La Liga round 31 match between Villarreal and Sevilla was a key match in deciding next season’s European spots. Going into the COVID-19 break with a string of disappointing results, Villarreal has come back strongly since the return with three straight 1-0 victories. Meanwhile, Sevilla’s morale was boosted after an impressive draw against Catalan giants Barcelona. A win was what both sides were looking for.
Villarreal (4-4-2): Sergio Asenjo; Alberto Moreno, Pau Torres, Raúl Albiol, Mario Gaspar; A. Zambo Anguissa, Vícente Iborra, Samuel Chukwueze; Paco Alcácer, Gerard Moreno.
Sevilla (4-3-3): Tomáš Vaclík; Sergio Escudero, Diego Carlos, Sergi Gómez, Jules Koundé; Éver Banega, Fernando, Joan Jordán; Rony Lopes, Youssef En-Neysri, Suso.
Villarreal in possession
Villarreal used a 4-2-3-1 in possession. They tried to build from the back, with the back four helped by Iborra and Anguissa. Sevilla set up in a conservative 5-4-1/4-1-4-1, depending on Fernando’s positioning. There were many instances where Fernando sat in between the centre-backs. In the first half, they didn’t press high. En-Neysri’s positioning was rather static, while the midfield four didn’t push up aggressively to confront the opponent’s backline.
In their own half, Sevilla still defended zonally using a similar formation. Their shape became increasingly compact when being pushed deeper, with the ball-near midfielder ready to step out and press. When the ball was on the wing, the ball-near full-back would leave the compact back four to press, with cover from the ball-near winger and central midfielder.
Here, as the ball was on the wing, Sevilla’s midfield kept their compactness. However, right-back Koundé was quite far away from the other three defenders. This gave Sevilla protection in the wide areas.
Both being inverted wingers, Cazorla and Chukwueze would usually move centrally to give their side control in the centre of the pitch. This made the midfield packed as Sevilla’s midfield five was quite compact. There were still some instances in which Villarreal were able to demonstrate their ability to combine in tight spaces to penetrate Sevilla’s defence. Here, a quick combination between Cazorla, Chukwueze, Anguissa and the forwards created a moment of danger for Sevilla.
A key player in Villarreal’s possession game was forward Gerard. A good dribbler and creative passer with smart positional sense, he was given free license to roam in Sevilla’s half, which made it quite hard to track him. There were two instances in which he overloaded the right flank and sent a cross into the box, one of which led to Villarreal’s first goal after a late run from Anguissa.
In the below example, he took advantage of Fernando’s deep positioning to occupy a pocket of space between the lines, then found Moreno’s run with a through ball.
Sevilla in possession
As expected, Sevilla tried to build from the back. All of their defenders are good on the ball, and the midfielders actively moved to help the build up. In their typical fashion, Villarreal didn’t really try to press high, defending zonally in a 4-4-2 midblock. The whole shape tried to stay compact and shift according to where the ball is, with the ball-near winger stepping out to press the opposite full-back should he receive the ball. The forwards aimed to used their cover shadow to block passing lanes from Sevilla’s defenders towards their deep midfielders Fernando and Banega. In the below example, Koundé couldn’t find Fernando due to Alcácer’s cover shadow, so he tried to dribble inward, only to find Gerard blocking his passing lane towards Banega.
To deal with this, Sevilla often had Fernando dropping like a third centre-back, while Banega and Jordán formed a double pivot and roamed between the lines to make themselves great passing options. They both showed their great pressing resistance and passing range. Former Liverpool winger Suso also actively dropped deep to connect with the midfield, and used his passing and dribbling abilities to bring the ball forward. A numerical superiority at the back also allowed one of Carlos or Sergi to be free to receive the ball in the half-space and drive forward, before easily finding a teammate.
In Sevilla’s own half, Villarreal only pressed intensely when the ball is on either flank or when a back pass was made. Sevilla is a side that loves progressing through the wings, so they naturally did so when coming up against a compact 4-4-2 defence. Villarreal pressed more aggressively in their own half, aiming to limit space around the ball. Here, we could see Villarreal overloading the ball side, with Iborra stepping out to press the opponent midfielder.
