“What’s going on in Seville?” ask football fans all around Europe, as Sevilla FC is currently in the top 3 in the La Liga table, with last year’s Champions League-finalist Atlético de Madrid and the Europa League semi-finalist Villarreal behind them.
By only considering the previous season’s seventh place we can already see the huge progress they’ve made, but the whole story is the result of a well-planned, conscious club leading strategy, making this evolution a beautiful tale. But what do you need to succeed? A good chairman, an excellent sports director, a coach full of new ideas, and an open-minded, skillful squad. In Seville all of these things are there, so it shouldn’t surprise anybody if they progress in the Champions League or reach the top 3 in the league. And now let’s jump into the bunch of interesting topics offered by the team.
The current president of the club is José Castro Carmona, who has been working in this position since 2013, and as we can see, he is quite successful in his job. The team is moving further away from the financial crisis they faced around 2001, when they got relegated from the first division and had to fight for their lives. The lack of money then incited the team to build on their own academy, which back then produced José Antonio Reyes and the young Sergio Ramos. They simply had no other choice: they didn’t have the raise funds to buy “bigger names”, so they had to start thinking and take advantage of the potential of their academy. Through the years this has changed a bit, as the focal point nowadays is scouting, but one thing – to be exact one man – was constant: Ramón Rodriguez Verdejo, or as most people call him, Monchi.
The genius in the background
Monchi was never a good footballer, at least if we don’t consider the substitute keeper position of 90’s Sevilla a huge success. In the following decade he finally got a main role in his beloved club’s life, but this time off of the pitch. He was just 32 years old when he became Sevilla’s sports director, and we can date the starting point of the club’s rise in the 21th century there. When he arrived, the team was stuck in the swamp of the second division, so he needed to refresh the whole setup.
Building a strong youth system and scouting network were among his first projects in the biggest city of Andalusia, in which the newly signed coach Joaquín Caparrós offered a great support. So the usage of youngsters in the first team started, where we can find players like Jesus Navas, the previously mentioned Ramos/Reyes duo or even Diego Capel. But the really exciting part is how all these things are made by the still just 48-year-old expert.
“Sevilla are run like a business with the best professionals in every department, all of them complementing each other, working with the same philosophy. (…) our job is to put his vision into practice – from the coaching staff to the directorate of sport, finance department, press, marketing, everyone. We have a logical, coherent structure in which our roles are mutually beneficial: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
According to Monchi, the base of the system is that just good scouting isn’t enough to succeed, neither the genial discovery of players. They build on three stable points, that’s why they rarely fail with their transfers. These are the data collection based on extensive sampling, systematization and evaluation of the prospects, then convincing and acquiring the players.
Assessing the demands accurately isn’t easy, neither are data that are quite easy to reach because the characterisation isn’t punctual enough sometimes. If a team is looking for a striker with a sense for goal, or a centre back who is good in the air, the signed player can easily be a mistake, who in the end can’t perform well in the team for whatever reason. Those reasons can be minimized with greater caution; the more the factors taken into account, the smaller is the chance of failing. This is what Sevilla’s success is based on. Their network scouts a future player meticulously.
In Monchi’s crew, sixteen men are watching numerous championships, and in the first five months they don’t even know what they are looking for, just collect data diligently on a systematic level. Every month they create an ideal starting eleven in all the observed leagues. In December they start to analyze the players in different contexts: at home, away, in international matches, to create a wider profile. The latter is very important, because the international stage is Sevilla’s real hunting ground, as the club has become a Europa League specialist. Due to the fact that in the league they aren’t able to compete with the two giants – the contrast was even stronger at the beginning of the Monchi-era – European adventures have always been adequate for the club’s calibre.
After this starts the discussion with the coach, who tells his needs to the crew. Then they check their list of about 250 names who meet the coach’s ideas; then comes the selecting procedure. They have to take into account the player’s mental endowments, their rivals on the market, and even mobility of the player. When all these things are ready, they can move on to the signing phase.
