Sevilla had the chance to enter the top four on gameweek 24 in La Liga as they hosted bottom of table Espanyol in the Ramón Sanchez Pizjuan. Sevilla have struggled of late, having not won a game in the last three matches. Their struggles continued as they were held to a 2-2 draw against Espanyol in a vital game for both teams. Lucas Ocampos headed Sevilla in front just after 15 minutes, but Adri Embarba levelled for Espanyol with a low free-kick on the 35th minute. Espanyol then went ahead five minutes after the interval through Wu Lei but Sevilla then equalised through the devastating Suso who finished well from just outside the box.
Espanyol went down to ten men when Victor Sanchez was sent off in the 69th minute but Espanyol held on to claim a vital point in an effort to claw out of the relegation places. This tactical analysis will go in-depth into both teams’ tactics and provide analysis of how Julen Lopetegui’s tactics ensured his side controlled the game, before Abelardo Fernández’ clever tactics to counteract Sevilla’s game plan was a vital factor in getting his side back in the game and gaining an away point.
Sevilla set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Lopetegui made two changes to his side that lost 2-1 to Celta Vigo. Sergio Escudero was replaced by Sergio Reguilón in the left-back position. The other change made was in midfield with Ever Banega coming in for Joan Jordan in an effort to lift Sevilla from this slump they have been in the last couple of weeks.
Espanyol set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Fernández made three changes to the team that beat RCD Mallorca 1-0. Adriá Pedrosa came into the defence for the suspended Dídac Vila. Victor Sanchez replaced David López in central midfield. The last change was the introduction of Chinese forward Wu Lei replacing the injured Raúl de Tomás in the forward position.
The full-back, winger axis troubles Espanyol
The game was played with such a furious tempo in the early proceedings – so much so that it was a very scrappy affair as both Sevilla and Espanyol needed a result for different reasons. Sevilla were looking to get into the Champions League places, while Espanyol were looking to close the gap and get out of the relegation zone. When the game eventually settled down after the first few cagey minutes, Sevilla looked to control the game and threaten offensively. When in possession, both Sevilla full-backs Jesús Navas and Reguilón pushed high and wide on their respective wings. This meant that both full-backs were closer to their both Sevilla wingers so combinations could occur between them in advanced areas. Sevilla’s right-hand side served as a better combination as Suso and Navas were playing on the same wavelength and it caused Espanyol trouble.
In the image below, Suso and Navas have a great relationship and understanding of each other’s game as Suso recognises Navas has pushed up so he drops out deep to pull out an Espanyol defender with him to create space. Navas sees the space vacated and runs in behind. Suso and Navas create a push-pull movement which troubles the Espanyol defence. Navas receives the ball over the top and plays a ball across goal but the Sevilla forwards are too slow to latch onto the ball in, a warning of what was to come.
The right-sided axis between Navas and Suso troubled Espanyol again minutes later, this time Navas made the unselfish run off the ball to open space for Suso. Suso receives the ball out on the right wing and is faced by the Espanyol left-winger and full-back. Navas recognises this and makes an overlapping run which serves two purposes. The first thing Navas’ run does is draw the two Espanyol players to him, creating space for Suso to cut inside. The second purpose Navas’ run was that it dropped Espanyol’s defensive line deeper, keeping Ocampos onside so he could header Suso’s delightful cross past Diego López in goal.
Lopetegui set up his team to attack Espanyol down the flanks by pushing up the full-backs to create that combination with the winger that was so beneficial early on, as I mentioned above. In Sevilla’s build-up, both Fernando and Vazquez or Ever Banega dropped into the defensive line either between or beside each of their centre-backs. This ensured that both full-backs could play in a high, more advanced position as they had protection. Both Sevilla full-backs also did not need to get involved in the build play as that responsibility was left to the midfielders. Although this tactic worked since it led to Sevilla’s opener, it was also a very risky tactic.
Sevilla really put too much emphasis on this tactic leaving them vulnerable if they lost possession in the build-up play. With the Sevilla midfielders dropping into the space left by their full-backs, it left acres of space in the middle for Espanyol to exploit if they won the ball back in Sevilla’s half. The vulnerability was exploited in the 35th minute as Fernando and Vazquez dropped in the defensive line as both full-backs pushed up the pitch, as you can see in the image below. Sevilla look to play it out from the back and lose the ball. Espanyol have a huge amount of space to exploit down the middle of the pitch and they duly oblige as Calleri picks the ball up in space before being hauled down at the edge of the box. Embarba scores the resulting free punishing Sevilla’s over-commitment to their tactics.
After the Espanyol goal, Lopetegui rightly tweaked his tactics as he instructed his full-backs to drop slightly deep when Sevilla were playing out from the back. Also, what Lopetegui did was instruct his players to progress the ball centrally. This was clever as Lopetegui spotted that Espanyol were defending in a 4-4-2 formation against his Sevilla side’s 4-2-3-1, sometimes 4-3-3, formation meaning they had the numerical in the central midfield area. The Sevilla midfielders stopped dropping back and took up their positions in midfield to create this advantage. By playing in this area Sevilla created a 3 v 2 against Espanyol in the middle meaning Sevilla could progress the ball up the pitch with ease, as you can see in the image below. Sevilla dominated possession and controlled the game as Espanyol struggled to get a foothold in the game just before half time.
Sevilla did have a majority of the ball as a result of their composure on the ball and numerical advantage in the middle. Espanyol also aided Sevilla’s dominance as they sat in a medium to low block in order to keep Sevilla from scoring. Sevilla were not just dominant in their play in possession, but also when Espanyol looked to play out from the back, Sevilla implemented an aggressive high man-oriented press, as you can see in the image below. Espanyol had no passing options as a result, so could not play their way out of the press. This meant that Espanyol could not get out of their half and create much sustained possession or control of the game.
After the interval, Fernández decided to change his tactics, so instead of playing through the press, he set up his side to play over the press through long direct balls. Calleri was the target for the long direct balls out from the back as he is quite adept in the air. Calleri was winning the aerial battle, but what was more impressive was how Fernández set up the players around Calleri as they looking to play near him to and run in behind anticipating the flick on. This tactic to play over Sevilla worked really well and resulted in Espanyol taking the lead in the 50th minute. In the image below, López plays a long ball up to Calleri and wins the header. Wu Lei makes a brilliant run from outside to in and runs in behind anticipating the flick on. Lei’s endeavour is rewarded as he is put through on goal where he finishes past Tomáš Vaclík in goals.
Fernández tactics were working well up until Sánchez got himself sent off. Fernández had to implement a defensive plan with ten men, and they did concede a goal but held on to get a vital point away from home.
Sevilla dominated the proceedings with a mixture of attacking down the wing with the great understanding and combination between Navas and man of the match Suso, and then brilliantly adapting to take advantage of the numerical advantage in the central area. Sevilla were dominant both on and off the ball in the first half. After the interval, Espanyol used the long and direct ball to play over Sevilla well to get back in the game. The sending-off came at the wrong time for Espanyol as they grew into the game, meaning Fernández had to play defensively with ten men, as shown in the analysis above.
Lopetegui and his side continue their rut in La Liga making it a fourth game they have failed to get a win. The Andalusia side stay in fifth and will rue their chance of beating bottom side Espanyol and leapfrogging Atlético Madrid in fourth.
Fernández will take a lot of positives from this game, as they showed character to come from a goal down, showed great fight to take the lead and ask questions of Sevilla, and they showed great resolve to get a result and hang on to get a point away from home. Espanyol go level on points with Leganés in 19th and are only now two points away from getting out of the relegation zone.