Sevilla is the greatest team when it comes to the UEFA Europa League as they have won it six times and they are going to face José Mourinho who never failed to win in the final. However, it was not easy season for them. Julen Lopetegui was sacked after first seven games, Jorge Sampaoli was sacked on 21 Match when Sevilla was sitting in 14th place and it is José Luis Mendilibar who turned this team from the relegation battle to Europa League final. Then, let’s take a look at his tactics which led Sevilla to the final again.
They do not take risks in playing out from the back, so the goal kicks are often played long. Therefore, their build up mainly starts from the midfield. Beyond the midfield, they are so flexible and each attacker tries to do the best such as taking the opposition fullback on, moving inside to play as another striker or taking a long shot. Of course, the reason why those attackers can be flexible is the solid structure at the back. So, let’s take a look at how they keep the possession at the back and play through.
As both fullbacks move higher, the centre backs and defensive midfielders have a responsibility to keep the ball and play to attackers up front. If they are static and stay in the square shape, they would be pressed and lose the ball. However, especially Ivan Rakitić often drifts wide to create a diagonal passing lane to break the opposition first line. This movement is one of the most important things to keep the possession at the back.
Additionally, he can control the game well by dribbling towards the middle to draw the opposition attention or decreasing the tempo of the game. Therefore, attackers up front can comfortably receive the ball especially in wide areas.
Nemanja Gudelj is also an important player at the back. He is mainly a centre back but has an ability to play as a defensive midfielder. When he plays as a centre back, he loves to step in with the ball with breaking the opposition first line and progress the ball forward. In order to maximise his ability, it is beneficial for Mendilibar to choose him as a centre back.
Final Third Attacking
In the final third, the players move extremely flexibly. However, it is not a good idea to move wherever they want to go because it causes unwanted unbalance. The initiative is held by the wingers. The right winger both Érik Lamela or Lucas Ocampos prefer to play inside, so the right fullback Jesús Navas often occupies the wide area. On the other hand, the left winger Bryan Gil can play both inside and outside, so the left fullback Marcos Acuña needs to be clever to adjust his position. Actually, he is clever enough to move across the wide channel and inside area depending on Gil’s position. Additionally, the attacking midfielder Óliver Torres, Papu Gómez and Suso can also play everywhere. These flexible combination makes it difficult for the opposition team to defend against.
They use crosses a lot to find Youssef En-Nesyri or the right winger tucking inside, but the most dangerous player is the left winger, Gil. He is so aggressive player and he often takes the opposition fullback on. Many chances come from him and well-timed support by Acuña also makes it difficult for the opponents to stop.
In terms of patterns which are used frequently is running into the channel. This movement is used by many teams, but Sevilla is not the exception. As it was noted that they are willing to deliver crossed from the outside, but before that, they try to find a way to exploit the space in the channels. The combinations are often performed by attackers up front, but when Gudelj can step in, Rakitić is pushed forward and he can make a run in behind.
Overall, their chances come from the individual quality thanks to the environment they can move flexibly. As it was mentioned, they are allowed to try their best, so they often try to take a shot from the distance. It actually worked well against Juventus as Suso equalised by the shot from the outside of the box.
Out of Possession
Like AS Roma under José Mourinho, Sevilla under Mendilibar is also great at playing out of possession well. In contrast to Roma, they are so aggressive and try to press as high as possible with zonal structure. It is completely opposite to the philosophy of Mourinho. So, let’s begin with discussing their active pressing.
The shape is a 4-2-3-1 and both wingers stay narrow and high. This is the most important position when pressing high. Both wingers have a job to manage two passing lanes, which are the passing lane to the opposition fullback (or wingback) and to the defensive midfielder. Both wingers always position themselves between the opposition wide defender and defensive midfielder to press the opponent who is about to receive the ball from the centre back.
This worked extremely well against Manchester United at home when Lamela pressed on Harry Maguire to intercept the ball. This is not the same situation illustrated above, but the principle of preparing for both passes to the inside and outside is same.
Thanks to this wingers’ task, both defensive midfielders can stay deeper, which makes it easier for them to intercept split passes to the opposition attacker in between the lines.
In terms of the weakness, as the opposite side winger also stays high, the space behind him can be exploited as Juventus sometimes did well. In order to prevent this, it is required for the striker and attacking midfielder to apply tight pressure on the ball to reduce time for the opposition player on the ball to look the space in the opposite side.
Overall, this aggressive and collective pressing is the most important thing for Sevilla, but they need to play against the team who do not care about playing short and are willing to play over. Let’s see how to react this situation in the final.
Final Third Defending
In terms of mid-block or deep block which both wingers step back to the midfield line and forms a 4-4-2, their characteristic is keeping the compact shape and tight marking by defenders. Sevilla’s defenders prefer to find a man to mark and work individually. As soon as the opposition player in between the lines receives the ball, the defender behind him rushes to apply pressure and prevent him from turning forward.
This is same in the box, and the defenders keep marking the opposition attacker individually. Therefore, the weakness is that there are often gaps between the defenders. Additionally, as the fullback will mark the opposition wingers moving inside, the wingers are often forced to drop back to mark the opposition fullbacks going higher. In order to cover this, both striker and attacking midfielder always work hard to fill the space in the middle to help the defensive block to be compact and solid.
The defenders’ attitude is the everything. They prefer to defend aggressively not passively. This is the biggest difference between Roma and Sevilla in the final. Let’s see what will happen…