INTERCHANGEABLE SEVILLA PRIMED TO COMPOUND LEICESTER MISERY
Rebuilding no problem for Sevilla
The heady days of Nessun Dorma being belted out amidst East Midlands euphoria are very much a thing of the past. Leicester’s fairy tale is in danger of reaching an unhappy ending.
Nobody saw this coming. Relegation is a very real possibility for the Premier League champions, and just when Foxes fans didn’t think it could get any worse, morale hit rock bottom in defeat against 10-man League One side Millwall at the weekend.
The Champions League has offered fans much-needed respite from their domestic ineptitude. But there will be no reprieve at Sevilla on Wednesday, in a stadium where only Barcelona and Juventus have triumphed since last May.
Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo, or Monchi to you and I, has done it again. The Sporting Director has made a name for himself by selling Los Nervionenses’ top talent, only to emerge the following season with a better squad than before, en route to another Europa League triumph.
A summer of upheaval left a shell of a club even the great Monchi couldn’t rectify this time around, surely?
Paris Saint-Germain poached coach Unai Emery and key midfield cog Grzegorz Krychowiak, whilst last season’s top scorer Kevin Gameiro joined Atletico Madrid.
13 players departed Andalusia in total, 11 came in, and there wasn’t simply a change of manager; more a complete change of philosophy, with firebrand Jorge Sampaoli, intent on all out attack, coming in.
Yet, against all the odds, Sevilla have just enjoyed the best Primera Vuelta in their history, and are playing some of the most exciting football in Europe.
Sampaoli’s brand of football almost unplayable
Tactical flexibility is the name of the game at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium. Sampaoli is all about intensity, and rarely sticks to any rigid system, often changing it up midway through a game. They have the look of title contenders…
Sampaoli likes to deploy rough a 3-5-2 formation, with those five in midfield given more freedom than most.
Much like Mauricio Pochettino with Eric Dier, Sampaoli likes to throw a few curveballs in there too, deploying players in new positions to get the best out of their talents.
Left-back Sergio Escudero is a prime example of this unpredictability. Having spent a career in defence, Sampaoli has moved the 27-year-old forward, not as a winger, not as a full back, but a marauding wing-back who picks up positions the opposition struggle to track.
There is plenty of strength in depth, threat from in form wide forwards Vitolo, Pablo Sarabia and/or Franco Vazquez, all behind a plethora striker options. Leicester’s beleaguered backline will have their work cut out, that’s for sure.
N’Zonzi a revelation
Two familiar faces are the key cogs in the well-oiled Sevilla machine. Steven N’Zonzi, the gangly former Stoke and Blackburn midfielder has reinvented himself at Spain’s oldest club, having to pen a new deal to fend off interest from Barcelona and Manchester City.
No player has made more passes than N’Zonzi in La Liga this season, and while very much still a midfield anchor, the attack-minded philosophy instilled by Sampaoli gives him licence to venture further forward.
“I don’t miss the Premier League,” N’Zonzi confessed in a recent interview. “I love it here. It feels like the whole city is behind the team. We feel so tough to beat at home because the fans are incredible.
“The Barcelona interest is flattering, but it only in the newspapers. Nothing has happened. I don’t even think about it because I am so happy here.”
Another player loving life in the Spanish sun with Sevilla is Samir Nasri. Having become the forgotten man of Manchester City’s rise, the Frenchman came to Spain hoping to rebuild his flailing career, and the results have been startling.
“We thought that if Nasri is happy, he won’t have forgotten how to play football,” Monchi said in another recent interview. “We have tried to make sure the person feels good so that the footballer can appear.”
Moved into his preferred central position, Nasri has provided that links between midfield and attack superbly, and again looks like the player who was so crucial to Roberto Mancini’s City.
That sense of belonging that Monchi was eluding to is why so many players can turn their careers around. Stevan Jovetic is another example. Seen as a stop-gap signing having failed to really cut it at Inter after leaving City, Jovetic came off the bench for his debut, and duly scored the winner against Real Madrid.
Nothing can go wrong in the Nervion at the moment. Eyeing a first European Cup quarter-final appearance since 1958, the buzz around the city is hard to avoid. With Leicester in such poor form, Sevillistas are looking forward to continuing to ride on the crest of this attack-minded wave, at Premier League champions’ expense.