Film Focus: Real Madrid Falter in Face of Dogged Sevilla

Nick DorringtonSpecial to Bleacher ReportMarch 26, 2014

SEVILLE, SPAIN - MARCH 26:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid CF reacts as he fail to score during the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on March 26, 2014 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Real Madrid slipped behind Barcelona and city rivals Atletico in La Liga’s title race with a 2-1 defeat away to Sevilla on Wednesday night. It was a second consecutive loss for Carlo Ancelotti’s side, who are now reliant on other teams tripping up their fellow title challengers.

The victory was a sixth consecutive league triumph for Sevilla, who seem to be hitting form at just the right time and may yet launch a late challenge to Athletic Bilbao’s fourth place. Unai Emery, whose position was under serious threat as recently as two weeks ago, now looks set, as per Onda Cero (h/t Football Espana), to extend his contract with the club.

So what did Sevilla do right and Madrid do wrong? We take a look at the tape for some answers.


Strong Start For Madrid: Pressure on the Ball

Madrid began well, putting Sevilla under pressure in possession and forcing some early turnovers that led to promising situations. They stuck particularly close to Sevilla’s main man, Ivan Rakitic, as seen below.

Source: LiveFootballVideo, annotation by author

Rakitic really struggled to make an impression for much of the first half, with Madrid getting players to him quickly to prevent him from turning and looking forward. He looked to be feeling the pressure, mis-controlling a couple of passes and aiming a wild shot well off target.


Ronaldo Peppers the Sevilla Goal

Cristiano Ronaldo saw a lot of the ball in shooting positions inside the final third during the first half, and it was from his deflected free-kick that Madrid took the lead on 14 minutes.

Ronaldo had two further efforts well saved by Beto, struck the post when he beat the Sevilla goalkeeper to Asier Illarramendi’s flicked pass into the area and has also mustered another shot off target by the end of the first half.

Source: Squawka


Sevilla Close Space Between The Lines

Madrid were relatively easily able to work the ball through the middle during the early exchanges, with Luka Modric twice receiving the ball and picking out through balls to Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. The latter incident is pictured below:

Source: LiveFootballVideo, annotation by author

After equalising on 19 minutes, Sevilla dropped a little deeper, closing up space between the lines and adopting a more conservative defensive approach. Madrid were, however, still able to spring in behind them on a couple of occasions later in the half, with Gareth Bale twice getting into good positions without producing an end product.

Emery clearly had some words at half time, because in the second half, Sevilla took another step or two back and largely succeeded in preventing Madrid from getting in behind them.

Source: LiveFootballVideo

The deep defensive line played to the strengths of Sevilla’s defenders, particularly the strong central pairing of Federico Fazio and Nicolas Pareja. They were both comfortable dealing with the crosses Madrid swung into the area with increasing regularity as the second half wore on.


Marcelo The Outlet

When Madrid were able to get into advanced positions, it was usually through Marcelo getting forward from left-back. The Brazilian found himself in some excellent positions in the second half, primarily from astute passes from Modric, but was unable to make anything of these situations, seeing his attempted crosses and passes cut out.

Source: LiveFootballVideo, annotation by author


Real Madrid Get Desperate

As the clock ticked down and Sevilla’s defence continued to stand firm, Madrid began to resort to pot shots from distance, nearly all of which were off target.

Source: Squawka

Gareth Bale was particularly guilty of speculative long range efforts, attempting three, all off target, within the final 15 minutes, as per Squawka.


Counter-Attacking Efficiency

While Real Madrid unsuccessfully toiled away, Sevilla were efficient on the break throughout and scored both of those goals from quick breakaways.

For the first, Jose Antonio Reyes nudged the ball in behind the defence to Carlos Bacca, who raced onto it and prodded past the advancing Diego Lopez. Most of Madrid's normal defenders had been caught up the pitch, out of position.

For the second, Rakitic, who generally had a greater influence on the match in the second half, produced a lovely piece of skill to flip the ball over the head of Pepe on the half-way line before advancing forward and slipping in Bacca for another good finish.

The second was Bacca’s 19th goal of the season in all competitions. His turn of pace and clever movement have made him the ideal striker for Emery’s counter-attacking system.

On most days, Real Madrid would expect to win a match in which they outshot their hosts, 26 to 12, and held 69.2 percent of the possession, both per FourFourTwo. But on this particular Wednesday night, it was Sevilla’s efficiency, rather than Madrid’s general dominance, that came out on top.