SAMPAOLI HAS SEVILLA LOOKING LIKE TITLE CONTENDERS
Everything is good in moderation, or so the saying goes. At the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan this summer, however, change was certainly not something that could be limited.
Long-term coach Unai Emery moved to Paris Saint-Germain, while a raft of important players departed, leaving successful Chile boss Jorge Sampaoli to fill the power vacuum. The Argentine came in with pedigree, after stamping his own very noticeable brand on the Chilean national team, winning the Copa America in tough circumstances in 2015.
Plenty of transfers followed, turning Sevilla’s squad into a swirling pool of ability, but it was tough to see how all of the summer acquisitions would gel together into anything more than a highly offensive and gung-ho collective of 11 players who had a career in common.
Fast-forward six months from the start of the LaLiga season, and the progress has been remarkable. Sevilla sit in second place, on a club-record number of points, and they are showing no signs of slowing down. The wide-ranging variety of signings from sporting director Monchi has gifted Sampaoli the ability to be tactically flexible and tough to predict, leaving more questions marks than concrete ideas when it comes to finding a definitive way to slow Los Nervionenses’ frightening form.
‘A lot of the points that we have has to do with our attack,” Sampaoli explained earlier this week, and he most certainly has a point.
The statistics do not lie, Sevilla have become a far more efficient machine under their Argentine coach, scoring for fun without leaking too many goals at the back. While often they afford the opposition more chances than a coach would ideally like, their goalscoring record helps balance the books in their favour.
At this stage last season, in Emery’s last campaign in charge at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Sevilla had amassed just 29 points, scoring 26 goals over 19 matches. This time around, with Sampaoli at the helm, Los Nervionenses have managed a club-record 51 points, racking up a staggering 42 goals.
To compare that to last season, Sevilla are already just 9 points off equalling their points total for the entirety of their previous LaLiga campaign, and have scored just nine times less than this did over 39 match days in 2015/2016. They have gone from a measured counter-attacking set-up, to having the potential to thrill and entertain.
While Emery managed to take 39 points from his team’s first 19 games in the 2014/2015 season, Sampaoli eclipsed this when this side scraped narrowly past Osasuna last weekend, setting a new club record and plunging Sevilla into unknown territory in terms of potential league success.
Kevin Gameiro was the star of Emery’s final year in charge, scoring 16 top-flight goals as Sevilla finished seventh, but the Frenchman was promptly sold to Atletico Madrid. Their former coach took key midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak with him to Paris Saint-Germain, with the talented Ever Banega jumping ship to join Inter.
Captain and influential on-the-pitch figure Coke was sold to Schalke, with the likes of Jose Antonio Reyes and Fernando Llorente taking a lot of experience with them on their way to Espanyol and Swansea City respectively. After losing their long-term boss, a handful of key first-team faces, Sampaoli walked into a club in transition. Albeit, one with a lot of potential.
The Argentine has previously admitted that a busy summer did not bode well for his own unique playing style and approach taking off in the short-term, but the sheer quality afforded to him has proven both himself and any doubters wrong.
Samir Nasri has been a revelation since joining from Manchester City on loan, with effortless midfielder Franco Vazquez proving why he was so key to Paulo Dybala’s rise at Palermo since signing in the summer. Wissam Ben Yedder boasts eight goals in 924 minutes of LaLiga football since joining from Toulouse, with Pablo Sarabia proving to be the perfect impact substitute with his five strikes in 892 league minutes.
Last season there was a reliance on Gameiro to find the breakthrough, but Sampaoli’s men are more than happy to share the burden. Midfielder Vicente Iborra already has five goals to his name this season, just two less than his last LaLiga tally, with Gabriel Mercado, Steven N’Zonzi, Nasri, Vazquez, Vitolo, Luciano Vietto all chipping in with two goals or more.
Nico Pareja has returned to the fold and to prominence after a long-term injury absence, with Mariano and Sergio Escudero outperforming expectations at left and right-back respectively. Sampaoli’s system gives both of them great license to get forward, which is something the pair appear to be relishing.
HARD TO HANDLE
Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid lead the Spanish top-flight, but even Los Blancos are prepared to recognise the threat that Sevilla pose. The French boss trialled a 3-5-2 system against Sampaoli’s men in the Copa del Rey, clearly showing the respect with which LaLiga’s current second-place team deserved to be treated.
Given that Sevilla can line up in either a 3-4-3, 4-3-3 or 4-4-2, it is still anyone’s guess as to how Sampaoli’s men can be nullified for a full 90 minutes.
“We’re not being deluded, it’s a reality, we’re going to fight for the title,” Sampaoli recently told reporters.
“We have managed to instil an idea of play which the players like and enjoy, the idea of playing the same way against every team, always taking the initiative, and our aim is to be even stronger in the second half of the season,” he announced.
Confidence is high at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, and Sampaoli personifies that belief. The only question remains: who can stop them?