Ross Eaton writes a detailed tactical analysis about the Europa League game which finished Sevilla 3-1 Shakhtar.
After the possibility of qualification for Europe next season through league position was pretty much confirmed as being impossible following a 1-0 loss away to Espanyol at the weekend, Sevilla’s hopes now rely on their two cup competitions, Copa del Rey and Europa League. Although Sevilla are guaranteed a place in the Europa League qualifiers next season, thanks to reaching the Copa del Rey Final, winning the Europa League would be a massive boost to the club as it would likely propel them straight into the 2016/17 Champions League Group Stage. Financially, winning the completion would be a huge boost to the club, though perhaps more importantly, Sevilla could be the first club to retain Europe’s second competition for three years. It is clear that for the minute, the Europa League is where Sevilla’s priorities lie, as Unai Emery made a huge eleven changes to the starting 11 in the defeat to Espanyol, which suggested that he would go with the same line-up in both legs against Shakhtar.
Shakhtar too, had a difficult contest at the weekend, though the difference being the Ukrainians ran out as 3-0 winners in a chaotic match which ended up in a 25+ man brawl with title rivals Dynamo Kiev, while Sevilla lost. Both sides made significant changes (Shakhtar-8 Sevilla-11) in preparation for the big match on Thursday which would decide who would progress to the Europa League Final.
Unai Emery made a few unexpected alterations to his starting line-up. Sergio Rico dropped to the bench in place of Soria, Tremoulinas came in at left-back following injury while Coke took the place of Konoplyanka. Mariano played at right-back, Adil Rami and Carrico at centre-back, with previously mentioned Tremoulinas at left-back. Krychowiak and N’Zonzi maintained their double-pivot, while the trio ahead of them was Coke, Banega and Vitolo. Up front was in-form Frenchman Kevin Gameiro.
Likewise, Mireal Lucescu made an unexpected change to his line-up as well. In goal was Pyatov. In front of him a back four of Srna, Kucher, Rakitskiy and Ismaily. Like Sevilla, Shakhtar used a double-pivot, of Stepanenko and Malyshev. Ahead of them was an attacking midfield trio of Marlos, Kovalenko and Taison. The unexpected inclusion was the striker, Eduardo, who took Fecundo Ferreyra’s place as 9.
Sevilla’s Man-Orientation and Shakhtar’s Build-Up Frailties
In the opening exchanges, same as Atletico Madrid, Sevilla pressed very high in a 4-2-4. This was likely in a bid to unsettle Donetsk’s back four in possession and make them feel uncomfortable with the ball throughout the match. After around five minutes, the Andalusians began to defend in their standard defensive structure.
Los Rojablancos‘ standard defensive structure was a man-orientated, mid-block 4-4-2. With Shakhtar often forming a 3-4-3/5-2-3 with a very high midfield in build-up. This meant that Sevilla had poor vertical compactness between their first line of pressure and the central midfielders.
With Stepanenko dropping into the first line and Malyshev pushing up, Shakhtar weren’t able to exploit this space in between the lines. Having a player here would have been very effective, as he would often be unchallenged and able to freely dictate the play. Stepanenko should have been instructed not to drop into the first line but instead, remain as a 6 and find lanes past Sevilla’s relatively passive first line of pressure where he could receive the ball and dictate, hopefully penetrating Sevilla.
Another problem with Shakhtar’s build-up stemmed from Sevilla’s effective defensive structure. Coke and Vitolo initially positioned themselves in the half-spaces, inviting a pass to a free full-back who had dropped slightly. As this pass was made, Coke/Vitolo would spring into press near the touchline, using it as an extra defender. This prevented Shakhtar from smoothly advancing through their full-backs, who were usually forced to play useless long balls up the line.
Movement Stretches Backline
Two players who were very impressive over both legs were Kevin Gameiro and Vitolo. Both attacking players for Sevilla caused Shakhtar’s back-four serious problems with their movement.
With Ever Banega making Christian Eriksen-esque dropping movements into positions alongside Krychowiak and N’Zonzi, this vacated the 10 space situationally. In order to provide options for Banega to pass to and penetrate Shakhtar’s lines from deep, Vitolo often made inverted movements into the 10 space, or even alongside Gameiro as a second 9. This created lots of 2v2 situations with Gameiro and Vitolo vs. Rakitskiy and Kucher, where Sevila have qualitative superiority. Vitolo pushing up into number 9 positions allowed Gameiro to peel even wider than he usually does.
