Sevilla vs Barcelona: Tactical Analysis

Barcelona somehow managed to leave the Sanchez Pizjuan on Saturday with their 100% record still intact. Two late goals secured the three points in a thrilling 3-2 win that left hosts Sevilla empty handed and removed their unbeaten record in the league this season.

Setting the result aside, there were positives and negatives for both managers to ponder as the season progresses.

Line Ups

Michel kept faith with the same starting eleven that had defeated Real Madrid and then Deportivo La Coruna in the previous two league games.

Sevilla Starting Line Up

Tito Vilanova made three changes to the side that defeated Granada reinstating Xavi to the starting line up in place of Thiago. At left back, Jordi Alba replaced the injured Adriano whilst Pedro started in place of Villa on the left wing.

Barcelona Starting Line Up

There have been a number of subtle changes to the manner in which Barcelona are playing this season under Vilanova and these are discussed below.

Opening Phase

Michel adopted broadly the same shape that had proven successful against Real Madrid.

Navas offered width and pace on the right whilst Trochowski tucked in on the left providing support to the midfield centrally. The diagonal pass to Navas was a feature of Sevilla’s play for the entire game and it helped curb Alba’s attacking enthusiasm.

Was Pedro stationed on the left wing in the first half to provide additional defensive cover to Alba against the pairing of Navas and Cicinho?

Trochowski’s positioning offered Alves the ability to push on during transitions with Trochowski caught infield but this seldom occurred. Barcelona were slow in possession, often choosing the correct passing option but making the decision to slowly. Consequently, Sevilla were normally able to regain shape and structure with Medel and Maduro congesting the centre of the pitch directly in front of the centre back pairing.

As they did so successfully against Real Madrid, Sevilla sought to hold a high line, aiding the congestion in the middle of the pitch.

When Barcelona were able to increase the tempo of the game, their combination play presented problems for the hosts and a number of half chances were created, typically through the trio of Xavi, Messi and Cesc.

Barcelona Shape & Defensive Frailty

The first noticeable difference for Barcelona this season is the shape of the side. Whilst the various TV and media sources still use graphics displaying Barcelona as lining up in their usual 4-3-3, on the pitch it’s somewhat different.

Messi moves deeper now into a classic No10 position on the pitch and is more or less laterally aligned with the most advanced of Barcelona’s midfielders. Last night this was Cesc. With Xavi operating slightly deeper alongside Busquets, it’s not unusual to see the two wide players being positioned furthest forward. In this respect, Barcelona often now resemble a loose 4-2-2-2.

The essential aspects of the system, as adopted by Barcelona, are that the wide players must drive in diagonally when required to provide the central focal point of the attack. When Messi moves very deep, there is an onus on Xavi to drive forward into space. Whether Xavi can sustain such a role over a long season remains to be seen. Also worth consideration is Busquets now moves slightly further forward in games, offering less potential cover to the defence.

Sevilla’ opening goal arose when Song needlessly challenge Negredo for a ball in the Sevilla half. Rakitic collected the loose ball and was already ahead of Busquets eliminating him from this phase of play. Medel received a pass in the right hand channel and was allowed to shoot without being pressed, his deflected shot collected by Trochowski who fired home despite Dani Alves being in close proximity. Alves, lazily, made no attempt to close him down, almost inviting the shot. Song, meanwhile, was unable to recover his position in this moment.

There were further episodes of Barcelona being disorgansied and not communicating properly in defence. A few moments later, Song and Busquets almost collided when they contested the same aerial ball despite no Sevilla player being close by.

The defensive confusion reached a peak in the 36th minute when four defenders pursued Navas as he ran diagonally from right to left. Nobody tracked Negredo as he made the opposite run from left to right. When Rakitic released him, Negredo’s shot from the edge of the penalty area went just wide.

The decision not to purchase another centre back in the summer has been highlighted by injuries to Pique and Puyol simultaneously. Individually Busquets, Mascherano and Song are all options for centre back alongside an established central defender. With any two used in a pairing however, there is a lack of awareness and communication.

Where to Play Messi

The development of Messi has seen him move from a right winger to a central striker to his current deployment in the false 9 role but increasingly Messi starts in a deep position and advances rather than starting in an advanced position and dropping deep. Messi is now functioning more like a classic No10.

The heat map below shows Messi’s positioning against Sevilla.

