the team who force the most turnovers, are second in terms of their height up the pitch (41 m) and in terms of the percentage of recoveries in the opposition half (30.4%).
Atletico Madrid: 5th, 24 points (W7 – D3 – L4)
Atletico Madrid are looking to put themselves back in among the top four in LaLiga Santander, and they will need to improve on recent results if they are to achieve their goal, having gone three games without a win. That said, Diego Pablo Simeone’s men have the means to get the job done.
Beyond having players in their squad who have been proving their quality during the World Cup, including the likes of Griezmann and Morata, the most positive stat for Los Rojiblancos has been their shooting accuracy: only Real Madrid and Barça are better placed when it comes to finishing than Atleti, who are registering an effectiveness of 8.1%. What’s more, they are the team with the most successful dribbles (45.5%).
Real Betis: 6th, 24 points (W7 – D3 – L4)
Manuel Pellegrini is into his third campaign with Real Betis, and Los Verdiblancos have continued to produce the requisite results to keep them in the upper reaches of the LaLiga Santander table. Despite displaying their characteristically assertive combination play, their most effective aspect prior to the World Cup hiatus turns out to be in defence: they are the third most effective team at goal prevention (96%). This stat is a direct result of their first-choice goalkeeper’s superb performance between the sticks. Rui Silva has made the third highest percentage of saves out of all shots received (77.6%).
What’s more, Real Betis are also cementing their dominance at the Benito Villamarin: they have earned the third most points on home turf (16), where they began by stringing together five wins in succession, an historic achievement not seen since the 1934/35 season.
CA Osasuna: 7th, 23 points (W7 – D2 – L5)
Jagoba Arrasate is doing a sterling job with CA Osasuna. The Navarre-based club have racked up seven victories, a figure only matched or bettered by six other teams, and they have achieved this by remaining faithful to their style of play. They have registered encouraging stats in both attack and defence. On the one hand, at the back, they are the team who concede the third-fewest shots per match (9.9), while up front they stand out on an aspect of play that they have form for dominating in: they are club who have scored the third-highest number of goals (6) from crosses.
However, perhaps the figure that best illustrates Osasuna’s efficiency is that the they are the league’s bridesmaids when it comes to getting a return on their goals in LaLiga Santander, averaging 1.4 points for each goal scored.
Rayo Vallecano: 8th, 22 points (W6 – D4 – L4)
Vallecas remains on cloud nine with Andoni Iraola’s Rayo Vallecano, who went into the World Cup break on the back of a six-game unbeaten run, including victories over Sevilla FC and Real Madrid. Rayo have doubled down on the philosophy which saw them shine last season: a high block, forcing the first opposition line into errors.
In this regard, not only are they second in the ranking in terms of the number of balls recovered per match (73.3), they also win it back the third highest distance up the pitch (40.6 m) and recover the fourth highest percentage of those balls in the opposing half (26.3%). These figures put them in third place on the ball recovery rate, and also put them in the top five in terms of attack prevention (86.1%).
Villarreal CF: 9th, 21 points (W6 – D3 – L5)
Villarreal notched up their first victory under Quique Setien, with a win by the finest of margins at the RCDE Stadium. The Cantabrian coach will introduce some subtle changes to the way Villarreal played under Unai Emery, but they will continue to insist on dominating the game through possession.
However, one notable area for Los Groguets is their defence: they lie second on goal prevention (96.5%), which has helped establish them as the team who have conceded the second-fewest goals in the division (0.7 goals conceded per game). Villarreal’s solid defensive work forces their opponents to take difficult shots, and they are also benefitting from the fine form of Geronimo Rulli: the LaLiga Santander keeper who has saved the second most shots on goal.
Valencia CF: 10th, 19 points (W5 – D4 – L5)
Gennaro Gattuso’s Valencia CF are one of the teams who have undergone the biggest transformations in their style of play compared to last season. The Italian coach wants his players to seize the initiative, dominate possession, and when they lose the ball, to apply a high press and win it back quickly.
Their performance metrics show that Valencia are managing to implement his philosophy out on the field of play: in possession, they make the podium for taking the initiative and are the fifth most effective team at attack-building (18.3%). Defensively, Gattuso’s charges have the second highest attack prevention (87.6%), and their ball recovery rate sits second in the table, at 3.7 recoveries per minute.
RCD Mallorca: 11th, 19 points (W5 – D4 – L5)
Javier Aguirre is making his mark at RCD Mallorca. The islanders are an intense, hard-working team who seek to build on their defensive prowess. Despite being one of the sides who see the least of the ball in the division, they barely suffer while out of possession: lying fourth in the ranking for goal prevention (95.3%) and for fewest shots on goal (3.5) per match.
They complement this exemplary work without the ball with outstanding effectiveness in the opposition box: in addition to standing second in terms of the percentage of shots on target, they are LaLiga Santander’s top team in terms of their return on goals scored, earning 1.5 points for every ball they put in the back of the net.
Real Valladolid: 12th, 17 points (W5 – D2 – L7)
Real Valladolid have returned to the Spanish top flight under the guidance of Pacheta, after a sensational season in LaLiga SmartBank. In the opening stint of LaLiga Santander, Los Pucelanos have been solid at the Jose Zorrilla, where they have picked up 13 of their current haul of 17 points.
When it comes to their style of play, they are a chameleon-like team, who stand out on their collective distance metrics both due to their depth (fourth team in LaLiga Santander) and on the distance of their defensive line from their goal line (fifth deepest block in the division). In this regard, it helps that Real Valladolid are the team in the competition who block the most shots per game (4.8), and who concede the lowest percentage of shots on goal (38.5%).
