(All stats, figures and graphs have been taken from whoscored.com)
Goals from Pablo Sarabia and Angel Correa helped Sevilla to victory, but an away goal from Jamie Vardy, his first ever goal in the Champions League, means that there’s still hope for Leicester in the Round of 16. The result was a bit of a surprise given that Leicester are just a point above relegation in the Premier League while Sevilla sit in third in La Liga.
The game began as expected with the ball mostly staying around Leicester’s goal while the Foxes struggled to keep possession. There also seemed to be some nervousness resulting in poor communication in the defense.
It just took four minutes for the first chance of the game as Sarabia cut in from the right and tried to curl one in from outside the box. His shot was just over the bar. Two minutes later, a backpass from Christian Fuchs nearly resulted in an own goal.
The Austrian crouched low to head the ball back to a rushing Kasper Schmeichel but his header was poorly directed required a diving stop to collect.
This uncertainty resulted in a penalty for Sevilla in the 13th minute. The ball was bouncing around inside the box when Correa tried to take control of it. Morgan came sliding in and brought down Correa in a poorly timed tackle and a clear penalty.
Angel Correa’s penalty was struck low but far too close to Schmeichel’s right for an easy save to keep the game goalless. Sevilla had another chance less than 10 minutes later when Sarabia pulled the ball back in from the right to Escudero who drilled in a shot with his left foot from outside the box. Schmeichel came to the rescue again with a low, diving save to his left.
It would be Escudero who would set up the first goal three minutes later in the 25th minute.
The move began with Nasri playing Vitolo through on the left side of the box but the Spaniard spent too long on the ball and his cross was blocked. Sevilla quickly got the ball back on the left flank.
Some triangular passing from Nasri to Vitolo to Escudero led to a perfectly-placed first time cross to the far post from the left back. Sarabia came charging into the box and jumped over Fuchs to head the ball into the back of the net after hitting the inside of the post.
The opening goal by Pablo Sarabia vs Leicester. Great cross by Escudero pic.twitter.com/JGuuABwHMD
— High Up The Pitch (@highupthepitch) February 22, 2017
Leicester nearly conceded again just two minutes later. Jovetic took a shot from 35 yards out which deflected off Huth’s back and nearly looped its way into the goal if not for Schmeichel’s punch over the bar.
There were two more chances for Sevilla to add to their lead before half-time.
In the 37th minute, Vitolo pressed Fuchs and won the ball off him before laying it off to Correa. The Argentine’s first-time shot was saved by Schmeichel to his right. Then, in the last play of the half, Mariano whipped in a cross which Vitolo couldn’t get on top off and his header was well over. Better communication would have led to a goal as Correa was running in and could have easily scored if Vitolo hadn’t gone for it.
It was all one-way traffic at the half with Sevilla enjoying a mammoth 75% of possession and taking 9 shots to Leicester’s 1. Crucial saves from Schmeichel meant that the defending Premier League champions were still alive in the tie.
Whatever Claudio Rainieri said to his team seemed to work as Leicester came out with more fight while Sevilla continued to stick their successful game plan from the first half.
Riyadh Mahrez forced his way into the box in the 47th minute but his cross was collected by Rico. Ndidi had a chance with a powerful volley three minutes later but it was straight to Rico. From the resulting counter, Nasri played a perfectly timed through ball on the left flank for Vitolo which beat five Leicester defenders.
Vitolo again took too long to shoot and his shot clipped the inside of the near post and whizzed across the face of the goal.
Clement Lenglet limped off in the 55th minute with some knee problems and was replaced by Daniel Carrico. The more even second half meant good chances were at a premium for both teams. Sarabia had another chance from the right flank in the 56th minute but his left-footed shot went just past the near post.
Ahmed Musa was taken off for Damarai Gray in the 58th minute. Gray played behind Vardy while Mahrez was pushed to the right flank. Gray’s first contribution was laying off Drinkwater for a shot in the 60th minute but it was deflected wide for a corner.
Doubling the Lead
Sevilla picked up a second goal two minutes later, again, thanks to some poor defending. Sarabia’s long ball from inside his half found Jovetic’s run who did brilliantly to control the ball with his chest and head while running into the box.
His run drew Morgan, Huth and Fuchs and left Correa unmarked to his left whom Jovetic found. Correa blasted the ball in off the crossbar to double Sevilla’s lead and atone for his missed penalty.
— Foul Throw (@foulthrownet) February 22, 2017
This would be Correa’s last contribution as he was subbed off for Vicente Iborra a minute later.
At this point, Sevilla began to sit back and seemed to get complacent as they could have added to their lead by doing exactly what they’d been doing. Instead, Iborra played like a central midfielder and didn’t put the same pressure that Correa did.
This complacency helped Leicester pull one back in the 73rd minute. Some 1-2 passing between Gray and Drinkwater led to Gray playing a through ball for Drinkwater on the left side of the box. Drinkwater whipped in a first-time ground cross across the box which an unmarked Vardy smashed home.
— Bazinga Cooper (@iqdefinesyou) February 22, 2017
This woke Sevilla up as they pushed forward and played with more urgency to reclaim their two-goal advantage. Escudero picked up a booking in the 77th minute for chopping down Mahrez for the first card of the game.
There was some controversy in the 80th minute when Jovetic was brought down by Ndidi in the box after scuffing a shot but no penalty was given. Schmeichel was called upon one last time to save a Vitolo header in the 84th minute.
Mariano went on a mazy run down the right and passed it to Iborra who laid it off for Sarabia to cross it in. His cross was deflected upward by Fuchs which gave Vitolo the time to get into a good position near the far post but Schmeichel was well-positioned to save it.
