Granada – Sevilla: In A Close Game, Joan Jordan Leads Sevilla Through A Tough Granada Press (0-1)

In a fun game between two Andalusian teams, Granada dominated the first half through their intense and well-organized pressing game, which disrupted Sevilla’s buildup attempts. In the second half, as Granada tired out from the pressing, Sevilla were allowed to pass the ball around more easily, as they started to exploit the spaces behind Granada’s midfield, all led by an outstanding Joan Jordán.

Tactical analysis and match report by José Pérez.


Considering their tactics and recruitment over the summer, Granada seem well prepared to fight for their place in LaLiga this year. As expected from a newly promoted team, Granada renewed their squad with more (and more experienced) talent. In defense, Domingos Duarte (signed from Sporting CP) will become the team’s new defensive leader. In midfield, Yan Brice Eteki (Sevilla) and Yángel Herrera (Manchester City) will fight for a spot in the double pivot, 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. while the club managed to buy last season’s loanee Fede Vico (Leganés). Up front, Darwin Machís (Udinese) reinforces the winger positions while a veteran Roberto Soldado (Fenerbahçe) will become the focal point of Granada’s attack. 

Despite starting LaLiga with a spectacular 4-4 draw against Villarreal, Granada have actually been characterized by being a tough, well-organized defense that is utterly painful to play against. Young coach Diego Martínez usually lines up his men in 4-2-3-1 shape on the ball, which takes on a 4-4-2 shape for defense and pressing. Granada are flexible in their attacking mechanisms: the team will do their best to play out from the back through short passing, but if opponents try to prevent that, they have no qualms about sending it long to the strikers.

Not too far away from the beautiful city of Granada, Sevilla also saw a very active summer in the transfer market. Monchi has returned as sporting director and oversaw a complete squad rebuild (ten signings!) to adjust to the possession-and-pressing 4-3-3 of incoming coach Julen Lopetegui. 

In defense, Diego Carlos (Nantes) and Jules Koundé (Bordeaux) provide a much-needed improvement in central defense, while loanee Sergio Reguilón (Real Madrid) will fight for the left back position with Sergio Escudero. In midfield, it seems that holding midfielder Fernando Reges (Galatasaray) and the spectacular all-rounder Joan Jordán (Eibar) will accompany Éver Banega and become the team’s midfield trio, with Óliver Torres (Porto) as a talented rotation option. Up front, Sevilla were tasked with replacing the departed Wissam Ben Yedder and Pablo Sarabia, their most talented attackers. To do this, the incoming Rony Lopes (AS Monaco) and Luis Ocampos (Olympique Marseille) will play on the wings while Luuk de Jong (PSV) and Munas Dabbur (RB Salzburg) will fight for the striker spot.


Granada’s pressing forces Sevilla to go direct

With no big surprises, Granada chose to line up with their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. The goal of Rui Silva was defended by Duarte and Germán Sánchez, with Victor Díaz and Quini as fullbacks. Midfield featured a double pivot of Brice and Ángel Montoro, with Fede Vico playing ahead of them as number ten. On the left and right wings, respectively, played Álvaro Vadillo and Antonio Puertas, who accompanied lone striker Roberto Soldado. 

On the other hand, Sevilla lined up with the same 4-3-3 as last week, with Éver Banega returning to the starting lineup instead of Óliver Torres. Thus, in front of keeper Tomáš Vaclík lay a defensive line with Diego Carlos and Daniel Carriço in the center and Sergio Reguilón and Jesus Navas as left and right backs. Midfield featured the Fernando-Banega-Jordan trio we mentioned earlier, while up front, Ocampos and Nolito played on the wings besides striker de Jong. Reguilón had to be subbed early in the game (after twenty minutes) for Escudero due to a concussion.


Sevilla’s 4-3-3 buildup structure against Granada’s 4-4-2 pressing block. Notice how holding midfielder Fernando is caged among Granada players.


Throughout the first half, Sevilla produced no shots in the box from open play, with their only two shots in the box coming from set pieces. Sevilla’s poor shot production resulted from Granada’s well-organized pressing, which successfully disrupted Sevilla’s underdeveloped buildup mechanisms. The pressing got more intense as the first half went on.

Manager Martínez and his Granada players understood that they needed to prevent the ball from reaching Sevilla’s midfield directors, Jordán and Banega. And so, they prepared a similar pressing strategy to the one used by Athletic Bilbao last week against Barcelona. Just like Athletic, Granada prepared a pressing cage for their opponent’s holding midfielder, effectively blocking all passing lanes to and from Sevilla’s Fernando.

Pressing in a 4-4-2 shape, Fede Vico and Soldado would usually be in charge of blocking the passing lanes from central defenders to Fernando, while wingers Vadillo and Puertas would press the Sevilla fullbacks and also cut their passing lanes to midfield. Meanwhile, double pivot midfielders Montoro and Brice would aggressively push up to cut the passing lanes from Fernando to Banega and Jordan. And if the Sevilla playmaker pair tried to drop deeper to receive the ball from Fernando, Montoro and Brice would follow them. 

