Sevilla struggle but manage to rescue a point against Villarreal

After the freak 6-4 win in their last match against Espanyol, Sevilla were desperate to continue with their winning ways as they travelled to El Madrigal to face Villarreal. In his pre-match interview, Sampaoli said “The idea is to be on the attack against Villarreal and not let them get comfortable.” However,they struggled throughout the whole game and it was the heroics of goalkeeper Sergio Rico which salvaged a point for the visitors.



Issues in buildup lead to lack of chances as well as defensive issues

Sevilla struggled in build up throughout the whole game. This can be attributed to both tactical and technical issues. Villarreal pressed high in the early build up phases of Sevilla. Set up in a 4-4-2 shape defensively, Villarreal’s two forwards looked to press Sevilla’s centrebacks in Niko Pareja and To mother Kolodziejczak as soon as they got the ball. Parejo and Kolodziejczak are not the best ball-playing CBs in world football at the moment. Most of their passes lacked the right speed to disrupt Villarreal’s defensive block. This,combined with the lack of passing angles provided by the Sevilla midfielders, poor spacing between the lines (and good usage of cover shadows by Villarreal) left them hitting hopeful long balls to the front 3 more often than not. N’Zonzi,who was entrusted with the responsibility of dropping between the CBs could not provide satisfactory passing angles to help in smooth progression from the back. This meant that there was a 2 v 2 in that zone(Sevilla’s two CBs versus the two Villarreal forwards pressing them). The only way they could escape the press was to pass the ball back to the Goalkeeper. Sergio Rico,like most reactive keepers today, would then kick it long. Due to a lack of vertical compactness between the midfield and forward lines,more often than not, Sevilla could not benefit from such balls as it meant they lost possession to Villarreal who could launch counter attacks through the centre. 

Sevilla’s spacing issues were also evident in their first game versus Espanyol. In this diagram, the space between N’Zonzi and the other midfielders(and forwards) is too much to ensure a stable progression of the ball from the back. Also the lack of bodies in the centre make them vulnerable to counter attacks as soon as they lose the ball. ( special thanks to @11tegen11 for this diagram. )

These issues forced Sampaoli to use a 3 chain as the game went on. This meant that either the left back or N’Zonzi would drop into the defensive line to ensure a numerical superiority for easy progression of the ball into advanced areas. But, there was a huge disconnect between N’Zonzi(when he was not in the defensive line but ahead of them as the pivot) and the other midfielders. This isolated the former and led to turnovers in dangerous areas. The CBs passed the ball to N’Zonzi in difficult situations at times and this meant that the latter had no option but to dribble his way out. In one such instance, he was dispossessed and a bottom-corner-bound shot resulted which was saved brilliantly by Sergio Rico. This disconnect was one of the reasons why Sevilla looked so vulnerable once they lost the ball. The large distances meant Sevilla did not have enough bodies to defend shots from the ten space (or zone 14).

Lack of good passing angles for Pareja forces him to kick it long. Spacing issues between the Sevilla midfielders and forwards make it difficult to win the second balls making them vulnerable to the counterattack

Sevilla’s issues in possession are clearly summed up by the fact that they could only manage 6 shots throughout the whole game with only one on target. An xG score of 0.1 sums up their story for the night. They had 62% possession which was mainly in their own half between the CBs and GK which meant they could not create chances. Villarreal on the other hand managed 12 shots with 5 being on target and looked more likely to score throughout the whole game. They looked to capitalise on Sevilla’s errors in the build up phase. The xG map clearly reflects Sevilla’s struggles throughout the game. 

The shot locations for Villarreal clearly reflect their strategy. They tried to get shots in as soon as possible after a successful press. (Credits to Michael Michael Caley for supplying this graphic)

Defensive organisation

In defensive phases, Sevilla lined up in a 4-1-3-2 formation. They tried to block central access to the Villarreal midfielders as their centre backs looked to build attacks from the back. They were compact for most part of the game. However at times they looked vulnerable to crosses maybe due to sporadic loss of horizontal compactness between the CBs. This meant that Villarreal forwards could get in between the CBs to win headers. 

Sevilla need to sort out a lot of issues if they are to maintain hopes of a top 4 finish this season. Top priority should be given to how they bring the ball out from the back. Also, Sampaoli needs to ponder about the need for a stable counterpressing structure when in possession. It is mainly in the defensive transition phase that Sevilla look shaky. Once he sorts this out, he can think about other issues to make Sevilla a dominant attacking team which all of us are eagerly waiting for.


