Atlético Madrid – Sevilla: Bad Approach By Caparrós Hands Atlético Control, Until Late Changes (1-1)
The Wanda Metropolitano in a celebratory mood saw Atlético de Madrid dominate a conservative but inefficient Sevilla side. By the hour mark, the hosts probably deserved to have the game won, but a surprise equalizer and a key tactical change by Joaquín Caparrós almost gave Sevilla FC a much needed win.
Tactical analysis and match report by Sérgio Sampaio.
Sevilla arrived in the capital on the back of a humiliating 0-3 home defeat to Leganés, but still very much in the race for the fourth Champions League spot. With Getafe having a tough trip to the Camp Nou, both Sevilla and Valencia could end the matchday in 4th place, a heavily disputed league position in Spain, a race that has been full of twists and turns. In Sevilla’s case an away win against Diego Simeone’s Atlético was needed to keep competing for that direct Champions League ticket the fourth place yields. Atlético, on the other hand, needed one point to secure their tenth subcampeonato (second place finish) in history. And arguably more important, this was the last game of Diego Godín in front of the colchonero home crowd.
At Between the Posts, we focus mostly on the tactical side of the game, but it would be criminal not to make an exception and dedicate a paragraph or two to the farewell of Atlético’s captain. Diego Godín goes straight to the restricted group of biggest legends of the club. He’s in the all time top 10 in most games played (387) ahead of Luis Aragonés, he’s second only to Adelardo in titles won (8). There is perhaps no player that better personifies Simeone’s Atlético era.
He was a protagonist in several key moments of that era, from the goal at the Camp Nou that secured a title that put an end to FC Barcelona and Real Madrid’s duopoly, to the goal in Lisbon where Atlético came within seconds of lifting their first Champions League title. He has bled for the club literally, when Sami Khedira broke his nose, and wouldn’t think of leaving the pitch. He has lost teeth for the club. He has been left barely being able to walk and somehow still managed to score a winning goal this very season against Athletic Club. You cannot speak of Atlético’s last decade without speaking of Godín and if a statue is raised in front of the Wanda Metropolitano, he will have to be a top candidate.
Back to our regular programing. Simeone started the game without surprises in his lineup. Without Stefan Savić and José Giménez – both injured – youngster Francisco Montero partnered the man of the moment in the center of defense while in midfield Saúl Ñíguez returned and relegated Thomas Lemar to the bench in the only other change from the previous game. Nikola Kalinić (injured) and Diego Costa (suspended) remained unavailable.
Sevilla had to deal with a lot more absences: Gabriel Mercado, Daniel Carriço, Quincy Promes, André Silva and Max Wöber were all injured while Éver Banega was suspended. Caparrós’ biggest surprise was picking Joris Gnagnon to play on the left of defense instead of Sergio Escudero while Marko Rog was also dropped in favor of Maxime Gonalons, a move that would prove costly.
Atlético dominate easily
There was enough at stake, especially for Sevilla, for this to be a hard dispute, but there was a strange friendly vibe surrounding this game. Simeone played with his usual narrow 4-4-2 formation with Saúl and Koke both coming inside from the wings and Griezmann enjoying the freedom to drop very deep. Caparrós, who has tried both 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 formations in his brief spell at the Andalusian club, opted for a 4-1-4-1 shape with Gonalons playing behind Roque Mesa and Franco Vázquez. It’s hard to understand what was intended, but what it ended up being was a completely dysfunctional Sevilla side who could not really stop Atlético’s offense, nor hurt the opponent consistently.
Offensively, there did not seem to be much of a plan. There were attempts to counterattack by playing direct, but the team always seemed dependent on the improvisation of individuals. Gnagnon, of course, being a center-back by heart, provided little threat from the left, Jesús Navas couldn’t free himself and as a result Munir El Haddadi and Pablo Sarabia had less freedom to come inside. Therefore, regardless of Mesa’s positioning, or perhaps partly because of it, Atlético had a firm control of the center of the terrain and managed to force Sevilla towards the flanks and to isolate Ben Yedder with ease.