The club’s preferences have visible shifted towards Ligue 1 and the French market, which he can account for:
“Tactically and physically, [the Ligue 1 player] is one of the most complete on the market. He fits perfectly with what I’m looking for our team. For example, Grzegorz Krychowiak played at Reims but he did not need time to adapt to La Liga. And financially, the bar is less high: transfer fees and salaries are in our budget. Frankly, I have not been disappointed once in ten years.”
They have no permanent observer in France, but as soon as they start to inquire towards a player, he sends a few people to the ground for scouting live, to see the that player about ten times, sending a detailed report back to the club after each match. Monchi also watches around eighty French matches per year, so by the end of the season he knows every team more or less, and will have 80 names on his list, who are worth closer attention. The final decision and the last steps are naturally his privilege, so he likes to meet the players face-to-face before signing, thus reducing the risk of failure.
That’s how Mariano, Krychowiak or Gameiro got to the team, and they all have grown into decisive players in the Andalusian city. This kind of awareness can also be seen in their choice of coaches, as Joaquín Caparrós, Juande Ramos and Unai Emery have all worked for them, and were particularly successful here first (in Emery’s case just if we consider trophies, as the Spaniard spent nice years). Next in line is Jorge Sampaoli, who has already proven to be a promising coach when leading Chile to a Copa América win. But in Europe, this is his first time to show himself to the world, and it seems like we won’t have to be disappointed with him.
The next Argentinian star
And by saying this we don’t think of Vietto or Kranevitter, but of the team’s coach, Jorge Sampaoli. The Newell’s Old Boys’ ex-player could never become a player at the top level because of a serious injury, which he suffered at the age of 19, and what he could have achieve will remain an unanswered question. He started coaching in 1994, at the beginning just as an amateur, even won a championship, and after a photo of him in the newspaper – he was shouting to his players during a suspension next to a tree – he was appointed as the coach of the Newell’s reserves. To get a professional contact, he had to wait until 2002, but the board got fed up fast with the lack of success and fired him. After an adventurous, but less successful decade he was signed by Universidad de Chile, with whom he won both the Apertura and Clausura, and even Copa Sudamericana. After that he was appointed as the coach of the Chilean national team, reached a World Cup second round and wona Copa América.
His football philosophy can be compared to Marcelo Bielsa’s, but he doesn’t like when people call him El Loco’s successor. As he says, he has his own style, and wishes that one day he will be remembered for this and not for being like Bielsa, another former Chile manager. His teams usually represent a proactive approach; he doesn’t like adapting so much to the opponent, he wants to force them to adapt to him. He loves triangles and fast, combination play, but this can be seen just now by the average European football fan.
— Felipe Araya (@felaraya) December 28, 2016
He is really thorough, as a good coach, he arrives first to the training ground and leaves it last. His work at La Universidad still offers a huge source of modern ideas for every fan interested in coaching. And not to be forgotten, Juanma Lillo, his assistant coach, is one of the biggest idols of Pep Guardiola.
Ejercicio: Coordinación del Pressing Alto
👤 Jorge Sampaoli (Club Universidad de Chile) pic.twitter.com/T2ZtMptYfi
— José Luis Colchero (@celucolchero) November 22, 2016
Of course all of these things wouldn’t be enough to succeed: he needs to find an open-minded group of players, who are ready to sacrifice themselves for their club and for their style. In Seville, Sampaoli has this.
Everything starts from the keeper
Nowadays most of the coaches demand that their keepers are able to help the team in possession, in ball circulation by short line-breaking passes or by long-hit balls towards the attackers. The main aim of this is to free up a player among the ten outfield players, or to start the play in calm circumstances.
This, logically, depends on the movement of the attackers from the opposing team. If they decide to press the keeper, then a man gets free in the midfield -at least considering that in case of high intensity pressing the defending team uses man-marking, so somebody will be abandoned just because of a pass to the keeper. If they’d like to prevent this, they send up a defender, but in such situations the success depends hugely on the individual qualities, as they have to act in the perfect time, because they leave the attackers in their own half 1 v 1 with the remaining defenders. If they refuse to attack the keeper, then he will have time on the ball to choose the best passing option.
