Over the past week I’ve been harping on Sevilla’s inconsistency, something I felt would be their downfall against Braga. I never thought that inconsistency would lead to three goals while allowing four against Sporting Braga, but their ability to look world beaters one moment and world doormats the next was exploited by a team with Braga’s discipline. While Sevilla was able to get more goals than would be expected, they were never able to prevent Braga exploding out of defense and executing on counter attacks. As a result, Spain is down to three Champions League teams after Braga’s 4-3 win in Seville, eliminating Sevilla on a 5-3 aggregate.
Sevilla has the raw talent to get back into Champions League next year, but until they make some changes, they’re likely to maintain that Jekyll and Hyde behavior that’s submarined their last season-plus. They are great at building attacks down Jesus Navas’s right side, and with Diego Perotti supporting from the left by joining their two forwards in the penalty area, Sevilla has a base set-up that will work against most teams. Even the best left backs in the world are hard pressed to completely cancel out Navas, particularly if he’s getting help from Abdoulay Konko and Luca Cigarini.
But Sevilla needs more options. The gap between the forward pair and the two central midfielders is too large, and Cigarini is not being deployed high enough to bridge the space between defensive midfielder Didier Zokora and forward Luis Fabiano. As a result, Fabiano is having to drop deeper to promote the link-up play, leaving an increasingly ineffective Frederic Kanouté as their closest threat to goal (most of the time, a formation that forces your best goal scorer farther from goal is flawed). When their build-up play goes through the right, it leaves their 4-4-2 exposed to counters through the middle, putting too much of a burden on Didier Zokora to be a flawless destroyer. As we saw on the first Braga goal yesterday, when Zokora can’t make the key tackle, a central defense that just sold their best player (Sebastien Squillaci) is easily exposed.
Sevilla needs to start Alvaro Negredo in place of Kanoute, hope Ivica Dragutinovic returns to health soon, and start having left wing Perotti cut-in to above the arc (and not become a third forward) so he can support through the middle when Sevilla stretches right. Unlike Kanouté, Negredo can do some of the link-up work currently being done by Fabiano, keeping the Brazilian closer to goal. Dragutinovic will augment Squillaci’s loss, while Perotti’s deployment could help defend against counter attacks (or at least improve the numbers). Sevilla’s not going to switch from their 4-4-2 (nor should they), so they need to tweak.
But for all the scrutiny Sevilla deserves, Sporting Braga and their coach, Domingos Paciencia, deserves credit. Between his left-sided midfielder Luis Aguiar and the shading of a left-central midfielder Leandro Salino, Paciencia gave left back Elderson the help he needed on Navas, often allowing the full back to play narrow and help in the box. Those times Navas was able to get crosses in, Paciencia had Vadinho drop back into the defense and further help with numbers against Kanouté and Fabiano, allowing right back Silvio to devote his attention to Perotti. Paciencia had his team patiently wait for an opportunity when Sevilla over-committed, and César took advantage. Another strong match from Matheus in attack sustained their threat, and a hat-trick from Lima off-the-bench made sure Braga, though they gave up more goals than planned, never trailed.
Braga is a very limited side. In every player match-up we saw against Sevilla, their opposition had the superior player. Yet Portugal’s runners-up are not only through, they are through somewhat comfortably. Sevilla would have needed three more goals to beat them.
In group play, they’re in for a tough draw, as their low coefficient means they’ll be in one of the lower pots. However, their steadiness and discipline gives them the ability to take advantage of their opponents’ inconsistencies and shortcomings. That opportunism is owed to a coach who, starting his second year in charge of the club, has them in their first Champions League group stage.