Being a football hipster is serious business with knowledge about the young starlet making waves for a non-mainstream mid table side often a prerequisite rather than a feather in the cap. To further enhance your, perhaps, burgeoning reputation as a true hipster, Outside of the Boot is on hand to provide an in-depth guide to some of the less celebrated teams around Europe. In this edition of the series, Jamie Einchcomb has a look at Sevilla.
THE PREVIOUS CAMPAIGN
Sevilla made history last season by winning the UEFA Europa League for the third consecutive season and for the fifth time in the previous decade. Their comeback victory against Liverpool in Basel further proved that no team takes to UEFA’s second tier competition quite like Sevilla do, but as incredible an achievement as it was, it did paper over some cracks. Their Europa League run was born from the ashes of a failed attempt at the Champions League, only claiming third spot in their group with a last-gasp win against Juventus, and a 7th place finish in La Liga without a single win away from home was highly underwhelming for a team expected to challenge for 4th place.
It’s fair to say that Sevilla are the ultimate cup team. For all the difficulties they had in the league, Unai Emery managed to guide them to not just another Europa League final but a Copa del Rey final, which they lost in extra-time to a Barcelona side playing with 10 men since the 30th minute. Their efforts were enough for them to take part in both the European and Spanish Super Cups at the start of the 16/17 season and further increase their impressive trophy haul for a club that rarely makes an impact in the league.
If you’re a Sevilla fan, however, you’d be accustomed to change. Since 2012 the squad has undergone summer after summer of turnover. Players were sold for big money to cover the club’s debts, and in would come low-price replacements who would go on to perform and then also be sold. Sporting Director Monchi and manager Unai Emery did magnificently to keep the ship steady during that period, but the end of the 15/16 season would see even more change. Emery was lured away to an exciting project at PSG, tasked with taking them deeper into the Champions League, and Monchi attempted to terminate his contract with the club. Fortunately, Monchi was convinced to stay, and oversee yet another busy transfer period.
With Emery now at PSG, Sevilla turned to Jorge Sampaoli as his replacement. Building on the foundation left by fellow Argentine Marcelo Bielsa by playing a high-intensity pressing game and quick, attacking football, Sampaoli’s Chile thrilled all at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, defeating the holders 2-0 in the group stages, and being unfortunate to be eliminated by the hosts on penalties in the first knockout round. Armed with Chile’s so-called golden generation – the likes of Claudio Bravo, Arturo Vidal, Jorge Valdivia, Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas – Sampaoli would guide them to their first ever Copa America in 2015, defeating Argentina in the final on penalties, before resigning months later after a dispute with the Chilean FA.
Sampaoli’s Sevilla career was almost over before it begun. A mere two weeks into his tenure, Argentina came calling, and reports circulated that Sampaoli would request his contract be terminated. Sevilla responded by demanding Argentina pay €7m in compensation, something they couldn’t afford to do. Sampaoli would go on to release a statement, acknowledging his dream to manage Argentina one day, but reaffirming his commitment to Sevilla and intention to stay.
Sampaoli is something of an antithesis to Emery. Where Emery is highly pragmatic, cautious and obsessed with the small details to the point of agitating his players, Sampaoli offers a gung-ho approach that requires his side to be packed with creative players that run hard to win the ball back and relentlessly attack the opposition.
The stark differences in approach can be summed up by their respective use of Vicente Iborra. Iborra is a tall, lumbering and ungraceful midfielder, known more for his defensive qualities at Levante before he made the switch to Sevilla. Emery initially used him in a double pivot, but would also experiment with him playing off the striker, in a role eerily similar to Marouane Fellaini’s at Everton under David Moyes. The result wasn’t pretty, but did see a rise in Iborra’s personal statistics, and gave the opposition a very different challenge to what they were used to. Under Sampaoli, however, Iborra has been returned to the midfield to play a holding role, while the attacking berths in the team are filled with creative midfielders and wingers.
Emery favoured a 4-2-3-1, centred around the pivot of elite destroyer Grezgorz Krychowiak and the creative genius of Ever Banega. How the team played varied on the personnel – Iborra and Fernando Llorente up front demanded a more direct approach, whereas the nippy Kevin Gameiro required more balls played in behind.
Early signs under Sampaoli suggest the 4-2-3-1 remains an option, albeit a considerably more attacking one, but he has also been experimenting with three at the back and displaying a curious aversion to traditional wing backs. Sevilla started their Super Cup games against Real Madrid and Barcelona playing a back three, usually two centre backs and one full back, with the rest of the team filled with attackers. The approach enabled Sevilla to see over 70% of the ball against Madrid and 50% in the first leg against Barcelona, but they failed to click as an attacking threat, and were fragile and too easily exposed at the back.
In the opening game of the season against Espanyol, Sevilla played something resembling a diamond, though in effect was a 2-1-5-2. The intent was clear: to attack, attack and attack some more. Little wonder, then, that the game ended 6-4 in Sevilla’s favour, with a litany of comical defensive errors from both sides. Steven N’Zonzi had an impossible task protecting just the two defenders, while every midfield turnover put Sevilla in trouble with such little defensive cover.
