Rarely you see such a different two halves of football match as it was in La Liga match between Sevilla and Barcelona on Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán Stadium. The way Sevilla was playing the first half was indeed impressive as Barcelona struggled to get on the ball and establish authority they are used to. A small but significant change made in half time turned the game around. Before we get to that we should respect Jorge Sampaoli’s side and see how they managed to minimize the Barcelona’s threat and go ahead.
Lot of teams try but rarely one can succeed pressing highly skill full defensive line of Catalan club. Sevilla employed very high pressing, and although Barcelona managed to escape it at times, they couldn’t do it consistently enough to get into their rhyth
DENYING BARCELONA POSSESSION
In the first half Barcelona had only 47 per cent of the ball. Above you can see why. While Sevilla was largely defending in 4-4-2 shape, with Vazquez stepping up from midfield to join Vietto, the whole team was very high preventing the goal keeper distribution. Sevilla made sure to close down the centre of the pitch as you can see above where Vietto, Vazquez, N’Zonzi, Nasri and Sarabia guarded the three central players. Additionally, Vietto was keeping an eye on central defender while Sarabia took care of his full back.
As central trio Busquets, Rakitić and Denis Suarez were locked out, Barcelona was forced to play down the flanks. As hosts kept defensive line very high, Barcelona found it difficult to transition to middle and offensive third in an organized manner.
Where Sevilla really excelled wasn’t the defensive phase of the match but once they were in possession. Sampaoli took a deliberate gamble attacking with his left back who was most of the time very high up the pitch.
This allowed Vitolo to occupy rather central position during most of the match and play in line with attacking midfielder Vazquez and more advanced Vietto. Alongside Sarabia, those three were most dangerous players during the first half. The key for their space and time on the ball was, however, Escudero. He occupied Sergio Roberto and Rakitić leaving Vitolo, Vietto, Nasri and Vazquez to deal only with Busquets, Daniel Suarez and center backs. This often created overloads in small spaces and deeper in the Barcelona half it was even more dangerous due to lack of defensive work from Messi and Suarez. Sampaoli took a gamble there as advanced positioning of his left full back meant opposition right winger was allowed more space in case of quick counter attack.
While Sevilla looked really good in first half and managed to get into the box almost at will, all of that changed during the period and essentially made it possible for Barcelona to win the game.
Catalans came into the match with an idea to exploit left side and overloaded the central area together with left half space.
Above you can see typical Barcelona during the first half. Luis Enrique decides to keep Lionel Messi in an attacking midfielder slot while in possession which overloads the left side of the offensive third. He was probably counting on exploiting Mariano’s attacking mentality but we have seen before that it was actually Escudero who was higher up the pitch mostly. Additionally, when pushed back deeper into their half, Sevilla would transform into 4-1-4-1 shape and there were always N’Zonzi or Nasri available to close down Messi who was in central area. Whatever the reasons behind Enrique’s thinking, overloading the left side wasn’t really producing the performance he was hoping for. It was even unfortunate choice as it meant that Escudero could venture forward even more without a threat of leaving Messi in the space behind him.
THE CHANGE IN SECOND HALF
Above you see the comparison of Messi’s positioning during the first (left) and second (right) half. Enrique abandoned his approach from first half and brought Messi back to right flank for the rest of the match and this made all the difference in the end. Although he scored in first half, Messi and Barcelona played much better after the half time.
To complete the picture, you can see another diagram above representing Barcelona attacking lanes during the game. It is obvious Barcelona spent the same amount of time in the central area during both halves. However, their wing play changed significantly. In first half they almost abandoned the right wing leaving it exclusively to Suarez and Sergio Roberto. Displacing Messi wide in second half meant more time on that part of the pitch and even more time on the ball for Messi. While he had only 25 touches in the first part of the match, the shift to right wing meant also he touched the ball 42 times, almost doubling his time on the ball.
In conclusion, Sevilla played great half and a lot of credit goes to them. However, by placing Messi centrally Enrique played into their hands allowing Escudero to create more space for Vitolo. At the same time, having a strong defensive midfielder in N’Zonzi made it difficult for Argentinian to find space in well placed Sevilla defence. Credit goes to Luis Enrique for realizing the problem and solving it as well.