Victor Sanchez Del Amo is one of Spain’s most intriguing young managers but his last few opportunities have unfortunately been at clubs in unstable circumstances. After keeping a limited Deportivo La Coruna side in La Liga, he joined Olympiakos but was sacked once he failed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League, just weeks into his tenure. At Real Betis, he brought stability and ensured La Liga safety by inspiring Dani Ceballos, only to be fired before the end of the season and for the squad to be overhauled under Quique Setien during the summer. In his time without a job, the former Real Madrid has traversed Europe, North America and Singapore in order to improve his coaching methods. He implemented a progressive style of football quickly at Malaga to lead them from sixth to third place and the promotion playoff. Malaga failed to regain their status in La Liga but have a reason to hope with a talented young coach at the helm.
Malaga build up in a 2-3-2-3/4-1-4-1 shape with the centre-backs forming a two-chain, the fullbacks moving into midfield next to the deepest-lying midfielder, the two more attacking midfielders moving into space in between the lines while the wingers stretch play up front. Instead of the deepest-lying midfielder dropping deep to create a three-chain, Malaga involve the keeper in build-up to create overloads and work passing combinations to evade opposition pressure. The player spacing in Malaga’s build-up shape is exemplary as they create triangles all over the pitch with the possibility for three-man passing combinations.
Victor Sanchez Del Amo relies on triangular three-man passing combinations heavily in build-up as it was pivotal in his 3-5-2 at Real Betis a few years ago. In early build-up, Malaga’s centre-backs will drop either side of the goalkeeper with the fullbacks dropping deep while the deepest-lying midfielder will also drop deep to work the ball out of pressure. Malaga seek to work the ball out of pressure with short passing combinations and moves before playing an early ball in between the lines to instigate attacking play. Malaga were talented at playing the ball through pressure but frequently lost possession when they failed to work proper combinations in the pockets to create opportunities. The Andalusian side can also play long balls to lose possession as they have also created opportunities and goals through these moves.
Malaga’s goal is to work the ball into their midfielders in between the lines to spread play to their wingers to create 1v1s and create three man passing combinations to work crossing situations. The fullbacks will also push forward with timed runs to overlap and provide a passing option for the winger when he is in possession. Malaga’s strikers like Jack Harper are talented at dropping into the ten space and working combinations to progress play. However, strikers like Blanco Leschuk can be isolated up front if they do not drop deep to engage play as they wait in the nine space for crosses from the wingers.
Malaga wide build-up
Wide build-up is an integral facet of Malaga’s attacking play under Victor Sanchez Del Amo as their centre-backs will create a two chain as Keidi Bare will be positioned in between them as the deep-lying distributer. Bare’s positioning will be ball orientated as he moves in between the two centre-backs creating a triangle with the centre-back and fullback. The ball-near attacking midfielder and winger will also join them on the flank creating five players on the flank.
As Malaga progress the ball into the opposition half, the fullback will make a supporting run inside the winger or on the overlap for the winger to cut inside or play a through ball for the fullback to have a crossing opportunity. Malaga like to play loose balls in build-up as they can also switch play from one flank to the other after working wide combinations to create goalscoring opportunities. Three-man combinations are a pivotal to Victor’s style and were prominent during his tenure at Real Betis as Malaga can work a ball into the half-spaces to work a combination with the wide lateral zones. Malaga will start with a three-man combination with the deep-lying midfielder, centre-back and fullback before creating a three-man combination in the final third with the winger, attacking midfielder or striker and fullback.
Malaga press in a 4-1-4-1 shape with their two attacking midfielders marking the two opposition deepest lying midfielders, their wingers marking the opposition fullbacks while the striker will lead the pressure phase in a 2v1 situation with the two centre-backs preventing central connections and forcing the ball out wide. Back-passes will trigger a much higher press from Malaga as the striker will push forward to press the goalkeeper while the wingers will shift from their fullback responsibilities to more central positions to prevent direct passes to the fullbacks and force the long ball. The midfielders also move forward to press the centre-backs as the second wave of pressure will always maintain a recoverable distance from their primary responsibilities as they can cover their markers if the keeper lobs a pass over the first line of pressure.