Albrighton was brought off for Amartey in the 88th minute before a Sevilla corner. Sarabia whipped in the corner and Rami got up to head it but his effort clipped the bar and went over.
Leicester had the potential for a counter in stoppage time but Carrico brought down Mahrez, and picked up a booking, to prevent a late equalizer.
FULL TIME: SEVILLA 2-1 LEICESTER
73% Possession 27%
23 Shots 7
86% Pass Success 65%
8 Corners 1
Themes of the Game
Sevilla’s Pressing and Isolation of Vardy
Sevilla were without manager Jorge Sampaoli who was serving the second of a 2-game touchline ban. However, they still continued his trend of fluid, overlapping players and intense pressing. When pressing at the start of the game, Sevilla would line up like a 4-2-4 with Jovetic and Correa forcing Leicester to play the ball wide.
This would play into their hands as Mariano and Escudero would assist Sarabia and Vitolo in pressuring Fuchs and Simpson. Leicester’s midfield would have no choice but to drop deeper to try to maintain possession, isolating Vardy. His signature tactic of waiting for a long ball from a wide position was rendered ineffective as Leicester’s only aim was just ensuring Sevilla wouldn’t win back the ball.
As a result, they would just hoof the ball clear with no real direction or strategy in mind apart from getting it into Sevilla’s half. The ineffectiveness of this was clear as Leicester enjoyed only 20% possession at the time of the first goal. Leicester’s defensive shape didn’t help much either with them defending in a 4-4-2, meaning that playing out of the back wasn’t an option.
Another key reason for this isolation and lack of inspiration up front was the short, quick, triangular passing network of Sevilla on the flanks.
Leicester’s modus operandi under Claudio Ranieri has been the quick counter utilizing their overlapping fullbacks and the pace and long ball acumen of Mahrez and Albrighton on the flanks. Sevilla countered this by defending with 3 central players (Rami, Lenglet and N’Zonzi) while pushing their full-backs up in attack.
Mariano, Sarabia and either Nasri or Correa would combine on the right while Escudero, Vitolo and either Nasri or Jovetic would combine on the left. This would be too much pressure for just the full back and so either Ndidi or Drinkwater would help out from central midfield while Musa or Albrighton would drop deeper.
This would lead to situations where Leicester would be defending with 9 players behind the ball while Mahrez and Vardy would be stranded upfield. Even if Leicester could get the ball to them, they would be outmanned by Sevilla’s 3 man defense.
As the first half wore on, Simpson and Fuchs would be pegged back as they struggled to deal with Vitolo and Escudero or Sarabia and Mariano respectively.
This quick passing from Sevilla, and long ball tactic from Leicester, are evident in the touches and passes each team had. Sevilla had 655 passes and 860 touches for a ratio 1.31 touches per pass, nearly a first time pass every time. Leicester had 251 passes and 431 touches for a ratio of 1.72 touches per pass which illustrates their strategy of using 1 touch to control the ball and the other to hoof it or sometimes just playing it out fast time.
Leicester’s Dependence on right flank
It was clear that Sevilla would attack through the flanks with 19 of their 23 attempted dribbles occurring on the flanks. 14 of their 23 dribbles were in Leicester’s half which highlights their high pressing.
Leicester also attacked through their flanks with all 21 dribbles coming from out wide. However, 15 were on the right flank. The reason for this was a combination of Sevilla’s best attackers preferring to play on the left, and mainly because of Leicester’s best attackers preferring to play on the right.
Mahrez has been traditionally used as a right winger for Leicester and so would naturally gravitate toward playing on the right. Musa was the first choice right winger and so his play was also restricted to the right. There were even times when Vardy would switch positions with Musa and play on the right himself. This tendency was aided by Escudero bombing forward like a wing back, but his defensive covering up was phenomenal as he made 7 successful tackles, the most in the game, and all on that flank.
Substitution of Correa
As said in the Play-by-Play, the decision to bring on Iborra for Correa was a defensive one with Iborra dropping deeper. This reduced a lot of the pressure that the Leicester defense was under from Correa playing as a second striker and gave them some more freedom to push up and play their own game.
This difference can be seen in the heatmaps for both these players, as well as the amount of touches and passes Schmeichel had to make. As seen in the team heatmap, Leicester spent most of their time on the ball in and around their box. At half time, Schmeichel had the second highest number of touches. This dropped to the fifth highest number of touches by full time: he had 24 touches of the ball in the first half and just 13 in the second.
Sevilla recognized it to be a bad move after Leicester scored as Iborra went back to occupy the same role Correa did in an effort to put more pressure on Leicester but they didn’t have enough time to make it count.
Player of the Match
The former Manchester City man had a phenomenal game with 92% pass success rate for his 112 passes (highest in the game), 3 dribbles and kept the ball for 11.6% of the time (also the highest) losing it only twice.
He was unlucky not to get an assist when Vitolo’s shot hit the post and was a constant problem with his dribbling and movement down the middle. Given a free role, Nasri was able to move to whichever flank was necessary and provide a passing option for the full backs and wingers.
His positioning in defense was not too shabby either as he frequently tracked back to bring the ball out from his centre-backs, a trait we hadn’t seen him do during his tenure as a left winger for Manchester City.
Leicester will seek comfort in a 1-0 victory at the King Power being enough to see them through on away goals, but know that they are still the underdogs in this tie. Their next match is a home game against Liverpool on the 27th. Sevilla’s next match is an away game at Real Betis on the 25th.
The return leg will be played on the 14th of March.