As the worldwide pandemic put a halt on European football, the Europa League was scheduled to restart in August. This also meant that the legs where the first game wasn’t played, would be decided in one game. This was the case for the encounter between Sevilla and AS Roma. Consequently a game of all or nothing.
This tactical analysis examines the tactics behind this Europa League quarter-final between Sevilla and AS Roma. This analysis will give an insight into the mind of both managers of Sevilla and AS Roma.
Lineups and formations
Both managers will see out their debut seasons at their respective clubs and likely plan for considerable summer transfer business.
Julien Lopetegui started with a 1-4-3-3 before moving to a 1-3-5-2 for the final 15 minutes. Yassine Bounou got the nod in goal as Jesús Navas, Jules Koundé, Diego Carlos and former Real Madrid full-back Sergio Reguilón made up the backline. Fernando started at the pivot with Éver Banega and Joan Jordan just in front of him. Former Ligue 1 attacker Lucas Ocampos and AC Milan forward Suso started out wide with Youssef En-Nesyri as the lone forward.
The most notable absentee in Roma manager Paulo Fonseca’s starting eleven was centre-back Chris Smalling, who sat out of the match with a muscle injury. In the Englishman’s stead, Roger Ibañez started in the middle of the back three/back five defence, with Gianluca Mancini and Aleksandar Kolarov on either side of him. Bruno Peres and Leonardo Spinazzola began as the wing-backs, with Amadou Diawara and Bryan Cristabte between them. Nicola Zaniolo, Edin Džeko and Henrikh Mkhitaryan formed the front three.
Sevilla’s dominant approach
Sevilla started the game with clear attacking intent, possessing the ball 57 per cent during the game, and a clear gameplan to overload the ball side in order to isolate the far side.
In the image below Sevilla create a diamond shape on the right-hand side. Consequently, the Roma defensive block is attracted to this side of the pitch and this isolates the far full-back. The idea behind the diamond shape on the side is not so that they look to overload and progress down that side, but more so to attract the opposition to press and at the right time to switch the play and a create a 1v1 situation on the far side. The stats suggest that Sevilla often tried this tactic to create chances. Sevilla attempted 58 long passes. Most of them weren’t vertical long passes but more lateral long passes. As the concept overload to isolate suggests.
Sevilla’s first goal came from a switch of play. Below follows the second phase after a switch of play. Sevilla would often look to penetrate the full-back/centre-back channel. As a result, the centre-back would follow the penetrating attacker and leave his space in the centre. Which give, in this case, Reguilón space to exploit once he receives the ball. Especially because Peres is coming out rushing to press Reguilón, he can easily get caught out by the Sevilla full-back using his momentum against him.
Thus the priority is to keep the ball, but, the team are also encouraged to exploit space via long balls behind the opposition defence, or via switches of plays in order to find a player in space, attempt to create overloads on the flanks or create space in opposing blocks by making them shift to the other side. If repeated, switches of play can cause excessive lateral movement, fatigue and lead to poor positioning or mistakes which Sevilla could exploit.
Roma’s lack of attacking threat
Fonseca also seemed to emphasise fast counter-attacking play. With Sevilla typically controlling more possession and increasing their press, Roma would be able to exploit potential space among Sevilla’s defensive line. AS Roma utilised this tactic on numerous attacks, but they were lacking a clinical finish.
On their seek for an equaliser, after taking the ball away on a press, Dzeko receives the ball with Koundé in his back. As the defence dropped back, the Sevilla defender stepped forward, leaving space behind him in the compact backline. This created a three versus three situation at the back. And with Reguilón not covering in the backline due to his high attacking position. One could also argue the Reguilón aggressive forward positioning forced Sevilla’s backline to compress themselves toward that side. Carlos especially was inclined throughout much of the match to shift wide to cover the full-backs defensive space.
Below is a map of Sevilla’s possession losses throughout the second half, with the yellow losses indicating a loss that led to an opposing shot. Even with the final third naturally consisting of the majority of losses, the 51% of Inter’s losses taking place in that third indicate considerably high positioning, resulting in space available for the opponent behind them.
Another aspect that increased space behind Sevilla’s defence was their high press. The press started in a 4-4-2 diamond shape. The two wide strikers had to close down the centre)backs whilst cutting of passing lanes to the full-backs. En-Nesyri, on the other hand, had the task to cover shadow the pass to the opposing pivot. Whilst the other midfielders had the job to man-mark dropping players, in the case below Cristante drops but is followed closely thus he can’t turn.
Especially during the second half, Sevilla had more success at winning the ball back higher up the field. As the image below suggests in the first half they tend to win the ball back further back their own goal. During the second half Lopetegui asked his men to press higher when losing the ball. It comes at no surprise that their PPDA changed from 15,2 in the first half to a very low 5,6 in the second half. Indicating their high pressing style of play during the second half.
AS Roma kept this pressing style in mind thus they tried to provoke Sevilla to press them and at the right time play long to exploit the space in behind. The structure they would do this in would be by pushing Manchini up into a full-back role and creating a box between the centre-backs and two pivots. This would create a decisional problem for Sevilla’s second line press in means of them stepping through and covering the receiving pivot or staying to close the passing lanes to players between the lines.
A variant they used was with a back three. Below fast circulation is used to free up the central centre-back. The back three also looks to engage the opposing second line’s press but because of the differing structure, it gives the opposition a headache to differ their pressing system as was the case for Sevilla.
Sevilla prevailed and will play in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Europa League. Lopetegui came to the game with a superbly executed plan. His flank-heavy approach was able to give Roma problems throughout the game. Even better, to score the opening goal of the game.
As Roma’s counter-attacking style didn’t take them over the line which means their season ends here. Wolverhampton Wanderers are waiting for Sevilla in the next round. And surely they will need another great gameplan to beat the Premier League side.