Real Madrid were all set to play in their first midweek league game of the season. The trip to Seville was the first of two back to back pivotal games in the schedule and a significant test for the team.
After giving a number of key players time off over the weekend, Lopetegui reverted to his most trusted line-up – goalkeeping and right back aside – so far this season. Courtois was the chosen keeper while Nacho was selected to fill in for the injured Carvajal.
Defensive errors and Modric’s positioning
Sevilla trampled all over Real Madrid in the first half of the match besting the European Champions in all facets of gameplay. A big reason for this was Modric’s change in role and positioning. The Croatian played much more advanced than usual – likely intentionally as Lopetegui sought to reinforce his team’s hold in danger zones. However, the results of this decision were troubling in more ways than one.
Real Madrid’ pressing was faulty as Modric’s vacated spot in central midfield wasn’t adequately covered. Despite having one more man involved in an active high press, Sevilla could still utilize strong possession build-up to easily circumvent the first line of press. After crossing into the middle third, Sevilla enjoyed a numerical advantage and personnel mismatches (due to the loss of Modric who is a dependable defensive player) and facing Casemiro and Kroos (the German being a little more vulnerable in recovery phases).
Example of Real Madrid’s poor pressing.
Sporadically, Madrid’s aggressive positioning meant the defense was isolated and not properly sheltered. This occurred early in the game when Marcelo’s high advancement and the midfield’s liberal stationing allowed Sevilla to break through dangerously. Similarly, the midfield space was left completely unchecked in the lead-up to the hosts’ opener. Even though Marcelo’s giveaway and the 50/50 ball lost by Casemiro were key individual errors – the outcome was much more consequential because of poor spatial coverage.
The second and third goals weren’t necessarily purely tactically borne. The second was a brilliant counter-attack following a corner as Real Madrid couldn’t keep up with Sevilla’s pace. The third was poor defensive timing after Marcelo was easily beat to a header. That being said, Sevilla had countless other opportunities to add to their tally which they didn’t capitalize on.
Sevilla’s intense and compact shape
On the other side of the field, Real Madrid were toothless and couldn’t do much with their best chance of the half being Bale manufacturing a great shot out of thin air. Sevilla’s airtight shape and disciplined marking limited access into central zones.
Example of Sevilla’s disciplined shape and marking.
The Andalusian team utilized a mixture of zonal and man oriented defensive pressing to shackle their opponents. Their rigorously formed hybrid 4-4-2/4-5-1 fluidly adapted to deny space to Real Madrid players. As can be visible in the above example, as soon as Real Madrid player won the ball, the nearest Sevilla player would press them intelligently with the primary aim being to prevent them from facing forward. It can be seen as Kroos, Modric, Bale, and Marcelo are all pressured backwards when they receive the ball. Casemiro, on the other hand isn’t as aggressively hounded presumably because he is facing backwards.
Casemiro drops and fullbacks move up
The big change in the second half was Casemiro dropping back almost playing as a centerback between Varane and Ramos. This allowed the fullbacks to move up the pitch. It also improved the midfield structure as Modric played deeper supporting Kroos and enabling the team to dictate play with much more control.
Having numbers up always works in Madrid’s favour – at least offensively. The connectivity between players was significantly enhanced as they effortlessly created passing lanes and triangles such as the sequence before Modric’s goal that was ruled out.
Play leading to Modric’s disallowed goal shows great combination play and passing.
As opposed to the first half where Modric was isolated in the middle with limited support from the wingers, fullbacks (Nacho in particular being a significant downgrade from Carvajal going forward), and striker. The second half tactics saw him able to face the play more and work well with his teammates to break down Sevilla – this aligned with Lopetegui’s substitutions as he brought on Vazquez for Nacho.
On top of the improved combination play, Real Madrid also utilized Bale’s pace with better effect as the Welshman was played through with great balls on a couple occasions. Defensively however, Sevilla still threatened and the open game made sense for them given their strong three goal lead. The game finished 3-0 as neither side could score any of their chances.
Sevilla recorded a famous victory against Real Madrid using a tactically disciplined defensive system in addition to great pace on offense to gravely exploit Real Madrid’s fractured system and defensive mistakes. Modric’s advanced positioning negatively impacted the midfield while not adding significant value in the context of the match.
The visitors registered lower shots on target and xG values for the game. In fact, the final numbers are a little generous to them as Sevilla likely took their foot off the pedal due to their strong lead. The difference was much starker at half time. Los Blancos will be hoping to get back on course in the derbi Madrileño on Saturday.