Sevilla 1-1 Barcelona: Sevilla recover from poor first half to hold Barcelona to a draw

March 14, 2011

The line-ups after Bojan replaced Pedro through injury

Barcelona failed to win for only the fourth time this season in La Liga.

Having favoured a 4-3-1-2 formation in recent weeks, Gregorio Manzano returned to a 4-2-3-1 system here. Didier Zokora came into the centre of midfield, and Diego Capel started over Diego Perotti on the right, so Jesus Navas was on the left.

Pep Guardiola welcomed back Gerard Pique, which meant Sergio Busquets returned to midfield, and Javier Mascherano dropped to the bench. Pedro Rodriguez started, but was injured in the first few minutes, and was replaced by Bojan.

Praising Sevilla’s tactics blindly on the sole basis that they picked up a point here would be foolish – they endured plenty of nervous moments and could have lost heavily. Barcelona hit the bar twice, had a goal controversially disallowed, and also had a shot cleared off the line. Regardless, the different strategy used by Manzano in the two halves was certainly a point of interest, and Sevilla were very good after the break.

Pressing…

Sevilla started the match reasonably well. They kept a high line and pressed in the midfield, with 3 v 3 in the centre, the wingers tracking the full-backs, and the centre-backs remaining in position, letting Lionel Messi drift into the midfield zone.

The more obvious their relaxed attitude to Messi was, the more he started to wander, to the point where he was playing extremely deep – deeper than a number ten, at the tip of a fairly compact diamond rather than as a forward. He often became involved in build-up play, though when Xavi Hernandez or Andres Iniesta got the ball in space, Messi would sprint forward from a deep position to attempt to reach balls over the top.

…but not for long

This became increasingly easy when Sevilla’s pressing dropped alarmingly around the 20 minutes mark. There was no pressure on the ball in midfield, but the original high defensive line was still in tact. This meant that Barcelona found it simple to put through the defence – Messi had two chances from chips over the top (one he miscontrolled, the other he headed against the bar) and Dani Alves burst through with one of his classic runs to square for Bojan for the opener.

Sevilla offered so little threat in the first half that it’s barely possible to comment on their attacking tactics. Ivan Rakitic was the closest support to Alvaro Negredo upfront, but even he spent most of the half in his own third of the pitch. The wingers were too concerned with the threat of Barca’s full-backs to venture forward.

Just before half time, Messi collided with Javi Varas and seemed to be seriously hurt, but was able to continue in the second half.

Second half

The second half line-ups

The second period of was a completely different contest. Sevilla made a change – taking off the deepest midfielder, Zokora, and introducing Freddie Kanoute in the deep role he’s mastered in recent months. That gave the Sevilla midfield a different tilt – Rakitic dropped in alongside Gary Medel, who played solidly ahead of the back four.

More important than a change in personnel was the change in mentality, however. Sevilla actually attacked in the second half, and Barcelona seemed surprised by the contrast – they looked sluggish at the start of the second period. Messi was clearly not 100% fit following his knock in the first half, and pulled out of a tackle in the lead-up to Sevilla’s goal. Kanoute also played a key part with good link-up play between the lines – the goal wouldn’t have happened in the first half – and Navas nodded in to complete an excellent move.

Barcelona push forward

After that, Barcelona stepped it up, but (as against Arsenal in midweek) they were wasteful in the final third. Adriano’s crossing from the left was terrible, whilst David Villa’s movement was poor on the right.

Despite his injury, Messi was the main man – going on a couple of tremendous runs before being halted at the last moment. Sevilla sat deeper as the second half went on, and played on the counter-attack. It was fairly successful strategy – Barcelona couldn’t play through them, and at the other end they had chances on the break. The more attacking approach also limited the percentage of possession Barca had in the second period – it dropped from 75% in the first half to 67% in the second.

Battle

Another key factor was Sevilla’s physicality. Messi’s injury was simply a 50-50 challenge with the goalkeeper, but in the second half Sevilla were fired up and made hard tackles on various players. Barca were unquestionably unsettled by these tactics, and even the normally calm Xavi squared up to Medel. The final 20 minutes of the game was fast-paced and played in a fierce manner.

Guardiola only made one change in the second half – very late on, with Seydou Keita replacing the disappointing Villa. There was no obvious ‘plan B’ from Guardiola in terms of formation or strategy – he remained confident Barcelona could unlock Sevilla, though it might have been interesting to see Ibrahim Afellay on to provide another option on the ball.

Manzano also kept the same formation and strategy – although Sevilla didn’t turn down chances to break at speed, they were happy with a draw. Perotti replaced Capel, which meant Navas went to the right, and Perotti’s fresh legs were welcome against the threat of Alves.

Conclusion

Barcelona have played worse than this and still picked up wins this season. Their problem at the moment, amazingly, is in front of goal. They have scored only one goal in each of their last three La Liga matches, and have started to overplay and become wasteful when they get into the penalty area. Villa hasn’t looked sharp enough in recent matches, and the loss of Pedro – who offers great movement in from the flanks – would be a big blow.

Sevilla’s first half approach was completely different from their second half approach. Attacking Barcelona after the break caused them difficulties, although it was arguably the ’surprise’ aspect rather than the tactic itself which caught Barca out at the start of the second period.

Sevilla 1-1 Barcelona: Sevilla recover from poor first half to hold Barcelona to a draw

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