Suffice to say, Sampaoli’s Sevilla is the ultimate work in progress, and it’ll take time for him to find the best combination of players and their configuration on the pitch.
TRANSFER MARKET ACTIVITY
It’s been yet another summer of change for Sevilla. Polish midfielder Grezgorz Krychowiak followed Emery to PSG, Argentine Ever Banega trundled off to Inter Milan on a free transfer, and top scorer Kevin Gameiro departed for Atletico Madrid for big money. On top of the spine of the team being ripped out, a number of squad players also left, including club captain and Europa League hero Coke, and the much adored Jose Antonio Reyes. Fernando Llorente, deemed surplus by the new coach, was sold to Swansea.
Monchi, though, did what Monchi does and used all that profit to bring in the exact sort of players Sampaoli wanted. Unlike Emery who favoured powerful and quick players, Sampaoli wanted technicians.
The biggest signing was, perhaps, Palermo’s Franco Vazquez for around €15mil. The Italian attacker was a bright spark in a struggling Palermo side for two years and was frequently linked with the Milan clubs before arriving at Sevilla. His elegant style of play, eye for goal and creativity should fill the void left behind by Banega nicely.
€13mil was splashed on 21-year-old Joaquin Correa from Sampdoria, while Pablo Sarabia and Hiroshi Kiyotake were recused from the sinking ships of Getafe and Hannover respectively. Gameiro was replaced by Argentine forward Luciano Vietto from Atletico Madrid, who hoped to have more success under Sampaoli than he did under Simeone. Wissam Ben Yedder, after three prolific seasons at Toulouse, was brought in to further strengthen the attack. Matias Kranevitter, also from Atleti, arrived on loan to shore up the midfield’s defensive options. Gabriel “no neck” Mercado is the club’s only defensive signing to date, while Salvatore Sirigu has arrived on loan from PSG to provide completion for Sergio Rico.
The most interesting arrival, though, is undoubtedly Paulo Henrique Ganso. The Brazilian was seen as one of the world’s brightest talents, up there with the likes of fellow Santos alumni Neymar, but for one reason or another never made the switch to Europe and seemed destined to remain in Brazil his whole career. Sampaoli, however, has plans on converting him from a 10 to a regista – to be that vital conduit between defence and midfield. When he is fit and ready, Ganso is likely to play a key part in Sampaoli’s midfield, be it at the base of a diamond or as part of a double pivot.
THREE KEY PLAYERS
Mariano Ferreira – The Brazilian right back signed from Bordeaux in the 15/16 season, initially as backup for Coke. His performances though quickly made him first choice under Emery and now under Sampaoli. He is the perfect full-back for his system: quick and powerful, providing rampaging runs up and down the right flank and good balls into the box, while also being a competent defender. At 29, he’s unlikely to follow the likes of Dani Alves, Adriano and Aleix Vidal to Barcelona, but he’s the next in a line of quality right backs at Sevilla.
Franco Vazquez – The big money purchase from Palermo will likely be the centre of the team, playing a role not too dissimilar to Valdivia’s for Chile. Where players will be buzzing around him, his position will be more fixed, as he’ll be tasked with providing chances and scoring them. Two fine goals against Madrid and Espanyol already suggest he’s up to the task.
Vitolo – The Spanish winger signed from Las Palmas in 2012 is one of the few players remaining in the squad to have started in the last three Europa League finals. Where other key players left, Vitolo gave Sevilla a massive boost when he recently signed a new deal that will keep at the club until 2020. A strong runner with the ball, able to play on either flank, with a tireless work ethic and intelligent movement – there’s little reason why he wouldn’t be a Sampaoli favourite.
TALENT RADAR KEY YOUNG PLAYER
Joaquin Correa – Correa is a raw yet exciting prospect who started at Estudiantes before moving to Sampdoria. At €13m he represents a large investment for Sevilla, but early signs suggest he has the making of a tricky attacking midfielder, showing impressive balance and agility for someone who is over six feet tall. He’ll be looking to improve his end product at Sevilla, and beat out competition from the likes of Vitolo and Konoplyanka for a starting role.
CONCLUSION AND EXPECTATION
It’s difficult to identify what Sevilla’s expectations should be, given the radical change they’ve undergone over the summer. A new manager, with a completely new style of play, and ten new players suggests it’ll take some time before everything comes together. However, fan excitement is at an all-time high, and they’ll expect the team, with the quality it has, to compete for that 4th spot in La Liga and, despite their long and storied history with the Europa League, there is a unanimous desire for progress to be made in the Champions League.
In the meantime, it seems Sevilla will be one of the teams to watch this year. Already branded a hipster team due to Sampaoli and Ganso, their attempts at taking the game to Barca and Madrid, and their 6-4 result against Espanyol, suggests entertainment if nothing else. However, if Sampaoli fails to address the defensive frailties, his project may not last for long.
Read all our 2016-17 Hipster Guide articles here