In the three years between 2013 and 2016, Sevilla were the undisputed kings of the Europa League. Under Unai Emery, Los Nervionenses won three consecutive Europa League titles before winning another in 2021 under Julen Lopetegui. Now they face Manchester United in the last eight of this year's competition.
But all is not well in southern Spain. From the highs of those triumphs, Sevilla have floundered this term. They’ve consistently been the fourth best team in Spain over the past three seasons, behind both Madrid giants and Barcelona, but this season they’ve massively declined - only recently escaping the relegation zone and climbing up to 13th.
The warning signs were there at the end of the last campaign. Sevilla were in title contention before winning just three of their final 12 matches and drawing a whopping 16 times over the league season. The president had considered getting rid of Lopetegui in summer but due to financial constraints, chose to stick with him.
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In the end, the now Wolves manager was dismissed after picking up just five points in the first seven league matches and club president Jose Castro Carmon finally got his wish. Lopetegui was gone, and in his place came the returning Jorge Sampaoli, who had experienced spells with Argentina and Marseille since his last stint in charge of Sevilla. However, it was a decision that would drastically backfire.
By the end of March, with the club 14th and with just a two point gap between them and 19th-placed Almeria, Sampaoli hadn’t delivered the goods. He tends to only spend a short time at each club, not lasting more than 18 months in any job since his four year spell in charge of Chile between 2012 and 2016.
Now the club have turned to experienced Spanish boss José Luis Mendilibar to steer them away from danger. He’s started life with one win and one explosive draw, but the tie against Manchester United will show if Sevilla have truly grown under his leadership. The struggle in the transfer market this summer has left each of the three managers with an ageing squad that lacks the star power we have seen in recent years.
The Andalusian club ended the match with 16 counterpressing recoveries, 10 high regains and 3 dangerous recoveries 💪
A lot of that responsibility falls at the feet of sporting director Monchi, who was widely regarded as one of the shrewdest operators in the business. He was responsible for discovering the likes of Jose Antonio Reyes, Sergio Ramos and Dani Alves with a massive scouting network. However, this summer his best laid plans fell apart. Both centre-backs Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos left the club for big money, but the club were still limited in what they could spend to replace them.
Marcao was bought for €12m but has been hampered by injury while Tanguy Nianzou has failed to live up to his €16m price tag. Lopetegui couldn’t get rid of the older players he wanted to move out of the club and in total only six were brought in. Of those, two have already left, with Isco having his contract cancelled in January and Kasper Dolberg loaned out to Hoffenheim. Not the best record for Monchi, who has helped the club fight with the big boys over the last few seasons.
It seems unlikely that this group can stun Europa League favourites Manchester United, but they still possess some individual talent. Ivan Rakitic is past his best but still a good passer, Morocco’s World Cup star Youssef En-Nesyri has hit two in two under Mendilibar and World Cup winner Marcos Acuña is a solid option at left-back - when he isn’t getting sent off.
Jesus Navas, Bryan Gil and Erik Lamela will all be familiar to Premier League fans as the manager seems to have settled the side into a 4-2-3-1 system. Aside from their late collapse against Celta Vigo, when they finished with nine men and threw away a two goal lead to draw 2-2, it has been a positive start for the third manager of the season.
However, United should have no problem dealing with an out-of-sorts Sevilla. They are no longer the same team that ruled this competition for so long. With financial issues mounting up, an expected defeat against the Red Devils could lead to an extended break from European football altogether.
*18+ | BeGambleAware