Messi Heat Map vs Sevilla                                                    http://www.squawka.com

Messi is now starting deep and advancing but opponents have realised this and with no central striker for Barcelona, defences can push high, congest the central area and squeeze the space between defence and midfield. How do Barcelona counter this?

Barcelona need a reference point in attack. This does not necessarily mean a traditional No9 but they need someone in that role to occupy the opponent’s central defenders. This role is no longer performed by Messi.

Last night, this meant it was Cesc who moved forward into the No9 role but there were also times when Xavi, Pedro and Sanchez all broke into central positions to perform that duty. Both goals from Cesc were examples of this. In each case he was already ahead of Messi when either moving onto or receiving the ball.

Barcelona More Direct?

Have Barcelona become a little more direct this season under Vilanova?

Last season Barcelona averaged 17 crosses per game. With six games played so far, they are averaging 19 crosses per game. Last night this figure increased substantially as they attempted 29 crosses into the Sevilla box. Only 8 were successful.

Barcelona Cross vs Sevilla                                                     http://www.squawka.com

With such a small team physically, unless the cross is exceptionally accurate or the penalty area is sparsely populated, Barcelona are going to win few aerial duels in their opponents penalty area.

Furthermore, a notable recent development has been the gradual increase in the number of long kicks / passes by Valdes in goal. The table below shows Valdes distributing the ball on 19 occasions, only 12 of which were successful. By kicking longer, more often, Valdes reduces the risk of a misplaced pass to a team mate in a dangerous area of the pitch. The exact type of pass which led to goals against Real Madrid over the past two seasons.

Valdes Passes                                                                               http://www.squawka.com

The converse of this is that it enables opponents to regain possession more frequently thus increasing the pressure on Barcelona’s somewhat fragile defence.

Second Half

Barcelona struggled at times during the first half due to Sevilla’s set up and also because they lacked intensity in their own play. Too often the ball was passed correctly but too slowly allowing Sevilla to regroup.  This altered in the second half as they began to play at a higher tempo and with greater width, both full backs now moving forward particularly Alba on the left. With Sevilla tiring, Xavi began to receive more space to pass and dictate the tempo.

The most significant development in the second half however was not a tactical move by either side. It was arguably the sending off of Gary Medel. It’s difficult to see how Sevilla would have lost the game had Medel remained on the pitch. Both of Barcelona’s late goals emerged in the central area which had been protected partly by Medel. On both occasions, Messi had time to lay off a pass to a team mate.

With only 10 men, Sevilla inevitably fell deeper and had less of an opportunity to break with nobody remaining high up the pitch.

Sevilla Substitutions

Michel made three substitutions against Barcelona. Rakitic, Trochowski and Negredo were all replaced with the introduction of Kondogbia, Manu and Luna.

The same three players were withdrawn against Real Madrid and the same three players were introduced. Whilst Manu was introduced due to injury to Trochowski midway through the first half, the other substitutions were reactive as Michel sought to hold on for victory.

Following the dismissal of Medel, the tiring and more attack minded Rakitic was replaced by Kondogbia to provide greater defensive stability and energy in the centre of the pitch.

In the 80th minute Negredo was replaced by the defensive Luna in response to Vilanova’s attacking gamble to remove Alves for Villa. Luna moved to the left side of midfield and Manu moved, notionally, to the central striking position as Sevilla were now operating along the lines of a 4-4-1.

In both games against Madrid and Barcelona, Sevilla have been tactically sound with Michel reacting to developments on the sidelines astutely.

Creativity and Workrate

Sevilla look different this season. With stories emerging of Michel having a more harmonious dressing room, the results can be seen on the pitch. The team have creativity and flair but are prepared to work extremely hard too, particularly the attacking players in the team.

In two key games, Rakitic has been asked to close down the opposition’s main midfield playmaker, Alonso for Madrid and Xavi for Barcelona whilst simultaneously being the most advanced midfield player for his own side. The Croatian has managed to perform both tasks but understandably tired in both games and was substituted.

There have been similar performances too from Trochowski, Negredo and Navas especially. Each player performing their defensive duties with a tremendous worth ethic earning the right to then launch attacking moves.

Conclusions

Barcelona, as is normal, dominated possession. With 624 successful passes form 731 attempted compared against Sevilla’s 212 successful passes form 297 attempted. The ability to convert that possession into goals however proved a touch more difficult as a highly organised Sevilla side came very close to successive home victories over the big two.