To deal with Granada’s press, it seemed that Lopetegui had, for the most part, instructed his defenders to play long to the forwards. Sevilla’s excessive use of long balls throughout the first half played right into what Granada wanted: a physical game with short possessions, directness and tons of individual duels. While striker Luuk de Jong managed to win many aerial duels (six in the first half), Sevilla rarely won the second balls against Granada’s defense and midfield. 



The rare occasions in which Sevilla managed to create longer possessions in opposition territory, they moved the ball quickly enough, especially through Jordán’s outstanding cross-field diagonal passes. These long passes would often disorder the Granada defense, forcing them to quickly move from one side of the pitch to the other. That being said, even if Jordan and Banega created spaces for their fullbacks and wingers, rarely could the slow and outnumbered de Jong beat the Granada defenders, who cleared the incoming crosses.


Granada’s mechanisms on the ball: sometimes direct, sometimes short passing

Sevilla awaited Granada with their own press, less coordinated than Granada’s and often in a 4-3-3 shape. Ocampos, de Jong and Nolito would alternate their pressing of the Granada central defenders, with de Jong and Banega taking care of Granada’s double pivot midfielders. Meanwhile, Sevilla fullbacks would press the Granada fullbacks, who often took more advanced positions during Granada’s buildup.

Sevilla’s pressing also forced Granada to use long balls often, but Soldado and Vico are no Luuk de Jong, and they lost a lot of their aerial duels against Sevilla defenders. Long balls behind the Sevilla defense, towards wingers Vadillo and Puertas, did not do much better. Ultimately, Granada’s best chances often came through their pressing, managing to recover the ball in Sevilla’s half and creating quick passing combinations on the wings as Sevilla scrambled back into their defensive shape. The left side of Granada’s attack with Quini, Vadillo and Vico executed these passing combos quite well throughout the first half. 



The Granada trade-off: press more, concede higher quality chances

The beginning of the second half reminded us of the drawbacks of Granada’s pressing approach. A strong pressing game can disrupt an opponent’s possession game and minimize their shot volume. However, with so many players pushing forward to press, the opponent can create high quality chances if they manage to beat the press and take advantage of the huge spaces behind the pressing lines. This is exactly what Sevilla did.

In the 52nd minute, right after an aerial duel, defender Carriço managed to slip a pass to Nolito behind Granada’s pressing lines. As Nolito held up the ball, Jordan rushed forward to attack the space behind Granada’s midfield and then delivered a through ball that put de Jong right in front of the keeper. The striker was tackled by Granada defenders before shooting, but Jordan picked up the second ball and finished the job.

The minutes that followed this goal were probably Sevilla’s best in the game. Granada’s pressing compactness and coordination had decreased, so Fernando had time to turn and get passes to Jordan and Banega. Jordan continued sending cross-field passes to fullbacks and wingers, which helped Sevilla quickly moved the ball forward and get to the final third. The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. It was clear that Granada had to change something.


Granada makes substitutions but Sevilla successfully defend the result

Coach Martínez quickly moved around his bench, with both Carlos Fernández and Darwin Machís replacing Fede Vico and Vadillo at the 60th minute. Right after these substitutions, Granda had a ten-to-fifteen-minute phase of dominance, pushing Sevilla into their own half. This is when we started seeing more of Granada’s possession mechanisms, with midfielders and strikers drifting to the half spaces promoting more passing combinations with fullbacks and wingers. 



However, Sevilla had already shut themselves into a tight 4-5-1 block, with Lopetegui substituting Banega for the more defensive Nemanja Gudelj in the 64th minute. Sevilla closed off access to the central lanes and forced Granada to play mostly on the wings, with crosses and set pieces being their only way to access the box. And Sevilla had the perfect antidote to these crosses: central defender Diego Carlos, who dominated in the air throughout the second half (five clearances). Thanks to his defensive leadership, Sevilla’s defense cleared the incoming threats. Granada outshot Sevilla seven to four throughout the second half, but none of those shots were on target thanks to Sevilla’s defensive efforts.

That being said, Sevilla did more than just defending. In the final fifteen minutes of the game, they had most of possession, passing the ball around an increasingly tired and uncoordinated Granada defense and exploiting the spaces behind their increasingly less compact pressing. Once again, Sevilla’s struggles in the final third prevented them from turning this midfield dominance into goals, but it gave them a relatively calm end to the game.


Takeaways

Despite the loss and them burning out physically towards the end of the game, Granada have demonstrated that they have the tactics, players and mentality to compete in first division. Their physicality and pressing game can put any opponent in trouble, even if they – understandably – cannot maintain that intensity for ninety minutes. Besides, they showed that they have enough attacking options on the bench to change the tide of games during second halves.

As for Sevilla, their buildup mechanisms are still a work in progress, as shown by their excessive use of long balls in this game. Their forward line still seems to lack a bit of punch and effectiveness to score the necessary chances, which hopefully can improve as Munas Dabbur and Rony Lopes start getting some minutes. Fortunately for Sevilla, Joan Jordán is one of the most complete midfielders in La Liga, a player who can provide both ball progression and goals-assists. His contributions in this game were vital to compensate Sevilla’s defects and achieve victory.


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Jose Perez (27) 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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