Despite a turbulent season, Sevilla’s European pedigree makes the Spanish side dangerous Champions League opponents for Manchester United
The year after mastermind Monchi left the role as Sporting Director, all hope was placed upon a new and exciting era of management under Eduardo ‘Toto’ Berizzo that soon spiraled out of control due to bad results but, most importantly, the Argentinian’s prostate cancer.
With the illness happily out of the way (but, you know, with Berizzo kicked out unceremoniously), the three-times-in-a-row Europa League champions decided on a bold replacement: Italian manager Vincenzo Montella. At first it seemed a huge mistake: a couple of defeats left fans wondering if they were in for a lackluster season full of disappointment and bitterness.
Two months later, things are looking bright for them. They are, right next to the mighty Barcelona, the only Spanish team competing for three trophies, as Sevilla have reached the Copa del Rey final against the Blaugranas, they are alive and kicking in the Champions League and they keep winning games and pressing hard to reach the top four in LaLiga. Montella’s stint is more than impressive: only three losses in thirteen games, with eight wins and two draws.
— Sevilla FC (@SevillaFC_ENG) February 20, 2018
The ups and down of the 2017-2018 season have taken a toll on the roster, which has suffered quite a few changes in the line-up since Berizzo’s earlier efforts. Steven N’Zonzi was totally cast out under his former manager, but Montella has recalled the midfielder to shine as a regular starter.
In the midfield, Pablo Sarabia’s growth has surprised many opposition sides that used to focus on marking main-man Ever Banega. In front, both Wissam Ben Yedder and Luis Muriel have slowly picked up the pace and scored key goals.
Most importantly, Sevilla has regained one of its most important traits: sheer confidence. They haven’t deserved every win to date, but they never gave up on their chances and believed in themselves till the end. Exactly the kind of pestering team that usually causes trouble to any Mourinho side, especially in this new era of the Portuguese cocky coach on the Old Trafford bench.
A busy day of #UCL preparations!
🕚 11:00 GMT: Training
🕒 15:00 GMT: Fly out to Spain
🕡 18:30 GMT: Press conference pic.twitter.com/765Gp5qsOv
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 20, 2018
The red vs red showdown embodies one of the last opportunities for ‘The Special One’ to avoid a total disaster this year. The Champions League draw allowed for a pretty balanced fixture, although Sevilla is far from being a powerhouse like Barcelona, Real Madrid or PSG.
Beating the Pizjuán outfit and moving onto the quarterfinals would be a small, albeit bright spot in Mou’s season, with that huge 16-point difference with Manchester City as a constant (and insufferable) reminder of Pep Guardiola’s brilliancy on the bench.
The game will also bring a spectacular face-to-face between two of Spain’s best goalkeepers: Sergio Rico in the home goal and David De Gea defending the away box. Both have quite a few caps under their belt and share the national team’s call-up sheets regularly, with De Gea being the usual starter. Rico, however, has overcome a small decline in performance and is currently at the top of his game: his saves last weekend against Las Palmas were absolutely crucial for seizing the win in a very close fixture.
Last but not least, any football fan is welcome to enjoy and seep in the incredible atmosphere of the Sánchez Pizjuán stadium on such a huge night. Sevilla’s home turf is usually at its best when big teams knock at their gates. Make sure to pay close attention to the pitch a few minutes before the kickoff: fans in the stands chanting the club’s hymn ‘a capella’ makes one of the most breathtaking moments in modern Spanish football.