Sevilla lined up to play against Borussia Dortmund in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League round-of-16 clash on 17th February. The Sevillistas Rojiblancos lined up in a familiar 4-3-3 formation, which they have used for the majority of this season under manager Julen Lopetegui.
But something went wrong. They conceded 3 away goals to give the Black & Yellow a big advantage going into the 2nd leg. And there was no reason for them to change their formation as well, as they have deployed it to great success in La Liga, where they are on a 12-game winning run.
So what went awry? Were Sevilla just losing focus, or were they outmatched by a Dortmund side who were just too good for them? And is there a way for them to learn from the first leg and use it to their advantage in the reverse fixture? Well, the answer to that last question is yes, they can.
Dortmund started in a 4-3-3 formation with Mahmoud Dahoud and Jude Bellingham as the central midfielders, and Emre Can as a holding midfielder. Can was the shield while the other two could dictate play. Dortmund deployed this formation for the first time this season, and it paid dividends.
We’ll see later as to how it paid dividends but first, we should look at the goals Sevilla conceded. The first one came off a long shot from Dahoud. But that goal started from a throw-in which found Erling Haaland.
The Norwegian received the ball on the wings, passed it to Dahoud (marked in yellow in the image below), who was in acres of space. The first image shows Haaland (red) drawing players to him and creating space for others.
The image below shows that Sevilla were tight to the forward players but their midfield two (white) did not close down Dahoud. Sevilla had time to fall back but no one closed down the Dortmund midfielder, who let fly and scored. Also, the positioning of the goalkeeper is dreadful as it has given Dahoud a space to aim for.
For the second goal, it is visible how Dortmund’s 4-3-3 gave them an advantage in midfield. The picture below shows how Sevilla pressed in a 4-4-2 formation (despite starting in a 4-3-3 formation) with just two men in the middle, allowing Dortmund the space on counters. And look where Haaland gets the ball (the Dortmund player in possession).
The image below shows how Haaland drives the ball forward, draws Diego Carlos into tackling him (white), and plays a quick one-two to make an unmarked run into the box.
And you know what happens when he is through on goal like that! Carlos should have either committed early to give his teammates the time to cover for him, or he should have held his position and let the midfielders pressurize Haaland.
The third goal is a very poor one to concede. The Sevilla midfield loses the ball by a very poor pass and some lack of concentration, and Dortmund players press aggressively. This is visible in the picture below, where the Sevilla players are visibly pressed.
The situation creates an overload of Dortmund players. Haaland (yellow) is found with a simple pass, with Sevilla’s left-back, Sergio Escudero, nowhere to be seen in the picture below. The unmarked Haaland went on to score comfortably with a low finish with his left foot.
It is clear from the analysis above that Sevilla, first of all, need to mark Haaland, who was arguably the best player of the match with two goals to his name. He was allowed to run at the defence for Dortmund’s second goal and was unmarked by Escudero for the third.
There was no reason for the Sevilla full-back to be so far up the pitch with just 43 minutes on the clock. If so, someone should have deputized for him at the back given it was a counter-attack.
Secondly, individual mistakes cost them. The first goal had Tomas Vaclik (goalkeeper) in a poor position and Dahoud was allowed time to shoot without anyone tackling or blocking his shot.
The second had Carlos prematurely sucked in to tackle Haaland, who ran around him and made an unmarked run, and the third was just callous loss of possession amid a high press and the failure of players falling back to defend.
But Sevilla can focus on two positives. Their two goals. The first came from a Suso shot just outside the box, which was one of the few shots their starting front-three had in the match. The front three had little to no touches in the box (as shown in the statistic below) and this is something that they could work on by being more direct and shooting more often.
The second goal had Dortmund playing a very high line of defence on a set-piece, which is visible in the picture below. The ball over their defensive line saw Luuk de Jong run into the box and score past the Dortmund goalkeeper.
Thus, it would be a good idea to play balls in behind their defence. If Dortmund are marking with a high line, as they did for Sevilla’s 2nd goal, this could be an invitation for the La Liga side to make runs into the box.
The game is by no means beyond saving. But Sevilla need a minimum of two goals to have a chance to qualify. However, they also have to keep Dortmund at bay and not let them score. They have to learn from their defensive mistakes.
Matching Dortmund’s numbers in midfield and resisting their aggressive press would help. Also, playing around the rushing Dortmund forward line with care could help them be less susceptible to goals. And most importantly, they will have to pay special attention to the man in form, Erling Haaland.
Sevilla should be patient and should not commit men forward too early. Scoring is important, but not conceding goals and being careful in possession are equally important as well. Dortmund had just 38% of possession but made the most of it by attempting more shots on target and scoring more goals.
(All match images are taken from the official match highlight package from UEFA.tv)