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.
Trincão, Griezmann or Dembélé: Who should start for Barcelona?
From having to field center-mids such as Arturo Vidal on the flanks to now owning the likes of Dembélé, Trincão and Griezmann, it’s probably safe to assume that Barcelona’s wing play finally seems to have adequate profiles, individuals worthy of starting out wide. But, while healthy competition is always welcomed at the club, it’s apparent that Koeman must quickly find his “go-to player” and analyse whom he must bet on to consistently start games. With Barça successfully concluding their pre-season and looking ever so dominant in the opening game of La Liga, let’s take a look at what each player brings to the table.
Currently, it looks as if Antoine Griezmann has been reserved as a starter, which doesn’t come as a surprise given his immense status and the weightage his name carries in the squad list. However, Ronald Koeman’s intricate 4-2-3-1 system hasn’t truly allowed the Frenchman to fully express himself yet. Against Villarreal and even in the matches Antoine previously featured in, Griezmann was deprived of a fixated role and alternating occasionally with Messi as a direct number 9 or as a somewhat number 10 often left the right-hand side vulnerable, where Sergi Roberto would be tasked to produce most of the output upfield. Although Griezmann was seen making some well-timed runs, his link-up play was far from satisfactory, and as Messi would occupy the number 9 role, the former Atletico man would fail to operate effectively behind Leo or out wide.
In Barcelona’s La Liga opener, the left flank ticked every box the club seemed to have left unanswered and neglected last season. Jordi Alba’s runs from deep, Coutinho’s additional support as a mediapunta, and Ansu Fati’s exhilarating flare on the touchline proved too much to handle for Emery’s side since diverging attention from even a single player would lead to the visitors getting battered in the final third. Even so, while the Catalans eliminated their narrow and horizontal football to a somewhat acceptable extent, Ronald has only managed to refurbish one side of the pitch, with Griezmann and Messi’s natural tendency to operate centrally leaving the right flank vacant.
Therefore, to truly make the most of Barça’s offensive yield, it is vital to rely on natural wingers such as Trincão or Dembélé, players that can be considered ruthless on the counter and unforgiving in transitions. Whilst both players may eventually qualify as classic wingers, these two individuals propound different options, proving to be ideal in their respective departments. For example, in contrast to Dembouz, Trincão is likely to excel far more against a team with a low-block, given he is an exceedingly refined dribbler and considerably polished in his movement on/off the ball. Dembélé, on the other hand, could bring maximum results against a team with a higher line or a side that prefers to apply a suffocating press, mainly due to the fact that the winger is a space dominant player, and his unparalleled pace and chaotic style of play tends to add a sense of unpredictability on the flanks. Nonetheless, despite the slight differences in gameplay, they are ideal contenders to start for Barça, and must be prioritized in line-ups.
Spectators saw Lionel Messi function as a pure false 9 in the closing minutes of the game against Elche a few days ago as the Argentine partnered up with the likes of Dembélé and Trincão on each side of the pitch. Although Ansu Fati is probable to own the left flank for the upcoming games, it was refreshing to witness the Blaugranas look so imposing with two explosive wingers by Lionel’s side. As it turns out, Koeman’s experiment worked out even against the Yellow Submarine with him applying the same method in the second half. Barça saw their most promising football after proceedings just as Griezmann came off the bench for Trincão, who went on to form a trio with Lionel and Ousmane. Such flare and aggression was not seen previously considering most of Barça’s harvest came solely from the left-hand side of the field.
At this very moment, Barcelona has ample options to choose from, but for the newly adopted 4-2-3-1 formation to continue working at the highest level, it’s important to make the most of such diverse profiles in the squad. Ronald Koeman still has a backlog of work to do and must completely eliminate Barcelona’s horizontal structure if the club truly intends to compete in Europe. With Ousmane and Fransico looking immensely promising in their recent outings, the Dutch coach should take the bold decision of starting either one of them and pursue enhancing the front four’s capabilities.