Haaland Sevilla tactics

Borussia Dortmund – Sevilla: Toothless But Stubborn Sevilla Fall To The Inevitable Haaland (2-2)

Improving significantly on their first leg performance, Sevilla managed to push Dortmund back and counterpress successfully to prevent their deadly counterattacks. However, all it takes is one mistake to concede against the force of nature that is Erling Haaland.

Tactical analysis and match report by José Pérez.


Julen Lopetegui’s Sevilla are a great team, and on their day they can out-press and out-possess anyone in Europe. However, their relative lack of goal-scoring talent and the absence of more creative offensive mechanisms often makes them look like lightweight boxers facing opponents of a higher weight class. They create a lot of low-quality shots from crosses; on the other end of the pitch, a few expertly-placed attacks from a more talented opponent can take them down.

Dortmund suffered several key injuries in the last few weeks: Axel Witsel, Manuel Akanji, Raphael Guerreiro, Gio Reyna, and Jadon Sancho, who was getting back to his best level. After using a back five in the weekend game against Bayern, coach Terzić returned to the 4-3-3 formation that yielded good results in the first leg. Emre Can and Nico Schulz continued their roles as right center-back and left back respectively, while this time Mateu Morey would start at right back over Meunier. In midfield, Jude Bellingham and Mahmoud Dahoud started with Thomas Delaney behind them. Up front, Thorgan Hazard would replace Sancho and play on the right while Marco Reus mostly stayed on the left but often drifting to more central areas.

For this game, Lopetegui had his entire squad recovered from injury and available, and he even rotated and rested several key players during the weekend game against Elche: Acuña, Jordán, Diego Carlos, Fernando, Suso, En-Nesyri. Surprisingly, Lopetegui decided to bench Ivan Rakitić, who had been an almost undisputed starter this season despite his lackluster performances. Instead, Óscar Rodriguez started in the left central midfielder role, although he played so aggressively that Sevilla’s nominal 4-3-3 shape looked more like a 4-2-3-1 setup, with Joan Jordán and Fernando behind Óscar and essentially forming a double pivot. Two central midfielders next to each other. In the front three, Lucas Ocampos returned to the starting lineup as a left winger after missing out the first leg due to injury. The diagram below shows the lineups of both teams in a sequence from the game.


Sevilla pressing Dortmund’s buildup in a 4-2-3-1 shape. This sequence led to a shot  from Ocampos at the second minute.


Sevilla does not allow Dortmund to cross halfway line

After a first leg in which Dortmund’s attackers ran amok, Sevilla tightened up several screws in their armor for the second leg. Knowing that they needed to turn this tie around, they pressed even more aggressively than usual, with the center backs stationed at the halfway line to maintain compactness and En-Nesyri pressing all the way to goalkeeper Marwin Hitz. This generated shots rather quickly: in the second minute, En-Nesyri and Rodriguez pressed Hitz and Can, forcing a turnover that led to an Ocampos shot and a Hitz deflection.

The counterpress After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. was even more impressive, and for a good half hour Haaland and company were not allowed a chance to run at defenders. Whenever Dortmund players recovered the ball, two or even three Sevilla players would gang up on whoever had the ball, close down his passing options, and if necessary, commit a tactical foul to prevent further progression. Sevilla are one of the most prolific tactical foulers among the big 5 European leagues and they had no qualms about shutting down Dortmund’s counterattacks in this way. 

If somehow Dortmund players managed to make a pass, there was a high chance it would be intercepted by the center-backs or the double pivot of Fernando and Joan Jordán. To make things even more difficult, Reus and especially Haaland were always forced to receive the ball with their backs to goal and not allowed to turn.

Finally, if a Dortmund player attempted to bypass the press by sending it long, Sevilla excelled at winning the aerial duel or the second ball. Goalie Hitz liked to send the ball long towards the right back or right winger, but Acuña, Óscar, and Jordán won the aerial duels. Meanwhile, Diego Carlos nullified the possibility of sending it long to Haaland, winning long ball duels against his opponent with ferocious focus and intensity.

