Sevilla Flies Underneath the Radar
While the press and the media focus most of their ink and font on the newly built Real Madrid and the continued brilliance of FC Barcelona, Sevilla carries on with their consistent good form. On the surface, there is nothing too sexy that immediately grabs headlines, but arguably, Luís Fabiano is currently playing as the best forward in the world since the continuation of World Cup Qualifying at the beginning of June. He tallied four goals in four Eliminatorias Sudamericanas for the Seleção, including a brace in a historic road victory against Argentina, five goals in the Confederations Cup to earn that tournament’s Golden Shoe, and three goals in four matches in all competitions for Sevilla this season.
Sevilla also made some shrewd acquisitions in the summer transfer window to bolster the squad. They brought back Lolo from his loan spell at Málaga and bought Didier Zokora from Tottenham Hotspur for €10 million to reinforce the central midfield, they got Espanyol academy graduate Sergio Sánchez for €3 million to augment the defense, and they acquired Álvaro Negredo from Real Madrid for €14 million to deepen the pool of strikers. Probably the best move Sevilla made in the close season was not an acquisition but the ability to keep Luís Fabiano from suitors such as AC Milan. Now they are two deep in every position on the pitch and can cope with the demands of three competitions without compromising their ability to feature quality squads in each competition.
An inauspicious start to the La Liga initially raised questions about the viability of Sevilla this season. Even though Frédéric Kanouté earned a red card at the end of the first half against Valencia, Valencia outplayed Sevilla for the entire match, save for a few pockets of brilliance sprinkled in between, and lost their first game of the season at the Mestalla 0-2. A defeat by the hands of Valencia was by no means shameful, but Sevilla wanted to build on their third place showing from last season with a defining opening win in the biggest game of Jornada 1. Manolo Jiménez did not allow his players to sulk after the setback, and his Sevilla side defeated Real Zaragoza and Osasuna in La Liga in an easy fashion and turned away a disciplined Unirea Urziceni outfit 2-0 in the Champions League.
In sixth position at the start of Round 4, Sevilla faced a fourth placed Mallorca squad that gained seven points in their first three matches, including an unlikely 1-1 draw at El Madrigal against Villarreal in torrential rain and a 4-0 flogging against promoted Tenerife. Sevilla engendered a feeling of vast superiority as they made Mallorca look ordinary and unworthy to hold such a high position in the La Liga table. Sevilla combined their penchant for neat, passing football with a more direct approach to play Mallorca off the field in the first half.
The first goal came after seventeen minutes, when Julien Escudé flicked a header from a corner in the direction of Sébastien Squillaci, and Squillaci outleaped Mallorca midfielder Bruno China to the header and scored from five yards away. The second Sevilla goal arrived in the 25th minute, and this time, they displayed the fluid football for which they have been known. Jesús Navas initiated the move with a run down the right wing, where he passed the ball to Luís Fabiano. Continuing the run, Navas slashed inside toward the penalty area where Fabiano produced a cutting ball to Navas inside the box. Taking two defenders with him, he resumed his dash toward the end line and supplied a telling ball across the six-yard box and over Mallorca goalkeeper Dudu Aouate’s head. Diego Perotti headed the cross into the back of the net from a yard out, but there was a good possibility that Navas’ cross would have gone in anyway.
Mallorca would eventually become more comfortable and create some opportunities, most of them in the last ten minutes of the first half. Aritz Aduriz’s header forced a good save by Sevilla goalkeeper Andrés Palop in the 38th minute, Sevilla defenders blocked shots by Pierre Webó and Aduriz in the 44th minute, and Palop batted away Fernando Varela’s near-post strafer in the 45th minute.
The second half consisted of more Sevilla pressure from every part of the pitch, whether it was an inch-perfect diagonal ball from just inside their own half to the right edge of penalty area by Negredo, a lung-busting run by left back Adriano down the left wing that forced substitute goalkeeper Germán Lux out of his area, or a couple of headers inside the area from Squillaci that tested Lux. Alhassane Keita, a 74th minute substitution for Webó, was the only Mallorca player that constructed some positive moves toward goal, including a one on one with Palop that eventually fell apart because Keita looked for contact inside the box by oncoming defender Escudé rather than focusing on the shot.
A 2-0 full-time score flattered Mallorca, but nevertheless, Sevilla continued their good run of form heading into a crucial three games, which include a trip to San Mamés to go against resurgent Athletic Bilbao, a journey to Ibrox Stadium to face a robust Rangers side, and a home fixture against high-flying Real Madrid. In the Sevilla season preview, the question was asked if Sevilla could break the Barcelona – Real Madrid duopoly and finish in the top two. Barring injury, Sevilla should definitively finish in a Champions League spot. If they continue to keep the discipline and shape in the back four, maintain the defense that gave up the second fewest goals in La Liga, and create numerous goal-scoring opportunities that was lacking in the previous season, do not be surprised to witness a split between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the end of the campaign.