Movement, Tactics, and Sevilla: an Assessment by Tirasus

Hello, fellow Monchi’s Men! Just in time for the lull that comes in the middle of international break comes a fantastically in-depth article from Tirasus, who shares some thoughts on Sevilla’s tactics in the Michel and Emery eras. Enjoy, and if you’re interested in writing for the site, definitely let us know!

Michel’s Sevilla (Post Trochowski injury)

I have ignored the portion of the season up to Trochowski’s injury simply because the system’s weaknesses were not entirely exposed, since it was early in the season where teams are just starting out after the summer comings and goings.

Now that that’s out of the way, I essentially wrote this, not necessarily to analyse formations, build-up changes, or even pressure on the ball possessor, but movement. We are in an era in football where movement, and the use of space, across the pitch is incredibly important, exemplified by Barcelona’s players, who as we all know, have had many successes as of late.

I have become obsessed with movement, both lateral and vertical, and space creation, which arguably goes some way to explaining why Medel is currently one of my favourite players. Medel runs and runs and runs. Not every player can do this, but he also moves all over the pitch depending on space. He certainly doesn’t have the most impressive vision by any means, but I admire his tenacity.

Anyway, enough about my personal favouritism; following are quick diagrams to display crude movement of two pretty standard line-ups that we saw from Michel. The first has Maduro alongside Medel, acting as a double pivot, the next has Kondogbia alongside Medel. These were likely the most frequent starting 11’s under Michel.

Black arrows and red arrows are crudely used to indicate attacking movements and defensive movements respectively. Green ‘blobs’ and blue ‘blobs’ are simply areas of space in possession of the ball, and when not in possession respectively.

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Under Michel, Rakitic was very much a central force, tasked with playing in the number 10 position, receiving the ball with his back to goal, so he could spray passes into the wide areas and striker. Unfortunately, Rakitic is clearly not a player that enjoys or is particularly effective at doing this. We still see it now, where he loses the ball, not fully aware of opposition pressuring him. He likes to play in space; that much is obvious since he frequently came deep into midfield, where he could also be facing forwards. However, his determination to vacate this zone usually meant that spaces between the opposition midfield and defence were largely unmanned unless Negredo or Reyes attempted to move there, which then vacated other attacking spaces. This, and Reyes’s frequent complete lack of movement, meant that Navarro, who often started higher up the pitch than Cicinho, would steam forward. This sounds like a great idea, until you notice not only the lack of quality that Navarro has on the ball, the lack of pace he has to get back, and the gaping space he has left behind him, but also his lack of visionary passing, frequently giving the ball away, something Reyes is also often guilty of.

This always left mountains of space for the opposition to work in, and ultimately expose. This usually ended with either Navarro making rash challenges in full flight, or Spahic being dragged into wide left positions – hardly ideal for a CB, let alone one without too much pace. There was little Maduro could do about this either since he neither has the pace to cover this space (completely unintentional rhyme I assure you), or to cover the space that Spahic left behind, ending up with Medel and Fazio desperately trying to cover the resulting voids. We all know how this ends. (Hint: Cards of a distinctly bright colour.)

There was also another area in question, defensively. Whereas, when in possession of the ball, the right sided regions of the pitch were well covered by Navas, Cicinho and Medel, when out of possession this required them each to cover exactly the same area. They were essentially shuttling up and down, great for vertical movement, terrible if caught on the counter attack, with Medel usually appearing absolutely exhausted by the end of a match.

Michel attempted to cover the problems in midfield and defence with Kondogbia, who acted as another shuttler (Diagram 2). Unfortunately, this usually left monstrous gaps between the midfield and defence. His forward movement strangely not preventing Navarro from surging forward, with Spahic even more hopelessly exposed, the defence often dragged into disarray. Later Kondogbia was asked by Michel not to move past the halfway line to try to solve the problem, but shackling players often results in lack of motivation and enthusiasm. This solved precious little defensively, and so this idea appeared to get thrown out after only a few games.

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Sometimes Reyes played in the hole, with Manu to the left, but Reyes did not show much more, if any, desire to work the space either (because of defensive pressure), often, like Rakitic, either losing the ball or vacating the area to find space with less pressure.

I have not covered Kongdogbia’s forward movements since they have become startlingly obvious with likely every Sevillista calling for him to start after only 1 or 2 appearances, and I really have to stop boring you guys at some point, and I haven’t even got to Emery yet!

This short-lived story ends with Michel leaving the club, and none other than Unai ‘The Tinkerman’ Emery being hired to weave his wizardry on a squad utterly bereft of any confidence.

Emery’s Sevilla

The effects were, in some respects, instantaneous. We still see some of the problems left over from Michel’s system, but that is to be expected for the moment, Emery having had little time so far. The players have taken to the new system with enthusiasm, as you can see by the change in spaces and movement. Two main line-ups have been shown, since they appear to seem, so far, the most frequent. One has Rakitic starting centrally in the hole, the other has Manu del Moral playing off Negredo and Rakitic to the left.