This was particularly interesting in preseason: when the two center-halves shifted to the two sides of the pitch, the keeper stepped between them and acted as an organic part of the team, creating a three-man-chain at the back. This secured the possibility of advancing full-backs, so the wingers could overload the central areas, and in football, everything is in connection with everything. By acting like this, the keeper made the team able to create a dynamic structure, as the center of the pitch provides space for numerous movement variants, which we will discuss later.
But aswe are already here, let’s talk about the build-ups in the surrounding area of the 18-yard-box, when strong, well-executed pressure is on them from the opponent. In such situations they use the principle of the splitting centre backs again, which is a logical consequence of the nature of the pressing. They can offer a clear passing option to the side, or stretch the front line of the pressing. And as the splitting happens in a 20m radius from the goal, they can invite the attackers to press, thus opening up space behind them. If they don’t go, then a they can start building the attack on the side by passing to a centre back.
As you can see in the picture, their positions are usually covered by midfielders, usually Steven N’Zonzi and Vicente Iborra. By acting this way they are able to invite the opposing midfielders higher up the pitch, and because of the strikers’ high positions they can create a gap between the lines of the opponent. The fullbacks usually advance, so they can’t stay compact in the centre. This principal is a common thing in their playing style: keep the opponent moving, never let them relax and prevent them staying in their comfort zone. In our case they are focusing on opening up space behind the front line, so Sergio Rico can start the play with a long-hit ball.
But of course this isn’t the only way they can progress with the ball in their own half from the keeper, they usually choose their approach depending on the pressing’s style. Above we examined the strong version, in which almost the whole team contributed, against what probably the long ball-play has the best success rate, so now we should have a deeper look into the other version. This other version is the one in which the pressing team uses less players or doesn’t organize them well. In these cases the short ground passes start to appear, based on triangles. The base of this is to circulate the ball between the center and the flank, and via this they confuse the opponent. They prefer diagonal passes here, because of the blind sided movements, which we will discover later. The defensive midfielder usually drops back deep, just like in the picture above, right after the splitting movement from the defenders. So in the gap between the strikers he is able to receive quite freely and lay the ball of to a defender. After this they can diagonally access the central areas again or keep it on the flank with smaller triangular combinations.
Breaking the mid-block
Earlier we made it clear how Sevilla react to an active style of pressing, but we haven’t examined what do they do against a passive version, and why exactly they do the things they do.
What is important to highlight is Sevilla’s flexibility when it comes to formations. They have tried 10 different formations this year, but they usually perform in a 3-5-2 or in a 4-2-3-1. Let’s start with the latter one, as it’s quite similar to the former topic if we examine the basic player movements.
It’s clearly visible, that they love the splitting centre backs, in which they become a kind of side backs. After that N’Zonzi or sometimes Iborra drops between them, thus creating a chain of three men, while the fullbacks advance near the sideline, and the other players overload the center.
After that the focus is on overloading the area around the ball, because with this they are able to create structural superiority, which is indispensable for their playing style. Its essence is to position themselves in the centre of the pitch or in the strong-sided halfspace, thus concentrating the attacking team’s attention here. Via this the team can usually progress in wing areas, or sometimes diagonally in the middle too. As it can be seen in the picture above, the defensive midfielder has a bit unorthodox role, as his main task isn’t to show himself and dictate the play, but to open up space with his positioning. Due to this most of the time he has at least two markers, but this is a compromise they have to make in order to create open passing lanes and drag some men away.
The attacking midfielder also shifts towards the sideline and is keen on moving out of the shadow of his man-marker with at just the right time, thus offering a passing option to the man on the ball. In a worst case scenario when he doesn’t succeed, he still can manage to attract the side midfielder’s attention and make the fullback free.
