Barcelona 5-0 Sevilla: Sevilla unable to cope with high pressing, movement, or Daniel Alves

November 1, 2010

The starting line-ups

The showcase game of this La Liga round was effectively over before half-time.

Barcelona played what many consider to be their strongest line-up. Xavi Hernandez was back in the side, Andres Iniesta was alongside him, with Pedro in the front three. Eric Abidal was at left-back.

Sevilla were forced to rejig with left-back Fernando Navarro injured. 19-year-old Antonio Luna played there, with Alexis Delgado in the centre alongside Martin Cacares. Abdoulay Konko was moved back to right-back with Diego Perotti on the right wing.

Barcelona started at an incredible pace – pressing intensely throughout the pitch, and Sevilla conceded possession too readily in their own third. They had no clear out-ball – Sevilla’s shape was set out in order to shut down Barcelona, but their transitions were non-existent. Barca kept winning the ball high up the pitch, and after just three minutes Lionel Messi put it in the net.

Barcelona’s shape is always fluid which naturally results in different systems for different games, but this season they appear to have even more separate formations than in the previous two campaigns under Pep Guardiola. Jonathan Wilson has put forward a case that they often look like an old-fashioned W-W. Here, their strategy was to shift Gerard Pique across to the right touchline, and push Dani Alves on very, very high up the pitch.

Alves unstoppable

In a sense this is nothing new – Alves is probably the most attacking full-back in the world, and Barcelona’s centre-backs are used to coming over to the flanks when in possession. But, much like Sergio Busquets’ positioning against Atletico Madrid, the difference was that it was taking place on a much more full-time basis. Alves pushed Diego Capel back so much that Capel was playing like a left-wing-back or even an additional left-back, where he didn’t look comfortable at all.

It’s getting to the point where teams are going to have to field left-backs at left midfield if they have any desire to stop Alves, such is his attacking intent. On that note, it’s interesting to note that this strategy was favoured by Inter in their “successful” second leg against Barcelona last year (Cristian Chivu), and also by Valencia when outplaying Barcelona in the first half earlier this month (Jeremy Mathieu). At a stretch, you could also include Hercules (Royston Drenthe) in this category for the underdogs’ shock 0-2 victory at the Nou Camp. Drenthe is not a nominal left-back, but he is capable of playing there (he did so for Real Madrid under Manuel Pellegrini) and considering that Hercules were playing a diamondish shape in midfield, it is notable that they fielded someone comfortable of tracking a full-back into deep positions.

Barcelona also seemed to be set up to aid Alves’ path forward. Pedro Rodriguez was out on the left whilst Messi and David Villa both operated in the centre. Again, this was not a case of Messi cutting inside, more of him being stationed in the centre on a full-time basis, sometimes moving out to the right.

Sevilla’s problems with Alves were not helped by the fact that Luna was having significant difficulties at left-back. He was caught out for Villa’s goal – though it was a fantastic strike, cutting in and curling the ball into the far corner with his left foot.

The problems down that side would have been lessened had Capel taken a great chance at 1-0 – meeting a cross from the opposite flank, but volleying straight at Victor Valdes.

The game was effectively over just before half-time when Konko saw red for two trips. Sevilla, down to ten men and with a two-goal deficit, were simply overrun in the second half, and Barcelona scored some fantastic goals. The third was by that man Alves – who anticipated a wayward back-header and acrobatically volleyed home – look at his starting position for an indication of how high up the pitch he played, the furthest player forward – before two similar goals from Messi and Villa rounded off the evening.


Despite the slightly unusual positioning of Alves, this was classic Barcelona. Pressing high up the pitch, retaining the ball well, stretching the play to make the pitch as wide as possible, and some fantastic goals.

Sevilla came with an attack-minded side but their gameplan was confusing – it wasn’t clear whether they wanted to close down high up the pitch, or sit back and invite pressure. They ended up doing neither, and there was too much space between the lines for Barcelona to operate in. A sheer inability to deal with Alves was the problem in more specific terms.

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