Julen Lopetegui’s managerial career in the last 2 years has been nothing short of a roller-coaster. The Spaniard was the sacked by Spanish International Team one week before the commencing of the World Cup 2018. He got appointed by Real Madrid as the head coach, taking over from Zinedine Zidane. He got sacked by the Los Blancos only 4 months into his managerial appointment in the Spanish capital. Fast forward 18 months, he is standing tall with his first trophy with Sevilla in the form of the UEFA Europa League.
It is important for any professional to overcome difficult moments in their career in order to succeed. This is a feeling of immense happinessJulen Lopetegui
The journey to the Spaniard’s resurgence in Sevilla was difficult. We look into the tactical setup of Lopetegui’s Sevilla this season.
Lopetegui’s formation at Sevilla was the same as he utilized in Spain i.e. a typical 4-3-3 formation. The CB pairing of Diego Carlos and Jules Kounde was integral to the defensive structure. Jesus Navas and Reguilon were the two full-backs who also played as the inverted wingers at times. The midfield 3 of Gudelj, Jordan, and Fernando provide passing and ball recovery. Gudelj at times tends to play as a third CB when he drops in between the two central defenders.
The front 3 of Suso, De Jong, and Ocampos provide the attacking flair and goals. Suso at times tends to drop back in between the lines (creating a 4-3-1-2) to create a link with De Jong and Ocampos. This happens when the midfielders are unable to supply the passes to the attacking players.
Sevilla’s Defensive Structure
When Sevilla has the ball, they always try to build from the back and rotate with their midfielders to create spaces to feed the attacking players. The presence of Gudelj is extremely crucial in this aspect.
When Diego Carlos has the ball without Gudelj in the team, he tries to become an inverted fullback with Reguilon becoming almost a winger. The CB has the authority to occupy that role because Gudelj tends to drop deep between the Center Backs. This ensures that the team does not get beaten on the counter.
When Gudelj is not in the team, Diego Carlos tends to stay in the LCB position and tends to spread the ball to his full-backs and midfielders. Kounde, on the other hand, tends to stay alongside Carlos for allowing him a comfortable pass. Apart from that, he has the responsibility of tackling. If the team is unable to build from one side, Carlos tends to switch up the play by lofting balls into the full-back on the other side.
When the opposing team has the ball, the defensive structure of Sevilla is very important. The midfielders and attackers (in particular Suso) tend to drop back. The formation becomes more like a 4-3-1-2 or 3-5-1-2. Suso tends to come into the hole in front of the midfielders. The midfielders tend to create a shield in front of both the CBs.
The wing-backs or full-backs in Lopetegui’s team are usually Reguilon (LWB) and Jesus Navas (RWB). They are completely responsible for providing width and also being disciplined when the opponent team has the ball.
Lopetegui worked very closely with Monchi to identify the ways in which the team can be stopped from getting beaten from the wide areas. They had the likes of Kjaer and Carrico as options for central defenders. However, they did not trust those defenders. They spent big on Diego Carlos to ensure that the team has a presence to stop getting beaten from the wide areas on the counter.
Lopetegui works 24 hours a day. His hard work has paid off and he got the best out of us.Jesus Navas
There were 2 situations which were clear cut examples of this. In the Europa League semi-final against Manchester United, Paul Pogba supplied the ball from his own half to set Marcus Rashford free on the 45th minute. Even though Jesus Navas was in the opposing half, Diego Carlos was in position to ensure that Rashford does not get free on the counter and he was able to stop a certain goal.
The second situation was against Atletico Madrid in the La Liga 19/20 campaign (described in the picture above). Kounde anticipates the fact that Navas will get caught out of position. He tends to make sure that Felix does not go anywhere and makes him go to the by-line. The only way Felix gets past him is by an amazing piece of skill. This causes their counter-attack to eventually break down.
As we mentioned before, both Navas and Reguilon have the responsibility of giving Sevilla the width that they want in attacking football. One of the biggest reasons why Navas was so effective for Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City was the way he overlapped with Zabaleta to feed the likes of Aguero in the box. He does the same with Suso, this time as a full-back. Once Suso tries to cut in from the wing to have a shot or look for a pass, Navas is always present to attack as an overlapping outlet.
Both Manuel Pellegrini and Pep Guardiola were using Navas as an outlet for crosses. Lopetegui tends to do the same with Navas. The cross accuracy of Jesus Navas is improving and this season he had a better cross accuracy than he had in the last 4 seasons. Reguilon, on the other hand, is one of the best full-backs in La Liga. The Real Madrid full-back, currently on loan to Sevilla, was immense in the attacking areas. His link-up with Banega and Ocampos bodes really well for Sevilla’s attacks down the left-wing.
The responsibility of Sevilla’s midfield is to connect Sevilla’s good quality in full-backs with the strikers. Ever Banega has the prime responsibility for that. However, their deep midfielders also have their responsibilities.
Like we stated in the defensive structure above, Gudelj drops back between the 2 CBs to stop their defense getting exposed on counters. Apart from Gudelj, another former Manchester City player Fernando and Jordan have the responsibilities of ball-carrying and tackling. Once Navas or Reguilon get the ball, both Fernando and Jordan (or Gudelj) are on the same wavelength as they ensure counter-press.
The problem with Sevilla is that they don’t have runners behind the defenses. They do not have the players who can run behind the defensive lines for Banega to pick them from midfield. As a result, Banega does not have as much influence in Lopetegui’s game.
Sevilla has usually had the presence of De Jong as a target-man with Suso and Ocampos as the wide outlets. Usually, against teams like Real Madrid or Barcelona when the opposing team has more of the ball, Suso tends to drop back. This changes Sevilla’s shape to a 4-3-1-2 with Ocampos and De Jong both closer together.
Suso tends to do that when their midfield, including Ever Banega, is very deep because of the opposing team having the ball. He becomes the link between the midfield and attack.
If Sevilla has the ball, he usually plays from the right-wing and links up really with Jesus Navas. On the other hand, Ocampos tends to do the same with Reguilon. Both those wingers, along with the full-backs, try to pump crosses into the box to ensure that De Jong meets those crosses to head it in.
The biggest quality Sevilla possesses, especially in the UEFA Europa League winning campaign, was their attributes on set pieces. Based on their performance in the Europa League final against Inter Milan, Sevilla has 3 outlets on corners. They are the two central defenders i.e. Diego Carlos and Jules Kounde. Apart from them, there is De Jong. Ever Banega usually is the set-piece specialist. De Jong scored the 2 goals and Diego Carlos popped up with an acrobatic overhead kick to seal the Europa League final. Both Ocampos and Fernando are in the 6-yard box with the three aerial threats sitting around the penalty spot and making the runs.
Julen Lopetegui has truly elevated himself as one of the best managers around. Many are saying that he should be alongside the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Hansi Flick for the World Manager Of The Year. Even if his credentials are not as big as those names, he has been incredible. The negative vibes of the time at Real Madrid looks far far away now. The only way for the Spaniard is up. Who knows that with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, we could have finally have a 4th Spanish Team fighting for the La Liga title.