What is especially interesting about the movements of Sevilla’s back line is the modification of the chain in defense. This means, that they create four-, three- and two-man chains when attacking oppositely than they do when they are forced to defend their own penalty area. So while the scene above shows a solution with two center-halves and a dropping pivot, the ‘three at the back system’ often mutates into a formation with just two real central backs. This occurs, when Mercado is part of the starting eleven on the side of the back three, as the Argentinian played both as a central back and as a fullback in his former club, so playing in these roles isn’t really a problem for him. And as mentioned, this has a huge impact on the combinations’ type and implementing.
As it can be seen on the image, the usage of the flank becomes really important and Sampaoli’s men try to emphasize this area’s importance with conscious, well-trained combinations. Overloading the strong side is even more important than in other cases, because of the limitation of space. The right back, Mariano, advances next to the sideline, so his task will be to attract the side midfielder’s attention, so he won’t be able to shift towards Mercado. The central midfielder is again tasked with staying in the middle, because in Spain teams emphasize defending against the pivots, so he just has to attract them in the center. The two strikers of Sevilla have to shift together so the defenders won’t be able to rotate properly, and this makes them able to take advantage of their overload.
What are important factors of the team’s play occur here as well: dynamical movements, one-twos triangles, for example a triangle in the picture above. These isolations are really good for Samir Nasri: later we will see, why.
Unique midfielder tasks
As discussed, Jorge Sampaoli instructs his midfielders to do unique things both on and off the ball. This is the main cause of such events like a Vicente Iborra hat-trick or seeing Samir Nasri in the defensive line.
As Sevilla usually concentrate on unbalancing opponents, the aim of midfielder roles can’t be a surprise for us, as they try to reach this via their relatively interesting movements.
One form of this is switching the emphasis of the attack from one side to another, which can be seen quite often from them. In such situations they usually position themselves deeper than their teammates combining on the flank -naturally in this case we are talking about the deep CMs, not Nasri – and then they will be able to hit the ball long towards the other touchline. But what is really interesting about this is that they tend to neglect passing the ball in the air; they rather prefer ground passes. The reason is quite simple: it’s faster and easier to receive. But there is a problem also, these passes are much harder to execute, as they need totally clear pass-lines, otherwise they can be intercepted and then countered. And creating these passing lanes is the toughest part of the process.
To complete this, one of the two central players has to drag the strikers away from the middle. To reach this, they usually move vertically on the pitch, and when the forward tries to mark him, a clear passing lane occurs.
Naturally they are also aware of a situation, where they need to use the midfielders after the attack’s progress, deeply in the opponent’s half. They have to offer themselves as free passing options for the teammates with drifting towards the sides, thus creating a more stable positional structure, even if because of the dynamical nature of their playing style they can’t maintain it for long. They have to create a flexible team system, in which secure points are needed, which can be almost always be provided by the midfielders roaming around in the middle. They have to take care of being almost always ready to receive a pass, even in such cases when the man on the ball is forced to the touchline. This also has its flaws, but we will discuss it a bit later.
But of course the opponent also tries to switch of the central midfielders, therefore we can see them both man-marking and defending space to minimize Steven N’Zonzi’s and his mates’ influence on the game. But as we have seen many times, the attacking team also has numerous answers to these difficulties, always depending on the opponent’s defensive schemes. In those cases, when the defenders try to man-mark the two central midfielders, they usually have less time on the ball and receive fewer passes, so they have to constantly move to confuse the defenders and destroy their structure by dragging away the players. When this happens, they often function as ‘passing walls’, so participate in one-twos, to help other players lose their markers. The reason for this one is quite clear, as with a defender at your back, you wouldn’t be able to turn and dribble, so combinational play becomes more important.
On the other hand, when the opponents are space-orientated, the main goal is rather to create an overload on the ball’s side, in which the duo doesn’t really participate, as they are often the way of escape from there. Thanks to them the team will be able to get the ball out of tougher situations, so they have to get into clear passing lanes; furthermore they have to position themselves in a quite abandoned space on the field, so they will be able to receive and pass the ball in a relatively calm situation. The way of reaching this will be explained even more a bit later, the movement of players in these situation is probably understandable now.
