When you get to this stage of the football season there are some fixtures that jump straight out at you between two sides who you may not necessarily have thought would be interesting tactically at the start of the season.
This was one such fixture, while there was no doubt that Sevilla would be extremely interesting to watch from a tactical standpoint given the appointment of the former Universidad De Chile and Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli with his attacking style of football. Las Palmas on the other hand were a pleasant surprise with coach Quique Setien quickly moulding the relatively small side in to one of the most eye catching sides in La Liga.
The side from the Canary Islands have regressed to the norm in recent weeks as they struggle to keep up the form that saw them challenge briefly at the top of La Liga but they are still enough of a challenge for most sides in the league.
As expected Sevilla have gone from strength to strength as the weeks go by. Despite the massive turnover in playing staff and the new coach we have seen Sevilla quickly mould in to an effective unit. They have quickly taken on the playing style of Sampaoli with aggressive pressing from front to back and a lightning quick transition from the defensive to the attacking phases.
The likes of Steven N’Zonzi in midfield and Vitolo in the final third have lent something of a sense of continuity to the squad with newcomers like Samir Nasri coming in to the fold and quickly adapting to the Sevilla way.
Sevilla started with Sergio Rico in goal behind a defensive line of Mariano, Mercado, Lenglet and Pablo Sarabia. The midfield saw Samir Nasri sitting in a more attacking pocket of space with Matthias Kranevitter and Steven N’Zonzi alternating between defensive and supporting roles as the position of the ball demanded.
Vazquez and Vitolo provided width in the attacking third whilst the lone striker slot was taken by Wissam Ben Yedder who has been something of a revelation so far this season with goals and assists flowing.
Las Palmas on the other hand started with Javi Varas in goal behind Castellanos, Aythami, Lemos and David Simon. Montoro, Jonathan Viera and Roque Mesa played in the midfield behind Jese, Halilovic and Kevin Prince Boateng who has taken on an attacking role for Las Palmas this season.
Defensive structure from Sevilla
It may be somewhat counter intuitive to begin this analysis by looking at the defensive phase from Sevilla given the attacking reputation enjoyed by Sampaoli. In this instance however the quality of their defensive structure throughout was extremely impressive as Las Palmas struggled to find a way to penetrate and move towards goal.
Sampaoli is very much a disciple of the Marcelo Bielsa school of football having studied the Argentine’s methods for years. Whilst coaching Universidad De Chile and Chile Sampaoli tended to adjust his defensive formation in relation to the opposition. He adopted the rule preferred by Bielsa that you should always look to have just one more defender than the opposition have attackers. This allows you to have numerical superiority in other areas of the field.
At Sevilla though he has adapted his defensive structure to cope with the quality on show in Europe. In this match the back four was relatively stable with attacking impetus provided by the energetic Mariano on the right and a more cautious approach from Pablo Sarabia on the left.
Here we can see the back four for Sevilla with the free defender controlling the space in behind the left back. The far sided centre back is responsible for marking Boateng whilst the right back is tucking back in to add support at the far side of the area.
The key however lies in the positioning of N’Zonzi who is controlling the space in front of the back four for Sevilla. He adds depth to the midfield line and is arguably the most important person in the structure for Sampaoli with his ability to join defence and attack equally well.
In this instance Las Palmas are building their attack down the right hand side of the field with the player in possession of the ball being flanked by a supporting runner.
As they look to move in to the final third they enter a pressing trap from Sevilla as they effectively form a cordon over the strong side of the pitch with four players moving across to cancel out the space that Las Palmas are looking to attack in to.
As Las Palmas move in to the space highlighted the trap shuts tight and Sevilla win the ball back in a four against two situation.
Sevilla Press High
Now we move on to an area of the game that Sampaoli is famed for. He prefers his teams to press in an extremely high block looking to shut the oppositions attacking phase down at source. As with his mentor Marcelo Bielsa this style of pressing takes a huge physical toll on his players making it extremely important that the entire team fully buy in to the style of play to make it work.
Las Palmas have a goal kick and they have split their centre backs wide in an attempt to build their attacking phase up from the back. They prefer to access either centre back or a midfielder dropping back in to the central zone and then build from there.
Sevilla however are brave in their pressing structure with two wide forwards and the centre forward moving in to the advanced ares of the field to press the two centre backs and the midfielder that was dropping in to space.
They also press man to man in the first layer in the midfield looking to close down any attempt to play the direct pass over the defender’s head.
The only open outlet is the pass in to the open player in the wide area which is a difficult first ball. The players position in the wide area will also trigger a fast Sevilla press if it works.
In this example Las Palmas have possession of the ball in the right back position. Sevilla snap immediately in to a high press looking to shut off any passing options for the man in possession of the ball.
The most advanced player moves across to the man on the ball and uses the position of his body to block the pass back to a defensive colleague whilst still applying pressure to the ball. The next player moves in to press in a two against one situation whilst at the next level the two easiest passing options for Las Palmas are tightly marked man to man.
This press takes away any ability for the opposition to build their play intelligently throug the thirds and forces them instead to rely on more direct and hopeful passing.
Sevilla use movement to access space
One of the most impressive aspects of this match from Sevilla was the way that they used small pieces of movement in various pockets of the field to create and empty space that their teammates could exploit.
In the final third in particular Samir Nasri and Mariano in particular were strong in joining with their attacking players to create overloads in the final third.
In this image Sevilla have the ball in the centre of the pitch in front of a solid defensive line from Las Palmas. The movement from outside from in by the wide attacking player creates space in the wide area that can be attacked by the Sevilla player moving from deep.
This movement completely pulled apart the defensive structure from Las Palmas time and time again.
Once again Sevilla are attacking through the centre of the pitch in the final third. On this occasion there are spaces at either side of the pitch that can be easily accessed by Sevilla players on the edges of the attacking structure.
As these wide attackers move in to the spaces in the wide areas they drag players from the Las Palmas defensive structure out in to the wide spaces. This simple movement creates space centrally for Sevilla to access when the opposition defensive line is pulled out of position in to the wide areas.
1-0 perhaps flattered Las Palmas in this match as Sevilla were wasteful in the final third as they spurned chances.
Sevilla are at the edge of something special with the talent at their disposal and a coach that is currently learning the ropes of European football. I fully expect them to kick on next season and go on to become one of the most attractive attacking sides in football.