El Centrocampista

Stubborn visitors thwart frustrated Michel – Sevilla 0-0 Levante: Tactical Analysis


Levante travelled to Andalucia sitting two points ahead of their hosts in the table and well-placed for an assault on the European places in the New Year. What promised to be an intriguing encounter turned into a 90 minute blockade from the visitors as they looked to shut-out their frustrated hosts.

Michel elected to start in a 4-3-3 formation. At the back Cicinho, Federico Fazio, Emir Spahic and Fernando Navarro played from right to left. The two fullbacks were instructed to get forward while the center backs were aggressively flying up the pitch to stop Levante counter attacks from ever starting. As the holding player, Hedwiges Maduro played as deep as the center backs and mainly spread the ball from defense to the wings.

Roaming in central midfield, Ivan Rakitic and Gary Medel were used to find tight spaces in the center to contract the shape of the defense and then spray the ball wide. Up front, Antonio Luna got the surprise start on the left. He is normally a left back and struggled to impact the game starting high up the pitch. Jesus Navas on the opposite flank was also quiet and could not find Alvaro Negredo with one of his trademark crosses.

Juan Ignacio Martinez utilized the same 4-2-3-1 he has used for a few years. This defensive formation has succeeded over that time frame in frustrating the opposition. The back four of Pedro Lopez, Sergio Ballesteros, David Navarro and Juanfran stayed very deep. The fullbacks were in charge of showing the wide players wide and the center backs dealt with all the crosses swung in. In midfield, Papa Diop and Vicente Iborra stayed centrally and would not allow any passage of play through the middle.

The two wide players, Pedro Rios and Juanlu acted in a defensive role stopping the Sevilla fullbacks from overlapping. In attack, Jose Barkero played underneath Obafemi Martins. Martins would drop off and defend behind the ball when Sevilla were in possession. Barkero tried to drift away from Maduro to find space on the counter, but he was either not given the ball or he was crowded out quickly.

Why Sevilla did not score

The home side was unable to break the deadlock for a few reasons. The first was their strategy of swinging in crosses to Negredo gave the advantage to Levante. The Frogs would rather deal with aerial balls than defend combination passing around the box. Ballesteros and Navarro are big, physical and experienced defenders who controlled the crosses in the air.

Additionally, Sevilla lacked creativity in the attacking third. Since their crosses were not successful, the home side needed a different way through Levante. However, this never came other than a few long shots that were saved by Munua. Rakitic is the master of a long diagonal pass, but he does not excel running at defenders or providing quick passing in tight areas. Medel is more of a hard working player. He can win the ball back for his side but is not known for his attacking play. With Luna and Navas opting to stay wide, the center of the pitch was not a threat for Sevilla.

The Frogs focused their defensive effort on the flanks. Rios and Juanlu were not looking to break forward on the counter. Instead, they wanted to secure the wide areas by marking Sevilla’s fullbacks. The right sided combination of Navas and Cicinho has been prolific this season. Yet, they were silenced on the night. Levante would not allow either player to cut inside and was willing to allow a cross by giving the attackers space rather than risk getting beat by the dribble.

Space out wide was only available when Sevilla moved the ball quickly from side to side. This made Levante quickly shift their eyes on the ball, but Sevilla only utilized this strategy a couple of times.

Levante Counter Attack

Each half of the match played out in a similar manner. Levante dropped eleven men behind the ball and into their own half of the pitch. They played so deep that they could not connect with the two attacking players to threaten on the counter. Also, Sevilla were extremely aggressive in preventing a counter from starting by pressuring the Levante player who picked up the ball. As a result, Martins or Barkero could not pick up the ball, turn and find a teammate to start an attack or even just hold up the ball.

Sevilla Substitutions

Michel brought on Jose Antonio Reyes for Maduro in the hour mark. Medel moved to the holding role while Reyes played in the center. He saw a lot of the ball but lacked sharpness and looked like he was rusty coming off a spell out of the team.

With fifteen minutes to go, Baba Diawarra was brought on for Luna and Reyes shifted to the left. Baba was the most impactful substitute. He forced a save from Munua and later shot high off of a rebound. A promising cameo by the Senegalese player could earn him a future start.

With ten minutes to go, Rakitic exited for Campana. The Spanish youth international had little time in the match but is a highly rated young player. He could be an option to fill the creative central hole in the side.


The match will not be celebrated as a victory for beautiful football. However, Levante will be content with a road point and a solid and spirited effort. Boasting another great start to the season, Juan Ignacio Martinez has built a reputation for building a veteran squad and drilling am effective system into them. Sevilla should be disappointed and will have to find an alternative style to defeat defensive teams at home.

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