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.
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).
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.
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.