As Barcelona heads to yet another crucial fixture, this tactical analysis will shed light on the strengths and weaknesses of high-flying rivals Sevilla.
Barcelona marches forward with a 100% win record after beating relegation battlers Leganés by 2–0. However, it must be said that they will be encountering their toughest test yet by locking horns with Julen Lopetegui’s Sevilla. The Spanish tactician has massively improved the Andalusian outfit who are on course to securing a Champions League berth.
Sevilla has always been one of La Liga’s most challenging sides to beat. It goes without saying that the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán stadium is a fortress where they hardly have a bad game. Throughout the years, they are known for pulling off the upsets at the top which shift the course of the title race. Their form in Europe, particularly their Europa League ventures, make them a highly reputed side. Nevertheless, their fans and board have always had a feeling that they were underperforming in comparison to their potential.
Sevilla is a team that certainly strives for consistent Champions League football. Fortuitously for Los Nervionenses, they now sit at third, two points ahead of Atlético de Madrid. Julen Lopetegui has taken the side’s overall performance, tactical capacity, and potential to another level. The former Madrid boss has an essential need to prove his previous employers wrong by succeeding at Sevilla.
After an unsuccessful spell at Real Madrid, Julen Lopetegui is proving all his quality at Sevilla | Photo by AFP7 via Imago
Fortunately for Sevilla, the usual third horse of the title race, Atleti, aren’t having their best season. As a result of this, Lopetegui’s side has managed to cling onto third place despite displaying occasional inconsistencies. Since the restart, they have won the El Gran Derbi against Real Betis by 2–0 and drew their second match against Levante by 1–1.
They had an outstanding start to the season where they sat at the top of the table after four matchdays. But as the games progressed, their form dropped off. But the current season has been remarkably unpredictable, with several sides fighting for the Champions League spots. With only four points between them and sixth-placed Getafe, Sevilla’s Champions League hopes aren’t cemented yet. And so, beating Barcelona would bolster their chances of finishing third.
Last five league finishes
2014/15 | 5th · 76 points
2015/16 | 7th · 52 points
2016/17 | 4th · 72 points
2017/18 | 7th · 58 points
2018/19 | 6th · 59 points
As seen from their league finishes, it is understood that they have always been the side loitering around the Europa League spots. With an extremely talented squad and a board that has backed its manager, they could be heading towards their best finish in recent periods.
Unlike Leganés, who had a more direct need for restricting their tactical prowess, Sevilla will be a more strategic battle. Lopetgui is no short of a tactician when compared to Setién. The footballing world is aware of how unfortunate he has been with both the Spanish national team and Real Madrid. On both occasions, he wasn’t given the time needed to show what he is capable of. Despite the rough endings, both Spain and Los Blancos showed glimpses of fluid, fabulous, and dominant football.
❛ I want to win every match and that the team responds at any given time. When we score, we search for the second ❜
At Sevilla, Lopetegui has stuck with a consistent attacking version of a 4–3–3. With a preference of having a striker who is capable of strong hold-up play, they sacrifice the pace in the attack. Dutchman Luuk de Jong was brought in with clear intentions of increasing the aerial threat and overall deadliness in the opposition box. In compensation to his lack of pace, two high-paced electric wingers are deployed on the flanks. Lucas Ocampos, Munir El Haddadi, Rony Lopes and Suso are the variety of options available at Lopetegui’s disposal.
The midfield comprises of a conventional distributor, creator, destroyer trio. Despite former Porto man Óliver Torres being the player who is most capable of pulling strings, Lopetegui has kept switching his midfield trio. Sevilla’s squad is relatively large in size when compared to other La Liga sides. And this gives him the luxury to continually test and try out different combination of players.
The defence is a combination of experience and youthfulness. Captain Jesús Navas leads the team from right-back. On the other flank, Sergio Reguilón, on loan from Real Madrid, is performing well. 21-year-old Jules Koundé has also been pitching efficient performances for them, though it has been the more experienced Diego Carlos who has been standing out the most at centre-back in his move from the Ligue 1.
