After the surprising 2-2 at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in the first leg, Sevilla needed to score at least one goal to reach the quarterfinals of the Europa League. Between the two matches, both teams won their league games in great style. Slavia Prague beat Banik Ostrava 4-0 and Sevilla won 5-2 against Real Sociedad in La Liga. Sevilla have won the Europa League three times in the last five years and so Slavia were the clear underdog even after the draw in the first leg.
However, the Czechs were able to get another 2-2 and so the fans in the Sinobo stadium got to see extra time. Slavia were able to beat Sevilla in these 30 minutes and went through to the next stage. This analysis will show why the team of Pablo Machin got knocked out of the Europa League.
Machin set his team up in the conventional 3-4-2-1 formation with Quincy Promes and Jesus Navas on the wings and upfront the Frenchman Wissam Ben Yedder. Simon Kjaer, Sergi Gomez and Daniel Carrico played in front of the Czech goalkeeper Thomas Vaclik. The midfield was made of the Argentinian Ever Banega and the Spaniard Roque Mesa. Pablo Sarabia and Munir El Haddadi had a lot of freedom and played behind Ben Yedder.
Slavia Prague lined up in a 5-3-2 formation which mostly turned into a 5-4-1 when Miroslav Stoch went back. Masopust man-marked Promes while on the other side Jan Boril looked after Navas. Milan Skoda was in truth the only striker and the main target for long balls due to his size and stamina. Stoch was important to cover the centre together with Tomas Soucek, Ibrahim Traore and Alex Kral.
The first 14 minutes were made of countless long balls and just little pass sequences on both sides. The plan of Slavia was clearly to keep a clean sheet and score a goal after a counterattack or a set-piece. So, they stood as deep as anyone would have expected before the match and waited for Sevilla to attack. They covered the wide areas with Masopust and Boril but most importantly at least three players positioned in the centre in front of Deli and Ngadeu-Ngadjiu. As soon as they won the ball, they tried to find Skoda with long balls and then all the midfielders except Soucek supported the striker.
On the other hand, Sevilla also operated with long balls either on the wings or mostly into the centre to find El Haddadi or Ben Yedder but both weren’t able to create any chances due to the physical and numerical superiority of Slavia in the centre. The only real chance in the first 14 minutes was when Promes found himself in a one-on-one situation on the wing. Slavia couldn’t occupy the space behind Masopust and so Promes cut inside and shot but Kolar kept the ball out with a great save.
That’s why no team could really control the game and just played long balls which the defenders of each team easily defended. But then Slavia were awarded a corner kick and Ngadeu-Ngadjiu scored after a great header by Skoda. Because of that goal, Sevilla needed to score at least two times to go through to the quarterfinals and so they played more offensive. On the other side, Slavia played understandably even more defensive.
How Slavia forced Sevilla into the wide areas
The period from the 1-0 till the end of the match showed why Slavia deserves to be in the quarterfinals of the Europa League. Sevilla was the dominant team throughout the rest of the game but couldn’t create goal chances. The first goal of the Spaniards was a penalty which was caused by a misunderstanding in Slavia’s defence. Furthermore, the 2-1 for the Czechs was also a penalty. The equaliser was a stunner by El Haddadi after an awful clearance of a corner. So, none of the goals in the 90 minutes was after a combination or pass sequence and there also weren’t any other chances on both sides. But how come that Slavia defended so well against the technical talented Spaniards?
The central midfielders and centre backs of the Czechs are physical much stronger compared Ben Yedder, El Haddadi, Sarabia and Mesa. The home team positioned very centrally to prevent the combinations of Sevilla through the middle. Because of that the team of Machin played the ball into the wide areas and crossed a lot.
The offensive players Ben Yedder, Sarabia and El Haddadi couldn’t convert them into chances because of their physical inferiority and the disciplined defending of Slavia. In addition to that Promes and Navas almost never beat their opponents Masopust and Boril in the one-on-one situations on the wings.
How Slavia stopped the build-up of Sevilla
But Slavia did not just sit back and defend in front of their penalty area. When Vaclik had to take a goal-kick the whole squad of Slavia pushed forward. They covered the three defenders and Banega. Because of that, the goalkeeper Vaclik kicked it wide instead of playing it out from the back. The centre backs of Slavia easily won the aerial duels against the forwards of Sevilla and so they were back in possession.
In several situations, the Czechs pressed in at Sevilla and forced them to play long balls. They used a man-orientated pressing to cut all options for short passes. In these situations, it was very important to cover Banega who is an excellent player in the build-up. Stoch followed the Argentinian almost all the time and so Banega had to come deep to receive the ball. So, either he was man-marked by Stoch or he was too deep to play his penetrating passes.
Important changes in the overtime
Machin brought in four substitutes, but Maxime Gonalons and Franco Vazquez were the two most important. Gonalons came on for Mesa in the 74th but was only important in the overtime. Vazquez replaced El Haddadi upfront and scored the 2-3 in the 98th minute.
During the overtime, Gonalons played in the central midfield and that’s why Banega positioned in the left half space. Together with Ben Yedder, he overloaded the left wing to create better crossing opportunities. And that’s exactly what happened before the 2-3. Promes got the ball on the left wing and Banega is there to support him as well as Ben Yedder. Kudela needs to look after Banega and that’s why he can’t attack Promes who finds Vazquez in the middle. The substitute makes a great run at the front post and heads it into the net.
The two decisive goals
After that goal, Slavia needed two goals to go through to the next stage. The players of Sevilla were pretty secure, that the game was over. But the home team managed to mobilize their last energy and came back. Pushed forward by their fans they started attack after attack while Sevilla just sat back and defended too passively.
The 3-3 by the substitute Mick van Buren was a great strike after a smooth combination of passes. This goal showed that Slavia has more attacking abilities than long balls into the box and corners. On the other side, it is obvious that the positioning of Sevilla is really bad. The last line wasn’t on the same height and the Czechs felt no pressure from their opponents.
Traore scored the winning goal in the 119th minute. It was caused by a terrible organisation of Sevilla during a freekick of Slavia and the irrepressible will of the home team. The Spaniards weren’t able to clear the ball out of the danger zone and Traore made it 4-3.
Sevilla was at no period of the game able to bring their technical abilities onto the pitch. Players like Ben Yedder or Promes usually have the skills to overcome such defensive teams with their combinations and pace. Slavia eliminated all the strengths of the Spaniards and forced them to long balls, which the Czechs easily defended. Sevilla got better in the first minutes of the overtime due to the overload of the left wing. However, they were too passive and self-confident after the 2-3 by Vazquez.
Slavia Prague truly deserves to reach the quarterfinals of the Europa League. They are surely again the underdog against their next opponent, but they showed what they are capable of.