And this part wouldn’t be the same without a practical example, where Real Madrid’s highly ball-oriented spatial defense left Iborra totally free in a central position, who after getting into the created space shows himself in the halfspace, with no pressure on him. Although the ball went to Nasri, who was currently offside, it was a great example of Sevilla’s midfielders movements in possession.
Strong focus on wing-play
I tried to highlight already at the beginning of this post, that the team’s biggest strength is their high-quality wing-play, which focuses on unbalancing the opponent, and dragging them to one side of the pitch. To reach this, maybe the most common effort is overloading one area, which means concentrating as many players in a relatively small area as possible. This area can naturally be in central zones, in front of their own goal, or just like in our case, on the flank.
Sampaoli’s men usually try to utilize the advantages of the play in tightened spaces with three or four players, which can mean the winger, the fullback, one of the attacking midfielders, or sometimes even one of the strikers. All these require a strong shifting movement from the team, which means that from the far side the players slowly but surely move towards the ball, taking up each other’s positions. So instead of the winger, now the centre forward stays close to the opposing fullback, his place is fulfilled by the far-sided winger, while the ball-far fullback advances.
These movements can provide three different opportunities:
- Space opens on the far side
- The opponent doesn’t defend the ball’s side properly
- The defence loses its horizontal compactness
At first, let’s observe how they can combine things on the strong side, when the opponent doesn’t shift quick enough. To start with, have a look at which advantages can a compact shape give the team in this area: if the players are positioned well – with passing options for teammates – it allows combinational play and hiding the ball from the defenders. To have an even clearer view of the situation, they look like a slightly rotated diamond:
Tthe players’ positions under the white pieces aren’t needed, because in this situation it’s almost totally unnecessary information: in this small area positional rotations happen quite often, usually between players connected with a white line in the picture. The striker, for example, doesn’t really move to the deepest position. And what do they benefit from it? When the ball gets to the sideline they can pass it immediately in three different directions, and with the slightest movements they can exploit a man-orientated defence, which happens really often close to the box.
And as I’ve said before, the circumstances are guaranteed by the shifting movement, because the striker drifting sideways can attract the fullback’s attention and then create a 3 v 1 or 4 v 2 situation next to the touchline, in which due to the numerical superiority Sevilla can easily succeed.
Opening the far side
We’ve seen that playing on the flank can have many different ways and places, and we’ve highlighted playing on the strong side. Now, it’s time to have a look at opening space on others part of the pitch. The real strength of these situations is that the defensive team concentrates on the ball, so the attacking team can invite them to pressurize it, and then they open up the other side to finish the attack. In such situations a lot depends on how the defenders react to the situation before switching sides, so there must be a high emphasis on how to manipulate them.
So they have to invite the pressing, but just to an extent, because under too much pressure the probability of misplacing a pass is higher. We see this in our everyday life: once someone is in a stressful situation, he is more likely to fail or make a bad decision, or when people abuse someone while doing an activity, then succeeding isn’t as probable. The same occurs in football, so creating the proper circumstances is really important.
One of these circumstances occurs during counter attacking or fast attacking phases, which can be explained easily. The nature of the attack results in the opportunity to manipulate the defense: the defensive team is rushing back to prevent the scoring chance. But what makes is easy for Sevilla is that they usually concentrate on preventing the direct chances, which means that they position themselves between the goal and the ball, but abandon the far side. Until the halfway line this isn’t a problem, but closer to their own goal they totally forget the free player behind them.