Amongst the host of positive points arising from the game from a Sevilla perspective, two issues will leave Michel disappointed. The loss of two late goals and the dismissal of Gary Medel. Irrespective of whether the red card was correct or not, the Chilean should know better than to confront an opponent in such an aggressive fashion forcing the referee to make a decision.

If this performance level can be maintained, Sevilla will surely be contesting the Champions League positions at the end of the season as once again the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan becomes an inhospitable venue for opponents.

Barcelona have now won their opening six league games of the season. Only on one occasion have they won the first six league games and not secured the league title.

Yet defensive frailties persist and there is the feeling that the team are not yet operating at maximum. With Benfica and Real Madrid coming up in the next seven days, the reports of Puyol traveling with the squad to Lisbon will raise hopes.

For despite the six wins, there is still much for Vilanova to ponder.

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Sevilla vs Real Madrid: Tactical Analysis

Real Madrid arrived at the Sanchez Pizjuan in the unusual position of being below Sevilla in La Liga. They remained below their hosts as they departed too with a 1-0 defeat condemning the Madrid side to their worst league start in over a decade.

On their two previous visits, the title holders had emphatically defeated their host’s with comprehensive 6-2 victories yet the Andalusian team displayed an intensity and workrate for the whole game which Madrid failed to match and as a result were unable to impose themselves.

Line Ups

Michel made one change from the side which drew 0-0 away to Rayo Vallecano prior to the international break.

Manu was removed from the team to be replaced by Maduro, a clear indication of the need for increased defensive stability from Sevilla.

Sevilla Starting Line Up

Mourinho started with the anticipated side. Marcelo continues at left back in place of the suspended Coentrao. Modric started on the bench once more.

Real Madrid Starting Line Up

The Madrid shape was their customary 4-2-3-1 with Higuain once more preferred to Benzema as the lone striker.

Sevilla Approach

From the opening minutes of this game, it was apparent how Sevilla were going to play. Their approach was going to be fast, direct and in the face of their opponents. The passing statistics bear witness to this approach. Sevilla made 241 successful passes from an attempted 361 passes. With pass accuracy of just 66% and overall possession of just 42%. Sevilla did not require possession to hurt Madrid. They retained shape, competed and sought Negredo and the increasingly important Navas for penetration at the earliest opportunity.

Sevilla set up in a 4-2-3-1 with some important points to note. The “2” stayed very central and close to the centre backs, Maduro playing deeper than Medel.

Upfield, Rakitic was deployed centrally with Trochowski very narrow on the left and supporting his colleague in the centre. This contrasted sharply with Jesus Navas on the right who provided width and pace with the intention of supporting Negredo in the striking role.

The full backs adopted similar roles. Cicinho looked to get forward and support Navas whereas Navarro stayed deep, aware that he had no direct cover in front of him.

The early part of the game was punctured with fouls, there was 14 in the opening 30 minutes. This stop start nature suited Sevilla as it prevented Madrid from finding any semblance of fluency in their play and it continued for much of the game although the number of fouls committed tailed off.

Sevilla Fouls vs Real Madrid                                                     http://www.squawka.com

The fouls were also being committed high up the pitch, away from the Sevilla penalty area. The rojiblancos were holding a relatively high line and squeezing the play in the centre of the pitch, suffocating their opponents. Ronaldo only had two opportunities to shoot at goal from a free kick during the game.

In the opening 25minutes of the match, Ronaldo, Higuain and Ozil were all fouled in aerial challenges around the halfway line. Sevilla had laid down a marker.

Sevilla collected three cautions, two of which were for fouls committed in their opponents half of the pitch. The third yellow card arose from the confrontation between Navarro and Higuain.

The Goal

The only goal of the game was scored in the 1st minute. Sevilla had begun the game at a very high tempo and Casillas had already been called into action before the home side gained the first corner of the match. With some atrocious defending, the ball was allowed to drop in the centre of the penalty area around 8 yards out where the oncoming Trochowski met it on the half volley. Higuain was supposed to be marking Trochowski but allowed his opponent to run off him.

Madrid Problems

Madrid allowed themselves to get drawn into a scrap with Sevilla instead of focussing upon building the play. Despite having 58% possession, Madrid only made 466 successful passes from an attempted 576. With just 80% pass accuracy, los blancos were not passing the ball enough and too often passing was sloppy and misplaced. Everything was rushed and increasingly they went long and to the wings, unable to pick their way through the centre of the pitch. Madrid made 38 successful long passes but a further 28 attempted long passes were unsuccessful.

