Sevilla FC – Real Madrid: Pablo Machín knows where it hurts Madrid the most: in the back of Marcelo (3-0)

What happens if you manage to win every duel in midfield, score at least one goal out of set pieces and turn a corner kick of the opponent into a goal in your favour? Well, you become almost unbeatable. You can even beat Real Madrid with a clear, let’s say, 3-0. If you ever can: become such a team. If you ever can: become Sevilla.

Spoiler alert. This is not the analysis all of you Marcelo-fans want to read. It is difficult not to love an all-out attacking back – it is one of the most beautiful things in football – but too much is sometimes just too much. The Brazilian was involved in all three goals Real Madrid conceded yesterday in Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan. Two of those a result of bad positioning.

Things would have been difficult for Madrid even if Marcelo played up to standards, anyway. With Isco – who has his appendix taken out – and Dani Carvajal injured, coach Julen Lopetegui missed two key players.

Madrid also managed to win only once in her last seven visits to Sevilla and while the home team did miss the injured Sergio Escudero, Gabriel Mercado, Ibrahim Amadou, Maxime Gonalons and Aleix Vidal, they had still managed to produce the second best amount of Expected Goals this season: 10,2. Slightly less than FC Barcelona, but – and that gave the home team courage – slightly more than Real Madrid.

Modrić and Kroos spy-like shadowed
Because, who was who yesterday? Who was the team that so historically won three Champions League-titles in a row and who was that eternal outsider that just was not good enough to compete with the real big boys in Spain? After 90 minutes of football, it was impossible to say.

In every aspect of the game, Sevilla outclassed Real Madrid. They were more precise in execution, physically stronger in every duel and tactically superior. Coach Pablo Machín started for the second time in a row with two strikers up front, recreating his 3-5-2-system which gave Sevilla an exciting 2-6-win against Levante last weekend. Guilherme Arana was the only newcomer in the team, replacing the injured Vidal on the left.

But, whoever was on the player sheet, it was the tactical approach of Machín that was the key for an amazing first half of Sevilla. Machín’s team managed to completely paralyze any build-up play of Madrid. The visitors only got one shot on target in the first 45 minutes, a shot from distance from Gareth Bale against the post.

When out of possession, Sevilla switched into a dynamic 5-3-2-system, designed to neutralize any pass of Luka Modric or Toni Kroos, the two central playmakers in the traditional 4-3-3 from Lopetegui. Every time one of those two touched the ball, alarm bells were ringing.

Machín made his preparation with eye for detail. He knew Lopetegui loves to create an overload on one side of the pitch so his team can find space with a quick cross towards the other side, and that Kroos – on the left – and Modrić – on the right – tend to become deep-lying playmakers in those situation. They are playmakers who try to find space between the midfield and the attacking line of the opponent and should be marked.

Athletic Bilbao succeeded in halting this clear strength of Real two weeks ago by using a strong man marking-approach. This inspired Machín. He did not get tempted to use a high press on the central defenders of Madrid.

Instead, he gave Franco Vázquez and Pablo Sarabia the task to shadow Kroos and Modrić. The space that was left open in their backs was covered by central defenders Daniel Carriço and Sergi Gómez, who kept an eye on Marco Asensio and Gareth Bale who often sunk in deep to ask the ball.

The main goal of this approach: gain the ball when Madrid is building up with almost all their players still in an attacking position. Read: it is easier to launch a counter attack from midfield when Madrid’s backs – oh, hey there Marcelo – are way high up the pitch.

Marcelo’s nightmare
The approach of Sevilla turned out to be extremely effective. Not only did Kroos and Modrić drop back deeper and deeper to ask the ball – which made the distance between them and the attacking trio up front too big – the counter-attacks of the hosts were constantly dangerous.

Sevilla won a lot of duels in midfield, regaining possession and then often targeting the Madrilenian left wing where the quick Jesús Navas benefited from the high position of Marcelo, who was only thinking about attacking.

Exactly this led to the first goal for the home team. Marcelo lost possession in midfield by giving away a pass while sprinting forward. Sevilla intercepted, launched Navas in the space behind Marcelo who found Silva in front of goal.

The second goal came after a corner kick for Madrid. Sevilla gained possession, benefited once again from the way too aggressive positioning of Marcelo, launched Navas towards Courtois who pushed the ball in the feet of Silva: 2-0.

Marcelo also played a decisive role in the third goal, losing a duel to Vázquez when Madrid tried to clear a corner kick. Vazquez found Ben Yedder for the finish. With a combined total of ten goals, Silva and Ben Yedder form the most efficient attack of La Liga up to now. Half time could not get there quick enough for Madrid.

Or full time. Halfway, the game was pretty much decided. Lopetegui gave it another shot, however, trying to prove that his first confrontation with a three-man-at-the-back-team this season would not be such a drama after all.
He placed Casemiro between Sergio Ramos and Raphaël Varane, creating his own 3-4-3-system. With three central defenders, Madrid should have to cope easier with Silva and Ben Yedder, while in midfield Kroos and Modrić could operate from the center in a more attacking way. Asensio became a false winger, moving towards the ‘ten’ position more often.

Madrid created a lot more chances from this setup, and the infiltrations of Modrić made Sevilla nervous. The best player of the world – not my words, but those of FIFA – even scored, but the VAR correctly disallowed the goal.

Lopetegui got his hopes up, replacing defensively-minded Nacho with attacker Lucas Vázquez as the right wingback and replaced the tired Modrić for Dani Ceballos. Machín answered with bringing Quincy Promes for Ben Yedder, converting his 5-3-2 in defense into a 5-4-1-system, neutralizing the attacking power of Vazquez. It extinguished the small fire that was still in Madrid’s eleven completely. 3-0 was the final score: in goals and in tactical points for the coaches.

Real Madrid cannot win after their players are crowned as the best of the world. When Cristiano Ronaldo was elected best player of the world last year, the first game after this gala-evening went lost too: 2-1 at Girona.

Sevilla showed that their weak start of the season – only two wins out of five games – was not a reflection of the way they have played so far. Machín showed tactical flexibility against Madrid. He kept his 3-5-2-system in place, but managed to neutralize playmakers Kroos and Modrić with clear player roles and benefited from Madrid’s weak point: the risks that come from a fullback with an all-out attacking spirit when making the transition from defense to attack.

A reality check for Lopetegui that comes just in time. City rival Atlético awaits on Saturday.


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