Can Sevilla evoke Atletico’s 2014 spirit and go all the way in La Liga?
The only thing predictable about La Liga this season is its unpredictability. Last weekend, Real Madrid suffered a heavy 3-0 defeat to Eibar. Two weeks before that, Barcelona were beaten at home by Real Betis. Just six points separate the top seven teams in the table and with 13 games played, it’s Sevilla who sit at the top of the pile.
Pablo Machin’s side have made the most of the chaos around them, with their narrow home win over Real Valladolid on Sunday enough to raise them to top spot. They might not be the best team in Spain, at least not on paper, but Sevilla have been La Liga’s most consistent until this point. In a season of surprises, they have emerged as one of the biggest surprises of all.
Sevilla have come close to mounting a genuine title challenge in recent seasons. Under Jorge Sampaoli, the Andalusian side were a force, leading the Spanish title race ahead of Barcelona and Real Madrid as late as January in the 2016/17 season before ultimately falling away. Even last season, when they finished a lowly seventh, Sevilla still managed to knock Manchester United out of the Champions League, underlining their quality.
Indeed, Sevilla have threatened to become a fourth footballing superpower in Spain, falling just short of matching Atleti, Barca and Real. With those three struggling to find their groove, though, this season could be the opportunity the Andalusians have waited years for. They might never get this chance again.
Machin was the man who masterminded Girona’s rise, establishing the tiny Catalan club as a top half fixture in La Liga last season. There are similarities to be drawn between that Girona side and the team that Machin has moulded in just a few months at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, from the dynamic, high intensity game Sevilla play to the way talents like Simon Kjaer, Jesus Navas and Andre Silva are now being maximised.
Sevilla suffered something of a drop off following the exit of Monchi, the sporting director credited with moulding the Andalusian club in its current form, to Roma in the summer of 2017, but they have proven their resilience by bouncing back so emphatically this season. Monchi may well have moulded Sevilla, but what he created has outlasted its creator.
There’s a case to be made that Sevilla have, over the past decade or so, become European football’s great overachievers. Since 2006, they have won the Europa League five times, gatecrashing Spain’s top four numerous times despite spending next to nothing in the transfer market. This is a golden age for the club.
Realistically, Sevilla need Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid’s troubles to continue if they are to go all the way in La Liga this season. Sevilla don’t have anyone like Antoine Griezmann. Or Lionel Messi. Or Luka Modric. They cannot count on individuality to see them through like their rivals can, with Machin’s team far greater than the sum of their parts.
Machin’s Sevilla are a very different footballing entity to Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, but the latter’s astonishing title triumph in 2013/14 sets a precedent for the Andalusians to follow. In fact, Atleti have set the precedent for Sevilla to follow on the whole, with the capital club now an established member of the Spanish and European elite having spent decades aspiring to the level of their more illustrious rivals.
Simeone changed the whole landscape of Spanish football and Machin could do something similar at Sevilla. Even if this season’s good start fails to reach fruition as a fully fledged title challenge, the foundations are in place for the 43-year-old to do something special at the club. La Liga’s 2018/19 yearbook has already seen more than one unlikely tale scribbled in, but Sevilla could still provide the unlikeliest story of the lot.
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