Raghunandhanan Narasimhan writes a detailed tactical analysis on the La Liga game that ended Atletico Madrid 3-1 Sevilla.
The mood could not have been more contrasting as it was 3rd versus 4th in the La Liga as Atletico welcomed Sevilla to the Calderon. Atletico progressed to the quarter finals of the Champions League after seeing out Bayer Leverkusen while Sevilla were shocked by an inspired Leicester side. Seviila have been faltering at a wrong time and would have wanted to avoid defeat in order to stay well clear of Atletico in third place. Diego Simeone’s men have endured a subdued season but have had a good run of results recently in order to revive their season and also look to overtake Sevilla in the La Liga table.
Atletico Madrid (4-4-2): Oblak; Vrsaljko (Juanfran 2), Savic, Godin, Luis; Koke, Gabi, Saul, Carrasco (Gaitan 83); Griezmann, Gameiro (Torres 63).
Sevilla (5-4-1): Rico; Mariano, Mercado, Rami, Lenglet (Jovetic 46), Escudero; Sarabia (Iborra 64), Nasri, Nzonzi, Vitolo; Ben Yedder (Correa 64).
Atletico Madrid’s high intense mid block
Sevilla have garnered a reputation this season under Sampaoli for playing a free flowing and dynamic game with their build up key to this. Atletico focused on limiting Sevilla’s build up play through the center by pressing them in the midfield with high intensity. This was mainly done by covering Nzonzi so that he could not influence play much. The pressing was sparse in Sevilla’s first line of build up with Griezmann and Gameiro not pressing the ball carrier. Instead they chose to press the first pass from Adil Rami, who happened to be the central defender in the back chain of three. If Rami looked to progress with the ball, Griezmann or Gamiero moved forward to press him in a curved run so as to direct play towards the wings. This way, the passing lane to Nzonzi was blocked and the play was almost surely directed towards the wings. The ball far striker would make sure that the far side defender could not receive the pass and switch play. This was key in making sure that the compact nature of Atletico’s set up was not exposed.
The aggressive nature of the pressing from Atletico and especially from their midfield bank of four meant that Sevilla were forced to play the ball long and this could ensue in turnovers of possession. The positioning of Griezmann and Gamiero was high when the ball was in the midfield ensuring that the ball could not be played back to keep hold of possession. With Carrasco and Koke helping out to press Mariano and Sarabia, the wing backs could not offer effective passing options so as to play through the press.
We can notice here that there is no pressure on the back line with the two forwards acting in tandem to close down the passing lanes in midfield. Gabi moves to Nzonzi as Griezmann is ready to move forward to orient the play towards the wings so that Atletico can collectively press to force a turnover.
Sevilla’s high press stifles Atletico
With two extremely quality sides who are tactically adept at high intense pressing actions, it was no surprise to see Sevilla press Atletico and look to win the ball back as soon as possible. Typical of a Jorge Sampaoli side, Sevilla moved up to press in a man oriented manner and did so in a 5-4-1 base shape with Nasri up top and Ben Yedder and Vitolo flanking him in behind. Here too, Sevilla looked to block the passing options and left the ball carrying Godin and Savic free. They looked to encourage them to move forward and play the ball long by covering the rest of the passing options. Nzonzi and Escudero were tasked with closing down Gabi and Saul while the wide forwards closed down the full backs.
With all the passing options in midfield being covered, Sevilla look to encourage a mistake from Savic to dribble before being eventually pressed by Nasri(circled) to play a long ball.
Sampaoli tweaks formation to gain control
Having gone a goal down to Godin’s header, Sampaoli had to make changes in order for his side to find a way through the intensity shown from Atletico. Jovetic came on in for Lengelet as Sevilla shifted to a 4-2-2-2. The key factor that was missing in the first half was the minimal involvement of Samir Nasri in the build up along with Nzonzi, which has been a major way of how they have been playing this season. With a back four now, the two center backs spread out wide and Nasri dropped deep in the left half space to help out Nzonzi.
With Griezmann and Gameiro still focused on closing Nzonzi down, Nasri is able to receive a pass in the left half space with no pressure on him. This led to Sevilla having more stability in their build up.
With the left half space occupied by the Sevilla players, they looked to start play on that side and eventually shift it to the right flank, usually to Mariano who was positioned high on that side. The lopsided positioning of both the full backs was precisely for this reason as Escudero was in line with the defense whereas Mariano was high up on the right. Nzonzi was still closely watched by the two forwards who stayed narrow to block the passing lanes to him which left Nasri free to orchestrate the proceedings. The one goal lead gave Atletico the cushion to sit back and let Sevilla dictate the play. This gave them the opportunity to break forward with pace using the likes of Gameiro and Griezmann to exploit the spaces.
The formation tweak helped Sevilla gain a foothold in their build up play as Atletico offered little pressure in the initial phases of build up. This mean that the midfield was still crowded out and Sevilla could not generate much penetration through the center. With both Nzonzi and Nasri looking to initiate play from the base, only Mariano on the far side could be used as an outlet while the remaining passing options were cut off by the Atletico midfield. Consequently, passes to Vitolo were still scarce as Jovetic and Ben Yedder could not drop off enough to sustain play in the midfield. If the switches in play were through long balls, Atletico were intense enough to cover ground quickly to shift to the side and stay compact in the process.
Atletico use Koke and Griezmann to combine play
Trying to play on the counter and swiftly move forward, the movements of Koke and Griezmann were crucial in moving vertically. In such instances where Koke could bring the ball forward through the left half space, Gameiro and Griezmann were positioned in close proximity to draw defenders out and break the lines with lay off passes.
With the shift to the back four, it was also difficult for Sevilla to deal with overloads on the left side when Filipe Luis was involved. His high work rate meant that Koke could use his positioning on the wide areas as a decoy to move infield and combine with Saul and Griezmann. Griezmann’s free kick almost killed the tie off as Sevilla tried to move forward in urgency but still could not muster enough penetration to trouble Atletico.
With Nzonzi being dragged away by Griezmann and Koke moving forward to occupy the space, Griezmann can release Koke with a lay off. The defense is unsettled and quick interchanges provide Atletico with a chance to score.
The defeat makes it four games without a win for Sevilla across all competitions as Sampaoli is enduring his most barren run after taking over at the club. The match was a potential six pointer as Sevilla could have moved eight points clear off Atletico had the result gone the other way around but it was not to be so. Atletico were brilliant on the night with their intensity but the score line might be a little harsh on Sevilla as they conceded two goals via set pieces due to the individual brilliance of Antoine Griezmann.
Read all our tactical analyses here