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The first diagram, (above) which appears to be ‘plan A’ for the most part, shows a system with far more lateral movement, and gaping defensive spaces almost completely removed. Kondogbia for a very first observation appears to have much more freedom than before. He has not been shackled, there are no gaping areas for him to attempt to fill, Rakitic and Reyes appear to share good portions of the left side of midfield and so Kondogbia can play midfield how he pleases, so long as he carries out his relatively normal defensive duties.

Moreno is another revelation, providing the speed to cover almost the entire left flank. His darting runs impart a rather similar role to Alba, under Emery at Valencia. His vision on the ball is so ridiculously (and so obviously) better than Navarro’s that losing possession of the left side happens much less with more reliable sources of attacking runs for both Reyes and Rakitic to pick out. His positioning is also far more intelligent than Navarro’s – he does not always start so high up the pitch, and to top it off, Reyes has worked rather hard defensively since Emery took charge, likely knowing that this is his last chance to prove himself.

This is coupled with a change in Medel’s role. Medel did sometimes take up positions between the CBs under Michel, but this is far more frequent under Emery, again reminiscent of Emery’s old Valencia. Nearly every build from the back begins with Medel cruising in between Navarro and Fazio, with Navarro taking up a more natural wide position for him, which incidentally should not matter so much if he does get dragged wide…in theory. It is far more defensive role for the Chilean, but it also allows him more freedom again, which has on occasion allowed Kondogbia to work the space on the right side of midfield. Medel will vacate his deep position usually once the ball has been worked further up the pitch.

Considering the right back, Coke is a different player to Cicinho. He is more robust and he stays much deeper when not directly involved in an attack. As a player, I really love the link up play and agility of Cicinho, but Coke is still a good link up player and he provides a defensive security we have not had all season. Playing two fullbacks that get so far forward is great to see, but very costly to the defence. You end up requiring a nigh-on permanent midfielder to stay very deep for counter attack defence. This is not only a waste of Medel’s work rate, but also means that the midfielders must be very conservative, which does not help an already obvious need for support in midfield. I would wager that we will not see too much of Cicinho unless Moreno is told to replicate Coke’s role on the left, which would take lots of natural width out of the left flank, something which Navas provides in abundance even if on his own on the right flank, or Cicinho becomes more conservative.

Although a singular moment so far, the screamer Coke scored against Zaragoza also exemplifies the Coke role, where he was arriving late. Cicinho would have been much wider and further forward already. Of course, this does not mean that Cicinho cannot play the same role; it is just an observation based on their current roles.

A final word on movement change for ‘plan A’ is the rotation between Rakitic and Reyes. Personally I really like rotational play, but it requires the players involved to be very versatile, and it seems Raki and Reyes suit it well enough. It means both players get far more space, and even though they still lose the ball, they appear to have a good understanding and lose the ball much less than under Michel. One problem that can arise is when the number 10 area is not worked by either of the two rotators or by anyone else, since this can stifle creativity and isolate Negredo.

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The second diagram, which we could designate ’plan B’, involves Manu or occasionally Baba to play alongside or slightly behind Negredo. This has obvious strengths, and obvious weaknesses to the midfield. When one of the two drops deep and the other surges forwards it provides attacking runs and a supporting player, when both are forward the CBs have to concentrate on two forwards, and this can in turn lead to the opposition dominating the midfield, especially in deep positions. However, this system appears to provide far more vertical movement, and as we saw against Zaragoza, Sevilla is at their most lethal on the counter attack.

Little has been made of Negredo’s movement and that is because he is largely quite a stereotypical ‘number 9’. This is not to say he is not versatile – he has played on the left for Spain once or twice to good effect (but in friendlies), but his main qualities are clearly as an out and out striker. He has been known, of course, to fluff many an opportunity to score, but when he gets good service he belts in some fantastic goals.

The very last point I would like to make about Emery’s system, which is no small feature, is that Navas, who has always been a fantastic vertical mover, both in attack and defence, now moves far more laterally than I can ever remember before. Occasionally he pops up on the left side and in the middle, which is adding to his game and making him less predictable, without sacrificing the great vertical movement that he makes out on the right flank. Arguably the most memorable moment of the season so far for me, was Navas’s first goal of the season, which he struck from the left side on the edge of the penalty box.

All in all I would say I am delighted with Emery’s changes to the current system. He has encouraged both lateral and vertical movement, added rotation and managed to cover some of the gaping areas of defence. It remains to be seen how often we will see Navarro as a CB, whether Cicinho can regain the right back position after Coke’s recent prolific form, whether we will get to see the real ability of Rabello this season, or whether Baba will ever get off the mark, but for now, it’s time to shape up that away form. Vamos!

A small addendum from messioronaldo on the positioning and movement of Sevilla’s LBs through the years:

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