COMMENT: Sevilla's season is at a crossroads

Andy West 14/03/2017
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Sevilla are at risk of ruining a fine season.

Less than three weeks ago, everything was rosy in Sevilla’s garden. With an hour played in the first  leg of their Champions League last 16 meeting with Leicester, the Spanish side – who were mounting a strong challenge for their domestic league title – were 2-0 up and cruising, looking well capable of adding more goals and effectively sealing their place in the last eight.

But then, completely against the run of play, Leicester pulled a goal back through Jamie Vardy, and since then the outlook for Sevilla’s season has completely changed.

True, they did manage to win their next two league games, overcoming local rivals Real Betis and Athletic Bilbao with hard-earned single-goal victories, but neither performance was convincing and they were slightly fortunate to come away with six points.

And in their last two outings, Jorge Sampaoli’s men have dropped four points by succumbing to tame 1-1 draws against Alaves and Leganes, with Saturday’s home tie against the latter widely regarded as their worst performance of the season and concluding with the team being whistled off the pitch. So now, rather than wondering how easily they’ll beat Leicester, the big question on the European stage is whether they will prevail at all.

And in La Liga, it’s increasingly not a matter of whether Sevilla will overhaul Real Madrid and Barcelona in the title race, but whether they can hold off Atletico Madrid to stay in third place.

Sevilla’s season, which for so long has offered so much promise, is now at a crossroads and the coming days will be crucial.

On Sunday, they travel to the Vicente Calderon to face Atletico, knowing that by the end of the day the gap between the teams could be as many as eight points or as few as two. Before then, of course, comes tonight’s meeting with Leicester for the culmination of a tie which appeared a foregone conclusion for the majority of the first leg, with Sevilla so superior it didn’t even look like Joaquin Correa’s first half penalty miss would really matter.

Now though, that save by Kasper Schmeichel could prove to be crucial, and Leicester fans will look at Sevilla’s recent form as a cause for optimism. They shouldn’t be too hasty, however, because there have been extenuating circumstances in Sevilla’s last two performances – as poor as they were – and it’s unlikely they are ready to let their season fizzle out.

At Alaves, for starters, they were playing against a team whose capabilities at home are highly underrated, with the Basque team only beaten in their own stadium by Real Madrid, Barcelona and Espanyol so far this season.

And on Saturday against Leganes, Sampaoli picked a virtual reserve side with key players including Samir Nasri, Vicente Iborra, Steven N’Zonzi and Vitolo all left out of the starting line-up.

Rather than a sign of decline, Sevilla’s recent results are more likely to be an indication that they have relaxed their focus and briefly taken their eye off the ball. When that happens, because they rely so heavily on intensity and physical effort, they are unlikely to be successful. There is also a suspicion that Sampaoli himself may have been distracted by the speculation linking him with the managerial position at Barcelona.

But on Tuesday night, you can be assured that Sampaoli and Sevilla will be fired up and ready. This is what they’ve been saving themselves for, and Leicester won’t get anything without a fight.

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Miami to host El Clasico

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Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid will play each other in a one-off pre-season “El Clasico” in Miami in July, organisers confirmed Friday.

The La Liga arch-rivals will meet at the Hard Rock Stadium, the 65,000-seat home of the NFL Miami Dolphins, on July 29.

The match is part of the International Champions Cup, the annual global exhibition series which features clubs from Europe and around the world.

It is the first time Barcelona and Real Madrid have met in North America, organizers said.

“I am thrilled to bring the International Champions Cup back to the city of Miami,” said Dolphins billionaire owner Stephen Ross, whose company bankrolls the tournament.

“The opportunity to showcase two of the most storied clubs in the history of the sport is why we created this tournament.”

Real Madrid is returning to play in the tournament for the fifth time while Barcelona is making its third appearance in the competition.

A statement said the Hard Rock Stadium would host an additional game on July 26. Further details will be released later this month.

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La Liga Valora Futbol Fans' Top 5: Messi leads the way

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Each week, Sport360 brings you the best five players from La Liga, as chosen by you the supporters through our ValoraFutbol fan ratings tool.

YOU have direct influence on who appears in each top five, so be sure to rate each weekend.

What do you make of this week’s ratings?

Share with us your thoughts by commenting below, using #360fans on Twitter or getting in touch via Facebook.

1) LIONEL MESSI (BARCELONA) – 8.5

Leo Messi was at his utmost best against Celta Vigo, scoring twice and providing two assists in Barcelona’s resounding 5-0 victory.

2) NEYMAR (BARCELONA) – 8.4

The Brazilian kept Celta Vigo’s defenders worried throughout, making some spectacular runs and dribbles down the flank.

Neymar scored with a magnificent finish, chipping the ball over a stranded Sergio Alvarez to slot in Barcelona’s second.

3) KARIM BENZEMA (REAL MADRID) – 8.2

In the absence of Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo, it was Karim Benzema who stepped-up to bag a brace against Eibar.

One of the most intelligent players on the field, the Frenchman often makes the sublime seem simple.

4) ANTOINE GRIEZMANN (ATLETICO MADRID) – 7.7

Antoine Griezmann is every manager’s dream at the moment. The French international has been in sensational form, playing a direct hand in seven goals in his last six appearances for Diego Simeone’s men.

Against Valencia on Sunday, the 25-year-old continued to present himself effectively in attack, scoring two goals in a comprehensive 3-0 win at the Vicente Calderon.

5) JAMES RODRIGUEZ (REAL MADRID) – 7.6

James Rodriguez produced an outstanding display against Eibar, providing an assist for Benzema to slot in Real Madrid’s second goal.

James then got on the score-sheet when Benzema flicked the ball in from the right flank to allow the Colombian to nip in from close range.

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