Using Wyscout data, we delve into the tactics that brought the Copa del Rey back to the Basque Country.

The stakes were high heading into the latest edition of the Copa del Rey final. With Athletic Club desperate to claim their first cup triumph in 40 years and Mallorca keen to win just the second Copa in their history, this promised to be a tense, pulsating encounter.

And it was just that. Both teams approached the challenge full of intensity, in a fiercely contested clash that saw Athletic ultimately prevail following a dramatic penalty shootout.

With Mallorca setting up in their 5-3-2 shape, Javier Aguirre's men started the match brilliantly against Ernesto Valverde's base 4-2-3-1/4-3-3, with Los Piratas' tenacity and front-footed approach giving them an early edge in the tactical battle over Los Leones.

Direct, threatening at set-pieces, extremely dangerous on the counter and playing to their strengths, these were keys towards Mallorca's fast start, which culminated in them scorching into the lead through Dani Rodríguez following a corner that Athletic failed to clear.

While Athletic immediately tried to get back into the game, Aguirre's team held firm defensively in their centrally compact, organised and disciplined shape to limit the effectiveness of their adversaries.

Down at the interval, it wasn't long until Athletic levelled the ledger through Oihan Sancet, who found the back of the net to cap off some wonderful work by Nico Williams.

This served as the catalyst for Athletic to really gain the ascendancy, as they pushed on in search of a winner and enjoyed the better of things. Mallorca then rang in the changes, with the likes of Antonio Sánchez and Nemanja Randonjiç giving them a much-needed boost.

Attacks per Minute - Wyscout Match Report

Athletic tried valiantly to seal the deal before extra-time, but the likes of Dani Vivian and Gorka Guruzeta failed in their attempts.

Seeing as neither side could propel themselves to glory in extra-time, the encounter headed to a dreaded penalty shootout. Flawless from the spot to convert all four of their penalties, it was Athletic who reigned triumphant to claim their first Copa since 1984 in thrilling fashion.

Mallorca's direct approach bears fruit early on

One of the most integral factors behind Mallorca stamping their mark in the opening exchanges was their success going long towards forwards Vedat Muriqi and Cyle Larin. Providing them with two excellent targets to bypass the Athletic press so they could then win second balls high up the pitch, this worked wonders.

Getting numbers near the duo, the way they had teammates in front to regain knock-downs and runners ahead to latch onto flick-ons, Mallorca's second ball structure amplified the effectiveness of their imposing outlets.

Physical, relishing these duels and reading the ball's trajectory nicely, towering hitman Muriqi deserves special mention, as his aerial prowess and hold up play shone brightly on his way to winning 10 aerial duels.

Mallorca's aerial duel maps - Wyscout Match Report

Athletic's fluid attack

The fluidity of Athletic's attack was a major component towards their success, as their astutely executed rotations caused a host of problems for their opponents.

Athletic and Mallorca average positions - Wyscout Match Report

Never allowing Mallorca to settle into a rhythm and obtain reliable reference points, it was a joy to watch the Basque outfit dovetail superbly to manipulate and unlock their foes, which was the case for Sancet's goal (more on that later).

From their aforementioned base setup, the way the forwards frequently interchanged increased their threat and was an excellent weapon in terms of space creation. Some of the best examples arrived when Sancet would switch with Iñaki Williams, who enjoyed edging infield from the right, with this allowing Sancet to attack the vacated channel and Iñaki Williams to use his pace and depth running in dangerous central zones.

Moreover, how central midfielder Iñigo Ruiz de Galarreta and Nico Williams would swap roles added a nice variation, causing problems on who should track who, plus smartly creating disconnects in Mallorca’s shape and opening up passing lanes ahead.

Athletic's pass connections map vs. Mallorca - Wyscout Match Report

Nico Williams trading places with Guruzeta further enhanced his side's unpredictability, thus enabling him to get central and continually ask questions of their foes.

