La Liga boys Sevilla can still pack a punch

Wednesday night’s Champions League clash between Sevilla and Liverpool at Anfield will bring back memories of the 2016 Europa League Final, when a stirring second half comeback by the Spaniards crushed Liverpool dreams

However, a lot has changed since that night in Basel, particularly for the visitors.

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Legendary director of football Monchi – the architect of the Andalusian club’s rise in recent years – has moved to Roma.

Then manager Unai Emery was lured to Paris Saint-Germain after that famous night in St Jakob Park.

And after just one season in charge, his successor Jorge Sampaoli also departed (to take charge of the Argentinian national side), but not before guiding Sevilla to an impressive fourth place finish in La Liga and the last 16 of the Champions League.

Enter another Argentine, Eduardo Berizzo, last June.

Berizzo had impressed in his three seasons with unfashionable Celta Vigo, like Sampaoli is an apostle of the revered Marcelo Bielsa and so was a logical choice to take the Sevilla post for many.

In fact, Berizzo had worked as Bielsa’s assistant when he managed Chile and drew plaudits for the manner in which he applied his guru’s teachings with Celta.

Indeed, last season he guided them to their greatest ever European season, losing narrowly in the Europa League semi-final to eventual winners Manchester United.

Naturally Sevilla officials hope that in sharing a football philosophy with his predecessor, Berizzo’s appointment will bring a certain continuity after the disruption caused by Sampaoli’s unscheduled exit.

Given the work he did on meagre resources at Celta, there are high hopes that with a bigger, more talented squad, the 47-year-old can push the Los Rojiblancos to greater heights.

Five games into his reign, Sevilla remain unbeaten; Saturday’s 3-0 win over a limited Eibar made it two wins and a draw from their opening three league fixtures – and saw Sevilla move to the top of the La Liga table, albeit temporarily.

Berizzo will have been pleased with the performance, particularly in the second half.

Sevilla have struggled to find fluidity this term, and the new man has already received criticism for unconvincing performances at home to Espanyol (1-1) and away to Getafe (1-0).

Indeed, in the Champions League qualifiers against Istanbul Basaksehir, Sevilla came desperately close to a shock exit.

Having won 2-1 in Turkey, they were made to sweat in a sloppy the second leg display.

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A 2-2 draw at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan saw them over the line – but had Emre’s injury time free kick not come back off the post, Sevilla could have found themselves back in their old Europa League stomping ground.

Berizzo noted after their narrow 1-0 win at Getafe last week that its important for any side to be able to win ugly.

And although the fans may have been spoiled by more exciting fare in recent seasons, he could be forgiven for focusing on results as he gets his feet under the Sevilla table and integrates new signings like Nolito, Luis Muriel, Jesus Navas and the returning Ever Banega into the fold.

Some Sevilla watchers feel that the current squad is arguably not as strong as the one that beat Liverpool in 2016 to secure an historic third Europa League in a row.

Doubtless, Berizzo will have been sorry to see the likes of Iboro and Vitolo leave for pastures new.

However, on paper at least, Los Rojiblancos have recruited astutely, and the manager will be pleased that the club have retained the services of the excellent Steven N’Zonzi and last season’s top scorer Wissam Ben Yedder.

The French striker, who bagged 18 goals across all competitions in 2016-17, could be a real handful for Liverpool’s rearguard at Anfield this week.

Quick and clever, Ben Yeddar has picked up where he left off last season, scoring critical goals home and away to help Sevilla into the group stages and bagging their game-securing second against Eibar at the weekend.

Saturday’s second half performance and the quality of their goals suggested that Sevilla may be regaining some of their swagger and should see them travel to Merseyside with growing confidence.

Indeed, Liverpool’s miserable defensive display at the weekend should help reinforce that feeling.

Author Details

Paul Little

Freelance football columnist. European Football with the Irish Daily Star. Hold the Back Page podcast regular. Family and Renaissance Man. Dublin born, Wicklow resident.

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