Madrid seemed to be troubled by the intensity of the Sevilla play and the starting line up could be questioned. With the oft quoted “FIFA Virus” brought into vogue following the international break, should Mourinho have rotated the team?

Di Maria and Ozil looked well off the pace. Of course, when it comes to rotation, Mourinho is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Rotate the team and suffer defeat and he would have been lambasted for not selecting his strongest team.

Despite Sevilla adopting a relatively high offside line, Madrid seldom tested this with forward runs and through balls were in short supply:-

Real Madrid Through Balls vs Sevilla                                   http://www.squawka.com

Xabi Alonso

The Sevilla midfield pairing of Trochoski, but principally Rakitic, worked extremely hard to close Xabi Alonso down and prevent him from constructing play from Madrid.

Teams in the past have demonstrated that Madrid are much less of an attacking threat if you can reduce the effectiveness of Alonso. It’s the Basque playmaker who knits the play together for Madrid. Without him, the team can sometimes appear broken, split into a defensive and an offensive unit. Alonso binds them together. It’s the main reason that firstly Sahin and now Modric was acquired. To provide an alternative to Alonso whom Madrid rely heavily upon and reduce his burden.

Xabi Alonso Passes vs Sevilla                                                http://www.squawka.com

Alonso was operating deep and made only 72 passes during the game. With the central area of the pitch clogged by Sevilla, Alonso was forced to go wide with his passing. HIs lack of mobility is also an issue and whilst his defensive performance was still sound, he could not instigate sufficient levels of creative play for Madrid.

Substitutions

Mourinho made two substitutions at half time with the removal of the ineffective Di Maria and Ozil, replaced by Benzema and Modric.

The introduction of Modric saw Madrid revert to a 4-3-3 with a midfield trio of Alonso, Khedira and Modric. This should have provided Madrid with the strength and craft to meet and surpass the challenge from Sevilla. For a brief spell after half time, Modric was making passes and linking play well but it soon fell away.

Modric Passes vs Sevilla                                                             http://www.squawka.com

Similar to Alonso above, too much of Modric’s work was in relatively deep areas and not in an advanced area of the pitch. When Rakitic was replaced with Manu, the space Modric was enjoying as his fellow Croatian tired, was removed.

Michel made three substitutions in the second half, all of which were reactionary to those made by his opposite number.

Michel’s first substitution saw Manu come on for the tiring, and already cautioned, Rakitic to fulfil the same role – pack the centre of the pitch and disrupt Madrid.

Mourinho made his final substitution in the 65th minute when Arbeloa was withdrawn and Callejon entered. This switch required Khedira to become an auxiliary right back and Callejon playing on the right wing. Mourinho would have been comfortable with such a move given that Trochowski had operated so centrally during the game and Sevilla had offered little attacking threat from the left.

Michel made yet another reactive substitution to counter this just 4 minutes later. Negredo was replaced by the left sided defender Luna. Manu now occupied the striking berth with Trochowski in the centre and Luna moved across to the left to provide support for Navarro against Callejon.

Sevilla’s final change was the replacement of Trochowski with Kondogbia in the 81st minute as Michel took the “what we have, we hold” approach, strengthening the centre of the pitch in anticipation of one last push from Madrid which never quite materialised.

Mourinho’s Criticism

Following the game, Jose Mourinho was scathing in his post match criticism of the side.

In response to the poor first half showing, Mourinho confirmed he “only changed two early in the game” but wanted to “change seven”

Perhaps what will concern the Madrid faithful more than anything is his assertion that:-

“What worries me most is that right now … I don’t have a team”

Yet whilst Mourinho was highly critical, he did not exclude himself from that noting that there was “not a lot of players with their heads in their work, that’s my fault”

With an important Champions League game against Man City in midweek, Madrid need to bounce back quickly to prevent the poor form descending into a crisis.

Conclusion

A well deserved victory for Sevilla as they stop a run of seven consecutive defeats to Madrid in all competitions and secure their first league victory since a 2-1 success in October 2009. They retain their undefeated record in the league but the commitment and workrate shown by his players will arguably be the most pleasing aspect for Michel. There are signs that Sevilla are once more moving in the correct direction after a few disappointing seasons.

For Madrid, a 17 league game unbeaten run away from home has ended with successive away defeats.

There is not time for the players to sulk as they have an important Champions League tie against Manchester City awaiting. It’s difficult to envisage Madrid playing so poorly once more but there does appear to be a certain lethargy about the squad. Should this persist, it may raise questions about the pre-season tour in the USA.