Arsenal’s Champions League squad is getting curious.
With Mikel Arteta’s side in second place in Group B as we head into the third round of fixtures, Ligue 1 strugglers Lens are leading the way, while rampant Eredivisie leaders PSV have some catching up to do streak despite nine wins in a row and only three goals conceded. — including two penalties — to start the Dutch campaign.
Then enter Sevilla, and their inconsistencies, to complete the most unpredictable groups.
Things are more complicated than ever for Sevilla, even less than 150 days from their seventh Europa League title.
After recovering from last season’s horrific slide towards the relegation zone by enlisting the help of La Liga veteran Jose Luis Mendilibar and embracing his direct brand of football along the way, Sevilla parted ways with the 62-year-old on October 8 after just seven. months in charge and now hopes to begin a confusing period that has swung from one extreme to the other.
Mendilibar insisted that his footballing philosophy, based on hard running and high pressure, had not changed in 29 years of coaching. His strength proved inspiring at Eibar, taking in the smallest club La Liga to record ninth and tenth place; and that same buzz provided initial inspiration Sevilleuntil it was clear that he could not take the company much further than he had already done.
Looking at team metrics during his time at the helm, the system’s goals were clear to see. No team in the Spanish top flight had more possession in the attacking third than Sevilla’s, while only four teams took more shots. However, the average quality in those areas was the second lowest.
It’s a jumble of numbers that paint a picture of a manager whose teams thrive on the box, squeezing every last drop of fitness out of a squad built to control the ball.
Nevertheless, Mendilibar created lasting memories at the club by playing in his own unmistakable way.
3-0 win against Manchester United in April European League The quarter finals were based on strict and disciplined high pressing, but a dramatic victory over Juventus the next round was dominated by crosses, with Sevilla making a total of 63 passes into the penalty area in light overtime.
Averaged 26.5 crosses per game throughout his career — the most of any La Liga club at the time — Chaos was much preferred to dominate the final third.
But it could also be used as high flyers in the first season Gerona showed back in August. Emphasizing bravery in possession, head coach Michel insisted his players take at least two touches in the face of Sevilla’s all-out press – winning the game 2-1.
They might have conceded 21 shots, losing the ball in the defensive third 13 times, but a more concerted header saw Girona play through wild pressure time and time again, eventually taking all three points with clean passing, starting in defence.
Especially in games against technically strong teams, Sevilla lacked this precision and their intensity became predictable. And as they threw another 50 crosses into the box that day, it became clear that Mendilibar’s commitment to his philosophy was beginning to produce desperate, misguided football.
Despite the glorious highs, the short-term solution was back to normal.
And now what?
Following the bittersweet departure of Mendilibar, Sevilla have turned to the former Uruguay The head coach Diego Alonso, a manager with more progressive ideas in possession but the same bite without it.
His opening match against Real madrid was another Sevilla performance characterized by a high-octane battle in midfield, with challenges flying in from inside Boubakary Soumare, Djibril Sow and of course, Sergio Ramos.
Sergio Ramos and Antonio Rüdiger got a little too close for comfort today 👀 photo.twitter.com/JZ0lyoSerj
— Viaplay Sports UK (@ViaplaySportsUK) October 21, 2023
Yet the numbers told a very different story, especially in terms of ownership
The overall pass percentage of 90.3 per cent was higher than in any of Mendilibar’s 20 La Liga games under Mendilibar, while the team also completed more passes in their own half (248), showing a greater desire to build carefully through the third.
Furthermore, the percentage of Sevilla’s crosses that went long (9.2 percent) was lower than in several games under the old manager, but goalkeeper Orjan Nyland completed six passes under 10 meters – almost as many as Mendilibar’s goalkeepers completed in his entire seven-month season (7).
The passing grid below shows the increased comfort Sevilla enjoyed on the ball in central midfield areas, even against the league leaders. Soumare often dropped in between the centre-backs, while the wing-backs were hugely involved in lapses of sustained possession.
Mendilibar’s methods will not be completely abandoned — 26 crosses into the box showed that Alonso’s side will still look direct when given the chance and that’s something Arsenal will need to be wary of on Tuesday night.
After all, with a player like Youssef En-Nesyri lurking, who has taken more headers (106) and scored more headed goals (15) than any other La Liga player since joining the club in January 2020, why wouldn’t you swing. a few crosses for him to attack?
Seville is still between many identifications — they have been, almost without exception, since Unai Emery left the club in 2016.
But as the new season begins, led by their fourth permanent manager in just over a year, they remain a force to be reckoned with in the individual game, with an uncanny ability to succeed in Europe.
Like their visit to Lens, Arsenal need to be wary of a team that knows how to let the adrenaline take over on the biggest nights.
(Top image: Getty Images)
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