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José Bordalás: The Master of Football’s Dark Arts

With La Liga returning this weekend, it’s only right we look at their biggest underdog story, Bordalás’ Getafe. Getafe’s rise in Spanish football has gone under the radar of the English media. How have they gone from being in the second tier as recently as 2017 to knocking Ajax out of the Europa League a year after the Dutch side reached the semi-finals of the Champions League?

Getafe’s manager had an underwhelming playing career as the highest division he played in was the fourth. His managerial career started off in a similar fashion as between 1993 and 2006, the 56-year-old had nine different managerial jobs, four of which were Alicante which included a spell as their B team manager.

Despite only being 56, at the time of writing he has managed 973 matches. To put that into perspective, Roy Hodgson who turns 73 in August and has been managing since 1982, has managed 738 matches. José Bordalás has a win percentage of 48.61%, legendary manager Brian Clough’s win percentage sits at 46.46%. This highlights Bordalás’ persistence and the hard work he has put in to get where he is today. This is emulated in his Getafe side which sit in fifth place after 27 La Liga games, only a point off third placed Sevilla whilst also being in the round of 16 in the Europa League.

However, it hasn’t been plain sailing for the Spaniard, his career has experienced setbacks. As a player he retired at age 28 due to injuries, but he has also had setbacks as a manager. He spent most of his managerial career in the second and third divisions in Spain before getting Alavés promoted to the first tier of Spanish football for the first time in 10 years. He was then sacked that summer without managing a game in La Liga as the Alavés board didn’t think he could keep them in the top division.

Three months later he was appointed as the new Getafe manager eight games into the season. When he took the helm, they were sitting in 23rd place but they won promotion that season via the play offs. In 2018/19 the former Alavés manager won the Miguel Muñoz Trophy which is given to the best manager in La Liga. Previous winners include Pep Guardiola, José Mourinho and Diego Simeone, he has had many comparisons to the latter. But with a success story like his, why do people not like Bordalás and his Getafe side?

Bordalás’ determination is evident in his side. Cala, who had played under Bordalás told the Guardian “every game it’s like you’re playing for your life”. Getafe aren’t always easy on the eye and are often labelled with a “rough approach” to their games, as seen by their 19.07 fouls per game with next highest at 16. In fact, over the season they have committed 515 with second place Alavés on 432. This sees Getafe first in the discipline table for yellow cards on 95, 10 ahead of second placed Leganes.

This had led to them being called a “rogues”. Against most people’s perceptions, they’re more than fouls and luck. Their rise is down to organised methods rather than random madness.

Getafe set up in a 4-4-2 system with two banks of four and a front two, these are consistent features. José’s plans don’t change for the opposition’s formation, instead it relies on the understanding between the players for them to change the impact of numbers they face to rebalance them in favour of Getafe. This means there it requires a very close understanding between the spine of the team, they all play for each other and the club.

Bordalás always wants his players to have a numerical advantage, this means they always try to get two on one situations anywhere on the field when out of possession. This has a heavy reliance on intelligent movement, interchanging of positions, knowing when to press and occupying the spaces that the opposition see as the most dangerous in hope they will move the ball elsewhere.

Getafe try to funnel the opposition’s attacks out into the wide areas. This is to avoid the play going into the spaces in between the lines where creative players can pick apart their organised defence. This means that the side press with intent and intensity but only at crucial times when the trigger is activated. When the opposition play it out to one of their full backs, traditionally seen as a safe pass, Getafe’s press will begin.

The press will try to force the opposition’s full back to go backwards and try a long ball forwards or a switch to the other full back. Whilst the ball is in the air, Getafe will shuffle across which means the pass will be going into a congested space. In that congested space Getafe will have the numerical superiority as the wide players can tuck in with an advanced forward dropping deep or central players can push out wide depending on where the pass ends up.

If this press is bypassed or broken, Getafe will try to stop the attack by any means necessary. This can mean tactical fouls to stop the attack or to ruin the flow of the opposition’s possession. This is why the aforementioned fouls per game is so high.

When Getafe win the ball back, transitioning it forward quickly is the priority, a classic counter attacking idea. The thought is defence needs to be turned into attack in as little time as possible. This is to catch the opposition’s defence out of position to create the best goalscoring chance they can. The forward and direct passes tend to be the riskiest ones as highlighted by their 62.1% pass accuracy, the lowest in La Liga.

The two strikers up front have been consistent. Mata and Molina have been the go-to pair as a striking partnership. This has led to them playing 80.4% and 59.0% of the available league minutes respectively. The two strikers play close to one another, this means opponents can’t simply play through them to break Getafe’s first line of press, this once again encourages the opposition to play it to a full back or play a hopeless long ball.

Despite the pressing, they do like to stay compact and leave minimal space in between each bank of four and the two upfront. This means that their opponents feel they must have the ball out wide to avoid losing possession. However, this system does rely on the defence’s ability to win aerial battles as if the ball is in a wide position, the logical thing to do is to cross it into the box. To overcome this, José has played a back four of all central defenders at times.

Getafe are a team of great understanding, mainly in pairs. The two centre backs word in tandem, as does the double pivot in midfield. The two wide men in the midfield and the two strikers also have to work together. The compact shape cuts out vertical passing lanes, this means the only viable option to attack Getafe is in the wide areas, exactly where Getafe want you to be. Bordalás isn’t afraid to play full backs as the wide men in the midfield four, this allows more interchanges and more defensive stability.

There are many comparisons to Diego Simeone’s approach with Atlético Madrid and Sean Dyche’s Burnley. This has led to people saying Bordalás is the perfect Simeone replacement with the players winning at all costs and leaving it all on the pitch a constant factor in both manager’s teams. Although they aren’t winning playing ‘total football’, Bordalás will set his team up defensively strong and to stop the opposition with tactical fouls if they need to.

Someone ruining football or a tactical genius? One thing is for sure, José Bordalás is the master of the dark arts within football.


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