El Centrocampista

Tactics talk as Sevilla dent Real’s title bid

Sevilla vs Real Madrid

Real Madrid’s title hopes were delivered a serious blow on Wednesday night at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan, as they lost 2-1 to in-form Sevilla despite having taken a 1-0 lead. Real Madrid, attempting to bounce back from a 4-3 defeat in the El Clasico, took the lead through a deflected Cristiano Ronaldo free kick. However, the game was turned on its head after a double from Columbian striker Carlos Bacca, leaving Ancelotti’s team to watch local rivals Athletico Madrid take top spot in La Liga and open a three point gap over Real.

For Sevilla the victory was sixth consecutive win in La Liga as they look to overtake Bilbao and hijack the top 4 in the race for Champions League Football.

Here, El Centrocampista takes a look at the tactics of both sides, in what could be a defining evening in the title race.

Carlo Ancelotti set up his Real Madrid side in their usual 4-3-3 formation with the front 3 of Karim Benzema through the middle and Cristian Ronaldo and Bale playing to the left and right of him respectively. Ancelotti had injuries and suspensions to deal with, Raphael Varane received a chance at centre-back in the place of Sergio Ramos (who is serving a suspension after being sent off in the El Clasico) and Asier Illaramendi replaced the influential Angel Di Maria in midfield due to Argentinian suffering an injury.

The usual Real Madrid style of play is theoretically a 4-2-3-1; however, Ancelotti has introduced more creative freedom for his midfielders as part of his tactics, meaning that Xabi Alonso and Illaramendi interchanged in joining the Real Madrid attacks in Wednesday’s defeat. Luka Modric was given the license to be the more advanced midfielder of the trio in the absence of Di Maria, who played the role extremely well in the El Clasico. He looked particularly dangerous when running beyond Karim Benzema to get in behind the Barcelona defence and providing lethal crosses into the box, which resulted in him gaining two assists.

If Sevilla were to have any chance of winning this game, they knew they would have to be tactically disciplined and Unai Emery’s tactics and game plan worked to perfection. Sevilla played their usual 4-2-3-1 formation, Stephane Mbia and Vicente Iborra as the two holding midfield players and rotating attacking midfielders of Marko Marin, Ivan Rakitic and former Arsenal man Jose Antonio Reyes supporting lone striker Carlos Bacca.

In possession the rotating attacking midfielders would compress into the centre of Real Madrid’s half, forcing Madrid’s midfield trio to become compact in order to man mark Sevilla’s three attacking midfielders. This prevented the Galactico midfield trio from protecting the wide spaces that are usually left unprotected by Ronaldo and Bale, as they are attacking minded players and the system Madrid play requires them to stay close to Benzema.

Sevilla’s full backs, Coke and Alberto Moreno, exploited this space when getting forward and often found themselves in one on one situations with Madrid’s full backs Carvajal and Marcelo; in turn allowing them to provide support from the wide areas for centre forward Carlos Bacca. During these attacks, holding midfielders Mbia and Iboraa sat and protected their two centre-backs Fazio and Nico Pareja, so when Real Madrid did try and break Sevilla, the home side still held a 4 vs 3 advantage over Ronaldo, Benzema and Bale.

When Real Madrid regained or controlled possession, especially in the Sevilla half, the home side set up more defensively. Their 4-2-3-1 formation effectively became a 4-4-1-1, with Reyes and Marko Marin defending wide areas to ensure that Real Madrid’s full backs couldn’t overlap Ronaldo and Bale to maintain width, as the two have tendencies to cut inside onto their stronger foot and look to shoot or play reverse through balls; normally into the channels between opposition full backs and centre backs for the overlapping full backs to latch on to.

Sevilla’s adapted formation created two close-together banks of four between midfield and defence, with the idea of closing out small pockets of space the Real Madrid attackers looked to exploit. In the event of Sevilla winning the ball back they had options to break with Bacca acting as a target man through the middle occupying the two Madrid centre backs, allowing space down both the left and right flanks for Ivan Rakitic to run into and exploit when receiving the ball on the break.

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