AS SEVILLA LOOK TO KICKSTART ANOTHER EUROPA LEAGUE RUN, FINAL STEP REMAINS ELUSIVE FOR MONCHI AND JULEN LOPETEGUI.
Ahead of the second leg of their Europa League tie against West Ham, Pete Sharland looks at the state of Sevilla under Julen Lopetegui, and where the club is. They remain one of Europe’s great clubs, but they also remain incapable of taking the next step to the real upper echelon like Atletico Madrid. Can they do it?
No club has an affinity for the Europa League like Sevilla.
I’m sure you know the story by now but it’s worth reiterating. They won it in 2020. They won it three times in a row in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Oh, and they won it back to back in 2006 and 2007. That makes six titles in all. No other team has won the Europa League (and it’s predecessor the UEFA Cup) more than three times. They’ve also got a 100% record when it comes to finals.
Across the Champions League and the Cup Winners’ Cup, only two teams have won a European competition more than Sevilla and the Europa League. Real Madrid with 11 Champions League wins, and AC Milan with seven in the same competition.
It is a truly remarkable record, and no matter what your view on Europe’s secondary competition it has to be admired. The way Sevilla galvanise themselves in this competition is something all clubs should aspire to. A European trophy is a European trophy, some clubs haven’t won anything in over 100 years.
On Thursday evening Sevilla will bid to reach the final eight of the Europa League, carrying a 1-0 advantage for their second leg game against West Ham, which will take place in London.
There are plenty of big names in the tournament still left, including Bayer Leverkusen, Atalanta, Rangers, Barcelona, Real Betis, and RB Leipzig. If they can get past West Ham, which will be no easy task, they are still by no means the outright favourite to lift the trophy.
But say they do. What happens next?
Sevilla are an ambitious club, powered by legendary sporting director Monchi. Despite their relationship with the Europa League they want to keep pushing themselves forwards.
And this was the perfect season to do so. Barcelona were floundering, struggling in the fallout of the presidency change earlier in 2021 and then having to hire a new coach during the season. Defending La Liga champions Atletico Madrid were looking uncharacteristically leaky at the back, with players like Jan Oblak suffering a notable dip in form.
At the other end of the pitch Diego Simeone seemed unsure how best to use the attacking pieces at his disposal.
Sevilla were into their third season under Lopetegui, having smartly added to their squad with a slew of typical Monchi signings in Rafa Mir, Gonzalo Montiel, Thomas Delaney, Ludwig Augustinsson and Erik Lamela.
This had to be the moment, this had to be the time where they went toe-to-toe with Real Madrid. It wasn’t necessarily about winning the league; that would be a herculean task given the comparative resources of Real and Sevilla. This was about establishing yourself as a legitimate contender.
With ten games to go Sevilla have fallen away. They are now 10 points behind Real. More worryingly, Barcelona have closed the gap to just five points, plus Xavi Hernandez’s side have a game in hand. Atletico are also five behind whilst arch-rivals Real Betis are still just seven back. Sevilla are unlikely to fall out of the top four, but Real aren’t losing any sleep about the title at this stage.
Sevilla are undefeated in the league in 2022 but they’ve won just one of four games. They’ve dropped points against Valencia, Celta Vigo, Osasuna, Espanyol, Alaves and Rayo Vallecano. By no means a disgrace, but these are the teams you need to be beating to become an elite team.
That’s the jump that Atletico made under Simeone. Atletico were 10th in December 2011 when they hired him, struggling after losing both Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan. Two-and-a-half years later they were champions.
Here are the players they added in the two summers under Simeone before the league title. Emiliano Insua, Cata Diaz, Emre Belozoglu, Cristian Rodriguez, Domingo Cisma, Joshua Guilavogui, Toby Alderweireld, Leo Baptistao, Roberto, David Villa, Jose Sosa, Diego, Jose Maria Gimenez, Martin Demichelis and Daniel Aranzubia. They also promoted notable academy product Saul Niguez as well as Oliver Torres and Javier Manquillo. Not one of those players cost over £10 million. Before the title he also added a Copa del Rey, Europa League and European Super Cup to the trophy cabinet.
Understandably the Sevilla fanbase is split as we get to the end of the third year of the Lopetegui era. It is also the third year since Monchi returned from his ill-fated spell at Roma. There are plenty of fans who want change in the dugout whilst there are an equal amount who feel Lopetegui deserves another chance.
The thing is, two fourth-placed finishes isn’t exactly lofty heights for Sevilla. The club finished third twice in the late 2000s, powered by cult duo Frederic Kanoute and Luis Fabiano. That team couldn’t take the step under either Juande Ramos or Manolo Jimenez.
Since then there have been some misses in the dugout (hello Vincenzo Montella!) so perhaps sticking with Lopetegui is not the worst thing to aim for. A lot of people like former Sevilla assistant Diego Martinez, but he has flirted a lot with a role in England. Is River Plate manager Marcelo Gallardo an option? Perhaps, but he may have his sights set even higher.
The point is that there is not a Simeone-type out there. And based on Monchi’s quotes last week it sounds as if Lopetegui will stick around. Perhaps the pressure will now shift to Monchi to raise the calibre of player Lopetegui has to work with. Although the signing of Jesus Corona and Anthony Martial (on a loan deal that reportedly won’t be extended or made permanent) suggest the wheeler dealer will stick to what he knows best.
And perhaps that is no bad thing. Sevilla are one of the better run clubs in Spain, and really across Europe.
You only need to look across the divisions at the volatile situations of places like say Valencia, Schalke and Marseille, to take just three clubs of similar stature, and realise that the stability of Sevilla is an envious thing.
There is a very good chance that we end the 2020s with Sevilla not winning a league title. Does that constitute a failure? Ultimately that probably depends on how you look at not just football, but life itself.