The Messi show – part whatever, problems in transition and unlucky Sevilla

Initially i really didn’t plan on writing anything before the United – Liverpool game but waking up on Saturday i came across the La Liga fixtures and, well, here i am, writing on Sevilla – Barca. Wanted to get it done by Saturday evening but that little pain in the arse called “social” life got to me and i was weak to restrain myself. Bottom tier mentality, i’d say.

Pablo Machin opted for an interesting 4-4-2/5-4-1 hybrid with a few critical details to it and a series of second half subs that turned it into a 5-3-2, but i’ll leave that for later. Valverde stuck with a 4-3-3, with Coutinho in for Dembele.

A good time for me to specify that i’m lazy and adjusting squad numbers isn’t my thing whatsoever. So you’ll have to get used to Busquets with a 34 and Pique with a 20.

First half

The opening 20 minutes saw Barca control possession for large spells of the game but ultimately fall into Sevilla’s well executed traps. Machin set his side out to defend in a 4-4-1-1, with Sarabia on Busquets, Rog on Rakitic and Promes marking Vidal. Banega would usually stay further behind, acting as a sweeper between the lines and keeping an eye on Messi.

When Busquets dropped in between the CB’s Sarabia would mark the man now occupying the vacated zone (normally Rakitic), whilst Promes narrow positioning meant better coverage of the half-spaces and a marker for Vidal.

Sevilla would adopt a narrow 5-4-1 according to where the ball is and subsequently according to Alba’s movement. Once Barca have moved into attacking the last 3rd and Alba has moved up the pitch, Navas would drop as a RWB, not allowing Barcelona to stretch their defensive block, whilst still keeping at the wide forwards (Sarabia and Promes) and striker in higher positions in case of turnovers of the ball.

A moment in which this transition from 4-4-2 to 5-4-1 is visible, Barca have picked the right side, serving a clue for Navas to drop deeper and follow Alba’s movement.

This prevented or at the very least heavily impacted on Barca’s ability to progress the ball in the final 3rd. With Navas marking Alba and the RCB marking out Coutinho, not helped as well by the lack of depth to their attacks and players running beyond the Sevilla last line, Barca huffed and puffed but found little joy in breaking a well organised defensive shape.

This also resulted in issues from a defensive point of view. With Sarabia, Promes and Ben Yedder positioned high and with Barca using their FB’s as a last resort in terms of providing width in the final 3rd, Machin’s men efficiently pressed Barca near once they had chosen a flank to attack and found gaping spaces in the wide channels behind Semedo and Alba.

2 pictures from a roughly 10-second spell – Barca lose the ball on the edge of the Sevilla box, followed by a quick transition and a pass out wide to Sarabia in acres of space, vacated by Alba who’s well out of position.
Similar situation 10 minutes later end with a goal. Messi’s dispossessed on the edge of the box, one vertical pass takes out the entire Barca midfield, leaving Seviall with a 3 vs 2 with Navas exploiting the space down the left channel once again.

It was a half a half that ultimately must’ve left Machin with contrasting feelings. His side dominated, completely disturbed Barca’s build up and worked numerous chances of 3 vs 3, 4 vs 4 in the final 3rd, yet only scored once.

In the remaining 20 minutes Barca scored, Messi being his destructive self equalized with a screamer, but that did little to change the dynamic of the game. Sevilla kept stretching the depth, winning duels and second balls and creating wide overloads. Oh, and they scored at the end of the half after a nice bit of pressing high up the pitch.

Hawk-eye view, man and zone orientated press, poor kick out from Stegen and Barca go 2-1 down.

Second half

Valverde made a half-time switch with Dembele replacing Vidal. Barca moved to a 4-4-2. Plan seemed obvious, more bodies between the lines and another game changer on the pitch albeit still not answering the questions in terms of how to properly cope with Sevilla’s transition threat.

In the opening minutes Raktic would move between the CB’s in order to allow Pique or Umtiti to progress forward by dribbling.

Sevilla also had a change of shape but probably not directly correlating to Barca’s adjustments, rather forced as a result of 2 defensive injuries within 10 minutes. Roughly around the 60th minute they went to a 5-3-2 with Promes at WB and Sarabia up top.

The switch made sense with the front 2 sticking closer to Rakitic and Busquets, allowing the midfield trio to successfully cover the passing lanes.

Barca continued to struggle for solutions, with their lack of depth still an issue. Naturally, in games like this where you feel like nothing will ever happen, with one team lacking the edge and ideas to open up a well drilled block there is inevitably a lingering mistake or a touch of brilliance ( well, maybe both) to change the dynamics. Up step Vaclik and Messi. Well, that’s about all the info you need i assume.

Final 20 minutes continued just as one-paced as the opening 25 of the second half. Sevilla still finding moments in which to exploit the channels in behind the FB’s, yet the execution wasn’t at the required level, with Promes wasting a decent opportunity right before Messi equalized for 2-2. A game of fouls, second balls, scrappy set-piece and a seemingly unbreakable Sevilla block had to be decided with a bit of fortune, when a through ball was deflected of a Sevilla defender to fall for Messi, who made no error. The never ending list of managers performing wonders against Barca only to be undone by a Messi lecture in finishing adds yet another victim in Pablo Machin.


Good game, more so from Sevilla, who produced an excellent performance in pretty much every aspect of the game, with the exception of that little bit extra ruthless edge in the final 3rd. Performances like this make them a serious EL threat as well as as still being in top 4 contention.

Barcelona and Valverde on the other hand take another step towards retaining the league title but will be seriously worried about the continuing trend of leaving too much space for the opposition in transition and struggling with creating clear cut chances when having their FB’s threat nullified/tightly- marked. Lyon might want to take notes.

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