On a symbolic level, there could have been no more appropriate scorer of Sevilla’s dramatic winner against Real Madrid on Sunday than league debutant Stevan Jovetic.
The Montenegro international is a very good player, albeit maybe not quite world-class, who arrived with something to prove after being discarded by Manchester City and struggling to make an impact at
He was snapped up by Sevilla’s sporting director, Monchi, who has made a specialty out of finding players in similar situations, and then thrust into the action by manager Jorge Sampaoli, whose decision to introduce Jovetic in place of Franco Vazquez paid off in spades when he scored the winner.
And there, in a nutshell, is the story of Sevilla’s success this season: talented, hungry and cut-price players spotted by Monchi and utilised to great effect by Sampaoli. The equation has added up to a remarkable season, with the Andalusian club through to the last 16 of the Champions League, where they will play Leicester, as well as mounting a serious challenge in La Liga.
Many Barcelona fans who celebrated Jovetic’s winner appeared to miss this fact, but that goal actually sent the Catalan team down a place in the standings, with Sevilla leapfrogging them into second, just one point behind Real (who have a game in hand). And the big question in Spain now is whether Monchi and Sampaoli’s men will be able to maintain that challenge as winter turns into spring.
There has been, of course, a recent precedent for an outsider enjoying glory in Spain with Atletico Madrid breaking Real and Barca’s duopoly by winning the title in 2014, as well as going close in the last two seasons.
And now Sevilla are threatening to turn a supposed ‘two-team league’ into a four-horse race thanks to the impressive improvement under Sampaoli, who has rapidly become the world’s hottest coaching talent since replacing PSG-bound Unai Emery in the summer.
In addition to the manager, pre-season saw a major turnaround in playing staff at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, with last year’s stars Kevin Gameiro, Ever Banega and Grzegorz Krychowiak departing. But Monchi worked his magic once again, with Samir Nasri, Pablo Sarabia, Wissam Ben Yedder and Vazquez catching the eye since joining Sevilla this season.
There have also been outstanding contributions from existing players like all-action winger Vitolo, powerhouse midfielder Steven N’Zonzi and rising young goalkeeper Sergio Rico.
The key to it all has been Sampaoli’s ability to quickly gel together his assembled talents into an effective unit, and the Argentine has done so in an exciting manner with a dazzling array of attack-minded formations and tactical approaches. From one game to the next it is never easy to guess who Sampaoli will select, or whether they will line up in a three-man defence or a flat-back four.
With his emphasis on fast-paced passing, high pressing and rapid transitions, Sampaoli is every inch the modern manager and the influence of Marcelo Bielsa upon his thinking is easy to see.
In the coming months we’ll discover exactly how far he can take Sevilla – and it will be fun to find out.
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