The other similar situation isn’t this easy, because the defensive team can less likely be manipulated. Against a compact, well-set wall Sampaoli’s men struggle more, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t solve this problem. These times the concept is the same: they try to overload one side of the pitch to concentrate the opponent’s forces here and then rotate the play to the other flank. But what’s happening differently is the process of switching sides, because in these cases the pass isn’t a direct, lobbed one, but rather a pass backwards, and then the switch. The reason behind this is simple: the man coming from behind has a better vision of the pitch, so he can choose the better variants of passes. So let’s see an example:
In these phases it’s interesting to watch the teammates’ behavior, as we usually see two different types of movements: the full back runs for the through ball and collects it, while the side midfielder drags opponents away, or the midfielder makes the run and the full back stays more or less in his own position. It all depends on the coach’s choice, and Sampaoli in Seville prefers the first one. This has a physical reason – Mariano’s pace and agility – and a technical one, because after switching the ball to the side in this method the player can already hit a cross, while in the other situation the midfielder usually drifts towards the flanks, making crosses difficult to execute.
Full backs in attack
In an age of accelerated football, it’s key for players to understand more aspects of the game, than they did in the past. As a result we see goalkeepers dictating the play from the box, we praise strikers because of their defensive contribution, or love defenders because of their attacking qualities. So seeing fullbacks joining the attacks and playing huge roles in them shouldn’t even surprise us.
In discussions regarding to this topic the direction of their movements are always in focus, as it affects the opponent’s defending methods a lot. It is important to know this, because defenders need to behave differently against an underlap and an overlap run. The first one sets higher standards and is harder to execute, but is also harder to defend against.
It’s better to start with the overlap one, which can be called also the traditional run, where the run by the fullback is made behind the ball carrier. This usually results in two ways:
- Crossing from the touchline
- Dragging one defender away → individual inside run by the ball carrier
But underlap runs are a much more of an interesting topic, because here the full back gets behind the defensive line on the inner side of the pitch, so confusing the side midfielder becomes the main goal, rather than dragging the full back away. More and more coaches realise its potential, that looking for inner gaps and spaces is also a great way of thinking, so we see a lot more of this run on football pitches nowadays.
In these situations there is also a chance of a ball put back to the second wave, but this position and movement gives the fullback a great situational advantage, and even helps and secures putting the ball into the box by a ground pass or a cross. Furthermore it allows the winger better opportunities for dribbling towards the centre, as he doesn’t have to solve a clear one-on-one, because the defender isn’t face-to-face with him.
Considering all of this, Sampaoli’s approach can’t be a real surprise. But in Sevilla’s playing style full backs have another important role, which is opening up space on the flanks. Because if the team wants to take advantage of long passes through the defence, it’s evident that someone has to create gaps between the defensive players for those passes. And in cases these passes are aimed for the wingers – which isn’t a rare situation – then this task is the full backs’. They have to drag away the opponent’s man playing the same role away from the center-halves to create the passing lane. So this is why they like to stay close to the touchline and make only slight movements towards the middle to indicate some man-orientation.
Midfield dynamics and small tricks
What makes the team so stylish and what can we count as their special attributes? We have to mention the sources of Sevilla’s dynamical, fluid playing style, which are free roles, third man runs and perfecting positioning.
One of the most specific traits of Sampaoli’s men’s game is how they get rid of the obstacles created by the opponent, right after the first progression. After passing the ball up to the opponent’s defensive line, they try to manipulate them with tons of individual movements and space-opening combinations. In the first one the real specialists are the attacking sector of the midfield -mostly Nasri and Vitolo. Their task is to drag the defenders away from their original spot with lots of vertical movements, to enlarge the gap between the defensive lines.
This can make the strikers’ movement area bigger: they will have more time to receive and pass the ball, which increases the possibility of the attack’s success really much. Sevilla playwith quite fixed roles at the back and on the wings, while the central part is quite individualistic and almost anybody can go anywhere, if their aim is to help the team with their movements. This made N’Zonzi the biggest positive surprise of the year, just like Nasri. These players love having freedom and more time and space to shine.
