In a campaign that has seen Sevilla finish in LaLiga’s top four for the first time since 2017, Argentinian winger Lucas Ocampos has been a – perhaps unexpected – standout performer. There wasn’t much fanfare when he arrived from Olympique Marseille for £13.5 million last summer, but the 26-year-old has become an essential cog in Julen Lopetegui’s well-oiled machine.
Previously regarded as a hard-working, industrious winger who struggled offensively, this season Ocampos has added attacking output to his game with devastating effect. Operating largely as the right-forward in a 4-3-3 formation (although his adaptability sees him drift around the final third), he has notched 14 league goals and three assists in 31 league appearances this campaign. Those 17 direct goal contributions account for exactly a third of Sevilla’s total for 2019/20 so far, a remarkable feat.
His understanding of his role is best illustrated by his partnership with Jesús Navas down the right flank. When Navas brings the ball forward, Ocampos often drives his run out wide, dragging the opposition full-back with him to create the space for Navas to cut inside or play a one-two. This in turn allows the full-back to get forward without forcing Ocampos into a central role, while still creating space. Overlapping and crossing opportunities abound, and if opponents try to combat this by overloading on that flank, Sevilla have good enough distributors of the ball to recycle the ball quickly and exploit the exposed left.
But make no mistake; Ocampos can be selfish with his movement and reap the rewards. He’ll often drift into the centre and look to get on the end of crosses from the full-backs, intelligently letting the striker occupy the centre-backs so that he can find space at the edge of the 18-yard box.
While his goalscoring exploits may have grabbed the headlines, Ocampos’ defensive work has been exemplary. Unusually for a modern-day wide man, he possesses a great engine but is also physical and strong, enabling him to compete in 50/50 challenges and muck in when Sevilla are on the back foot.
Credit to Lopetegui too here – tactically, he has positioned Ocampos perfectly to exploit those traits. Without the ball, the Argentinian drops back to cut out balls out wide, so that the full-back can press the opposition to try and force an error, and the fact that he comes out top amongst Sevilla’s attackers for tackles won (30) and interceptions (22) is testament to his suitability to the role.
The signing of Ocampos has proved to be yet another Monchi masterstroke. Sevilla’s number five provides an essential link between attack and defence, possesses work-rate and commitment that most managers can only dream of and fits Lopetegui’s philosophy perfectly. With the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund rumoured to be chasing his signature, Sevilla may face a battle to keep hold of their new-found star.
"Is there anything Ocampos can't do at the moment?"@alex_brotherton enthuses on the recent performances of Lucas Ocampos, who has spearheaded Sevilla's charge for the Champions League!
— La Liga Lowdown ???⚽️ (@LaLigaLowdown) July 14, 2020