Sevilla played Leicester. The home side won 2-1, although Leicester will have felt like winners too, coming away just a goal down with a potentially important away goal in their pocket.
There was some talk of Sevilla ripping Leicester apart. This was not quite true, Leicester doing most of the ripping themselves, intent on a high press despite a back line that will never be able to cope with the need to play high themselves. Thusly, big gaps open up in the midfield, as the team fails to concertina and squeeze themselves up to support the high pressers.
xG map for Sevilla – Leicester. The Foxes scored their own real chance and are still in it going home. pic.twitter.com/gSjb7pirVu
— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) February 22, 2017
Anyway, this was a match in 5 sections.
The game opened up with Leicester pressing high and active, Mahrez and Musa particularly more energetic in their defending than they have been for most of the season. It was reasonably effective at first, Nzonzi moving back very deep after 5 minutes after having been man-marked by Drinkwater. Just after the ten minute mark, Sevilla started to be able to advance quickly through the side after prolonged periods of passing around the back.
The penalty, all Leicester ineptitude, nevertheless provides a handy, rough marker for the turning point between the Acts.
Sevilla began to make more headway, a single successful pass into Leicester’s box in the opening 14 minutes followed by four in Act 2.
The goal was, in some ways, a surprise. One would have expected Sevilla’s goals to come from a through-ball, perhaps, or a pull-back after having pulled Leicester’s defence all over the place. But they took advantage of Leicester’s narrow back four, Sarabia arriving late on Fuchs back to bullet a header into the far corner. This was something Sevilla tried to take advantage of on a couple of other occasions too, but none were as effective as the moment for their opener.
In the 29th minute, Leicester’s forward line had rotated around temporarily, and it was Mahrez and Musa on the forward line for pressing duties. As Musa wheeled round from closing Sevilla’s right-sided centre-back to closing down the keeper, Sergio Rico bisected the two forwards perfectly with a simple, unhurried pass to Nzonzi.
Musa raised an exasperated arm. Vardy, now in the left midfield position (possibly rotated out of front-line pressing duties for a rest), responded with an urgent beckoning of his own arm to get the two players back into a defensive bloc. It signalled the end of Leicester’s most concerted efforts to press high in the first half. They were still relatively easy to play through, however, never completely compact.
The period after half-time brought some more intensity for Leicester (for the first 5-7 minutes at least), but more important was the fact that Leicester were starting to get into the game. In the whole match, Sevilla outshot Leicester 22-7, and 8-1 in the first half. Leicester’s shots weren’t exactly of good quality here, but that they were taking any at all showed some improvement in attack from the first half, springing a couple of counter-attacks.
Sevilla got some good chances, slipping players through with a ball splitting the Leicester back-line in the halfspaces, Vitolo’s chance hitting the near post squeezing first past Schmeichel and then across the length of the goal-line probably the best among them.
Sevilla’s second ushered in the final Act, a fluid progression of intertwined counter-attacks and tired periods of stillness. In the final third of the match [for some reason it isn’t shown on the image] Sevilla completed 96/114 forward passes compared to the full match total of 259/324, around 36% of the forward passes in 33% of the match.
Leicester’s is more striking. 41/63 forward passes in the last half hour, against 92/168 for the full match. Around 37% of attempts in the last third of the match, and 45% of forward completions.
Their goal wasn’t quite a counter-attack, but was sprung by Sevilla’s own pressing trigger. In one of Leicester’s extended periods of possession (these happened increasingly as the match wore on, greeted by whistles from the crowd), Drinkwater got the ball near the edge of the final third and Sevilla suddenly started to press.
A give and go with Gray released the central midfielder into the space that had been vacated, and his cross provided the best Leicester chance of the game. Unlike so often in the league this season, they were able to take it. Leicester enjoyed a boost post-goal, and when that had worn off, gaps were starting to open in Sevilla’s midfield. Leicester were too tired, or too wary, to exploit.
Considering the deliberate dynamic taken by the teams of home-side-capable-of-possession-play versus away-side-built-on-counter-attacks, the end of the match was more even than much of the game.
There were flashes of good -occasional moments of successful pressing, some motivated defensive performances from forward players, some genuinely good exchanges in possession – in the Leicester performance, splashed amongst large swathes of bad. If they can replace the latter with the former, both in the league and in the return leg at the King Power, they might be able to turn their season around.