But there is a movement, which manipulates the opponent even more than the previous one, and it’s called the third man run. The core of this is based on the defenders’ ball-orientation, which means that the passed ball isn’t kept by the receiver, but the fact that the ball got there invites the defender to press, thus opening huge spaces behind him. So the free man runs there, while the ball also arrives immediately or after a vertical layoff and a long pass, increasing the threat on goal by the attacking unit. And the key of this is to create a proper structure right after the first pass, which is suitable for this combination.
One of the most common variants of these passes is when the side midfielder moves to the flank, attracts the defender’s attention, and by the moment he receives a pass, the full back is already close to him, which means that a huge amount of space has just been created for Mariano or Escudero, depending on the side. In these situations the winger is just a bait, and the defenders can fooled by it often.
What is also pretty interesting in these situations is, what makes the winger able to receive? The answer is quite often Nasri or the other attacking midfielder, because his movement allows them space by dragging some players away or confusing them by making runs into the wall. This is also part of the things explained above, but it’s worth highlighting.
And last but not least we couldn’t talk about the so called ‘blind side’, which means completing movements in areas the defenders can’t see behind their backs. These movements help them to step out of the cover shadow, and with this they can break the press of the opponent. In this area of play mostly the attacking unit has been great, usually Nasri and Vitolo. Owing to their movements Sevilla can get the ball out of tough situations, as these two players offer themselves as free passing options in the right time. This article is a good read for anyone wanting to know more about this tactic.
The resurrection of Samir Nasri
Maybe the biggest surprise of the season is Samir Nasri’s return to his old form, which can be thanked to Sampaoli building his team around the strengths of the French playmaker.
Nasri’s play has become particularly important, mainly due to the Manchester City loanee’s great sense of timing and space. If he have a look at this video, we can see that Nasri tries to be constantly available for the teammates, and when he receives he starts roaming around and combining with the other players.
And as I’ve mentioned before, the player steps out of the cover shadows with a spectacular timing and combines with Vitolo who often does the same, which could be seen against Atlético de Madrid as well:
And we can’t forget his passing skills, of which the always fantastic Tom Payne created a great video (turn up the speakers):
New video analysis! I discuss Samir Nasri's role under Sampaoli at Sevilla. pic.twitter.com/5o4ZCjlP2v
— Tom Payne (@TomPayneftbl) February 8, 2017
We have to mention the movements of Sevilla’s strikers too, because they are the ones who allow the teammates to play their game and then look for opportunities to profit from it.
Their task’s essence is to attract the defenders’ attention, so if it’s possible during the attacks they position themselves in the back line of the opposing defense, which has numerous advantages. Firstly, they make the defenders stick to marking them, so they won’t be able to close down players between the lines or reduce space dramatically, but the really interesting part is a bit different.
With their lateral runs they are capable of manipulating the opponent’s back four in the way they want to. We’ve already talked about how they drag the full backs away with moving to the flank, but they are also the ones who open up loads of space on the wing for their full backs or side midfielders. Because in such phases they are about to keep the defenders inside with overloading the defensive line, so the ball can be passed to the wing area easily.
And it’s important to note how they create space for themselves for some runs behind the defensive line. These situations’ origin is usually the previous one, but they start to drift to the side, and then suddenly they change direction and run into the gap they’ve just created.
And now we’ve finished the attacking part of their game, let’s see the defensive one.
Counterpressing (or Gegenpressing in German) is nowadays an organic part of football and so it’s not a surprise that Sevilla also try to take advantage of this element of defending. I’ve already written a piece about different counterpressing schemes, so won’t explain it so long here, but the essence is that they prefer ball-oriented pressing, which means that right after losing the ball they concentrate hard on winning it back immediately, so they reduce space around it and raise the pressure on the ball carrier. They have to create a proper structure for these actions already in the attacking phase, so they will be able to pressurize the opponent immediately after losing the ball.
They try to keep the opponent in their cover shadow, so the ball carrier will lose his passing opportunities, and has to kick it long without a real aim, otherwise there will be a huge chance of losing it in his own half.