Malaga can also switch to a 4-3-3 in their pressing phase as they move forward in a compact block with a front three leading the press on an opposition three-chain as the ball-near fullback will push up in the second wave allowing Malaga’s ball near wide midfielder to move more central and close out the passing lanes. Malaga’s wingers can also move up to press the keeper as the Andalusian side can create an effective lateral press with their winger, striker, ball-near wide midfielder and fullback closing down the opposition in the wide zones. It is interesting that Victor’s side also prepare to create goalscoring opportunities in the press as the other midfielder will push up to replace the striker in the nine space, their deepest lying midfielder will push up and the ball-far winger will tuck inside.
Malaga play early balls through the channels in build-up so the prospect of losing possession is high as Victor’s side employ a ferocious counter-press. After they win the ball, they can play the ball into the spaces to launch quick breaks. Malaga also counter-press after losing possession in the opposition half. Their mobile striker, either Blanco or Harper is willing to move out wide to press the man in possession, giving Malaga numerical superiority and forcing the opposition into ceding possession or the long ball.
The ball-near winger and fullback as well as the two attacking midfielders will move with the striker to close down the spaces, chasing the ball as the opposition try to string short passes together. The ball-far winger can maintain his wide position, only moving in slightly with the deepest lying midfielder pushing up. If possession is moved closer to the ball-far winger’s position, he will engage the man in possession with the fullback pushing up to create the width. The centre-backs are positioned by the halfway-line as they are prepared to win the long ball and recycle play in the opposition half. Villareal loanee, Pau Lopez developed well as a ball-playing defender under Victor as he constantly plays early balls through the lines.
Malaga’s positional play
Malaga’s wide combinations and build-up play is geared to Victor’s positional play facet of the game. In the above situation on the ball-near wing, Malaga are manipulating a three-man combination to create space in behind for a cross to Blanco. One of their attacking midfielders, their fullback and winger are involved in the triangular passing move while the ball-far winger is stretching play on the opposite flank. An intriguing facet of the instance above is how the defence have adjusted to the fullback pushing forward. The defensive midfielder has moved to the flank where the ball is as the centre-backs have also shifted wide to the flank with the ball-far fullback remaining deeper. This allows Malaga to seamlessly shift into the counter-press and put instant pressure on the ball with numerical superiority to win possession and work a quick move into the box.
Blanco is positioned offside to draw the centre-backs deeper and create space in the pockets for him to drop into and work combinations. Malaga seek to play early balls into that area for the striker to drop and layoff the ball to an attacking midfielder who will shift the ball into the wide area for a cross into the box. The reason why the ball-far winger is stretching the pitch is that Malaga can also play a switch ball to the opposite flank to switch the point of attack as the winger will have the space to drive at the fullback in a 1v1 situation. In their approach play, they seek to create triangles with their player spacing like in their build-up play as the striker can create a triangle with the two attacking midfielders as well as the winger. Malaga’s defensive three chain can also create triangles with the deepest lying midfielder as these types of moves and combinations are so crucial to Malaga’s play under Victor Sanchez Del Amo.
Malaga’s defensive shape
Malaga defend in a deeper 4-1-4-1 medium to low block as the attacking midfielders will move closer to the defensive midfielder and sit off their man-marking responsibilities. Instead, the striker and the two midfielders will create a triangle where they will deny the centre-backs direct access into the deeper-lying midfielders. The Andalusian side also seek to create 2v1s in the wide areas with their fullback and winger against the opposition winger to win possession and play combinations to progress play. The ball-near attacking midfielder will move out wide to give numerical support and cover the half-spaces as they play in a compact defensive block.
Victor Sanchez is still 43 and is one of Spain’s most progressive young coaches who has had bad luck with his appointments post Deportivo La Coruna. He quickly committed to a playing style that brought instant results to Malaga as he will continue his work in Andalusia next season. It is not long ago that Malaga were on the precipice of a UEFA Champions League semi-final in the halcyon days of Isco, Santi Cazorla and Manuel Pellegrini. They now have a young manager who will commit to a proactive playing style as they will need to build a squad worthy of being promoted back to their rightful place in La Liga.