La Liga’s Renaissance: Flamenco-Inspired Ideological U-Turn Explained

Complaints have increased in recent years as La Liga has seen a more defensive shift with teams such as Getafe, Atlético De Madrid or Cádiz having had some success. Low-budget teams have been accused of using the bus parking theme to survive in Spain’s top flight, inspired by Atlético’s Diego Simeone. Although the hype is low, La Liga is slowly maturing and undergoing an about-face, with flamenco-inspired football making a return and more ambitious coaches opting for riskier approaches.

Up until the pandemic, more and more Spanish teams favored a conservative approach for fear of missing out on results. El resultadismo conveyed a limited perception that would favor a low-risk, low-reward approach where the only goal would be to avoid promotion at all costs.

Both Atlético De Madrid and Real Madrid, under Diego Simeone and Zinédine Zidane respectively, opted for flatter formations: counterattacking was preferred to elaborate, bold build-ups. Even FC Barcelona, ​​rumored to be the Cruyff-impregnated club, had embraced risk aversion under Ernesto Valverde.

The top three players in Spain’s elite chose to rein in their resources on the pitch and much of the league followed suit. Perhaps best exemplified by recently promoted sides like Cadiz, Elche or Getafe, La Liga’s reliance on attacking football and its youth academies had made a journey back to hell and got stuck in the Styx of football and innovation.

However, La Liga has seen an ideological shift in recent years, with much of the competition showing a more attacking style of football: Carlo Ancelotti worried the Madrileños about the defensive move until March: Xavi’s arrival also marked a revival of Blaugrana hopes. As a result, lower-tier LaLiga clubs also followed suit: Rayo Vallecano, Real Betis, Girona, Almería or even Getafe itself.

Not only is the average football becoming more ambitious, academies are receiving more and more attention and clubs are giving more and more importance to these valuable resources.

Some of these teams just needed a change of manager to live up to their ambitions: this is the case of Villarreal or Real Betis. The latter made his debut in European football in style, signing none other than Manuel Pellegrini, the Chilean coach who keeps the spirits high under the hot Andalusian sun. Mainly by the unexpected explosion of forward Juanmi, who surpassed his xG by several miles, especially in the first half of the season.

Other regulars like Canales and Fekir remained key players, however Pellegrini increased their compatibility, resulting in a highly functional and high-risk, high-reward system that gave its fruits to Real Betis in the form of bananas, pineapples and regular goal-fests.

Additionally, the addition of Bellerin to regulars Moreno and Guido Rodriguez added to the team’s stability in notable ways. Real Betis could create from both depth and distance while maintaining above-average defensive control (Guido Rodriguez and Carvalho were particularly responsible for many interceptions and tackles). Verdiblancos a balanced team on most fronts. Having a promoted like Carvalho in a double pivot while being covered by Guido Rodriguez, arguably one of the league’s best interceptors, always promises a key partnership in the most important zone of the pitch.

Others, on the other hand, like Osasuna or Rayo Vallecano, opted for a mix of a younger and older core, adding key additions to strengthen the roster. Even though Iraola’s team slowed down after the winter break due to the lack of squads, it was still a great pleasure to watch the team week in and week out.

In the case of Iraola, verticality and the high level of danger were key to Rayo’s sudden success, rising from promotion to beating Barcelona and finding himself on the higher places in the competition. The mix between Fran García and Alvaro García on the same wing, while Oscar Trejo started as an experienced, matured decision-maker between the lines meant Rayo was difficult to stop in transition: Valentin had been at the heart of the field a lot, essentially playing during the becomes a transition breaker throughout the season.

Osasuna, on the other hand, is known for its wide triangular rotations that speed up transitions exponentially, thanks in particular to key players in Moncayola, Avila or even Brašanac. With a very well run academy, Osasuna enters a similar situation to Villarreal and Real Betis, ie a club that uses its academy resources to show great football that embraces the traditional club culture.

One might wonder at the origins of such a sudden change. The most likely answer is this: Spanish clubs used to rely on academies and that brief period when clubs didn’t was when they were at their worst, which may be why they decided to go back to their roots to return and have seen better performance that resultadismo ruled out at first, and instead a ‘salid y disfrutad’ mentality that has delighted fans more than ever.

Furthermore, when financial resources are limited, it is best to use academies: Spain has a history of producing the stereotypically thin, technically agile and tactically astute players: a more ambitious style of football suited their qualities better, which could explain the ideological flamenco-inspired turnaround in Spain in recent years.

In crisis, the human brain goes into emergency mode, a mode that forces innovation and madness that leads to ambitious attempts that take a turn for the better: Spain arguably needed this disappointment and dark low-block phase to bounce back.

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