The race for the La Liga title is usually contested by Barcelona and Real Madrid with the odd season thrown in when a third team joins the battle for top spot in an exciting twist. Occasionally that team will go on to win the title, Atletico Madrid in 2014 and Valencia in 2002 and 2004 the most recent, this season however, a surprising team is challenging the El Clasico rivals.
Sevilla have only won La Liga once, over seventy years ago, in 1946. The closest they have come in the modern era was 3rd in 2009, their league table finishes have tended to range from 4th to 10th in the last 15 years, prior to this they were relegated in 2000 and in 1997. This season however, they have upped the ante, after being dubbed the ‘UEFA Cup/Europa League specialists’ after winning the trophy five times in recent years, they have blown the La Liga title wide open after some impressive and consistent wins. Monday evening saw the team play Alaves away in a bid to close the gap on league leaders Barcelona to just two points and really put the pressure on the Nou Camp club as well as Real Madrid in second place. However, instead of ‘putting on the pressure,’ they appeared to feel it after their goalkeeper Rico fumbled a cross allowing Alaves to slip home an easy equaliser with only 15 minutes left of the match. Sevilla struggled to repeat the form they have showed all season after that goal and were lucky not to lose the game which begs the questions; could Sevilla really cause one of the biggest upsets in La Liga history and win the title or has that one draw ended their challenge despite all their excellent efforts so far this season?
They certainly have the ability as a team to compete with the top two and, perhaps most importantly, they do not fear Barcelona or Real Madrid. There is still a long way to go in the La Liga title race this season, but will those two dropped points against Alaves eat away at Sevilla mentally causing their challenge to falter or can they dust themselves down and find their form in the next match? If only for the neutrals point of view, let’s hope it is the latter and we get to see Sevilla’s surprising yet outstanding challenge for Spanish success go to the wire.
So, Monday’s draw may be the end of Sevilla’s season or it could be just be a one-off blip? Judging by the way the team have been playing and the results they have achieved, all the signs point to Sevilla still being able to mount an exciting title winning challenge to the end of the season. Jorge Sampaoli’s men only narrowly lost to Barcelona in November but a 2-1 win over Real Madrid after going a goal down in January, only cemented how well Sevilla have been playing this season and that they have the mental ability and belief that they can beat the best.
More of a defensive team in recent seasons, Sevilla’s new manager has tweaked how his side play this season which has enabled them to attack more, turn defeats/draws into wins and make a bid for La Liga glory. A new 3-4-2-1 formation this season where two of the four midfielders are pushing forward to support three attackers up front, has given the team the edge when it has come to hitting the back of the net. Not only has Sampaoli got his team playing attractive attacking football, but he has also made some clever signings and loan deals for the club, all of which are playing fantastic this season. Wissam Ben Yedder was a great buy as well as Luciano Vietto and Samir Nasri on loan, Sampaoli has also got the best out of former Stoke City midfielder Steven N’Zonzi this season, his impressive defensive work as well as excellent individual performances from the new players mentioned, have all contributed to Sevilla’s unexpected yet exciting title push.
Monday night’s draw was disappointing, and some will say just that game alone has killed off Sevilla’s chances of picking up only their second La Liga title in their history, but if they can put that match down to an ‘off-day’ and continue their form prior to the game then the next few months could be very exciting and pivotal when you assess their fixtures and the timing of them. Sampaoli’s team will travel to the Nou Camp at the beginning of April, if they can keep within touching distance of the top two by then, the result in this match will be crucial especially as their penultimate game of the season will be away, quite fittingly, to Real Madrid. With possibly more twists and turns to come, and Sevilla playing just as well if not better at times than Barca’ and Real, this match could turn out to be one of the biggest in La Liga and Sevilla’s history.
Whatever happens over the next few months in the La Liga title race one conclusion we can make from the season is Sevilla have provided thrilling competition for the usual two title contenders and have entertained everyone with their new attacking play. In addition to this they are flourishing under a new manager with new ideas which makes the future very bright for everyone involved with the club.
Whether Sevilla win La Liga this season or not, all of the above are fantastic positives for the club, and neutrals, as well as fans alike, will all agree that Sevilla have been surprising but equally superb this season.