Sevilla – Barcelona: Sevilla Sink Deeper Into A Crisis of Confidence (0-3)
Once worthy of an even joust with their guests, Sevilla have now plummeted. The peak of Julen Lopetegui’s reign is a distant memory. His men took the fight to their opponents on home turf but had fallen apart by the final whistle. Is this loss only accelerating an inevitable departure?
Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.
More than a club, Barcelona is a sanctuary for occultic forces. Only the magic does not just lie in the masterful feet of the players on the pitch. It has now been transferred to the board room, home to the inner workings of a summer transfer window for the ages. Years of mismanagement have not crippled the Catalans, whose financial levers have funded more than 150 million euros in talent. Xavi returned as a legend of the past, but he must satiate the Blaugrana’s craving for more silverware in the present.
On the other hand, Sevilla have not snapped out of a slump troubling them since the outset of the new year. The Andalusians were once on the coattails of Real Madrid in the race to the summit in LaLiga but ended up fighting to hold onto their top four status by the end of May. The exits of Jules Koundé and Diego Carlos have further stalled their plans, contributing to a winless start in their opening three league fixtures. Befitting his outfit’s oft ponderous offense, Julen Lopetegui is going nowhere fast.
Xavi still has to figure out what collection of players best suit his plans. Marcos Alonso and Hector Bellerín have added to his options in the fullback spots. But after a 4-0 win over Real Valladolid, he chose the same side. So, Álex Balde, a product of La Masia, stayed on the left of the back four, and Koundé faced his old club for the first time from the right flank. Frenkie de Jong remains behind Pedri and Gavi in the pecking order, while Robert Lewandowski looked to rack up his goal count upfront.
Lopetegui was more liberal in his rotation policy. He brought six men into the starting eleven ahead of the visit of Manchester City in three days. Fernando filled in at the heart of the defense to the right of Tanguy Nianzou, one of Sevilla’s latest recruits. Operating in his place at the base of the midfield was Nemanja Gudelj, and Ivan Rakitić came back into the fold to captain the team against his old club. Ahead of them was another summer signing Isco who featured at the expense of Papu Gómez.
Sevilla switch up their system
This fixture pitted together the two most ball dominant outfits in LaLiga. Though the home team are without a victory, only they can boast a higher share of possession than Barcelona from their matches last month. So, both sides had to compete to impose their control over affairs in a typical game state.
The first quarter of an hour was a test for Xavi’s men. Perhaps, the organization of the hosts caught them off guard. They chose not to press from their usual 4-2-3-1 scheme, moving to a 4-4-2 diamond structure. At the tip of the quartet in the middle of the park was Isco, who marked Sergio Busquets. Nianzou tended to advance from the back four early in these sequences. He stood near Gudelj to keep Gavi and Pedri under cover, freeing the central midfielders to shadow passes to Barcelona’s fullbacks.
Goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen ended up as a free man. He was able to use the space and time Sevilla’s defense afforded him to look for longer passes and stress the backline. Pedri also quickly developed a greater radius of movement than Gavi, seeking to offer more constructive means to build up the play from the back. But while Busquets was out of the game, openings and control were sparse.
12th minute: pressing sequence from Sevilla. Joan Jordán edged towards Koundé, encouraging Ronald Araújo to pass the ball back to ter Stegen. Gudelj follows Pedri, so all of the goalkeeper’s options are under coverage. He switches the play to the right back, whom Jordán drops to isolate.
Barcelona’s block prone to manipulation
Barcelona were equally unafraid to press from the front and confront Sevilla’s buildup. They tended to operate in a man-oriented 4-4-2 block. Gavi moved out from the midfield to support Lewandowski. Busquets and Pedri then moved between the various options in the middle of the park, and Raphinha routinely dropped to cover the ball far central midfielder if the ball were on the other flank.
It is a standard scheme for this outfit that is not short of its pitfalls. Loss of access to the wings let Marcos Acuña initiate many progressions from deep on the left flank through more direct balls down the line or with interplay to target the gaps around Busquets. Isco’s central positioning frequently dragged the midfielder out of position while Érik Lamela and Rakitić found pockets of space.
4th minute: offensive sequence from Sevilla. Nianzou steps away from Gavi, then switches the play to Acuña. The man-oriented defending in the back four forces the rest of the midfield to hold back. The left back then chips the ball to En-Nesyri into the gap between the central defenders that Isco vacates.
Barcelona’s brutal goal threat cannot be stopped
Adding to these issues was Isco’s worth as an extra presence in winning loose balls. But two can tango in a clash of transitions. Gavi matched Sevilla’s grit in the tackle, setting up a ruthless counterattack. Dembélé galloped up the middle of the pitch, then squared the ball to Lewandowski on his left. The striker’s dink drifted over the head of goalkeeper Bono to the goalline, where Fernando hooked away his effort. To the misfortune of the Andalusians, Raphinha was there to nod home the rebound.
In the 36th minute, the guests doubled their lead. Koundé dropped off towards the halfway line to support Araújo. The right back cut away from En-Nesyri, then caught sight of Lewandowski and clipped a raking aerial pass into the path of his teammate. The striker casually chested the ball before slotting home to the right of Bono. A stream of efforts began to flow at this stage of the contest.
Lewandowski is the best striker in the world pic.twitter.com/3iGSC17row— . (@Z6Pcvxked_) September 3, 2022
Raphinha, Koundé, and Lewandowski all spurned chances to add to Barcelona’s tally before the break. As their visitors spent more time on the ball, Sevilla adopted a tight 4-3-3 medium block. Isco mainly stayed centrally, Lamela defended in the halfspace, and En-Nesyri dropped off much further to block any advances from Koundé. Under duress to enforce turnovers, it was inconsistent tracking of halfspace runs that kept hurting the back four. Lopetegui was staring another defeat square in the face.
32nd minute: offensive sequence from Barcelona. Araújo’s dribble and lateral pass provoke pressure. García breaks the lines to find Busquets, triggering a deep run from Raphinha off the back of Acuña.
Game, set, match
Within five minutes of the restart, Xavi’s men had dashed hopes of an Andalusian turnaround. A sharp progression via a buildup sequence earned them a corner. Dembélé worked the angle for a delivery from Raphinha, whose wicked cross found Koundé at the far post. Eric García, straying into the six yard box, was the grateful recipient of his header, bagging his first goal for the Catalans with ease.
Xavi took the opportunity to bring on men from the bench. García came off for Sergi Roberto, forcing Koundé to move to the left of Araújo in the central defense. Pedri also left the pitch, letting de Jong add stability to the affair. Indeed, Sevilla did not throw in the towel, compelling ter Stegen to show his class between the posts. Their endeavor was admirable, but it was too little for a consolation goal.
A shellacking for Sevilla.
It is clear why Lopetegui nearly called time on his tenure in Sevilla at the end of the last campaign. Even at their peak, his outfit were stagnant in the final third, relying on a sturdy defense and patient possession to pave the way to success. Within the last few months, free flowing football has not offset their waning stability, nor has the work in the board room over the summer been able to freshen up the squad. The signs are alarming for the manager, only out of the bottom three on goal difference.
It is more of the same from Barcelona. Xavi has not yet taught his students to control games with possession. Nor have they ironed out the weaknesses of a faulty defensive approach from the last campaign. Instead, the quality of Catalan reared talents, prominently Gavi in this match, and the array of new signings can blitz many clubs in a league that struggles to counter intensity in transition. The Group of Death will be a sterner test in Europe, but LaLiga will be an arena for more trial and error.
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