Sevilla came out on top against Athletic Bilbao on the final weekend of the La Liga season, securing themselves Europa League football for next season and denying the Basques in the process. Goals either side of half time from Wissam Ben Yedder and Munir El Haddadi weren’t enough for the Champions League as Valencia did the job elsewhere but qualification for Europe must be regarded as a success after a turbulent season.
A 2-0 defeat for Athletic Bilbao meant that they just missed out on seventh spot and European football of their own as they were pipped by Espanyol. However, the season can be considered as a success of sorts after a disastrous 17/18 saw them finish 16th.
On paper, Sevilla began the game in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Tomáš Vaclík began in a goal with a back four of Jesús Navas, Simon Kjær, Gabriel Mercado and Sergio Escudero. The midfield was anchored by Ibrahim Amadou with Marko Rog slightly more advanced and Franco Vasquez further forward still. Munir and Aleix Vidal played wide of Wissam Ben Yedder up front.
In theory, however, Sevilla used a 3-4-3 when attacking. Escudero and Navas advanced, leaving the centre-backs to push wider and Amadou plugged the gap between them. Vidal would tend to stay wide when Navas bombed on from right back but his fellow winger Munir on the left would look to move further infield and pick up the pockets between the Bilbao full back and centre-back. However, when defending, Sevilla would drop into a 4-5-1 to try and prevent any service in behind for the pace of Iñaki Williams or crosses for Raúl García.
The visitors, Athletic Bilbao were also down on paper as playing a basic 4-2-3-1. Iago Herrerín began behind a back four of Ander Capa, Yeray Álvarez, Iñigo Martínez, and Mikel Balenziaga. Dani Garcia was the holding midfielder in front of the defence and Beñat Etxebarria slightly in front of him. Iker Muniain played on the right of the trio behind Williams, with Raúl García through the middle and Yuri Berchiche playing on the left. In game, however, Athletic seemed to line up in more of a 4-4-1-1 in both attack and defence.
In a manner similar to their hosts, Bilbao pushed their wing backs right up the pitch, with Berchiche staying wide and Muniain dropping deeper more centrally to gain better possession and operate as their main creative outlet. Raúl García played as a second striker behind Williams to act as a focal point for more direct counter-attacks when Sevilla had pushed right up the pitch. Berchiche was playing in a slightly advanced position to his usual left back role. Balenziaga filling in at left back enabled Yuri to utilise his attacking skills in the final third, whilst stifling Sevilla’s early attacks and nullifying the threat of Navas.
A poor first half
After a 3-0 drubbing at home to Leganés last time out at Ramón Sánchez Pízjuan, it was imperative that Sevilla stamped their authority early on this time around. The first twenty-five minutes or so, however, were poor for both sides. Both struggled for any sort of meaningful possession and struggled with creating chances. Throughout the first half, there were only five shots between the pair and just the one on target.
After creating an overload out wide, Navas delivered and Ben Yedder pounced just before half time to poke home from a couple of yards out, taking his tally for the season to twenty-nine in all competitions, the best return of the Frenchman’s career thus far. The lack of quality goal scoring opportunities is glaringly obvious when looking at the expected goals for both sides in the first half. Not counting their goal, Sevilla managed an xG of 0.17 prior to half time, whilst Bilbao posted an embarrassing 0.03.
A lively second period
A lively start to the second half was needed after the dour first half displays from both sides and that’s just what was provided. From the first whistle, the game was now being played at the tempo you would expect from both sides who needed a win to seal their own European aspirations. A half time substitution from Sevilla seemed to be the catalyst for a sudden change in game speed. Joris Gnagnon was brought on to replace Rog in the centre of the park and sat deep alongside Amadou, freeing up Vasquez to push higher up the pitch, as well as both wing backs.
However, such a defensive substitution meant that Sevilla were now under the cosh. Using two sitting midfielders left a large chunk of space in the middle of the pitch for Bilbao to exploit through Muniain in particular. The Basque’s could clearly sense the tide turning, too. Ten minutes after the break, winger Ibai Gomez was introduced for Balenziaga, pushing Berchiche back to his natural position and providing more attacking intent and service for Williams to potentially profit from. The change in approach nearly paid dividends for Athletic just ten minutes later. Benat found a pocket of space on the edge of the Sevilla box and although it seemed his shot came off the arm of Mercado at first glance, the VAR official soon deemed it accidental and dismissed the penalty.
This would be as close as the visitors would come until late in injury time when Martinez struck the Sevilla post with Athletic’s best chance of the match. The miss would prove costly, too. Munir struck from 12 yards out to seal the victory for the home sides on the last round of the La Liga season.
A Europa League spot may be considered a small success for Sevilla after a roller-coaster few months which have seen inconsistent results, a managerial change and current boss Joaquin Caparros being diagnosed with cancer.
As for Athletic, this result rounds off an inconsistent campaign in which a strong second half to the season was not enough to balance out a poor pre-Christmas period. They will be hoping to kick on further next season as a number of promising youth players coming through to bolster their ageing Basque squad.
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