Neither team entered this La Liga fixture between Sevilla and Osasuna in the best of form. Sevilla had won just one of their last four in the league, while Osasuna had recorded three losses in their last four league outings. Sevilla were, however, seen as the favourites entering this match due to their 12-point advantage, mainly gained during their excellent start to the season. This tactical analysis will explain how Sevilla managed to triumph in this must-win La Liga game for them to keep their hopes of finishing in the top four alive.
Sevilla manager Julen Lopetegui opted for his trusted 4-3-3 system, however, featured seven changes from their 3-0 victory away to Getafe in their last La Liga game. Youssef En-Nesyri returned to the side to lead the line, while Rony Lopes was handed his first league start of the season.
Jagoba Arrasate returned to playing in a 4-4-2 having tested several different formations in recent weeks, including a 5-3-2 and a 4-2-3-1. Four changes were made to the Osasuna side that disappointed at home to Granada, managing just one attempt on goal in 90 minutes. José Arnaiz and Enric Gallego, both on-loan from Leganes and Getafe respectively, were chosen as the strike partnership despite having picked up just seven league starts between them all season. Usual starter Ezequiel Ávila was out with a long-term ACL injury.
The vital role of Enric Gallego in Osasuna’s build-up
Osasuna frequently utilised the height of 6’2” striker Gallego in the build-up. This was a smart decision from Arrasate on paper, as Gallego could matchup with 5’11” centre-back Jules Koundé to force a height advantage. This was evident by Gallego attempting a total of 17 aerial duels, by far the most on the pitch. Gallego-Koundé was the most frequent aerial duel on the pitch: Gallego managed to win four of their seven attempted duels, however, considering the height difference, Gallego would undoubtedly have been aiming for a higher percentage of aerial wins. In fact, the Osasuna striker was more successful against 6’1” Sergi Gómez, winning 75% of his aerial duels. If we delve further into the stats, it turns out that despite his smaller stature, Koundé wins a significantly larger proportion of aerial duels in comparison with Gómez: 61% for the former and 48% for the latter this season. In hindsight, this was an oversight from Osasuna, and they could have been more successful had they tried to match Gallego up with Gómez rather than Koundé.
This is a textbook example of how Osasuna wanted to get close to Sevilla’s goal. Gallego positions himself on Koundé, and he’s not alone. Four Osasuna players are situated within 10 yards of him, ready to latch onto a knockdown to either play the final pass or attempt a shot at goal. In this instance, centre-back Aridane Hernandez floats the ball toward Gallego. This pass was executed perfectly, as Hernandez doesn’t put it too centrally. Instead, he plays it behind the Sevilla right-back.
The effect of this pass placement is that it allows Gallego to pull Koundé out of his position to a wider area. Since the right-back of Sevilla, Jesús Navas, doesn’t cover the space vacated by Koundé, Darko Brašanac has space to hit the knockdown towards goal.
Osasuna’s first goal came, albeit indirectly, from this same pattern. This time from a throw-in: Gallego again drags Koundé out to a wider position, leaving space more centrally for runners to receive the knockdown. Koundé is adjudged to have fouled Gallego in this aerial duel, and Osasuna score from the resultant free-kick.
On this occasion, Gallego receives the ball, again from a throw-in, and shields it from two defenders. He can then easily lay the ball off to a teammate since Osasuna have so many players supporting him. Roberto Torres then has space on the edge of the box to cross the ball. It hits the arm of a Sevilla defender and Torres successfully converts the penalty to make it 2-2.
Sevilla’s threat on the counter
Since Osasuna’s tactics in possession were focused around getting players around the box to support Gallego, they were vulnerable in defensive transition.
Osasuna’s build-up involved not only getting players high up the pitch, but also onto one side of the pitch. In doing so, Osasuna left huge areas of space on the opposite side to where they were attacking. To take advantage of this, whenever Sevilla won the ball back, they would immediately look to switch the play. The left-back, Sergio Escudero, was key in their ability to do so. Since Osasuna mainly attacked down Sevilla’s right-hand side to target Koundé, Escudero would make a forward run off the ball into the open space as soon as Sevilla won the ball back. After they had done so, they would then look to find Óliver Torres with as few passes as possible, who would then use his fantastic range of passing to pick out the run of Escudero from left-back.