Sevilla weren’t better defensively either. It seems Gonalons wasn’t 100% fit, and indeed he had to be substituted with only 36 minutes played. His short cameo raises questions about Caparrós’ decision of assigning him such a crucial defensive role, where he had to cover an enormous amount of ground which would have been hard even if fully fit. Atlético played between the lines and reached the box easily and Sevilla’s defense were under constant pressure.
Atlético building up against Sevilla’s 4-1-4-1 shape. Vázquez stepped out to press often, turning it into more of a 4-4-1-1, which caused more problems than benefits as the movements of Saúl, Koke and Griezmann ensured superiority in midfield and easy ball progression leaving Gonalons overwhelmed.
This lack of cover by Sevilla could not have been better demonstrated than with the opening goal, when Koke was able to run with the ball for fifty to sixty yards unopposed. Once Gonalons stepped up to pressure Thomas Partey – which in itself is hard to understand as it was quite high up and he had no cover – and was beaten, Atlético had all the space in the world. Koke was on the end of a pass by Rodri, and managed to score the opener after thirty minutes.
With Ibrahim Amadou coming on for the injured Gonalons, Sevilla’s problems were not solved. Better suited to the physically demanding job, the issue now was that his enthusiasm going forward left his defense just as unprotected.
More of the same in the second half
Sevilla returned to the second half having heard good news from the Camp Nou: Getafe were losing. Valencia, however were leading at Alavés and so were 4th in the live table. Needing to react, Caparrós brought Aleix Vidal on for Simon Kjaer, moving Gnagnon to the center. An offensive move on paper that had little impact initially. Atlético’s dominance continued, their superiority in the center allowed them to progress with easy combinations. A second goal started to become justified, even if the game’s feel went from that of a friendly to that of a training session. A goal did come as Ángel Correa, who had come on for Rodri, was sent one-versus-one against the excellent goalkeeper Tomáš Vaclík and didn’t miss, but it was disallowed for a very close offside.
If the plan was to eventually hope Atlético would fall asleep, it sort of happened. Sevilla reached the equalizer somewhat out of nowhere with a speculative cross finding Sarabia unmarked behind Filipe Luís, with twenty minutes to go.
Key tactical change leads to totally different game
While they didn’t do much to deserve it, Sevilla found themselves level and there was still time to look for the crucial three points. Caparrós’ last substitution was not what most Sevilla fans wanted to see: with fresh attackers on the bench, he midfielder brought Marko Rog on for Mesa (whose second booking looked inevitable), a seemingly defensive move. It was however exactly what Sevilla needed. By giving Amadou some help and reinforcing the middle, Rog allowed Aleix Vidal to finally free himself and confidently become the offensive wing-back that was needed knowing he had cover. This allowed Munir to leave the touchline and suddenly Atlético’s superiority in the center was challenged.
This was Sevilla’s best period of the game and they came very close to grabbing the win, Sarabia had a golden chance but with only Jan Oblak to beat sent the ball over the top.
The Expected Goal plot perfectly illustrates how this game was played out.
Atlético got the point they ultimately didn’t need, as Real Madrid lost anyway. The second place is secured and now the focus goes to the planning of the next season. Plenty of moves are expected and it feels like a moment of transition. It’ll be interesting as always to see how they reinvent themselves if the rumours are true and they lose as many players as it’s rumoured.
Sevilla are still in the race for that Champions League spot, but can also finish seventh if they lose their final game against Athletic. Such a scenario would force them to play the qualifying rounds of the Europa League, as they did this season. There’s a lot to correct ahead of that “final”, and Caparrós will have to learn from the decisions in this game that backfired terribly. There aren’t a lot of reasons to be optimistic, though. After the winter break, Sevilla have looked like a team where everything is improvised and that won’t change in a week.
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