Barcelona Sevilla 1-0 LaLiga

Barcelona – Sevilla: Barcelona’s Old Friend Ramos Gifts Them The Win (1-0)

Barcelona and Sevilla clashed on Friday night to complete a full week of daily LaLiga fixtures. The intense fixture schedule already seemed to be taking a toll on the players so there were a lot of rotations – some enforced and some voluntary – but Barcelona just about managed to get the job done and come away with all three points.

Tactical analysis and match report by Neel Shelat.

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Barcelona’s season had gotten off to a pretty good start in terms of results, as they were one of just two remaining teams with a preserved unbeaten record going into this round of fixtures. Their performances, however, consistently exposed a lack of defensive solidity against transitions for a variety of reasons, which sides like Celta Vigo and Mallorca used to cause them lots of problems in the last week.

Sevilla, then should have had a readily available gameplan to use for this match. Last season’s Europa League winners spent much of their league campaign perilously close to the relegation zone before José Luis Mendilibar came in, tossed all of Jorge Sampaoli’s intricate ideas out of the window, and got them playing a simple yet effective brand of football. If done properly, they knew that would be enough to cause problems for their hosts.

Barcelona’s lineup would have given Sevilla even more encouragement in this regard, particularly their midfield which was made up of Raphinha and Gavi on either side of İlkay Gündoğan. Behind them, Marc-André ter Stegen, João Cancelo, Jules Koundé, Andreas Christensen and Alejandro Balde made up the defense, whilst Lamine Yamal and João Félix flanked Robert Lewandowski up front.

Sevilla lined up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation, with Ørjan Nyland between the sticks behind Juanlu Sánchez, Loïc Badé, Sergio Ramos and Adrià Pedrosa. Juan Jordán joined Djibril Sow in midfield with Ivan Rakitić ahead of them, whilst Lucas Ocampos, Dodi Lukebakio and Érik Lamela made up the attack.

Barcelona get off to a stodgy start

Barcelona have recently switched things up in terms of the system they use in possession, moving to more of a 2-3-2-3 shape as opposed to their usual 3-2-2-3 structure as the right back (now Cancelo) no longer stays deep but pushes into midfield a bit. On the left, they preserved the dynamics of having the left winger tuck into the halfspace and getting the left back to push up all the way, but that changed in midweek.

Perhaps due to the absence of Frenkie de Jong, Barcelona moved to a more standard 2-3-2-3 structure with neither fullback fully pushing up, both wingers wide and the two number eights advancing in the halfspaces. The lack of dynamism in this shaped coupled with the suboptimal new roles created for some of the players (most notably Félix being shifted out wide) made them look quite uninspiring for large parts of the match against Mallorca.

As a result, one might have reasonably expected them to revert to the original system for this match, but they did not do so. Xavi decided to plough on with a straightforward 2-3-2-3 structure, which went about as well as anyone might have guessed. Sevilla used a compact 4-2-3-1 medium block to easily limit Barcelona’s access to their attackers and number eights, allowing them to circulate the ball across the back line without being troubled much further.

Barcelona’s cause was certainly not helped by the makeup of their midfield, which lacked a recognized number six and had a winger in there in the shape of Raphinha, who was quite peripheral. Clearly, something would need to change if they were to get anything out of this match, and soon that was enforced as the Brazilian international had to go off injured.

Fermín López livens things up

Raphinha was replaced by a proper midfielder in the form of Fermín López, who might have left in the summer if not for Xavi’s plans to slowly give him regular first-team minutes. The youngster showed just why he is quite deserving of those with a fantastic performance here that changed the dynamics of the match.

In the first half-hour or so of the game with Raphinha on the pitch, Barcelona’s progression was heavily biased towards their left side as the Brazilian forward tended to take up a very high position on the right and did not make himself available to receive line-breaking passes. López did the exact opposite – picking up perfect positions between the lines and receiving very elegantly on the half-turn.

42nd minute: López picks up a perfectly precise position between the lines to receive a line-breaking pass on the half-turn.

In this manner, López’s introduction completely revitalized Barcelona’s right side. His advanced receptions forcibly attracted the attention of the Sevilla back line, pulling left back Pedrosa inside at times and thereby opening up the wing. The young Spaniard also did a great job with his decision-making after successfully getting on the half-turn, choosing the right moments to drive inside or release a pass to the free wide player. Consequently, Barcelona started to look a lot better.

Sevilla’s improved block unluckily undone

However, Sevilla were not simply going to sit there and watch Barcelona play through them, so they came out with a slightly altered defensive setup in the second half. 

The visitors switched to a higher 4-4-2 block in the second half, changing their approach from trying to player-mark the opposition midfielders to using their front two to limit the opposition center-backs’ passing angles into midfield. Similarly, the wingers positioned themselves in a manner that prevented the opposition fullbacks from looking towards midfield after receiving the ball.

53rd minute: Sevilla’s 4-4-2 high block, focused on restricting Barcelona’s defenders’ passing angles into midfield.

This new defensive approach enabled Sevilla to pin Barcelona deeper in their own half for longer periods, but of course, the trade-off was that they would be more susceptible to being exposed at the back if played through. Nevertheless, they were able to restrict their opponents fairly well but ended up being undone by an unfortunate own goal from ex-Real Madrid defender Ramos of all people.


For all their struggles and troubles in progressing the ball to the final third consistently, it should be said that Barcelona did look quite dangerous whenever they got in and around the box. The sheer number of bodies they had there including numerous recognized attackers certainly contributed to that, so they did create enough chances to deserve at least a goal. They were not entirely solid defensively or in transition either, but on the overall balance of play, this was a deserved result even though they clearly have some areas to improve.

For their part, Sevilla prepared a pretty good defensive gameplan and executed it quite well for the most part, except perhaps in and around the box where they might have been a little more imposing. Even so, they might feel that they could have gotten something from this game given the chances they created for themselves (particularly from set pieces), but it was not to be.

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