While Villarreal’s midfield stayed compact, the full-backs were generally wider to deal with Sevilla’s quick switches of play, which the likes of Banega and Jordán are great at. The full-backs needed to anticipate when such a pass would be made to step out and press (like Mario in the above image), while the ball-near winger tracked back to nullify the opponent’s run into space. Here, left-back Moreno anticipated a pass towards Koundé and stepped out to press him. Suso instantly made a run into the space behind Moreno, but Cazorla automatically followed the winger.
Sevilla’s possession game relied a lot on the movements of the midfield three. Being a centre-back in the first phase of build-up, Fernando would then push up in the later phases, sometimes interchanging positions with Banega or Jordán. The three showed flexible movements and could overload a certain area if needed. Here, they overloaded the right wing to faciltate short combinations with the right-back and right winger and a cross towards the box.
The highest player in the midfield three, right central midfielder Jordán facilitated Sevilla’s attack in many ways. He often made smart forward runs to pockets of space in and around the box and become an extra attacker. These runs also at times free up space in central midfield for Suso to drop into, creating some unpredictability. He’s a decent header of the ball, and almost scored after getting on the end of a cross in the second half.
This season, Sevilla mainly attacks through the wings. In this match though, they didn’t start with their best personnel there as they were rotated due to the heavy schedule. Lopes and Suso were not direct enough, while Escudero and Koundé couldn’t make the threatening overlapping runs that the Sergio Reguilón – Jesús Navas provided. Wing progression, thus, was quite sluggish and was easy for Villarreal to handle.
Sevilla started the second half by making total changes to their wing personnel. Munir El Haddadi and Lucas Ocampos replaced Suso and Lopes, while Navas replaced Sergi, meaning Koundé returned to his favourite centre-back position. The sheer pace and dynamism of Navas and Ocampos on the right changed things for Sevilla. The switches of play to the right look much more dangerous with the pacey runs of Navas, while Ocampos would combine with him and make runs down the half-space. After having a 2v2 on the right through a quick switch, both of them have enough pace and technical quality to find a way through and send a cross into the box.
In the below example, after receiving Koundé’s pass, Ocampos instantly found Navas, made an underlapping run towards the byline and sent a cross in.
On the left, Munir’s combination with Banega gave Sevilla more control in the left-halfspace. To make up for his lack of overlapping runs, Escudero played more and more centrally to help with keeping possession. Here, a quick combination between Munir, Banega and substitution Franco Vázquez helped find Escudero in a good position inside the box.
The front three of Munir, Ocampos and En-Neysri showed much greater dynamism and allowed Sevilla to press with more intensity and push their whole shape higher up the pitch. Playing in a higher defensive line, the likes of Carlos and Navas could show their athleticism and help their team recover a lot of balls. Here, Cazorla tried to find Chukwueze to facilitate a quick counter. However, Sevilla committed men to counterpress instantly and Carlos’s high positioning blocked Chukwueze’s way going forward. Sevilla recovered possession five seconds after losing the ball.
After replacing Jordán, Vazquez showed his value by exploiting pockets of space around the box. In Sevilla’s second goal, he made a distracting run through the half-space to drag Anguissa with him while opening space for Navas to cut inside and cross towards Munir, who scored from a wonderful volley.
This analysis showed that Sevilla probably would be the side less pleased with the draw. It’s true that they were the worse side in the first half, but with their main XI, they regained control in the second half. Had it not been for some wonderful saves from Asenjo, they would have come home with an important win. They are still one of the two favourites to earn a UEFA Champions League spot though.
For Villarreal, a draw against a top side like Sevilla was encouraging. Gerard was key to their threatening attacks in the first half but had to be substituted in the second as Villarreal was gradually pushed towards their own box and could hardly get to the opponent’s half. They still have a good chance to at least play in the Europa League next season.