Gameiro usually peels into either halfspace in order to exploit small gaps between opposition full-backs and centre-backs. But on the night, Gameiro moved even closer to the right touchline, which massively stretched Shakhtar’s backline. If Gameiro moved so wide that Ismaily marked him, then this left either Coke or Mariano free, as well as extending the gap between Ismaily and Rakitskiy, which a runner from deep, ideally Coke/Mariano, could exploit. If Gameiro moved wide, though Rakitskiy still marked him, this creates a massive gap between Kucher and Rakitskiy which would be very easy to penetrate, allowing the speedy Vitolo to run in behind Shakhtar’s slow defence.
As well as making horizontal movements to stretch Shakhtar’s backline, Gameiro also made intelligent vertical movements to stretch them vertically too. Due to having a pace advantage over Kucher and Rakitskiy, Gameiro was able to time his runs well and decrease the risk of being caught offside. We often saw clipped balls over Shakhtar’s defence by the technically able Carrico and N’Zonzi, as well as frequently from Banega when he dropped deeper. This forced Shakhtar to drop their line by a few metres, which had a negative impact on their vertical compactness, leaving some space between their lines. Although Gameiro wasn’t expected to win every header over the towering Ukrainian centre-halves, he did win the odd one, which he would knock down to Banega, or Vitolo, who would both rush into the space between the lines as the ball was knocked down.
Poor Attacking Structure Leads to Predictability
In the final third, particularly in the first 45 minutes, Shakhtar were very poor in the attacking phase and lacked any sort of threat, bar their goal, which actually came from some nice play. Shakhtar’s poor zonal occupation made penetration difficult , as it allowed Sevilla to defend in an ideal defensive shape. With Shakhtar lacking any wing presence, which I will discuss further in a minute, Sevilla were able to defend in a horizontally compact 4-4-2, which was flexible enough to situationally switch to a 5-3-2. The switch to a five man defensive line was only for a couple of seconds, when Coke or Vitolo would press an advanced full-back about to cross.
Sending Coke/Vitolo out to press opposition full-backs allowed Sevilla’s full-backs to remain within 10 metres of their near centre-back at all times and focus on defending the centre, rather than the wing.
This was only made possible by Shakhtar’s poor zonal occupation. With Darijo Srna’s preference to moving into the half-spaces rather than the wing and Marlos’ tendency to go inside, Shakhtar were left with absolutely no one occupying the right wing usually. Marlos’ moving into the right half-space or 10 space was due to it being vacant. This was because Kovalenko often dropped deep into the number 8 position in an attempt to aid Shakhtar’s poor build-up by carrying the ball from deep, leaving the 10 space vacant situationally. On the left, Ismaily was playing too deep on the wing, preferring to cross early from there rather than more advanced on the wing, where he began to cause problems from after about 40 minutes. Taison, like Marlos, made inverted movements into the situationally vacant centre. Having too many players in the half-spaces and centre, with no one occupying the wings, meant Sevilla’s defensive structure couldn’t be stretched by moving the ball to the wing. Better zonal occupation and positional play would have allowed Shakhtar to circulate the ball onto a wing, which would have caused Sevilla to shift to the ball as a reference point, then as space opens up on the far side, the ball could be switched the the open wing. This is one example of a potential benefit of good wing occupation.
A relatively comfortable 3-1 win for Sevilla sees them become the third Spanish side of the week to reach a European Final, following in the footsteps of Atletico and Real Madrid who will compete for the Champions League Final. Although the second leg wasn’t as entertaining or tactically interesting as the first, it was still a nice game to watch with a few good points from Unai Emery. One small tweak being the more advanced role of Ever Banega in transitions, so he could use his playmaking skills and counterpressing resistance to link with Gameiro on the counter attack.
Emery’s tactical battle with Jurgen Klopp, manager of fellow finalists Liverpool, will be an intriguing one, as both sides are tactically flexible, though tend to stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation, though with variations.
Written by Ross Eaton
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