❛ The team has responded well to the challenge of returning to football ❜
after beating Betis a week ago
Sevilla’s key strength is their ability to move the ball upfield quickly as they efficiently build from the back. Every Lopetegui side’s prime trait is to amp up the pace while attacking. The transition between the lines happens rapidly, with the holding midfielder responsible for being a ball-winning shield for the defence. On both sides, the full-backs are attack-minded. Reguilón and Jesús Navas prefer to advance ahead on every occasion possible. And so, to compensate this, the midfield pulls a shift to make sure they aren’t defensively short in numbers.
Player to watch
As already stated, Sevilla has a squad filled with talented players throughout the pitch. Each individual is capable of hurting Barcelona. But the player who is currently receiving massive praise for his performances over the season is Argentine winger Lucas Ocampos.
Ocampos has been on fire lately. With 11 goals and 3 assists, he is one of the most proficient wingers in the league. Joining from Marseille this season, Ocampos is currently having his best season statistically. It is his first season where he has crossed 10 goals in the league and is on course to becoming a crucial player for his national team.
Lucas Ocampos hasn’t failed to impress in his move to Spain | Photo by Imago
With 65 out of 137 dribbles completed this term, he is a fantastic dribbler who is capable of beating defenders with ease. His pace allows him to glide past opposition defenders and is extremely challenging to face. He is naturally a progressive winger and always aims to move the ball ahead using his pace, trickery, and deceptiveness.
Defensively, he tracks back well and presses upfield to dislodge the opposition’s confidence with the ball. His contest with Jordi Alba or Junior Firpo will be a battle worth looking into. Irrespective of who starts at the left for Barcelona, Ocampos will make it extremely tough for the Catalans.
Though Barça has an advantage in terms of head-to-head, the hosts will prove to be a tough challenge. Both sides have high expectations and intend to finish the season strongly. The blaugranas will be missing Frenkie de Jong in the midfield and Sergi Roberto at right-back, as both are injured. The scope for Sevilla to exploit the flanks is high, and the midfield will have to cope without De Jong’s distribution. Overall, an intense game awaits the league leaders who can’t afford to slip up. Both Barcelona and Sevilla will be looking for three points as they have the respective Madrid clubs chasing them closely from behind.
How Zidane’s Real Madrid beat Koeman’s Barcelona
The highly anticipated day of El Clasico, the clash of eternal rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid finally arrived. The Blaugrana were just two points ahead of Los Blancos with the same number of games played. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid are at their most vulnerable right now; recent losses to Sevilla and Chelsea had already demoralized the team. Additionally, Luis Suarez – their top scorer -, is injured.
El Clasico has incredible importance on its own. Add to that the fact that it will be pivotal in the title race, and it becomes apparent how much it means to both sides. In this tactical analysis, we take a look at how Real Madrid managed to conquer Barcelona in a 2-1 victory.
Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona lined up in a 3-5-2 as expected. This formation is one that has contributed to Barcelona’s recent positive results significantly. Though this could be viewed as a 5-3-2 or even a 3-5-2-1 at times, the basic principles remained the same. Barcelona would look to build up from the back. The backline of Ronald Araujo with Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza on either side of him was the platform upon which the team would build-up.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets would be the deepest player, with Frenkie De Jong and Pedri Gonzalez as the two interiors. These two youngsters would operate in the half-spaces as their roles entail, but they would drop back and join the attack as well. Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest, the two wing-backs, would look to stretch the opposition and would be positioned high up the field.
In attack, Lionel Messi was joined by Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman would operate through the centre as Messi would usually drop back and have the freedom to move across the pitch.
Zinedine Zidane has often been labelled as someone who manages big egos well but doesn’t have tactical expertise. Purely a misconception, this match was an example of how well the retired midfielder sets up his team. What was most admirable was how Zidane finds the perfect role for his players’ profiles.
Real Madrid were deployed in a 4-1-4-1. Casemiro would play between the lines, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos just ahead oh him. This formation could also be viewed as a 4-5-1, which would be a 4-3-3 when attacking. In defence, Eder Militao and Nacho were the centre-halves with Lucas Vasquez and Ferland Mendy as the full-backs. To support the midfield as well as the attack, Vinicius Junior and Fede Valverde would act as wide midfielders.