Girona FC: 13th, 16 points (W4 – D4 – L6)
Girona FC are also navigating their return to Spanish top-tier football after achieving an historic promotion under Michel, a coach who specialises in winning LaLiga SmartBank playoffs. Having made it back into the elite-level competition, they have not given up on their core traits: a team who want to keep the ball, use the full width of the pitch and engage in quick interplay.
If there is one area of their play that stands out it is their attack: they are among the top five teams with the best finishing efficiency (7%), a key metric for turning dangerous situations into goals. They also one of the most impressive teams at set pieces, creating the most attacking situations from wide free-kicks, and they lie second in terms of the balance between goals scored and conceded from dead-ball situations (+5 goals).
UD Almeria: 14th, 16 points (W5 – D1– L8)
The reigning champions of LaLiga SmartBank 2021/22 are making good on their ‘be strong at home’ mantra: Rubi’s club has bagged 15 out of a possible 21 points at their home ground, a figure only bettered by Barça, Real Madrid, Athletic Club and Real Betis. Furthermore, they have managed to string together four wins on the trot in front of their own fans, a feat only Xavi’s Barcelona have outdone. They have also managed to win two matches after going behind, only matched by Real Madrid.
In terms of performance metrics, UD Almeria are profiting handsomely from set pieces: despite not producing a large number of attacks, they are the team who produce the fifth highest percentage of shots from dead-ball situations (25.1%), and they register the fourth highest success rate (4.6%). They are proving especially effective from corners: they are the team in the entire competition who manage to shoot and score from the highest percentage of attempts.
Getafe CF: 15th, 14 points (W3 – D5 – L6)
Quique Sanchez Flores’ Getafe FC are continuing in the same vein that allowed them to correct course last season, when the coach revitalised a side who were having a hard time winning. They are a team who prioritise order, compactness and marked positional approach: they are the narrowest team in the league and the second deepest, and they are among the top five sides with the deepest average position.
To maintain their solid block, one of the tactics Getafe use most is breaking up the play when their opponents cross the half-way line: they lie 5th in the table in terms of breaking up opposition attacks (24.2). However, this does not mean they are unable to threaten their opponents’ goal, sitting among the top five teams in terms of attacking threat (0.09).
RCD Espanyol: 16th, 12 points (W2 – D6 – L6)
Diego Martinez joined RCD Espanyol intent on impressing his style on Los Pericos, and looking at their performance metrics, it could be deemed that they are honing in on the style of play we might have expected. Espanyol are a vertical, pressing team, as demonstrated by the following stats: they are third in the ranking when it comes to possession in the opposing half (32.9%), and they are among the top five teams who manage the greatest percentage of recoveries in the opposing half (25.7%).
They are also a powerful side in the duels, especially when it comes to aerial play: in addition to registering the highest number of aerial disputes in the division, they are the league’s bridesmaids when it comes to winning the ball in the air (59.4%). Their verticality is also reflected in their attacking productivity (shots per minute), only surpassed by Athletic Club, CA Osasuna and Atleti.
RC Celta: 17th, 12 points (W3 – D3 – L8)
Los Celestes have made the most of the international break to work on the ideas of the new coach, Carlos Carvalhal, who oversaw the two games against CA Osasuna and Rayo Vallecano beforehand with barely any time to implement his approach. It looks like the new coach, with minor variations, will continue to pursue a style of play based on strength in possession, continuing in the vein of Coudet, and this playing style would appear to fit the profile of the best players in the squad.
For example, Celta are among the top four teams with the greatest pass completion rate in the final third (82.8%), indicative of their ability to link up in tight spaces. Defensively, their ball possession has helped keep their opponents away from their goalmouth: they are the LaLiga Santander team who concede the fifth fewest shots per match, with an average of just 10.6.
Sevilla FC: 18th, 11 points (W2 – D5 – L7)
Jorge Sampaoli’s Sevilla FC side are another for whom the international break could not have come at a better time to work on the Argentinian coach’s ideas, which they did not have time to address with the games coming thick and fast. As he has stated on several occasions, Sampaoli believes that his team have the right players to dominate games and stifle their opponents through possession.
In this regard, the Sevillians are the fourth quickest team at circulating the ball in the division (15.7 passes per minute), an aspect favoured by their width, where they are also among the top four in the competition. Another positive aspect for consolidating this style of play is their concentration and effectiveness in the counter press, where they are team with the 6th best record.
Cádiz CF: 19th, 11 points (W2 – D5 – L7)
Sergio Gonzalez’s Cádiz CF are pursuing the same approach that saw them heroically avoid relegation on the final day when they came up trumps against D. Alaves in Vitoria. They are a team who place an emphasis on space, seeking to build on their strength at the back.
However, there is one metric which best highlights Cadiz’s style of play: they are the LaLiga Santander team who attempt the highest number of long balls (21.5%), attempting to avoid losing it in the danger zone and make quick forays into the opposing half. When they get there, a clear pattern emerges: crosses into the box, especially to the far post, where the send 37% of their attempts, making them the second team in the competition who most favour this approach.
Elche CF: 20th, 11 points (W0 – D4 – L10)
After the final match before the break, Elche announced that they had brought in Pablo Machin as their new coach. The Soria-born manager comes in intent on raising Elche’s game after a difficult start to the season, and he has already declared that he sees enough potential in the squad to fight to stay up.
In terms of positive performance metrics, Machin has something to work with in a team who have proven strong in aerial duels, among the top three in the division when it comes to winning the ball in the air. We would also be remiss not to stress their physical strength: they sit third in the league in terms of the ratio between distance covered at high intensity and total distance covered, indicative of a powerful squad who can live up to the physical demands of the competition.