Combining all the defensive mechanisms we just mentioned – pressing, counterpressing, attackers receiving with back to goal, winning the second balls and individual duels – Sevilla effectively trapped Dortmund and barely allowed them to cross the halfway line during the initial half hour. 


Sevilla cannot turn control into shots

Unfortunately, Sevilla’s outstanding defending and territorial dominance during the initial half hour only resulted in two shots. 

On the left side, Óscar infused new life to a normally stale Sevilla attack: moving actively without the ball, running behind defenders, combining with Acuña and Ocampos, and delivering dangerous set pieces. Acuña, Ocampos and Óscar rotated in their positions, and all looked to make dangerous third-man movements that were hard to track for Dortmund’s defense.



However, the majority of Sevilla’s attacks happened on a right side which lacked imagination, dynamism, and movement. Upon reaching the final third, The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. Suso would normally cut inside and cross with his left or pass the ball to the overlapping When a wide player, most of the times a wing-back, runs outside to fill in the space left by a winger going inside with or without the ball, this is called overlapping. Navas would also cross the ball himself. Sevilla produced a total of fourteen crosses during the first thirty minutes, with Suso and Navas delivering ten of them. None of these crosses were successful, and mostly cleared by the attentive Hummels and Can.

One could argue that Sevilla used crosses not as a way to create shots but simply as a form of controlling the game by picking up second balls. Other than En-Nesyri, Sevilla players did not charge the box but instead stayed on the edges of the box, waiting to pick up the balls cleared by the Dortmund defenders. While this strategy helped Sevilla keep the ball and prevent counters, it did not allow them to land a decisive blow on a somewhat chaotic Dortmund defense. Sevilla was just a lightweight boxer hoping to wear down the opponent over time with small, weak jabs. Their opponent, on the other hand, have a Haaland who punches harder than anyone else in European football, so Dortmund just needed to land one or two blows to deliver the KO.


All it takes is one mistake 

Dortmund’s almost inescapable blow came at the 35th minute. Dortmund pressed aggressively, all the way to keeper Bono, and ganged up on Koundé – who performed poorly under pressure throughout the evening – close to the sideline. Delaney outmuscled the French defender, Schulz got the ball and passed to Dahoud, who then passed into space for a Reus who slipped past Navas. Reus delivered a cutback to Haaland, who had evaded Diego Carlos’ marking by changing the direction of his run, and the inevitable Norwegian once again put the ball in the back of the net.


Dortmund’s pressing shape and layout when forcing the Koundé turnover that led to the first goal.


Sevilla’s defense never truly recovered from this emotional blow, losing the outstanding composure and compactness of the initial half hour and reverting to the more desperate and chaotic defending of the first leg. The case of Diego Carlos was paradigmatic: after an almost flawless half hour, he let Haaland slip away more frequently and started losing more duels against him. Haaland was starting to run at Sevilla defenders once again, and that created panic throughout the entire Sevilla defensive line.

Even though Dortmund did not press consistently throughout the game, they were effective when they did. A hyperactive Dahoud harassed everyone from Fernando all the way to the keeper, while Reus and Hazard were focused on pressing the opposition fullbacks. Meanwhile, Delaney and Bellingham would stay behind and wait for the right triggers to pounce on Sevilla players, like Delaney did with Koundé in the first goal.

Things did not improve for Sevilla at the start of the second half: Dortmund’s precise pressing continued generating turnovers, with Sevilla running back chaotically in fear of yet another Haaland goal. Despite their desperate efforts, the Sevilla defenders could not stand in the way of this generational Norwegian who is as unavoidable as death or taxes.

Haaland thrives in these kinds of chaotic transition scenarios, and it took him less than five minutes in the second half to kill the game. Just as the half began, he had already blitzed Diego Carlos and Koundé and successfully assisted a good chance for Hazard.

A surreal sequence of events would follow thanks to refereeing. Dortmund beautifully played their way out of the Sevilla counterpress and reached Haaland, who ran into the box, combined with Hazard to evade Diego Carlos and then shrugged off Fernando’s tackle attempt to score. This wondergoal would be then overruled by a bizarre VAR call in which the referee called for a penalty foul from Koundé on Haaland that had happened a full minute before the overruled goal.