Here, Osasuna lose the ball after committing several players to one corner of the pitch.
With a quick switch of play into the path of a flying full-back, easily bypassing three midfielders caught high up the pitch, Osasuna’s defence is suddenly extremely exposed.
Sergio Escudero is able to drive into the space in-between a retreating backline and an out-of-position midfield duo. This creates a shooting opportunity for the left-back from the edge of the penalty box, forcing Sergio Herrera into a near-post save. This was a warning sign that Osasuna chose to ignore.
Just three and a half minutes later a near-identical situation occurs. Six Osasuna players are grouped together in the same corner of the pitch as shown in the previous example. Óliver Torres does well again to spot the switch of play to the left-back making a run into the open space.
With one pass, Sevilla have a 5v3 situation in the opponent’s half. This, for obvious reasons, should not be happening regularly (if at all) from an Osasuna perspective.
Sevilla capitalises on this occasion, as En-Nesyri slots it into the bottom corner of the goal.
Sevilla’s use of the right side of the pitch in the attacking organisation phase
As Sevilla had 61% of the overall possession, much of the game was played with Sevilla organised in their attacking structure.
Shown in the graphic above, Sevilla’s most frequently used route to goal was down the right-hand side of the pitch, with 17 attacks occurring on that side.
A pattern of Sevilla’s build-up play was that Óliver Torres, playing on the left of the midfield three, would drop deep next to Nemanja Gudelj (who replaced Fernando in the no. 6 role when he was forced off injured). This lured the two central midfielders of Osasuna further up the pitch, creating a gap between Osasuna’s defensive and midfield lines. This allowed Franco Vázquez to overload the right half-space with Lucas Ocampos, who drifted in from the right, forcing the Osasuna left-back inside. This created space for Jesús Navas to run into and receive the ball on the overlap.
Another method that Sevilla used to create an opening for Navas on the right was through the use of triangles and diamonds that formed from well-executed positional play. After circulating the ball through the centre-backs, Sevilla found an opening, aided by their man advantage after Sergio Herrera was sent off in the 54th minute. This graphic above showed how Lopetegui exposed the weaknesses in Osasuna’s 4-4-1 system that they implemented after going down to 10 men. The 4-3-3 allowed for numerical superiority in wide areas against the 4-4-1, which usually resulted in Navas getting in good crossing positions on the right flank.
This 6v5 situation that Sevilla manufactured meant that Vásquez was the free man. Koundé opened his body up to the sideline to create the illusion that he was going to pass wide to Navas but instead slid a pass into the feet of Vázquez. This passing lane was only open due to Koundé’s body orientation tricking Osasuna’s left midfielder Lato into going towards Navas. This was not a one-off pass from Koundé either. He had the highest number of accurate forward passes (22 at a 79% completion rate) of any player on the pitch: this ball-playing ability was vital to Sevilla’s attacking potential on the right side of the pitch.
Since Vazquez is the free man, he has time to receive the ball on the half-turn and play a through ball into the path of Ocampos.
Ocampos then cuts inside to make space for Navas to run into, and as shown in the image above, points to where he wants him to run. This sequence of play is an example of how Sevilla managed to get Navas in behind the Osasuna backline.
To summarise this tactical analysis, both teams undoubtedly went into the match playing for the win. Osasuna were relatively effective in their build-up, however, the statistics suggest that it could have been more effective if they had targeted Sergi Gómez as the aerial weak point rather than Jules Koundé. Osasuna also should’ve been slightly more cautious in the number of players they committed forwards, and perhaps should’ve left at least one of the two central midfielders deep. The sending off of Sergio Herrera, however, tipped the balance in Sevilla’s favour from a tactical point of view, since Sevilla found it much easier to create numerical superiority in wide areas.