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Sevilla Capable Of United Upset Despite Chaotic Campaign

 • by David Cartlidge
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As the debate rages over whether Manchester United’s season can be declared a failure or success, their Champions League last-16 opponents Sevilla also face a similar dilemma.

Quite frankly which version of the Spanish side will turn up in this tie is anyone’s guess. This season has been ravaged by inconsistency and predicting their next move has been near impossible. They’ve experienced some highs, but more often than not extreme lows.

Football Whispers take a detailed look at Sevilla’s season so far and what Manchester United can expect on Wednesday night.

No shortage of drama at Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán

In a more chaotic than usual summer Sevilla lost their coach Jorge Sampaoli and, importantly, famed sporting director Monchi. Throw in the usual heavy player turnover and finding balance was always going to be difficult to come by. Eduardo Berizzo seemed at first to be the ideal pick as Sampaoli’s replacement following an immensely successful period with Celta Vigo. Alas, the Argentinian failed to find any rhythm and his rotation policy set Sevilla off on the wrong foot.

At times they put winning runs together, but they never convinced. Several months into the season they had yet to play well, and when it was bad – it was downright awful. Berizzo didn’t last long at the club but still found time to concede five goals on two occasions, one of which in the Champions League to an average Spartak Moscow outfit.

Even a famous night against Liverpool at a raucous Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium, when the team came back from three goals down to earn a draw, couldn’t hide the many issues piling up for Berizzo.

A stand-off with Arsenal transfer target Steven N’Zonzi, who was frozen out of squads for weeks on end, was just one of many issues. The bombshell of Berizzo being diagnosed with cancer then hit the club and created an awkward situation; they still wanted him out.

Sevilla eventually let Berizzo go after a 3-1 defeat by Real Sociedad and, despite it being just a week after his return from surgery, the club were justified in doing so. The season was threatening to go entirely off the rails and something had to change.

Some things never change for Sevilla

Several names were banded about but Vincenzo Montella eventually stepped in. The appointment convinced no one, especially after his indifferent time in Italy and last role with Milan falling flat.

In his first La Liga game Sevilla’s season hit a new low as they were crushed 5-3 by great rivals Real Betis in their own backyard. It was Montella’s second game but he was already under-fire.

Since that game Sevilla have lost just twice in all competitions, but one of those defeats was another five goal slaughter. Eibar took advantage of Montella’s ill-advised XI, and ran through them at will.

If there was any game for Manchester United to look upon for inspiration, then it’s that. Eibar played quick, direct, counter attacking football. They unloaded from wide areas with wingers driving at speed and full-backs launching crosses into the box. Sevilla were unable to deal with it and were badly exposed.

How Mourinho and co. can hurt Sevilla

It’s not something he’s known for, but if José Mourinho could take the shackles off for once then United could run riot in this tie. The thought of Alexis Sánchez, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford running at Sevilla is a scintillating one, and one that Sevilla will fear greatly.

At the back they’re particularly vulnerable when up against quick attackers, with full-backs receiving little support from wingers. None of the central defensive partnerships have truly convinced either, with there being a distinct lack of recovery pace and at times concentration. Goalkeeper Sergio Rico continues to divide opinion, too, and while he’s a solid shot stopper he’s extremely vulnerable when claiming crosses and lacks a commanding nature.

While they have undoubted technical talent in midfielder, the Andalusians can be overpowered and outrun. N’Zonzi and  Éver Banega are where it all begins out of the back, so pressing them and also cutting off their angles for a pass would hinder any build-up play.

Things finally beginning to look up

This isn’t to say it will be a walkover for United by any means. Sevilla showed in their two Copa del Rey encounters with Atlético Madrid they can be a clever, disciplined outfit.

Diego Simeone was outsmarted by Montella on both occasions with the Italian even passing for his rival in terms of style and approach in those games. Sevilla disrupted play, worked on the counter attack and, rather than throw huge numbers forward instead, were precise and above all incisive with their play.

In the weeks leading up to this tie Sevilla have regained some consistency with Montella largely sticking with the same XI in an effort to find rhythm. The players have responded well and for the first time this season some understanding and pattern is creeping into their play. Their home form continues to impress too, with Sevilla losing just one of their past 35 home matches in all competitions. 

Who are Sevilla’s danger men?

Pablo Sarabia, bizarrely frozen out by Berizzo, is in peak form heading into the tie with United and is undoubtedly a danger man. He floats around the right hand side of the pitch always looking for an opportunity to cut inside.

On the left, Joaquín Correa is a gifted player able to use power and finesse to dart past opponents and can be a danger both on and off the ball with his movement. It has taken some time but Luis Muriel is also finally up to speed. He works hard, drags players out of position and looks to play on the shoulder of the last defender.

Banega is still the leader of this team, however, and after a year away at Inter he’s returned to Sevilla and even in the bad moments this season has shone. He’s an exquisite midfielder with a wide range of passion, unique vision of the game and understands the importance of tempo in major games. Stop the Argentinian, and you might well stop Sevilla.

A tough task awaits Mourinho and United – but it’s far from an impossible one.

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