Hal Walker looks at Sevilla, a side that have worked their way into third place and genuine La Liga contenders, thanks in part to the excellent forms of Paulo Sarabia and Wissam Ben Yedder.
There has been an understated renaissance at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán and, at this midway point in the La Liga campaign, Sevilla currently looms five points behind league leaders and title holders Barcelona, offering the merest hint of a genuine title “race”.
Most notable is that Sevilla’s excellent form this term under new manager Pablo Machin has been fronted by two players who were unfancied and expected to move on before the end of the summer transfer window.
The unfancied turn heads
Wissam Ben Yedder, more recently known on British shores for scoring the brace at Old Trafford that eliminated Manchester United from the Champions League last season, was deemed unfit and unsuitable for Machin’s system in the early weeks of August and did not make his first appearance until the fifth game of the season in Sevilla’s 2-0 home defeat to Getafe.
After a gradual return to favour, the 28-year-old French forward has played a starring role in Los Rojiblancos’ rise, scoring 13 times in 17 starts.
Paolo Sarabia, the immensely talented former Real Madrid trainee, was also expected to depart in the summer with a move to Real Sociedad in the offing. After the player decided against making the move, few reckoned on the attacking midfielder to enjoy such a fruitful season under the new manager.
Think again. Repositioned from the left flank to play the free role as a No 10 behind the strikers – typically Ben Yedder, who is the top assist maker for Sarabia this season, and the rejuvenated Andre Silva, with Mudo Vazquez and Ever Banega sat behind – the 26-year-old is in the form of his life, with 13 goals in 21 starts.
Ignored by Luis Enrique in the Spanish national setup – admittedly due to the plethora of Spanish attacking talent from midfield – Sarabia’s all-action style of play and his propensity to summon game-changing moments will surely deem international consideration before long.
A player who clearly has a genuine love for the ball at his feet, providing chances and goals with either foot and bewitching opposing teams with such dynamic movement – be it simply showing for the ball, making darting runs into the penalty box or cutting in off the wing.
The ship steadies
Sevilla’s impressive form seems somewhat incongruous with the organisational turmoil that has engulfed the club in recent years, worsened by the 2017 departure of their long-serving director of football, “Monchi”, to Roma.
Remarkably, since Unai Emery swapped his Seville surroundings for Paris Saint-Germain, then Arsenal – after Sevilla’s last Europa League conquest in 2016 – five head coaches have been and gone at the club.
Unbeaten since a 4-2 loss at the Camp Nou on 20 October, there is clearly a calm and rational feeling of hope, in this part of Southern Spain, that this purple patch will continue into the New Year.
Rarely in La Liga does the title shift from the hegemonic powers of the Madrid or Catalan giants: the last outsiders to upset their dominance was Atletico Madrid in 2014 and Rafa Benitez’s Valencia a decade previous.
Whether Pablo Machin’s side have anything like the defence, depth or willpower to do so in a La Liga season that is repeatedly throwing up the most bizarre and unexpected results remains to be seen. For the moment, Ben Yedder, Sarabia and co are certainly doing their bit to make put an Andalusian twist on the race and, from a neutral standpoint, long may it continue.
Follow Hal on Twitter @halwalker