Sampaoli’s teams have always been famous for their really active, high intensity pressing, and it hasn’t changed at Sevilla. The pressing is often led by one player in the first row, who is aiming to force the opponent to the flank, thus preventing central progression. Once the ball is passed to the flank, the team starts to press collectively and shift towards the side to close down the player on the ball.
What is interesting in these cases is how Sevilla switch from man-marking to zonal coverage and vice versa. Because they don’t really stick just to just one of them, but choose their style depending on the ball’s position. This is how the following situations happen:
Here they are strongly man-focused, leaving a huge gap between the lines, which is quite dangerous when the opponent lobs the ball there and offer the strikers lay-offs, Sevilla’s press can easily be ruined.
Here during shifting the evolving can be easily seen, but they still tend to leave gaps between the midfield and defence. On the other hand, N’Zonzi and Iborra now care about making the pressing less risky.
And now you can see a totally zonal-focused defensive form, which can be thanked to forcing the play to the sides, because here it’s easier to switch to zonal orientation, as the ball carrier has just a 180° of passing range.
But their zonal coverage has shown some improvement during the season, so we can be sure that they keep evolving in this aspect of the game. For example against Real Madrid they were really good at it: just look at Iborra’s and Vázquez’s movements in the GIF below. They focus on the ball, and although the latter one man-marks at the beginning, the real focus point is the ball and the space.
Own half defending
If I had to choose one phase of the game in which Sevilla is pretty average, I would surely say creating and maintaining a well-working deep block. The team focuses so hard on attacking, that they don’t get back to their own half even against Barcelona; furthermore their priorities have shifted towards attacking massively, so we can’t talk about unique approaches.
What can be said about them is that they usually use a 4-5-1 or a 4-4-2, the two most common defensive formations in Spain, mostly preferring the first one. In this system they try to give stability for themselves with space-coverage and some ball-orientation. They usually press the ball carrier even in their own half, thus forcing him backwards, but also increase the risk of a fast breakthrough after a successful risky pass. The forwards tend to disturb the defenders and prevent horizontal circulation, while the other players try to shift as a unit to defend on the flanks. If the opponent tries to penetrate through the middle, then N’Zonzi and Iborra start marking them.
Just like every other team, Sevilla also have flaws in their game, and without mentioning them an analysis wouldn’t be trustworthy enough. So, let’s see the Andalusians’ imperfections!
The first thing they should care more about happens mostly during build-ups, against mid-blocks. They tend to form a broken team formation, which means that they leave four or five players at the back, the others go up, and then nobody really connects the units.
In these situations Samir Nasri is often there to help them with his constant movement across the pitch, and starts composing the attack, but when he doesn’t do that or is missing from the starting eleven for some reason, they can really struggle.
The second problem usually occurs in the opponent’s half, and it’s N’Zonzi’s playing style. The ex-Stoke player positions himself badly at times, in different ways. When the ball is on the flank he can be too security-focused and instead of offering himself in the middle he goes back to the side of the CB pairing, thus slowing the attack. Another frequent mistake is when he forgets the basic rules of playing a location-based style of football and starts moving towards the ball-carrier and often gets really close to him. This also slows the attacks and doesn’t really offer an ideal passing option. He also likes to dribble with the ball too much, without a real aim. Hhe starts running with the ball, sometimes through the defence, and at the end of it, he passes to a teammate standing a meter away from him, which is a waste of time.
We can also see some problems during counterpressing, when because of the attacking focus the team sometimes forget about their duties, which is clearly visible when if we look at the number of conceded goals. They tend to not communicate enough and give too much time for the player on the ball, which often results in losing their heads and pressing too aggressively. In such situations they leave the other parts of the pitch abandoned and this can be exploited easily. Just think of their home games against Barcelona or Juventus.
This year Sevilla have proven that the Emery-era wasn’t the peak, and with a huge strategical variability and unique playing style they can compete La Liga’s three giants. Questions pop up about their future, for example what can they reach this year, is it just a one hit wonder, or will Sampaoli stay at the club…
Well, these are questions for the future, now we just have to enjoy their entertaining football!