It also warrants mention how, when Nico Williams was operating wide on the left, he successfully manufactured space infield for powerful full-back Yuri Berchiche to surge forward on the underlap to add another layer of nuisance in the final third. The gifted sensation notably ventured centrally to cleverly create room for Berchiche to overlap as well.

The brilliance of Nico Williams

Continuing to underline what a sensational player is, the impact of Nico Williams was immense for Los Leones, with his masterful assist for Sancet's equaliser a brilliant encapsulation of what an excitement machine he is. Here, after counterpressing aggressively to steal back possession, he incisively obliged the run of Sancet, who'd filled the space left by Nico Williams, before Sancet did the rest with an outstanding finish.

Nico Williams' heat map vs. Mallorca - Wyscout Player Profile

A constant thorn in the side of Mallorca, Williams wreaked havoc with his dribbling wizardry and intelligent movement, underlining what an impact he was having on the game.

Doing a terrific job of horizontally and vertically stretching the Mallorca rearguard, there was so much to like about his awareness of space and positional understanding. Aside from the above mechanics in the previous section, it was notable how he'd strategically target the space left behind when Mallorca's right wing-back, Giovanni González, would step out to press full-back Berchiche.

It was also important to note that the speedster was frequently found following quick switches of play and in transition so he could be isolated 1v1 or expose opponents on their blindside to put his physical, athletic and technical skills to great use against retreating, backpedalling markers.

Attacks by flanks map in Wyscout's Match Report showing how Athletic channeled a lot of their plays through Williams.

Athletic's build up vs. Mallorca's press

Although the tenacious and dogged Mallorca started the match nicely and did an admirable job of blunting Athletic’s desire to pass out from the back with their coordinated press, as they shifted across to stay compact, protected the centre well and used their cover shadows to block passing routes, Valverde's team eventually got on top.

While their rotations were pivotal in gaining a foothold and dominating possession, the presence of Sancet was so vital in connecting the midfield and attack from his hybrid 8/10 role.

Able to hurt opponents in so many ways, both with and without the ball, he was crucial in breathing life into his team's attacks. Be it running in behind, receiving between the lines, serving as a quality target if they opted to go long and coalescing smoothly with his colleagues, his impact was enormous.

Sancet's actions on field and passing vs. Mallorca - Wyscout Player in Match Report

The midfield staggering and capacity to form numerical and positional superiorities were instrumental in Athletic beating the press and giving them control too, with them especially handy at exploiting spaces that arose when a wide Mallorca central midfielder pressed an Athletic full-back.

The fact they populated the box with many runners was also vital, as this ensured the ball holder had many options to aim for at varying heights and depths.

Pinning Mallorca deep and ultimately forcing them to defend in a 5-4-1, their possession frameworks - in combination with their terrific counterpressing to win possession high and stop counters - ensured Athletic kept flexing their muscles as the game wore on.

Athletic increased their number of recoveries significantly after half time - Wyscout Match Report

Valverde's debrief

"This is incredible, this title has no comparison with any. You just have to see how the team was, what this means for the fans, the years we had been looking for it. In the end, in the penalties, where they are specialists, we have achieved this victory," insisted the delighted Athletic manager.

"We suffered because they played long balls, with a lot of contests, and they are strong in individual duels. As things progressed, we shook off that way of playing. We knew that if the game was long, we would be a team that runs a lot and we would have options."

"In the second half, we already had the idea of risking everything. The goal made us go forward. We could have scored the second. We are lucky to have Unai (Simón) and Julen (Agirrezabala), who is a young goalkeeper that has played in very competitive games against the likes of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. We are happy that he saved that penalty."

Copa del Rey final xG dynamics - Wyscout Match Report


Tactically fascinating and a captivating spectacle to showcase the quality of Spanish football beyond the heavy hitters such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético, this latest Copa del Rey final was unquestionably a marvellous advertisement for the game in Spain.

In a clash that appeared destined to be decided by fine margins, this is precisely how it turned out, as Athletic captured a historic victory to end their trophy drought to send their fantastic fans into raptures, with celebrations no doubt continuing well into the week to mark this special occasion in fitting style.

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