Karim Benzema, the number nine, would drift into the channels or drop a bit deeper as required. He was the key to Madrid’s fluid attack. There would be a constant staggering between Benzema, Vinicius, and Valverde. When Benzema dropped deep to fight for the second ball, Vinicius and Fede would move forward and provide passing options. At times, Vasquez would overlap, which was Valverde’s cue to drop back. The players would also switch roles.
Madrid’s defensive organization
After getting a lead, Real Madrid were still proactive but to a lesser extent than earlier. They would even have five players defending at times, transitioning into a 5-4-1. Their timing and organization was impressive nonetheless. As we see in the image above, Ousmane Dembele is about to receive the pass. Immediately, Casemiro presses him, while other players start moving forward to close the distance to possible passing options. This meant Barcelona had little time on the ball deep in Madrid’s half.
The pressing shown by Los Blancos was very fine-tuned. The players were unsurprisingly not hesitant to play a physical game as well. As the earlier image shows us, Ousmane Dembele would receive the ball ahead of the defense and attempt to involve other players. Pedri and de Jong were the most obvious passing options. However, for them, the passing would more often than not be out wide. This was forced due to Madrid’s structure which prevented them from playing through the middle.
Arguably one of Barcelona’s strongest moves is when Messi plays Jordi Alba through between the full-back and centre-halves. Though it was effective at some points in the match, this was clearly something Zidane expected. When either full-back would have crossing options, the full-backs would look to block the cross.
Simultaneously, the centre-halves would track Barcelona’s attackers Messi and Dembele. These two being the only two forwards, Mingueza’s goal was one of the few times the team actually had more players looking to attack. Casemiro would be in the box looking to clear the ball or cover for any defensive holes.
What went wrong for Barcelona?
Ronald Koeman’s team selection was well-thought-out. Shifting de Jong to midfield was a smart choice. However, as the scoreline clearly shows, some issues persisted.
One of the main ones being the lack of attackers in the final third. This was a formation with two attackers on paper, but one of them was Messi. Expecting the argentine to make runs off the ball and act as a target man is highly unrealistic. He does best when he’s on the ball. This would leave Dembele alone upfront. The Frenchman isn’t a classic number 9 who takes shots on the swivel and can establish himself in the box. Against a defence that was sitting very deep, he was unable to run onto the ball between the full-backs and centre-halves the way he likes to.
The image above shows a common scenario observed in the first half. Receiving the ball in the final third, Dembele turns to face the defenders. As they don’t lunge in, rather trying to contain him. he is unable to beat them in a 1v1. There is plenty of space with no Barcelona players highlighted in the image. This lack of attackers was one of the reasons Koeman switched to the 4-3-3. Shown below, the 4-3-3- allowed Pedri and Dembele to be more involved.
Below, we have a visualization showing the PPDA stats for both teams. A lower PPDA means a higher pressing intensity. As we can see, Barcelona were clearly pressing much more than Real Madrid throughout the match. Despite this, they failed to create enough chances. To demonstrate this, we can observe the xG graph.
As the xG graph shows, there were some situations when the Catalans had a chance to change the score-line in their favour. Among other reasons, Dembele’s inability to play as a striker and inefficiency in finishing was clearly affecting the team. The visualization below the xG graph shows the shot map. It further reaffirms the observation that Barcelona need to improve in front of the goal and in terms of the quality of chances created.
With a higher number of shots, Barcelona still had a lower xG than their rivals. Another indication of low-quality chances is the size of the circles in the box for both teams. The smaller the circle, the less likely it is to end up in the back of the net. The stark contrast is one of the many indicators that there are major issues to be resolved in attack for Koeman’s side.
This loss will hurt Barcelona, even more so as it strengthens the notion that his team doesn’t show up in big matches. If Koeman’s side wants to be Champions, now is the time to give their all. One cannot ignore the fact that the Blaugrana have a lot of work to do to be deserving of the La Liga title. Whether or not they will be able to do this remains to be seen.