Tottenham show promising signs in narrow win over Crystal Palace

Having drawn the first game of the new season, it was important for Mauricio Pochettino’s team to get the 3 points. And it was a late goal from new signing Victor Wanyama that ensured all 3 points for the hosts.


Spurs lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Vorm in goal in the absence of injured Hugo Lloris. Alderweireld and Vertonghen started as CBs with Rose and Walker as fullbacks. Wanyama and Dier were employed as a double pivot. The front 4 comprised of Eriksen,Kane,Lamela and new signing Janssen.

Team lineups..

Build up and chance creation

Spurs during early build up.. Dier and Wanyama in deeper positions to invite the press from Palace midfield to open up space behind them for the likes of Kane and Eriksen to exploit

With Kane playing as a withdrawn striker behind Jansen, Spurs tried to open up the 10 space behind Crystal Palace’s midfield. They tried to do this by deploying both Wanyama and Dier in deep positions in the early stages of their build up. This would invite the press from Crystal Palace’s midfield which will open up acres of space behind their midfield for players like Kane and Eriksen to exploit. Eriksen in particular is a master at evading cover shadows and offering passing angles to Spurs’ playmaking CBs and deep midfielders. For a large portion of the game, the build up focussed mainly on getting the ball into the 10 space. This was done mainly by the deep midfielders in Wanyama and Dier. If they were marked, Alderweireld was the one who mainly took the initiative of getting the ball past Crystal Palace’s midfield line. 

Another notable aspect of Spurs build up was the high position taken up by RB Walker compared to LB Rose in the early stages of build up. This was done because Eriksen had been told to drift towards the centre which would open up space on the right flank. To stabilise the structure,Dier was instructed to occupy the right halfspace in a deeper position in the early stages of build up.

Spurs had more than enough chances to score.. Kane in particular benefitted from his role as a withdrawn striker as he got space to turn and get shots towards goal. However,he lacked the finishing touch to make those chances count. He either shot wide or his efforts were saved by Henessey.

If the centre was congested,Spurs mainly used Walker as an outlet to relieve pressure or create chances.. Walker was intelligent in timing his runs but lacked the final delivery to create good scoring chances. Rose on the other hand, who would stay deep in early build up, attempted to get past the defensive line with diagonal runs from the flank. He had a good shooting chance as he got on the end of a good pass(just before the end of the first half) from Janssen after one such run but failed to capitalise as he was dispossessed.

At times, Dier tried to pick out early runs of Kane with lofted balls above the Palace defense. Kane headed wide from a delightful Dier lob in the second half. 

Eriksen also looked far from his best as he misplaced some crucial passes in the final third. The talented Dane got on the end of many passes behind the Palace midfield but failed to exert his usual influence. It was the final ball which was lacking from him.He was substituted late in the second half by Alli who almost made an instant impact with a through ball that sent Janssen one on one with the keeper. Janssen unfortunately shot wide.

The Poch press

 Continuing the good work from last season,Spurs were impressive in their counterpressing which led to relentless waves of attack. Pochettino firmly believes in a high pressing game. This was bolstered by new signing Vincent Janssen from Dutch club AZ Alkmaar. Janssen was impressive in pressing Crystal Palace’s back line. He was helped by the high line employed by Spurs which restricted the space for Palace to play between the lines. As a result,Palace could not build up play through the thirds and more often than not had to play a long hopeful ball for their wingers Zaha and Townsend to run into. This did not work for Palace as it led to gifting away of possession to Spurs who could then initiate another attack. 

However as the game went on,the pressing intensity dwindled a little which led to some chances on the break for Palace. Because of the reduced intensity,spaces opened up in Spurs structure due to a lack of vertical compactness which gave away some chances to Crystal Palace. Cabaye missed a glorious chance to put them ahead after some good work by former Spurs man Townsend on the wing. 

However relentless waves of Spurs attacking ultimately paid dividends as Wanyama finally headed home to score on his home debut to ensure all 3 points for the hosts.

Pochettino will be pleased with Spurs performance especially with the build up. However his team need to be clinical in their finishing to launch a serious challenge to the title. Kane in particular looked rusty in his finishing. Eriksen also needs to find his form because almost all the Spurs attacking plays in the final third run through him. It’s still early days though and Spurs can only improve as the season progresses. 


Manchester United show glimpses of the Sir Alex Ferguson years against Southampton 

It was Jose Mourinho’s first Premier League game at Old Trafford as manager of Manchester United. His intentions were made clear as he named Paul Pogba in his starting lineup.. United set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Blind and Bailly at the heart of defense;Fellaini and Pogba sitting in front of the back 4 with Pogba given the license to make runs from deep while Fellaini had to shield the backline;wide midfielders Mata and Martial;Rooney in the number 10 role just behind in-form striker Zlatan Ibrahimović. Southampton set up in a 4-4-2 diamond formation with Fonte and Dijk as the CBs;two attacking fullbacks in Cedric and Targett;Romeo just at the base of the diamond midfield with Højberg and Davis in front of him and Tadic as the number 10 with Long and Redmond up front.