The ensuing Haaland penalty kick was stopped by Bono, yet the referee called for the kick to be retaken. Bono taunted Haaland into shooting to the same spot as in the previous penalty, but even if Bono knew where the kick was going, Haaland scored and showed once again why he is the inevitable villain of European football. Dread it, run from it, the Haaland goal will still arrive.


Sevilla die stubbornly but standing

Lopetegui’s Sevilla are a flawed team when it comes to attacking, but you can’t blame them for not showing up and not getting back up after a punch. At the 59th minute, Lopetegui replaced Ocampos and Jordán for Papu Gómez and Luuk de Jong. By removing Ocampos, Lopetegui made his team’s attack more predictable and focused on crossing into the box, with Papu and Suso cutting inside from opposite sides and delivering crosses into the box for De Jong and En-Nesyri. Even Koundé joined the fray with marauding runs into the box, hoping to compensate for his previous blunders that led to Dortmund goals. Sevilla delivered a total of 22 crosses in this final half hour of the game, and Dortmund defenders – led by Hummels – continued to clear away the danger.

As inefficient as it may be, if you play crossing lottery like this for long enough, you might get lucky enough for something nice to happen. In the 67th minute, a cross from Papu led to Can fouling De Jong in the box, and En-Nesyri violently struck the ensuing penalty kick into the box. Sevilla would continue playing the crossing lottery until the end of the game, like the hapless gambler hoping to win again at the casino’s slot machine. Even Papu Gómez, a player who thrives as a free-roaming playmaking force, preferred to stay in his lane on the left wing and simply cross into the box. 



What has happened to Papu is a great example of what happens to players within the confines of Lopetegui’s rigid offensive system. As hard as Sevilla players tried, with so little dynamism and so few player rotations and combinations, they could not disorder the Dortmund defense. Their deep block was not that well-organized: it lacked compactness, allowed Sevilla players enough time on the ball, and their defending of the box was chaotic aside from Hummel’s experience and leadership. However, Sevilla’s predictable attacking approach made them look like an impenetrable wall. Oscar, Suso, and Fernando were replaced in the final minutes for Óliver Torres, Rakitić, and Munir, but the attacking approach stayed the same.

In injury time, Sevilla won the crossing lottery once again, as a Rakitić cross was met by a powerful jump and header from En-Nesyri and went into the net. Sevilla deservedly drew the game, but it was too late already to force the game into stoppage time.



Takeaways

Kudos to Sevilla. Julen Lopetegui has created a team that believe in their game plan like cult followers, who can compete even against the best of Europe and get back up even when they are hit. Sevilla never gave up and kept fighting on despite facing Haaland, a force of nature who, in Lopetegui’s words, will define a new era in football. Yet even the football gods can be killed with the right plan, and Lopetegui’s men could have done it had they used a more efficient attacking plan than brute-force crossing.

If Sevilla want to move on to the next level and slay the deities at the top of European football, Lopetegui needs to vary his offensive approach. He already has the building blocks to do this: the dynamic combinations of Acuña, Óscar, and Ocampos on the left wing, as well as the free-roaming and creativity of Papu Goméz. If Sevilla can incorporate these players and movements into their system, they can learn from this experience and become an even better team. 

On the other hand, Dortmund moves forward more as a collection of outstanding individuals than as a truly cohesive team. It’s not an attitude problem: the players ran and pressed intensely and tracked Sevilla attackers when defending in a deep block. Yet their defensive block still needs greater organization and compactness. In the next round, a more talented and creative offense than Sevilla’s will be more ruthless about exploiting these deficits, and Haaland’s godly goal scoring powers might not be enough to compensate.



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Jose Perez (29) writes and talks about anything football-related: players, tactics, analytics, the relationship between football and society. Whenever he is not working on high-power lasers, he tries to keep up with all big five European leagues, but focuses particularly on La Liga. Outside of Between the Posts, you can find him arguing with people and posting analyses on Twitter or answering questions on Quora. [ View all posts ]

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