UEFA Europa League: How Mourinho’s undefeated streak in European finals came to a cruel end after an extensive chess match – tactical analysis
Roma took the lead in the first half through Paulo Dybala before Sevilla equalised after halftime courtesy of a Gianluca Mancini own goal. With the scores level at the end of the initial 90 minutes, the sides played out an additional 30 minutes of extra time. With no further goals scored, a penalty shootout followed. Sevilla won 4-1 with substitute Gonzalo Montiel scoring the decisive spot-kick.
Sevilla lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou was behind a back four of Jesús Navas, Loïc Badé, Nemanja Gudelj, and on-loan Manchester United player Alex Telles. Ahead of them were midfielders Fernando and Ivan Rakitić. Óliver Torres played as the attacking midfielder. Lucas Ocampos was on the right with Bryan Gil on the left. Youssef En-Nesyri was the lone striker.
Roma went with a 3-5-2 formation, with Rui Patrício in goal. Gianluca Mancini, Chris Smalling, and Ibañez were the centre backs. Zeki Çelik was at right wing-back and Leonardo Spinazzola was at left wing-back. The midfielders were Bryan Cristante, Nemanja Matić, and Lorenzo Pellegrini. Paulo Dybala and Tammy Abraham started up front.
Sevilla’s build-up versus Roma’s man-to-man press
Sevilla built play in their 4-2-3-1 formation. To counter this, Roma used a man-to-man pressing structure.
This meant that, in theory, Sevilla wouldn’t have any spare players during build-up to make it more difficult for them to progress the ball safely through the thirds. Sevilla would then have to play more long balls, which are riskier as it reduces the chances of maintaining possession. If Roma could then win these duels from the long balls, they could then win possession back. This would both prevent Sevilla attacks whilst also looking to initiate attacks of their own.
From the below image, we can see Sevilla with their back four and two central midfielders. Notice how both of their full-backs have pushed up slightly from their centre-backs. They are now level with the midfielders. We can also see how every Sevilla player has a Roma player in close proximity. This is a result of their man-to-man press.
This is with the exception of one player. Notice how Sevilla’s left-back, Telles, at the top of the above picture is being pressed by Roma’s right wing-back Çelik. However, Sevilla’s right back, Navas, is free. This is because it was the duty of Roma’s near-side wing-back to press forwards onto the opposing full-back. The wing-back on the opposite side of the pitch had to stay back to help form a back four. In the above example, the ball was on Sevilla’s left side, meaning Çelik had to press forwards, with Spinazzola staying back.
As earlier mentioned, the aim of Roma’s man-to-man press was to get Sevilla to play long passes. Roma could then challenge for duels to turn possession over.
In the instance of the above example, Sevilla did just that. The ball was played long from goalkeeper Bounou towards left-back Telles. Roma managed to win possession back before progressing play towards Abraham (see below).
Although on this occasion Roma weren’t able to sustain an attack from this position, they managed to get players forwards before losing possession. Because they had these additional players in Sevilla’s third, it made it easier to counter-press once possession had been turned over. This counter-press forced Sevilla to go long again. This led to another situation where Roma could challenge for a duel.
From the below screenshot we can see how, after Roma had won possession back from this duel, Mancini played a nice through pass towards Dybala. This ultimately led to the opening goal of the match.
When we trace the origin of this goal, it’s clear that the opportunity arose due to Roma’s pressing structure forcing Sevilla to go long from the defence. It was then through the counter-press once Roma had lost possession high up the pitch.
Roma’s narrow build-up versus Sevilla’s press
Whilst Sevilla attempted to play out from the back if they had opportunities to do so, Roma were much more content to go long from the defence.
However, one of the reasons Roma went long more often perhaps had something to do with the positioning of their centre-backs. From the below image, we can see how Roma’s back three are very narrow. This means that it’s easier for Sevilla’s striker, En-Nesyri, to press whichever defender has the ball without help from a teammate. When this is combined with the deeper positioning of Roma’s wing-backs, it makes it easier for Sevilla’s 4-2-3-1 shape to press Roma.
As mentioned earlier, Roma looked to challenge for duels after forcing Sevilla to go long from their build-up. But this ability to win duels also meant that a more direct approach of their own wasn’t a problem.
In the below example, we can see how, after Roma played a long pass, the ball eventually fell to Abraham on the right side. He held up play and released the ball to Dybala. After receiving the ball, Dybala drove towards Sevilla’s defence.
Dybala then carried the ball into Sevilla’s penalty area before cutting it back towards Pellegrini who was in space, as we can see below. On this occasion, Sevilla managed to close down Pellegrini and block his shot.
Roma’s 5-3-2 low-block
We’ve already seen how Roma looked to press high up the pitch when Sevilla were building play from the defence, but what happened when this didn’t work? If Sevilla beat their man-to-man press, Roma then looked to drop their wing-backs deeper to form a back five, sitting in a 5-3-2 defensive block.
This meant that Roma were happy for Sevilla to have possession, only managing a 32.6% possession share themselves. However, they allowed this without conceding many big chances. Sevilla only managed to generate an expected goals value of 1.31 from 18 shots.
In the above image, we can see Roma’s 5-3-2 shape. Also notice how Roma’s left wing-back and left-sided central midfielder have pushed forwards and out to the touchline towards a couple of Sevilla players, as the ball was on Sevilla’s right side.
This defensive block allowed Roma to have compactness in the centre of the pitch even if players shifted across to defend the wide areas effectively as in the above image. However, there were consequences to this defensive style which Sevilla looked to exploit.
In this below example, Sevilla managed to switch play to their left towards Rakitić. Rakitić was in space as Roma’s players had shifted towards the opposite side of the pitch. Also, because Roma’s back five were inside their penalty area and couldn’t get out quickly enough, there was space ahead of Rakitić. He took a first-time shot which, as there was no pressure on the ball because of these previously mentioned reasons, travelled all the way towards goal and came back off the post.
In this final example below, Sevilla have possession on their right side. We can see how Roma are defending very deep with eight outfield players level with their penalty area. Navas crosses the ball from the right side into the penalty area between the defence and goalkeeper. We can see that Sevilla striker En-Nesyri is goal side of Roma’s Mancini. The defender then had to move towards his goal in an attempt to cut out the cross but the cross actually deflected off of Mancini and into his own net, levelling the score shortly after halftime.
Since Roma were defending as deep as they were, it gave goalkeeper Patrício no chance of preventing the goal and allowed no room for error.
The match was ultimately won on penalties, and the contest was as closely contested as the result would suggest.
Roma’s gameplan was simple. They looked to press aggressively man-to-man when they could to disrupt Sevilla’s build-up. Roma also looked to win duels to initiate attacks of their own. When this failed, they looked to sit deep, conceding possession but looking to potentially hit Sevilla on the counterattack.
Sevilla employed more of a possession-based approach, and they had to take the chances that came their way through this possession.
The game was level at 1-1 by the end of the game, including extra time but was ultimately decided on penalties as the Andalusian club lifted the crown for the seventh time in their history, the fifth in nine years which is an incredible feat.