Man United in possession

 Contrary to popular belief, Jose Mourinho has retained most aspects of Louis van Gaal’s system. In possession,United tried to overload the left side of the pitch to maximise the ball playing attributes of Daley Blind. The Dutchman is one of the best defenders right now in breaking opposition lines with his passes. Southampton tried to block Blind’s passing options with their cover shadows. Moreover the Southampton block had to shift over to the left side to prevent the likes of Pogba,Martial,Rooney and Ibrahimović from scoring through local combinations on that side. Because of this shifting,there was acres of space for Valencia on the underloaded right side of the pitch. Man United often looked to exploit this underloaded side by finding right back Antonio Valencia with diagonal passes. Upon receiving,Valencia was seen to choose either one of two options.. Firstly,he could use his pace to drive into the space in front of him and deliver crosses to Zlatan and the others who would attack the cross.. Secondly,if Valencia was closed down early,he opted to pick out either Juan Mata or Wayne Rooney one of whom will make a diagonal run to the flank. On receiving,they had an array of options to choose from. One of those options was to put crosses into the box for Zlatan.. Zlatan because of his strength wins more headers than is expected from any other striker. Thus,it was not much of a surprise to see United resorting to their old school tactics of putting crosses into the box. Eventually,it was one Wayne Rooney cross which Zlatan thumped home to give the hosts the lead.

Man United resolute defensive structure

Manchester United lined up in a deep 4-4-1-1 block for majority of the game. They were more than happy to let Southampton have the ball. It was interesting to see the wingers lying deep in their half to help the fullbacks. Juan Mata and Anthony Martial worked their socks off throughout the game to block the supply of crosses into the box. It was thus no surprise to see both of them being subbed off in the later stages of the game.Because of their deep positions,United were almost always well equipped defensively as there was a 2 versus 1 situation on the flanks in their favour. 

However this tactic suffers from some drawbacks.. Because of the deep and wide positions of the wingers,the halfspaces become available to the opposition.. These halfspaces are strategically one of the most important spaces on the football field as they are connected to the wing as well as the centre.. As a result,different avenues of attack become available via the halfspaces. Southampton unfortunately failed to utilise these halfspaces well. There was a lack of ‘dropping movements’ from Southampton’s forward line. This reduced the number of vertical passing options for Saints’ deep lying playmakers and the CBs. Also,it led to a sterile U shaped passing pattern for the Saints without any real penetration. The few chances they had during the game were mainly as a result of individual errors from United which led to quick transitions. Long should have scored on one of those occasions but hit it straight at De Gea.

Glimpses of oldschool United

United showed glimpses of the Sir Alex Ferguson years throughout the game. In Sir Alex Ferguson years, it was common to see United defend ruthlessly and hurt teams with swift counter attacks. Many such counter attacks were seen. Immediately after winning possession,United looked to release Martial as quickly as possible. The French forward could have easily had two goals had it not been for some brilliant defending by reported Man United target Jose Fonte. The arrival of Mkhitaryan for Mata provided another outlet for Manchester United to launch counter attacks. The Armenian,who had a stellar campaign last season for German club BvB is another player who excels in attacking transitions. His quick feet and direct play in the final third posed problems for the Saints as the latter were chasing the game late on.

Perhaps the most important factor for last night’s win was the influence of Paul Pogba. Manchester United paid big money for his services and he already showed signs of what he is capable of. He is one of the most complete midfielders today. He can dribble,pass,shoot,score from distance. United have been lacking such dynamism in midfield for some years now which explains why Jose Mourinho was so keen on getting him despite the high price Juventus were demanding for him. His dynamism have a sense of direction to United’s attacks after they won the ball in their own half. 


 With 6 points from two games, the Old Trafford faithful are starting to feel optimistic about their title credentials this season. However,apart from the big 5-6 teams in the league right now,the main challenges will come in the form of teams like West Bromwich Albion,Stoke City and those teams which defend deep. It is against such teams where Jose may well have to borrow Louis van Gaal’s system and finetune it to grind out 3 points from such fixtures. Overall the defensive setup is looking stronger after every game. With proper tactical discipline,this team may well be on the glory road sooner than anyone ever imagined.

Note: Sorry not to include any diagrams. I currently do not have any app to help me make tactical diagrams.. Regret the inconvenience caused.